The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Houston Texans 17-10 on Sunday. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the team "learn" loosely):
The Colts' Offense - and their Quarterback - are in a Slump
Last week, we said that it was the worst performance of the season for the Colts' offense. This week, they were even worse. At some point, those struggles become a trend. And then at some other point, that trend becomes a concern. I think it's getting close to the concern area, if it's not already there. Four of the six lowest point totals of the season for the Colts have come in the past five games, and four of the five lowest yardage totals of the season have come in the past five games. On Sunday, the Colts scored the fewest points (17) and racked up the fewest yards (278) of any game this year. Andrew Luck threw for 300+ yards in nine of the team's first ten games. He's done so in just one of the last four games. The Colts have turned it over twelve times in the last four games, have been minus-six in the turnover margin, and have committed multiple turnovers in eight of their last ten games. Keep in mind this isn't just any average offense - this is the offense that has been among the best in the NFL for this entire season, with a quarterback on pace to top 5,000 yards passing and throw for more than 40 touchdowns. Plus, keep in mind that against arguably the four best teams the Colts have faced, they've allowed 31, 30, 51, and 42 points. This Colts' defense, though impressing recently, isn't quite capable of keeping the team in and winning a game come the postseason. That will fall on Luck and the offense scoring points, and that's why it's a concern.
And if we want to pinpoint the offense's struggles, we need to start with the guy leading the charge. Andrew Luck has also been in a slump recently. Over the past two weeks, Luck has completed just 48.3% of his passes for 481 yards (5.5 yards per attempt), 4 touchdowns and 3 picks while also rushing for a score and losing a fumble. The past two weeks have been the first time since weeks 15-17 last year that Luck has thrown for less than 300-yards passing in consecutive games. And the turnover issues - by Luck and then also by the rest of the offense - need to be fixed. This isn't just any average offense, and they can't play like such. Especially when the playoffs roll around, the Colts won't be going anywhere but home if their offense continues to play like this. The positive: we know that they can play better and we know that at any given time they can turn it on. Let's just hope they start to show it on the field.
Boom Herron Puts the Team on his Shoulders
The Colts held a four-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, but it didn't feel like a safe 14-10 lead. The Texans had begun to make some drives, and though the previous drive failed after a turnover on downs in Colts' territory, it was clear that Indy's offense needed to get something going. After Andrew Luck had gotten hot at the end of the first half and completed 13-of-16 passes for 147 yards and two scores, he had cooled down significantly in the second half. In fact, Luck had completed just 2-of-8 passes for 23 yards in the second half. The offense hadn't gotten anything done, and the game was very much in danger. So after an eight-yard scramble by Andrew Luck to start off the drive, the Colts turned to the man who, up until a few weeks ago, was the third string running back who hadn't seen much playing time. But after Ahmad Bradshaw's injury, Boom Herron stepped into a big role in the offense, and in the most crucial situation of the game the Colts turned to the second-year running back. Gain of six yards. Gain of six yards. Gain of seven yards. Gain of eight yards. Gain of eight yards. And suddenly, the Colts were threatening. A couple of Trent Richardson runs and then a failed bootleg for Luck later and the team settled for a field goal, but the drive was successful first and foremost in taking time off of the clock - something the offense had been unable to do in the second half. Entering that drive, the Colts had gained just 55 yards and controlled the ball for just 5:45 in the second half. On that drive, the Colts gained 47 yards and ran 5:05 off the clock. By the time the Texans got the ball back, not only were they down seven but they had much less time to work with. And it was Boom Herron rushing five times for 35 yards on the drive that was the key. In the most crucial spot, the Colts put the football in the hands of Boom Herron, and he ran very well on the drive.
The Colts are the Best in the AFC South… but not the AFC
The Colts clinched the AFC South on Sunday for the second consecutive year, which certainly is not to be overlooked. Winning the division is the first goal the team sets out on the season, but at the same time it's not the only goal. The Colts have their sights set on the Super Bowl. Winning the division is an impressive feat and we saw once again that the Colts are the best team in the AFC South (having won 12 games in a row against the division), but we continued to see that they aren't the best team in the AFC. This isn't to say they can't beat either the Broncos or the Patriots - I think we all realize that they can. But it seems unlikely. Unlikely because their offense is struggling. Unlikely because every time they've faced a good quarterback this year their defense has struggled too. They might be able to beat Denver or New England, but with the way they've been playing recently they definitely won't. With the turnovers and the struggles, these Colts are the best team in the AFC South, but not in the AFC.