For one full week Colts fans started to fantasize about a wildcard berth - and with good reason. The team was one blown coverage from a 3-1 record, coming off a huge win against the Green Bay Packers, their rookie quarterback was playing like a seasoned veteran and it didn't seem to matter how many injuries they suffered - they were #ChuckStrong.
...and then today happened. They became #OutCoached, #TurnoverProne and #FieldGoalStrong.
The Colts shuffled out of MetLife Stadium without a touchdown for the first time this season and didn't seem to have any answers on Sunday. Here were some of the things that went wrong:
This one goes both ways - the Colts give the ball away too much and can't take it away.
So far this season the Colts have forced just three turnovers this season. THREE. Want to count them off? Jerrell Freeman intercepted Jay Cutler in the opener, Cory Redding recovered a fumble against Minnesota and Jerraud Powers picked off Aaron Rodgers to spark the second half comeback against Green Bay - that's all. This defense was supposed to be aggressive, take chances and create big plays... not so far. If this young team is going to compete the defense needs to help. Big, momentum shifting plays would have been huge today against a Jets team that seemed ready to implode - and the Colts got nothing close.
Ask any coach what the keys to victory are and within the first ten seconds he'll say 'we've got to limit turnovers' - teams that win the turnover battle usually win the game. Teams that turnover the ball 4 times almost NEVER win. Andrew Luck was sloppy with his decision making today and the Colts didn't protect the football.
If you can't protect the ball and you don't create turnovers, you're going to lose.
2) Couldn't Pressure the Passer
Mark Sanchez was sacked three times in each of the last two games. The Colts only got to Sanchez once (thanks Jerry Hughes) in 19 dropbacks - that's not a typo, the Jets only had 19 pass attempts all game. The Jets have no one to throw the ball to (their top receiver was Jeremy Kerley with 3 catches for 24 yards) and their game plan should have been pretty obvious. On passing downs the Colts couldn't generate ANY pressure to force Sanchez (who isn't known for making the best decisions) to make a mistake. I understand that Robert Mathis was out of the game but this group has to find a way to rush the passer or they will continue to get picked apart.
3) Couldn't Stop the Run
Is anyone else tired of hearing about lesser known running backs having career days against the Colts? I still remember Ron Dayne running for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns on Christmas Eve in 2006. The Colts have given up 795 yards rushing (again, not a typo) in their five games this season - that's 159 yards a game and a 5.0 average per carry. The Colts are weak in the middle (we all know this) and injuries to every NT on the roster doesn't help, but this league is going to attack weaknesses. The Colts have a big one that is laying on it's back every time the opponent runs the football.
Is it me or is Cory Redding hobbling off the field after every couple of snaps. Don't get me wrong - I love the guy - but he hasn't been able to stay (or maybe 'get') healthy all season. Combine the injuries to Redding with Dwight Freeney still limping around, Robert Mathis (who has been the most important player on the defense this season) out for a few weeks and it's not surprising the Colts couldn't generate a pass rush. Injuries are as bad for this team as they've ever been - maybe the worst in the league (can you think of anyone that has it worse?). Take a look at the current injuries for the Colts:
- Tim Fugger, Ben Ijalana, Brandon McKinney, Scott Lutrus, A.J. Edds, Seth Olsen, Deji Karim, Korey Lindsey, Griff Whalen and Austin Collie are all on IR.
- No one is sure if Josh Chapman will be able to return and help the team this season.
- Joe Reitz, Martin Tevaseu, Pat Angerer, Robert Mathis, Donald Brown, Fili Moala and Vontae Davis have all missed (or will miss) extended time.
- Dwight Freeney, Samson Satele, Cory Redding and Mewelde Moore are all beat up and less than 100%.
By my count, that's 12 guys who would be starting if they were healthy... You only start 11 on offense and 11 on defense - Over half the team the beat up. Can't win like that.
P.S. - I didn't even mention Coach Pagano... I felt like that was obvious.
(On a side note, Brad Wells questioned the training staff at some point over the last couple of weeks - it does seem odd that our guys get hurt so much and recover so slowly)
5) Andrew Luck (and this team) isn't the same on the road... yet
Things are going to get better. Young teams struggle on the road. We forget that the team hasn't left Indianapolis in a month - when you get on the road things get harder.
Take a look at Luck's stats at home and on the road this season:
Home (2-1) - 55% completions, 899 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs, 95 rushing yards and 1 TD rushing. Sacked 6 times.
Away (0-2) - 50% completions, 589 yards, 1 TD, 5 INTs, 8 rushing yards. Sacked 7 times.
There were a few passes Luck missed early that could have changed the game. On the Colts first drive he overthrew a pass that could have kept the drive alive into Jets territory, he missed Coby Fleener in the endzone for a touchdown and Donnie Avery got behind the secondary in the second half as Luck scrambled and it was again - overthrown. It takes time for a young team (and a young quarterback) to win on the road - when things go poorly it can spiral out of control quickly. They'll get better.
I almost left this part off because of the Colts current situation with Chuck Pagano. Then I realized, other teams aren't giving them a break and we shouldn't either. How many of you were thinking before the snap that the Jets just might run a fake punt with Tim Tebow? (Let's see.... 1, 2, 3.. OK, everybody) How did the Colts look so unprepared for this?
The team had to know the Jets would try to win running the football, right? Did they really think they were going to trust the game to Mark Sanchez? The more disturbing thing is that Jerraud Powers left everyone with the impression they knew they were going to run - they just couldn't stop it.
We wanted Sanchez to have to beat us with his arm. If we stopped the run, that was what they were going to have to do. Whoever we play next week, that's what they're going to do. They're going to run the ball until we stop it.
Conservative play continues to haunt the Colts, too. There were at least two times yesterday that they team should have gone for it on fourth down. I saw two tweets that summed it up best, both coming after Bruce Arians decided to kick a field goal down 22 points:
'Does Arians have Adam Vinatieri on his fantasy football team?' - @SomeEricSmith
'Only two teams have tried a field goal in the 4Q down 20 or more points. Both are the Colts.' - @JasonLisk
All those things (and more) made it a game the Colts just weren't going to win. The team will rebound (probably against the Browns) and the playoffs aren't completely out of the picture. Health is the main concern. If anything keeps this team from competing for a wildcard berth this season it'll be injuries - and they may have already had their say.