The Indianapolis Colts lost to the Detroit Lions 39-35 on Sunday in the regular season opener. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the team "learn" loosely):
Andrew Luck is back
Sunday’s game was Andrew Luck’s first official game since last November, and he passed the test with flying colors - responding with one of the best games of his career. Luck completed 31 of 47 passes (66%) for 385 yards (8.2 yards per attempt), four touchdowns, and no interceptions for a passer rating of 119.5, also adding 21 yards rushing (on three carries, averaging seven yards per rush). It was the fifth-highest single-game passing yards total for Luck in his career; tied for the second-most single-game passing touchdowns for Luck in his career; and the fifth-highest rated game for Luck in his career. He has thrown at least four touchdown passes in six games in his career, but in only two of them he’s done so without any picks - and in neither of those two games did he throw for as many yards as he did on Sunday. Luck was absolutely spectacular on Sunday, particularly at the end of the first half and in the second half. He led the Colts all the way back from an 18-point deficit, and then led the Colts from behind again to take a one-point lead with less than a minute left in the game. The defense couldn’t hold after either one of them, but that wasn’t Luck’s fault. He did everything he could to win that game, and he deserves a ton of credit despite the result. He looked in vintage 2014 form and looked as good as he has in his NFL career, and that shouldn’t be lost in the 0-1 record. Andrew Luck is back, and that’s as encouraging a sign as the Colts could possibly have asked for, all things considered.
Injured defense a major concern
Of course, for as good as Andrew Luck was, the defense was just as bad. They gave up 37 points and 448 total yards, allowing the Lions to average seven yards per play. The Lions rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 4.8 yards per carry, and Matthew Stafford completed 31 of 39 passes for 340 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover. The Colts recorded just one sack of Stafford and didn’t force a turnover. They gave up three touchdowns in the first half as the Colts fell behind 21-3, and then in the second half they couldn’t manage to hold on as Andrew Luck pulled the team back. They got a couple of opportunistic three-and-outs, but they couldn’t get a stop when they needed it the most. When Luck led the offense down the field to tie it up midway through the fourth quarter, the defense gave up the go-ahead score to the Lions on the very next drive. When Luck led the offense down the field to take the lead with less than a minute left, the defense gave up the go-ahead score to the Lions on the very next drive. The defense was bad, but a lot of that was to be expected. They were without Vontae Davis, Darius Butler, Clayton Geathers, and Henry Anderson, while Patrick Robinson and T.J. Green left during the game. By the end of the game, the Colts were down to only five healthy defensive backs - three corners and two safeties - and only one of them was on the team during training camp! That’s absolutely ridiculous, and so it’s understandable why the Colts struggled to defend against the pass. But some of the other issues, like the pass rush, showed up, and the Colts’ run defense wasn’t great either (though you could say Henry Anderson’s absence had a role in the run defense problems). The good news is that the defense won’t be that bad all year, as they’ll get some of the injured guys back at some point. But on Sunday, it wasn’t good at all. Inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson summed it up well after the game: “We played like shit.”
Slow starts still an issue
I wrote about this more in-depth on Sunday night, but the Colts once again had a slow start. They fell behind 21-3 in the first half and trailed 21-10 at halftime - the 20th time in the Chuck Pagano era that the team has trailed by double-digits at the half. It’s not a new issue, and that’s what makes it even more concerning. While some were saying ‘it’s only ten minutes into the game, so don’t freak out,’ others of us were saying, ‘it’s been an issue for years now.’ The Colts’ defense started slow in giving up touchdown drives on three of the Lions’ first four possessions, and the Colts’ offense started slow too in scoring zero points on their first three possessions combined. I don’t know what the answer is to fixing these slow starts, but it seems like the Colts’ preparation for games still isn’t what it needs to be. They adjust well in-game and jump on Andrew Luck’s back hoping he’ll pull a win out (and on Sunday he almost did), but the slow starts are continuing to be a trend for the Colts and that’s not a good thing. They’d better figure it out at some point soon, before the slow start to the season (which is also a trend, as the Colts are 1-4 in week one under Chuck Pagano) continues as well.