The Offensive Line Still Needs Work
The Offensive Line play for the Colts has improved dramatically since last year. That said, there were still some miscues. Again, RT Gosder Cherilus was beaten badly by speed rushers or with rip/swim moves. But I've harped on Cherilus enough in the past two weeks that it'd be boring if I brought it up again. The interior of the OL this week was particularly questionable. Specifically, RG Hugh Thornton. Opposing defenses have started to recognize Thornton doesn't pay particular attention to delayed blitzes and are focusing their pressure at him. Thornton gave up the only sack of the game but was consistently getting pushed into the pocket by the Ravens DTs.
As to Rookie UDFA C Jonotthan Harrison, the guy was put in an impossible situation by the coaches. A.Q. Shipley had been playing phenomenally well and didn't deserve to be replaced. Baltimore has one of the best NTs of all time in Haloti Ngata. But Coach Pagano wanted to tinker with a good thing anyways. Harrison had some very obvious miscues with QB Andrew Luck, but despite that, played admirably. He didn't seem overwhelmed by Ngata and was great in pass protection. He slid and mirrored rushers well and helped out when necessary. Harrison also seems much more mobile than Shipley in the open field, which seems to play more towards OC Pep Hamilton's desired offense. In the long run, Harrison is a better option for the team going forward at C. However, it made more sense to make the switch after this week's Thursday night game with Houston, where the Colts get a long week after and don't go up against one of the better defenses in the NFL with Baltimore.
Speaking of the line, they need to give Luck a cleaner pocket. Yes, the Colts are the highest rated pass blocking team in the NFL according to PFF. However, that's where stats don't tell the whole story. Luck is truly a magician in the pocket. Yes, that's what she said. His movement skills completely mask the OL inadequacies. Luck too often is throwing off his back foot, this happens basically every time you see Luck raise his front leg when he makes a pass, and doesn't always get an opportunity to drive through his throw. I'm sure you can all tell the difference too. When Luck throws off his back foot, he loses a tremendous amount of accuracy and the ball typically floats on him. When he drives through the throw, he makes throws like he did to TE Dwayne Allen over the middle in the 4th Quarter Sunday. Throws that make you just say "Wow!" So yes, Luck is playing great right now and is arguably the best QB in the league so far this year. The scary part is he could be even better with a cleaner pocket.
Trent Picks Up the Pace
Often the focus of Colts fans ire, RB Trent Richardson has put together a couple solid week. This week was the first week of the season Trent graded out higher on PFF than fellow RB Ahmad Bradshaw. The tape says the same thing. Trent ran with a fire and anger we haven't seen him run with whilst being a Colt. I've said this for awhile now and I know it's controversial but overall, Trent is a most talented running back on the roster. He is harder to bring down and makes more players miss than Bradshaw. The major, and I do mean major, aspect that Bradshaw far outweighs Trent is vision. Trent has gotten better but is still no where close to Bradshaw in how he sees a play develop. The main problem is vision is very tough to teach. Usually, you've either got it or you don't. So until Trent can see a play develop even close to how Bradshaw does, he'll never be more than an average RB in the NFL.
Werner Showed Up!
Possibly just as criticized a player as Richardson, OLB Bjoern Werner showed up in a big way this week. I mentioned last week Werner should just pin his ears back and go. He did. And in a big way. Both of his sacks were on account of his speed off the snap and both came with Werner starting in a 3 or 4 point stance. I'd guess the return of OLB/Defensive Assistant Robert Mathis influenced how Werner prepared for the game. If so, it showed. We all hope this game marks a turning point in Werner's young career.
Secondary is Stronger Sans LaRon
Suspended FS LaRon Landry is shaping up to be the worst free agent signing of GM Ryan Grigson's short career. FS Sergio Brown played much better in this game than Landry has in any game of his limited Colts career. If the coaching staff gives playing time based on merit, they'll start Brown in Landry's place even after Landry returns from suspension. It's not a coincidence this was one of the best defensive performances for the Colts this season with Landry watching from the sidelines.
Teams Still Throwing at Toler
Yes, It looked like CB Greg Toler had a big play to seal the game for the Colts and got called for pass interference on a play the side judge who was looking right at it thought was clean, but the back judge who was partially blocked threw the flag on. However, he was again inconsistent in his coverage. He was thrown at 7 times with 4 receptions for an average of 14.3 yards per reception. Had Ravens QB Joe "Elite" Flacco been even slightly more accurate, those stats would be much, much worse. And that "big play" to seal the game I mentioned earlier, Toler was beat. Badly. He got smoked off the line, was 2 yards behind WR Torrey Smith and Flacco missed the throw, which allowed Toler to catch up, make a dive and have it appear he didn't completely blow his coverage. If Flacco makes the right throw and hits Torrey Smith in stride and not behind him, it's a huge gain, maybe a touchdown. Plain and simple. Toler was beat. Flacco saved him. I know many of you don't like "advanced stats" but PFF has Toler rated tied for 97th out of 102 CBs this year in coverage with an overall season mark of -6.1, and his only positive grade coming against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. To compare, CBs Vontae Davis and Darius Butler are 5th and 26th, respectively. The tape only confirms what the stats say, Toler has been bad this season and a model of inconsistency. There's a reason when the game is on the line, most teams throw Toler's way. I'm just saying.
Heavy Sets Don't Work
Pep Hamilton has dramatically improved his play calling but I still don't understand the point of the heavy sets with 3TEs. The Colts have failed running the ball in that set over and over again. If I were the Colts, on short yardage situations, I'd run my base set and split my TEs out in the slot. This spreads out the defense and allows Luck to see if/where a blitz is coming. If they don't blitz, the OL has been solid enough against 3 or 4 rushers to give Luck time. If they do, it's an easy hot route read for Luck. Also, Luck has shown time and again he's adept at picking up the first down with his legs so if the play breaks down, he can usually scramble.