If you all didn't notice, I took a one week hiatus, due to the Colts crushing the Bengals in Week 7, and it'd just seem obnoxious to nit-pick a solid overall win. However, the Colts decided to give me a little more to write about this past weekend in their somewhat stunning loss to the Steelers. Quite honestly, if someone told me the Colts would score 34 points against Pittsburgh, I would have said there's no way Indianapolis loses with how the defense has played the past 3-4 weeks. Boy, would I have been wrong. All that being said let's get into some points.
It seems redundant to harp on the offensive line again and again but when they keep having issues, it's tough not to point it out. Gosder Cherilus has been Gosder Awful this year. He consistently allowed pressure on Luck around the edge to speed rushers. Do you guys sense a pattern here? Even the more consistent lineman didn't fair well either. Castonzo and Harrison each had one of the worst games of their season. Hugh Thornton was bad again. I'll give Castonzo a break because blocking on the edge is much different from interior pass blocking and he's been very good prior to this week. Harrison has shown improvement over the past few weeks but this week he most definitely regressed. I will say Harrison looked more comfortable in the run game and getting to the second level though, which is at least one positive. Thornton is becoming a consistent liability, which is troubling given Ryan Grigson used a Third Round pick on him and you expect much, much more from an interior lineman selected that high. The offensive line, with the exception of Cherilus, has played fairly well over the course of the season so I'm willing to give them a pass this week, but for Luck's sake, a performance like this can't be repeated.
As many of you know, I was ecstatic when Grigson selected Donte Moncrief in the Third Round. I said it could be the steal of the draft because he has legitimate WR1 measureables and talent and the Colts were lucky the WR talent in the draft was over-saturated to have a guy like Moncrief fall to them late in Round 3. Well, we all got to see what I was talking about on Sunday. Moncrief can be a terror with the ball in his hands. He has such smooth acceleration after the catch it looks almost effortless. He has the ability to get on top of a DB very quickly and he'll only improve as his confidence grows. It's also clear Luck has a lot of faith in Moncrief given he led the team in targets despite this being his first real opportunity to play significant snaps. Luck, Hilton and Moncrief have an opportunity to be the most dynamic QB/WR/WR combo in the league. That's not hyperbole, that's a fact!
On a lesser note, it's also clear Hakeem Nicks just doesn't have "it" anymore. He was a solid player for the Giants for several years but he's just not who he used to be. The defense doesn't fear him and it doesn't look like Luck has a ton of faith in him either. He has trouble getting open, which is paramount for a WR. The INT was both Luck and Nicks's fault, but more Nicks in my opinion. He didn't drive hard to the ball on the come back route thrown to the outside shoulder. If he does that, Gay can't make a play on it. Instead, Gay jumped the route and returned it for six. It's time to start giving most, if not all, of Nicks's snaps to Moncrief once Reggie Wayne returns.
Pass Defense Optional
The pass rush this week was non-existent and that's being kind. I've praised Pagano and Manusky for weeks due to their impressive blitz calls. However, when offenses figure out what you're doing and how to stop it, you need a pass rusher than can beat a guy one on one. Without Robert Mathis, the Colts simply don't have one and that should raise some major red flags for Colts Nation. Bjoern Werner has shown great strides this year but he's not there yet. I hope he can be but unless they line him up as a down lineman, he has trouble beating most OTs. Most of the sacks this year have come from well designed defensive play calls, not one on one matchups. There have been some one on one wins but not as many as you would think. Newsome has shown some flashes, which is promising. Here's hoping someone steps up and fills that pass rushing void because against better teams and offensive lines, scheming free blitzers will bring you inconsistent results at best.
As for the DBs, this was by far their worse game. I know that's such a stretch given they almost gave up an NFL record of passing yards to the likes of Big Ben. Toler was beyond awful again but that was to be expected given he matched up against quicker WRs that he couldn't get his hands on. The same thing happened to Richard Sherman when he matched up against T.Y. Hilton last season. It's tough. My concern for Toler is only growing though. Against average to below-average offenses, he's played alright. Against above-average offenses, he's been terrible. No, turrible. Some may argue that he played great against the Bengals, which is true, but the Bengals didn't have their top WR and their offense has struggled mightily without the threat of A.J. Green to keep defenses honest. Yes, I know some will defend him to the death and that's fine, but please go watch the film. If a WR gives him a double move, he's done. If a WR gives him a shake at the line of scrimmage, he's done. If the WR is faster than him, he's done. Also, the argument that I couldn't cover an NFL WR is completely valid. However, I'm not paid $4,000,000 to cover NFL WRs. Toler is.
Honest question: was the Colts halftime adjustment just to not cover TE Heath Miller? Prior to halftime, Miller had 2 catches for 22 yards. After, he had 5 catches for 90 yards and a TD. In comparison, Miller had been averaging about 40 yards per game and had only 1 TD on the season. D'Qwell Jackson and the other ILBs made him look like a top TE in the league. Needless to say, if I'm opposing offensive coordinators, I'm targeting the Colts ILBs in coverage for the rest of the year until they show they can stop it.
Run Defense Could Have Been Worse
I know, I know. The run defense looked fine because Big Ben passed all over the defense. That's true. However, Pittsburgh still had some trouble running the ball. The Steelers averaged 3.7 yards per carry, which isn't terrible but isn't great either. for those that say that is far too much and the Colts defense played terrible, consider this. Trent Richardson has a 3.5 yards per carry average. If you're bashing Trent for his yards per carry on the season, then you should praise the defense for allowing only 3.8 yards per carry to one of the best RBs in the NFL this season and 3.7 yards per carry overall. For all my complaining about the ILBs in coverage, they do a great job mirroring running plays and attacking the hole.
Redding Deserves More Praise
I've neglected to mention this in previous articles but Cory Redding is playing out of his mind this year. He's been a stable force for the Colts defense. He's such an intelligent defender who quickly recognizes the play whether it's run or pass and attacks accordingly. Redding has also been an unexpected presence as a pass rusher from his DE spot. He, along with Vontae Davis and Mike Adams, have been the only truly consistent defenders for the Colts this season. If he keeps playing at this level, I hope he doesn't decide to retire after this season, as is being rumored.