The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Tennessee Titans 35-33 on Sunday. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the team "learn" loosely):
As Luck goes, so go the Colts
The Colts started the season 0-2 and fell behind on Sunday 27-14, and a large part of that was because of the play of quarterback Andrew Luck. Simply put, he hasn't been good for much of the season. So we've seen this week that, with the team being built so much around their quarterback, it makes sense that when Luck struggles, they will struggle. We saw that on Sunday very clearly - but we also saw the flip side of it. When Luck plays well, he can cover over a lot of the issues. That's what he did in the fourth quarter, completing 11-of-14 passes for 144 yards and two scores, leading the Colts to 21 fourth quarter points and a thrilling 35-33 comeback win. With the game (and perhaps the season) on the line, Luck stepped up and played well. So, again, we learned that when Luck plays poorly, the Colts will look bad, but when Luck plays well, the Colts will look much better and will win some games.
Andrew Luck covers over a lot of the issues when he's playing well - but the Colts still have issues. Two of the biggest ones that we saw on Sunday were the offensive line and the pass rush. The offensive line struggled to protect Andrew Luck once again, despite making major changes to the starting lineup. And they were called for way too many penalties - the line was flagged seven times for 55 yards, including four holding penalties (three of them on Hugh Thornton). The struggles of the offensive line continued on Sunday and are a legitimate issue. And the pass rush is also a big issue, as the Colts not only struggle to protect their own quarterback but also struggle to pressure the opposing one. They recorded two sacks on Marcus Mariota, but overall they didn't get much pressure. Sure, Mariota did a good job of avoiding pressure, but there's still no excuse for the Colts' failures to get to the quarterback. Coupled with the injuries at cornerback, that's not a good combination for the Colts.
The AFC South may have another franchise quarterback
We try to keep these "three things" recaps Colts-centered (because you come here to read about the Colts, after all), but I think that one of the biggest things that we learned from the game is that the AFC South may have another franchise quarterback to go along with Andrew Luck. And by that, I mean Marcus Mariota. He completed 27 of 44 passes for 367 yards and two scores with two interceptions, and one of those picks wasn't his fault. He looked very poised in moving around and avoiding what little pressure the Colts managed to apply, while he picked an injured Colts' secondary apart. Sure, the Colts had a lot of backups in there in coverage, but Mariota still did very well against it. Through his first three NFL games, Mariota has completed 61 of 97 passes (62.9%) for 833 yards (8.6 yards per attempt), 8 touchdowns, and 2 picks, good for a 109.2 passer rating. The Titans still have some work to do, and again - it's only three games - but they appear to have found an answer at the most important position. And if that proves to be the case, we might see more close games like this one between the Colts and the Titans in the years to come.