The Indianapolis Colts lost to the Buffalo Bills in Sunday's regular season opener 27-14. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the team "learn" loosely):
When Luck struggles, the team struggles
I thought this was, by far, the biggest takeaway from Sunday's game, and it was really something that we already knew: that, when Andrew Luck struggles, the entire team will struggle. Understand that this is a team built completely around their quarterback, and when Andrew Luck is that quarterback it's not a bad strategy. But that also means that, when Luck doesn't play well, that doesn't bode well for the rest of the team. On Sunday, there's no way around it: Andrew Luck played poorly. He was off on a lot of his throws and he was very much a part of the team's struggles. And we saw that this simply isn't a team built to play well when Luck is playing poorly. The defense didn't play great, failing to compensate for their quarterback's struggles. At one point in the first half, Luck left the field trailing 10-0 and the next time he was on the field for a meaningful snap, he was down 24-0. Luck's receivers didn't help him out much either, as they appeared relatively soft on contested passes. And Luck's offensive line didn't do a particularly great job at fending off Rex Ryan's blitzes. There are plenty of things that you can point to from this game as issues for the Colts, but I really think it all boils down to this: Andrew Luck covers over a lot of issues for the Colts and they're a team built to win behind their quarterback. That's no surprise and it's not in itself any indictment of the way this team is built, but it's simply the reality of where the Colts are right now. The good news out of all of this? Luck won't have many off days like he did on Sunday against one of the league's best defenses.
A few defensive positives
The Colts defense didn't have a great all-around performance on Sunday. Tyrod Taylor did some good things, posting a 123.8 passer rating in his first career start. They gave up some big plays. They missed some tackles and didn't force a turnover. But with all of that said, there were some impressive performances from defensive players. Kendall Langford and Henry Anderson both looked very good, particularly against the run, and helped the defensive line to have an overall positive game. We talked a lot about whether the Colts did enough to improve their run defense, and in today's game it was clear that at least two of those additions could make a difference. The run defense wasn't really as bad as the numbers might lead you to believe - take away a 31-yard rush by Taylor and a 26-yard touchdown rush by Karlos Williams and the Bills averaged just 2.6 yards per carry (34 rushes for 90 yards). Their run defense actually wasn't that bad, and a big reason why was because of Kendall Langford and Henry Anderson. One other positive to note from the defense was Vontae Davis, who last year emerged into that elite level of cornerbacks. While last year he stayed on one side of the field, on Sunday he shadowed Sammy Watkins all over the field. And Watkins' stat line? A bunch of zeroes. No catches, yards, etc., and only three targets. Davis was truly a shutdown corner on Sunday.
Slow starts continue to be an issue
I'm on record as saying it and I still believe it: Sunday was more about the Colts getting outplayed than outcoached, though both happened. I don't think the Colts' gameplan was a terrible one, but they didn't execute it that well (at all). But with that said, a trend continued that has been troubling to many Colts fans continued on Sunday: the Colts starting slowly. The Colts were shutout in the first half and gave up 17 points to the Bills. And it was the fourth time in the Chuck Pagano era that the Colts didn't score a single point in the first half of a game and the 18th time that the Colts were held below ten points in the first half. On the flip side, it was the 20th time in the Chuck Pagano era that the defense gave up at least 17 points in the first half. The Colts have now trailed at halftime in 27 of the 55 games of the Chuck Pagano era (49%), or in other words essentially half of their games, while they have a 10-17 record in games they trail at halftime (.370). When leading at the half? The Colts are 26-2 (.929). I'm not sure that we can pinpoint one exact reason for some of these slow starts, but it's a trend that has continued and that showed up again on Sunday. The Colts are not exactly a fast-starting team, and that's not a particularly good thing.