The Indianapolis Colts lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 30-14 on Sunday. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the term "learn" loosely):
That’s what happens when Luck struggles
Though it may sound crazy at first, I really think there was only one main thing that people should have been surprised about from the Colts on Sunday: the play of Andrew Luck. After playing at an elite level through the first seven games, Luck struggled on Sunday, completing just 19 of 35 passes (54.3%) for 210 yards (6 yards per attempt), two touchdowns, and an interception for a passer rating of 79.5. It wasn’t a terrible performance from the quarterback, but without a doubt it was a struggle as he was missing several passes and didn’t look too accurate for a number of throws. And it’s worth pointing out too that Luck rushed for 60 yards (averaging 6.7 yards per carry), a new career high. But it was a rough day from Luck overall, at least compared to the standard he has been playing at.
I think that illustrates just where this team is at, however. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: this is a bad football team. They’re among the league’s worst defenses, their special teams has been shaky, their coaching has let them down, and they’ve dealt with plenty of offensive line struggles and plenty of drops. And while a 3-4 record entering Sunday’s game wasn’t great, they had been competitive in every game. The reason why? Andrew Luck. We’ve mentioned before that this team is built all around Luck and they need him to essentially be perfect to win, and perhaps no game showed that better than Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs. With Luck playing well, we saw the Colts go 3-4 but stay competitive. With Luck struggling, we saw the Colts lose by 16 points at home to the Chiefs. They’ve only had two losses by more than one score, and those two games are the two lowest-rated games of the season for Luck. Coincidence? I think not. So I’m not at all absolving Luck of blame for his play - Luck and everyone else deserves the blame for Sunday’s debacle - but I am using to once again illustrate that this is a bad team that stands no chance without their franchise quarterback playing well. As Kyle Rodriguez accurately pointed out during the game:
Pagano/Grigson era: if Luck has a bad game, they get blown out. If he's good, they probably lose. If he's great, they have a shot.— kyle (@ColtsAuth_Kyle) October 30, 2016
Offensive line was a mess on Sunday
There’s no way around it: the offensive line was bad on Sunday for the Colts. The Chiefs managed six sacks, twelve quarterback hits, and seven tackles for loss on the day, and Luck was hit on 36% of his dropbacks - which doesn’t even include pressures. Those six sacks are tied for a career high for Luck, along with the Jaguars game from this year. So the Colts have given up six sacks in a game twice this year, and they’ve given up five sacks in a game two other times - meaning that in Andrew Luck’s game career so far, four of the seven highest single-game sack totals have come this year. He’s been hit 64 times this year and sacked 31 times, which is just one sack away from tying the second-most sacks he’s taken in a single season in the NFL - and it’s only eight weeks in. He has been hit on 25.1% of his dropbacks this year, which obviously isn’t acceptable. In Luck’s first four seasons (61 games), he was sacked an average of 2.02 times per game. This year (eight games), he has been sacked an average of 3.88 times per game. And if you’re wondering how much it actually affects the offense, consider this: three times this year, Luck has been hit 12+ times in a game, and those are his three lowest-rated games this year when it comes to passer rating (while five of his eight turnovers on the year have come in those three games). Is it directly related? I don’t know, but it’s worth considering.
Look, the offensive line is a work in progress in every sense of that phrase, and we knew it would be coming into the year. And by some indications, there’s reason for optimism: Ryan Kelly looks like the real deal, while Joe Haeg has been impressive as a rookie. But for every sign of improvement they may show, they also show some steps back - such as the play of the tackles. Both tackle spots have been issues for the Colts this year and again on Sunday, as Anthony Castonzo and Joe Reitz both struggled. The struggles of Castonzo this year (and last year, too) are particularly concerning, because the Colts can’t afford to have another spot on their line become a question mark. They’re trying to add legitimate pieces for the future by position, and they got one at center - but have they lost that in their left tackle in the process? That’s not to say they’ll get rid of Castonzo, but no longer can the team count on him to give them solid play week in and week out.
Defense is still bad
There will be some who say that the defense did well enough to win today, but don’t believe it: the defense was still bad, and if that’s the standard that’s set for the defense playing at an adequate level, then the offense truly does need to score 30+ points per game to simply win. The defense on Sunday gave up 422 yards and 30 points (though seven of those were after they were put in a bad position by the offense). They let a backup quarterback (Nick Foles) complete 72.7% of his passes for 223 yards and two scores for a passer rating of 135.2, while Travis Kelce caught seven passes for 101 yards and a touchdown and Tyreek Hill caught five passes for 98 yards and a score. The Chiefs’ third string running back, Charcandrick West, rush for 52 yards. And while it was nowhere near the worst defensive performance of the season for Indianapolis, that highlights just how bad their defense has been. They’re now allowing more than 400 yards per game this year, while also allowing nearly 30 points per game. It’s been said over and over that this defense isn’t good, and the fact that Sunday’s game was nowhere near their worst shows just how bad they’ve been.