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Upon Further Review: Colts vs. Bears

NFL: Chicago Bears at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Chicago Bears 29-23 at Lucas Oil Stadium to improve to 2-3 on the season heading into a key matchup against the Houston Texans.

Normally on Tuesdays after a Colts game I take a look back at the film to point out some notes, observations, and things we might have missed initially, but this week I got caught up with a few other things on Tuesday and wasn’t able to put in the adequate amount of time to both study the film and write a break-down of it, so it’s a day late this week. Anyway, here’s a look back at some notes from Sunday’s win:

  • Andrew Luck is playing really, really well. We’ve actually talked about this quite a bit here at Stampede Blue this year, as despite the Colts’ dismal record their quarterback is playing well. I wrote in week one about how he looked back to 2014 form, but I think he’s actually been better than he was in 2014. Sunday was a great example of his progress, as there were very few plays that I think was a bad decision by Luck (outside of the stupid delay of game penalty, which was all on Luck). Luck has protected the football well and has still done a great job of moving around in the pocket and making plays. That’s what is so great to see: that Luck’s decision making is really good, but he’s still moving around and making plays and taking shots deep (the Colts hit a lot of those on Sunday). He’s not playing timid, but he is playing great football right now. I know that since I keep talking about this I’ll probably be considered a Luck homer, but whatever: I call it like I see it, and what I see is Andrew Luck playing at a high level.
  • T.Y. Hilton stepping up, while others aren’t. In the absence of Donte Moncrief, T.Y. Hilton has stepped up in a big way. In two of the three games without Moncrief Hilton has gone for over 170 yards and in all three games he’s caught a touchdown. Sunday was another huge day for the wideout, as he caught ten passes for 171 yards and a score. Outside of Hilton, however, the receivers haven’t really done much in Moncrief’s absence. The biggest surprise is with Phillip Dorsett, who on Sunday saw the same amount of targets as Quan Bray - in 54 more snaps. So while Moncrief has been out, Dorsett has failed to capitalize. Why is that? I think it’s a combination of a few things, including the following (in no particular order): 1) Dorsett has struggled getting open at times (just like every receiver), so there have indeed been times that he hasn’t been open. 2) As the number two receiver now, teams can spend more time prepping to defend Dorsett than they otherwise could have if he was the number three and playing alongside Hilton and Moncrief. Furthermore, as the number two Dorsett has had to shoulder a bit of Moncrief’s role as a more well-rounded receiver, which he’s not the best-suited for right now. And 3), Andrew Luck often looks T.Y. Hilton’s way as his primary read, which though it’s been working out really well can take some targets away from Dorsett. Luck’s decision making has been good this year, so I’m not neccessarily saying the latter one is a problem as much as I’m making an observation. You certainly expect more out of a first round pick, but I think there are a lot of reasons why Dorsett’s production hasn’t increased with Moncrief out.
  • Up-tempo offense works. The Colts got off to a faster start on Sunday, which was huge - especially after a game in London and trying to get back into the routine of things. A big reason for this was the up-tempo offense that the Colts employed for most of the first half, which saw the team move the ball quite well. They still didn’t get it into the end zone as much as they’d like, but they moved the ball and got off to a faster start. That’s definitely progress, and that’s something the team should continue to build upon. The Colts went away from it some in the third quarter and the offense stalled, and Andrew Luck might have hinted at the connection with the up-tempo offense in his post-game presser. So after all the talk a week ago about whether the Colts should and would utilize it more, the first test of utilizing it as the base offense early in games was a success on Sunday.
  • Colts hit some explosive plays. The Colts’ offense is at their best when hitting on explosive deep plays, and the good news is that Andrew Luck is really well suited to make those throws and run that kind of offense. So far this year, he’s sixth in the NFL in passes of 20+ yards, and Sunday was easily the most impressive performance so far this year in that regard. Entering the game, the Colts had recorded eleven pass plays of 20+ yards in four games, and on Sunday they hit eight of them. Luck connected with T.Y. Hilton on five of those plays, while he also hit Quan Bray, Phillip Dorsett, and Dwayne Allen for big gains. The Colts got their deep, big-play offense going on Sunday and saw the dividends of it.
  • Offensive line was a mixed bag. The right side of the Colts offensive line on Sunday struggled, allowing quite a bit of pressure on Andrew Luck, and that side was the reason for several of the five sacks given up overall. So there’s really no doubt about it: the Colts’ offensive line is not playing great football, and they need to get better. But with that said, I think there were actually some encouraging things, at least as much as it can be after a five sack day. I thought that there were some plays in which Luck had plenty of time to throw (and perhaps the no-huddle helped with that, too), and the left side of the line looked good. We’ve rarely even mentioned Jack Mewhort this year, but it’s because he’s playing well at left guard and is the least of the team’s worries. And left tackle Anthony Castonzo seems to be among the most inconsistent players on the team this year, as he followed up a bad outing a week ago with a good one this week. This all might sound like I’m excusing the offensive line’s play, and that’s not my intention: they weren’t good and they need to improve. But at the same time, it wasn’t all bad on Sunday - and maybe that’s improvement in itself.
  • Dwayne Allen had a nice day. Dwayne Allen has had a rough season so far after signing his big extension this offseason, so it was nice to see him have a good outing on Sunday. He caught six passes (on six targets) for 50 yards and a touchdown, marking one of his better overall games since his rookie season. He tied a career high in catches (the other two instances he did so came in 2012), had his eighth-highest single-game receiving yards total, and had the most catches in a game in which he caught 100% of his targets (the next highest game was three catches/targets). Allen was a valuable receiver on Sunday, and it would be big for the Colts if he could keep that up moving forward.
  • Linebackers - outside of Erik Walden - really struggling. As has been the case all season and as was expected coming into the season, the linebackers were the weakest part of the defense on Sunday. At inside linebacker, the replacements for Jerrell Freeman Nate Irving Sio Moore didn’t do great, and Josh McNary actually left the game early with a stinger. Antonio Morrison was not good either, particularly in coverage (where he looks lost). And of course, D’Qwell Jackson is who he is at this point: a guy who isn’t a great player but who will make some tackles... and the Colts’ best inside linebacker (which is a bad thing). At outside linebacker, the pass rush was once again invisible on Sunday. They were facing a good offensive line, but they still managed just five quarterback hits and no sacks on Brian Hoyer. I was particularly surprised to see how little the Colts played Akeem Ayers (he played just seven snaps) with Robert Mathis doing next to nothing, and I think that’s something that needs to change - not because Ayers is a great player or the team’s pass rush savior but because they need to try to do something to get this pass rush jump-started. Thankfully, though, they have Erik Walden. I don’t think I’ve given Walden enough credit here this season, but he has really impressed, and he did so again on Sunday. He recorded two of those five quarterback hits I talked about, as well as two tackles. On the season, Walden has 14 tackles, four sacks, seven quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, and three tackles for loss - and he leads the team in sacks, quarterback hits, forced fumbles, and is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss. In fact, he’s actually made more tackles against the pass this year than against the run - and he’s the team’s run-stopping outside linebacker. Walden has had a very good season; the other linebackers, not so much.
  • Some good, some bad from the cornerbacks. Patrick Robinson was bad on Sunday. But it wasn’t all bad for the cornerbacks, as Vontae Davis, Darius Butler, and Rashaan Melvin all impressed. I think there are positives to be found in the cornerback position, but that will require Robinson to step up. We haven’t seen much from him so far this year (we’ve actually seen much less from him than we did from Antonio Cromartie, who was cut for a bad performance), and Sunday wasn’t a good game. But the other three I mentioned all had good games, so that’s a good sign for the cornerback group.
  • Defense still really bad. Let’s make this clear: the Colts are not a “good defense,” like Chuck Pagano suggested today, and they’re not even close. A win is HUGE and should not be taken lightly, because anytime you can get a win in the NFL it’s a big deal. And a win makes it better and easier on Monday to show up to work and look at fixing the issues, so I’m not dismissing that... but at the same time, the Colts’ defense was really bad on Sunday. The numbers are bad enough: they gave up 522 total yards, an average of 8.4 yards per play, four drives of 78+ yards, and a career-best day for Brian Hoyer. The Bears hit six plays of 20+ yards, but most of the time it was just methodical drives down the field - none bigger than the nine-play, 96-yard drive allowed in the fourth quarter. Basically, the only team to consistently stop the Bears offense on Sunday was the Bears, who shot themselves in the foot with penalties. Oh, and get this: the 522 yards allowed in the win were the most the Colts have given up in a winning effort since they’ve been in Indianapolis. And it was just the fourth time in that span that they’ve won a game in which they allowed over 500 total yards, and three of those four occasions have come in the Chuck Pagano era (the other was in 2010). That’s obviously not good at all, and so while it’s nice they got a win, the defense still stinks.
  • Specialists still special. Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee are still really awesome, in case you missed it. Vinatieri was named the AFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week after converting all five of his field goal attempts on Sunday, while McAfee averaged 63.3 yards per punt (three punts) on Sunday with a long of 74 and two punts downed inside the 20. Actually, all three of McAfee’s punts were inside the 20, but one was horribly played by Jordan Todman so it wound up as a touchback. But regardless, Vinatieri and McAfee are still really, really good at kicking balls, and they’re proving once again why they’re the best kicking duo in the league - by far.