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Upon Further Review: Colts vs. Packers

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts notched their biggest win of the season on Sunday entering their bye week, as they defeated the Green Bay Packers 31-26 at Lambeau Field.

It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was the best game the Colts have played yet this year when considering all three phases. Upon looking at the tape, here are some notes:

  • Run game does its job. The stats for the run game aren’t anything special - the Colts rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 3.04 yards per carry - but the run game absolutely did its job on Sunday. Remember, the Colts aren’t relying on their run game to go for 150 yards on any given Sunday but only to be productive enough to keep the offense (and the passing game) going, and that’s what they did on Sunday. Frank Gore did a good job on several runs and had two touchdowns, which also should be attributed to some of the blocking - on his first touchdown Anthony Castonzo made a terrific block, and on the second one it was Jack Doyle springing the score. The running backs and the run blocking deserve credit, and we also must mention Robert Turbin, who did his job on another short yardage situation.
  • Offensive line shows progress. In what is sure to be a continual back-and-forth process this year, the offensive line had a good game on Sunday... a week after their worst performance... which was a week after a good performance. Catch the drift? But Sunday was a good day for them, as even though they still gave up eight hits and two sacks on Luck they showed improvement from a week ago. They did a nice job blocking in the run game and kept Luck clean more than they’ve done in a number of games this year.
  • 3rd down was a success. The Colts converted 7 of 14 third down attempts on Sunday, and one of those was a kneeldown to end the game. That’s a good success rate, and the team made some big-time plays on third down throughout the game. For example, on the massive 96-yard drive to end the first half they converted a couple of key third downs - including Andrew Luck’s 3rd and 10 conversion from his own end zone. Then on the final drive, Luck and the offense converted two huge third downs that sealed the game. And it also should be mentioned that the Colts had some nice plays for third down, such as the handoff to Robert Turbin on third and short or Luck’s keeper on the read option on another such occasion.
  • That’s where the Colts missed Donte Moncrief. We saw on Sunday the biggest area where the Colts missed Donte Moncrief: the red zone. He’s a good receiver all-around and can help the Colts no matter where they are on the field, but Moncrief is a help in the red zone. The back-shoulder throw from Andrew Luck to Donte Moncrief near the end of the first half was simply beautiful and a great adjustment by Moncrief, and that are in particular is where he can be such a big factor.
  • Defensive backs had a very good game. Turning the attention to the defense, the key to what the Colts did on Sunday was their defensive backs. Their cornerbacks have been their best defensive unit all year (which isn’t really saying much) and the coverage on Sunday was once again good. Vontae Davis played well, as did Patrick Robinson, and Rashaan Melvin continues to look really good (and like a very underrated Ryan Grigson signing this year). The Colts trusted those three at corners and then moved Darius Butler to safety in place of the injured Mike Adams, while inserting T.J. Green at safety too and moving Clayton Geathers down in the box as a linebacker. That meant that the Colts had seven defensive backs playing regular snaps on Sunday, and it worked out very well. The defense struggled late in the game, but overall it was an impressive performance - mainly because of the defensive backs. At the same time, however, they weren’t perfect, and that leads to a related point.
  • You can also see why Packers’ offense has been inconsistent. If you’ve been paying attention to the NFL this season, you likely have heard of the Packers’ inconsistent offense. Most thought that they would get things going against the Colts (they had a great game in week eight against the Falcons, too), but instead some of the same issues showed up. The Colts’ defense absolutely deserves credit for the way they played, but at the same time the Packers’ receivers struggled to get open consistently (which, since it’s been much more than a one-game occurrence, says something about them too). And when they did get open - such as when they had two deep plays open in a row - Rodgers missed one and then had the next one flat out dropped. When playing Aaron Rodgers, teams are going to need to cover longer because of how he extends the play, and yet the receivers still couldn’t get open with regularity. That’s in part due to the play of the Colts’ defensive backs, but it’s also in part due to the concerns we’ve seen from the Packers all year.
  • Defense played relatively well, but it was almost Houston all over again. For as good as the defense played (by the Colts’ standards), it wasn’t perfect. In fact, it was almost Houston all over again. Earlier this year the Colts blew a massive fourth quarter lead in the final minutes, ultimately losing to the Texans in overtime, and on Sunday the Colts nearly blew the lead again. In fact, it might have been as close as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix finishing a sack on third down - because if he does, I don’t think anybody would have had confidence in the Colts defense stopping Green Bay the way the previous two drives had gone. So the tune of the game was almost much different than it was (and that shouldn’t be ignored), but the offense won the game for Indy as they converted two third downs on the final drive (including Luck breaking that aforementioned sack) to run out the clock.
  • Jordan Todman, Josh Ferguson deserve credit in special teams. Finally, the Colts found that spark in the return game, scoring their first kick return for a touchdown since 2012. Jordan Todman took the opening kickoff back 99 yards, and while his speed was evident, his blockers also deserve credit - namely Josh Ferguson, who helped spring that score. A little bit later, Todman broke a 61 yard return - and it was once again Ferguson providing a key block. Ferguson has taken a lot of criticism from fans this year, but those two plays in particular were fantastic by him - doing whatever it takes to make himself necessary, as Chuck Pagano likes to say.
  • Coaching staff impresses. I don’t get to write this often, so I’d better now when I have the chance: the coaching staff did a very good job on Sunday. Chuck Pagano and Ted Monachino had a really good defensive gameplan against the Packers, figuring out how to make the most of what they had by getting more defensive backs on the field, getting Clayton Geathers at linebacker and Darius Butler at safety, and also figuring out ways to try to get to the quarterback. This was one game where, on defense, the coaching staff had a good gameplan that perfectly accounted for the Packers’ offensive approach. And on offense, Rob Chudzinski did a better job of mixing things up, particularly as the game went on - and he deserves a lot of credit for staying aggressive late with the game on the line. A lot of teams in those situations will run safe plays, trying to get the first down but also trying just as much to run clock and not screw things up. Chud did a good job as the game went on not getting complacent with a lead and keeping things aggressive, while he also mixed in some nice play calls throughout the game (such as, like I already mentioned, some of the third down plays). And Tom McMahon should also get some credit for the performance of the special teams units (though someone needs to continue to work with Chester Rogers on where to field a punt and where to let it go). Overall, it was one of the better performances we’ve seen from this coaching staff.