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Three Things We Learned from the Colts' Loss to the Cowboys

The Colts lost to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, 42-7. Here are three things we learned.

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The Indianapolis Colts lost to the Dallas Cowboys 42-7 on Sunday.  What did we learn from the game?  Here are three takeaways (and we're using the team "learn" loosely):

This defense is who we thought they were

The Colts gave up 42 points and 377 yards to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.  And it was exactly par for the course for the Colts' defense against top-ten offenses this year.  The Colts have lost five games.  Those five games have come to the top five offenses that the Colts have faced.  In those five games (versus Denver, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New England, and Dallas), the Colts have allowed an average of 39.2 points per game.  In the other ten games this year, the Colts have allowed an average of just 16.3 points per game.  And that's exactly why so many of us talked about how, while wins are always nice, victories over teams like Jacksonville or Washington don't really tell us a ton about them.  All season long we've seen a very stark distinction between this defense when they're playing a good offense and when they're playing an average or bad offense.  We wanted to see the Colts have an impressive showing against a good offense to gain some momentum entering the playoffs on Sunday, but instead it was just another game in which the Colts' defense struggled mightily against a good opponent.  In those five games, quarterbacks have completed 70 percent of their passes for 1,597 yards (9.3 yards per attempt!), 16 touchdowns and just three picks.  Ultimately, this game didn't tell us anything we didn't know about the Colts' defense.  Rather, it was just another example of a terrible performance against a good offense.  And that's not a good sign as the team prepares to enter the playoffs.

The slow starts are back

Think back to last season when the Colts went on a run mid-season of repeatedly starting incredibly slow.  We all knew that it needed to stop, and the Colts seemed to get it a bit under control as the season drew to a close, but then especially this year the Colts were actually capitalizing early on in games and jumping out to early leads as opposed to early deficits.  Recently, however, those slow starts have returned and are just as much of an issue as they were before. The Colts have been outscored 48-22 in the first quarter of the last nine games combined (per RTV6's Mike Chappell).  On Sunday against the Cowboys, the Colts reached a new low, as they were down 14-0 before Andrew Luck dropped back to pass one (partly because of their own doing, however).  Would a faster start have been the difference?  Quite possibly not.  But a tangent penalty, a dropped pass on a fake punt, and two first quarter touchdowns allowed doesn't inspire much confidence and rather just sent the Colts spiraling even more and more out of control on Sunday.  This is something that has gone under the radar for the most part recently, but with how big of an issue it was last year it's concerning that the issue has returned this season and it's definitely something to keep an eye on.

The offensive line is still in flux

The Colts' offensive line wasn't the biggest story of the game.  But when the team rushes for just one yard on ten carries and Andrew Luck is hit enough for the majority of fans to call for the Colts to get him out of there, we should probably mention it.  But more than their play (and man, did Xavier Nixon struggle in particular) is the fact that the Colts still have plenty of confusion and changing going on with their line.  Sunday was the ninth different starting offensive line combination for the Colts in fifteen games this season, and not only did it feature Nixon making his debut at right tackle in relief of the injured Cherilus but also a surprise starter in Khaled Holmes, making his first career start at center.  We found out about Holmes starting at center when the game started and he was out there, as it came as a surprise to everyone.  As far as I know, Chuck Pagano wasn't asked about the move after the game, but it appears like Jonotthan Harrison has been benched - which would mean the Colts made their second benching of the starting center this year, going to a different player each time.  While many wondered why the Colts wouldn't go to A.Q. Shipley at center if they wanted to bench Harrison and then play Holmes at right guard, but ultimately we realize yet again one key point: that the Colts' offensive line is still in flux, and that's as much thanks to Chuck Pagano (who before has preached consistently and continuity) as it is to injuries.

Here's a chart of the Colts' starting offensive linemen in each game this season:

Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Combination
DEN Anthony Castonzo Jack Mewhort A.Q. Shipley Hugh Thornton Gosder Cherilus 1
PHI " " " " "
JAX " " " " "
TEN " " " Lance Louis " 2
BAL " Lance Louis Jonotthan Harrison Thornton " 3
HOU " Joe Reitz " Louis " 4
CIN " Mewhort " Thornton " 5
PIT " " " " "
NYG " " " Louis " 6
NE " " " " "
JAX " " " " Joe Reitz 7
WAS " " " Joe Reitz Cherilus 8
CLE " " " " "
HOU " " " Louis "
DAL " " Khaled Holmes " Xavier Nixon 9

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