The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 26-10 on Sunday in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the team "learn" loosely):
Boom Steps Up Big Time
Ever since Ahmad Bradshaw went down for the Colts, they've had trouble replacing him in the lineup. Daniel "Boom" Herron has done a nice job, but he hasn't been Ahmad Bradshaw for the Colts. On Sunday, he was pretty dang close. Boom rushed 12 times for 56 yards and a score, averaging 4.7 yards per carry and leading the team in rushing. He also caught 10 passes (team-high) for 86 yards (second most on team), combining for 141 yards and score, averaging 6.4 yards every time he touched the football. He also had a couple of very nice plays in pass protection. The downside to Boom all season and then again on Sunday were the fumbles, as he was credited with two fumbles and lost one. He absolutely needs to hang onto the football, but what he gave the Colts on Sunday can't be ignored: he gave them the threat out of the backfield that they have desperately needed. Per ESPN Stats and Info, Herron accounted for more yards from scrimmage than any Colts back in a game in the last three years. And he did that in a playoff game, a game in which the team needed him to step up. Andrew Luck was comfortable taking the check down pass to Herron, which both helped to prevent a stupid mistake from Luck but also which Boom made plays from. He was a threat in both the run game and the pass game, and the Colts gave him the bulk of the reps at running back. That should continue as the Colts move forward in the playoffs, and if Boom Herron can keep up the performance that he had on Sunday, it would be absolutely huge for the Colts' offense.
Jerrell Freeman Returns to Form
I don't think it's any secret that Colts inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman had a bit of a down regular season, battling through injuries and play that was below the level which we had come to expect from Freeman in his first two seasons. On Sunday against the Bengals, however, Freeman returned to form and had a big impact on the game. He recorded 15 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a quarterback hit, but as is so often the case with linebackers, the stats don't tell the whole story. He made some phenomenal plays. Chasing a guy down to prevent him from getting a first down to move the chains. Making a stop in the run game. Getting to the quarterback for a sack. It seemed like Jerrell Freeman was all over the field on Sunday, and he was making a lot of plays. It was encouraging for the offensive side of the football to see Boom Herron break out, but it was just as encouraging on the defensive side of the football to see Freeman return to the level of play that we haven't really seen much from him this season. Hopefully, he can keep it up as well.
Offensive Line Wasn't Offensive
I didn't think I'd be typing this after Sunday's win, but I'm happy that I am: the offensive line for the Colts looked very good on Sunday. It was their eleventh different starting offensive line combination of the year, with Anthony Castonzo (LT), Jack Mewhort (LG), Khaled Holmes ( C ), Lance Louis (RG), and Joe Reitz (RT) getting the start. And they looked great, giving Andrew Luck plenty of time to throw the football and the running backs (like Boom Herron) lanes to run through. The left side of the line was, like normal, good for the Colts (and Castonzo and Mewhort made quite the tandem in run blocking especially), but the right side of the line also played well today. Khaled Holmes looked good at center, too, and all in all it was a very encouraging result from the Colts' offensive line. Now, I know: the Bengals stink at generating pass rush. I get that, and I'm not saying that the Colts have figured out all of their issues up front. But after seeing the line play poorly and get Andrew Luck hit a ton week after week, I couldn't care less about who they did it against - I was just happy to see them play really well against anybody. They'll certainly get tougher tests if they keep winning (and they'll get a much tougher one this Sunday against the Broncos) and that should tell us more about how sustainable this success really is, but I thought it was a very encouraging showing from a unit that had been struggling mightily in recent weeks.