Offensive Line Must Improve
Let's be honest here, the Colts will go as far as Andrew Luck can will them to go. However, it's much harder for Luck to carry the majority of the Colts team on his back plus the plethora of opposing defenders that seem consistently draped on Luck as well. For the majority of the game last week, Luck and the entire offense was flat out bad. There was no running game to speak of, with Luck again leading the team in rushing. The receivers had some really bad drops, including future Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne. Luck uncharacteristically missed on a lot of throws. All of these issues should be placed on one unit, the offensive line.
First and foremost, the offensive line and/or coaches need to find a way to keep Luck clean. It's been a "Point of Emphasis" for Ryan Grigson since he selected Luck with the first overall pick. Plain and simple, Grigson has failed. Luck constantly has defenders in his face, on his back and at his feet. Sometimes all in the same play! If Luck is given even a second longer in the pocket to where he actually feels comfortable, he throws lasers to the receivers. If you've looked at Luck the past few games, he's throwing off his back foot. He's ducking a bit as he throws. He's not able to plant his front foot and drive through this throw, which is what he should be able to do. When Luck has no pressure and gets time to throw he has a completion percentage of 69.9%, a QBR of 111.5, and a PFF.com rating of 28.8, which only Aaron Rodgers is rated higher. So whether the coaches hold a blocker back or go max protect, they need to give Luck more time and less pressure.
Secondly, the offensive line has shown time and again, it can't run block effectively. I take that back. The right side of the offensive line, typically the side most would argue is supposed to be the superior run blocking side with a right handed quarterback, has been terrible at blocking, run or pass. I get guys are playing injured, despite them not being listed on the injury report, but goodness me if they aren't putting Luck in danger almost every play. Also, I understand there are continuity issues as the offensive line seems to be switched about every other week now. So maybe I give them a pass on it, but if the Colts can get a running game even remotely going and force defenses to at least somewhat respect the run, then the play action passing game will be exponentially more effective.
Lastly, the receivers need to keep focused. Several times throughout last week's game receivers just flat out dropped balls. The only player who really showed up consistently, and has done so all year, was T.Y. Hilton. Reggie was off. Fleener let a ball seemingly go through his hands and hit him in the helmet on a play in the first half. I'll give credit though to the Browns defensive backs. They were all over the Colts routes and didn't give the receivers the space they've usually gotten in the past. Also, Pep Hamilton looked to draw up some great plays to scheme Fleener open and in those situations, he made the catch, which is again shows he's trending upward with another solid performance. According to Pro Football Focus, the Colts had SEVEN dropped passes against the Browns. That's simply unacceptable.
Defense Came to Play with an Assist from Brian Hoyer
If you look at the numbers, the defense seemingly played great. Honestly, they were the reason the Colts were still in this game. I'd be neglectful not to mention that Brian Hoyer did have something to do with the defense's performance though too. Yes, the rushers were able to create pressure, which caused Hoyer to rush some throws but my oh my was Hoyer inaccurate. There were about 3-4 occasions that Josh Gordon flat out beat Greg Toler and was open by a significant margin, i.e., like 3+ yards, but Hoyer inexplicably overthrew him. If a couple of those passes were even close to being on target, Gordon likely scores at least two touchdowns and the Colts likely lose the game. Thankfully, that's not what happened though. So I give the defense credit for impacting Hoyer to a degree and am happy they stepped up when they needed to to get the offense the ball back in the second half.
Pro Bowl Problems
A quick side note regarding the defensive Pro Bowl voting. I have no idea how fans could not have Vontae Davis in the Top 4 CBs, let along not having him in the Top 10. He's had arguably an All-Pro year at CB. He doesn't have great stats becuase teams refuse to throw his way. If people knew anything about Vontae, he'd be in the Top 4 without a doubt. Also, how do fans have D'Qwell Jackson as a relative voting leader at the ILB position? I do know the answers to both of these questions. The fans just look at the stats provided to them and say "Oh look, he's got a whole lot of tackles so he must be playing great!" For all my harping on D'Qwell, he still has phenomenal instincts and rarely takes a false step. The problem is his steps are no longer that fast. I'd be interested if anyone has charted exactly where D'Qwell's tackles have taken place and if he's just coming in to clean up the play and jump in on a huge gang tackle or if he's actually stopping the runner on his own. Just a thought.
Honestly speaking, it looks like the Colts coaches had a nice game plan for the Browns game despite how inept the offense looked. Pep Hamilton schemed a lot of open receivers but the guys just didn't make plays. Manusky's defensive game plans still amaze me, but in a good way. The team no longer has a dominant individual pass rusher but Manusky has consistently been able to manufacture pressure through defensive schemes. However, the Browns are a below-average team, despite their above average record, and Hoyer is a below-average quarterbacks. When the Colts face Dallas will be a true test on how good this defense can be and if they can survive in the playoffs against above-average offensive lines because you won't find many better than what Dallas has shown this year.
As for Special Teams, Pat McAfee seemed a little off his game. It happens and I don't expect it to continue. Also, people need to go out and vote for him to make the Pro Bowl. He's been far and away the best punter in the league this year and should be appreciated as such. Returner Josh Cribbs also had an underwhelming day returning kicks. He fumbled one kick out of bounds and allowed several punts to go over his head around the 15-20 yard line rather than make the fair catch and not risk getting downed inside the 10. Coverage, in general, wasn't great but with the sheer volume of kicks that needed to be covered, my guess is fatigue may have played a role.
Regardless, a win is a win, even if it is really ugly.
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