The Colts did something today that they hadn't done in any of their first five games this year: they outrushed their opponent. And consequently, the Colts got back in the win column with a hard fought 17-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Today, it was actually the pass offense and the pass defense holding the team back, not the run offense and the run defense. Yes, it is frusturating that the Colts have yet to put together a complete game this year, but today was a surprise reversal of what we have seen so far this year. The Colts, without starting running back Donald Brown, rushed for a season high 148 yards on the day. Vick Ballard, the leading rusher for the Colts today, tied Brown's season high for a Colts' running back with 84 yards rushing on the day. The rookie Ballard ran well all day and was impressive after he had been underwhelming in limited opportunities coming into the day. Ballard also added a 19 yard reception in the first quarter to set up the Colts' first touchdown of the game.
Also running well today was Delone Carter. Coming into today's game he had carried the ball only four times for 13 yards. Today, he got 11 carries and rushed for 47 yards. He looked good today as well.
And guess what? Even the quarterback got in on the rushing attack. Andrew Luck scored the Colts' only two touchdowns of the day, both of them on the ground. In the first quarter he stood in the pocket looking for someone to break open but when no one did, he took off scrambling up the middle for the three yard score. Then in the second quarter Luck rolled right and didn't stop running, keeping his eyes downfield for someone to break open but then running it in for the five yard rush. The last Colts quarterback to rush for two touchdowns in the same game? Ricky Turner in 1988. Peyton Manning never did it (maybe the only thing that Peyton didn't do). In fact, the last time the Colts had two rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season was in 2007 (Manning). Luck has three on the year, one away from tying Manning's career high (he had four in both 2001 and 2006).
Luck wasn't as impressive through the air, however. He started off throwing the ball very well but cooled off significantly as the game went on. His 186 yards passing were easily his fewest of the year (previous low was 224 against the Vikings). For the second straight game, he didn't throw a touchdown. And while he didn't throw an interception he misfiered on several throws and fumbled in the fourth quarter in what could have been (but proved not to be) a very costly turnover.
The pass unit on the other side of the ball struggled as well. While the run defense played really well (helped by the return of Pat Angerer), the pass defense was bad and almost cost the Colts the game today. Brandon Weeden threw for 264 yards and two scores, and his receivers didn't help him much either (see Josh Gordon dropping a beautiful throw in the fourth quarter that would have easily been a touchdown). Two things in particular were concerning about the pass defense:
- Lack of a Pass Rush - with Robert Mathis sidelined, the Colts pass rush has been almost non-existent the past two weeks. They did not record a single sack today and gave Weeden a ton of time to throw on pretty much every one of his dropbacks.
- Jerraud Powers - Ok, I have to say it. Powers has been bad this year. No way around it. It's gotten to the point where quarterbacks are targeting him, and he is the team's number one corner. He did step up his game in the fourth quarter, but he has been asked to step up this year and cover more one-on-one, and so far he has not stepped up. At best, he's been average. Which means that at best, the Colts pass defense will be average.
The turning point of the game was in the fourth quarter when Tom Zbikowski (and Jerraud Powers too) stepped up their play. There was a point in the fourth quarter where Zbikowski made three plays in a row to force a Browns punt. He has been a disapointment this year but he played the best half he has played all year in today's second half. That was good to see.
It was also good to see a Colts win - especially after last week. And guess what? At 3-3, the Colts are right with most of the NFL, and especially most of the AFC. I wrote last week about how the Colts' season has been a roller coaster, and they continued the trend today. They have not won nor lost two in a row this year. Next week, the Colts travel to Tennessee hoping to break that trend. The game was messy and ugly and somewhat boring, but a win is a win.
I would be remiss without noting the best thing to happen today, however. After the game, Jim Irsay told the team that head coach Chuck Pagano was released from the hospital this morning and watched the game from home. Andrew Luck said it best following the game: "I was more thrilled about [Pagano being released from the hospital] than getting the win".
That's the best thing, by far, that happened today. But the win was nice too. And in doing that, the Colts evened their record at 3-3 and hopefully found a running game.