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Quick Thoughts: Colts Give Away Halftime Lead for Another Loss, Now 2-6 on the Season

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

This has been a very difficult season to be an Indianapolis Colts fan. It is a season full of missed opportunities, second half implosions, crucial injuries, and frustrating coaching decisions. The team flashes signs of having some young talent and the opportunity to turn a corner but it has become apparent that this is a lost year and that no matter what happens in the second half, Indianapolis has a lot of work to do to make their way back to the playoffs.

Game balls go to defensive lineman Henry Anderson, outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, and tight end Jack Doyle.

Anderson finished the game with seven total tackles, a sack, a quarterback hit, and three tackles for a loss. Between the Jacksonville game and this game in Cincinnati, he is playing the best football of his career. If he can keep up this level of production, he will help the Colts defensive line continue developing into one of the toughest units in the NFL.

While I don’t have a total number of hurries on the defensive side of the ball, which I think would help the case for his game ball, Mingo finished the game with 5 total tackles, a QB hit, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery on special teams. While it is absolutely true that the Colts are still weak at outside linebacker as the team lacks a marquee pass rush specialist, it is also true that Simon, Sheard, and Mingo have been a better group than Robert Mathis, Trent Cole, and Erik Walden were a season ago.

Lastly, what Jack Doyle did for the offense in this game is phenomenal. Some players are able to generate 100 yards of output based upon huge plays. This production is valuable and can result in touchdowns but there has to be someone who can grind things out for a quarterback. A player who hauls in 12 passes on 14 targets for 121 yards and a touchdown is a gladiator.

After having a string of games where he has struggled holding on to the football and has coughed up some fumbles, a game like this gives Rob Chudzinski and Jacoby Brissett renewed confidence. It could also play a key role in opening things up over the top for T.Y. Hilton and the wide outs.

From a coaching perspective, the biggest weakness was inconsistency by Rob Chudzinski. He earns plus grades for a balanced game plan that included a steady dose of Marlon Mack and Frank Gore and kept the Bengals defense guessing. This balance punished a defense that wanted to dial up pressure on Brissett.

Indianapolis ran the ball 28 times for 115 yards, a 4.1 yard per carry average. Gore and Mack also hauled in 7 receptions for 55 yards and were responsible for over a quarter of all receptions on the day.

Chudzinksi earns low marks for situational play-calling. Anytime the Colts have a and-long situation, no matter the down, the play calling is horrible. More often than not, the calls are ridiculously conservative and give the team no legitimate chance to make a play to get a first down or put the offense in a better situation on the next play. And-long plays tend to be followed by “and long” plays for the Colts.

On the other hand, and-short plays are also horrible. There are a number of things an offense can do in short yardage offensive situations, depending on the down. On second-and-short, teams can go for big plays down the field, setup check downs and screens to punish defenses who crash toward the line in anticipation of a run, or they can try to stretch the field laterally to get a player in space. Too often, the Colts either run the ball up the middle for a loss or do not design plays that will have a chance at success in these situations.

No play signifies just how bad the situational play-calling has been for Chudzinski more than the final offensive play of the game. On 4th and 4, with the game on the line, one can be sure that the defense will likely either blitz to put pressure on a young quarterback or dial up some kind of stunt to force the ball out. The last thing a defense wants in this situation is for a long play to develop and allow a first down — shortening time on the clock and wasting solid coverage down the field.

The way the Colts needed to handle this situation was to have a play ready that would help get players open for short and intermediate yards. The first read should be be the linebacker on Marlon Mack. If the linebacker crashes and refuses to let Mack make the play, the center of the field should be wide open. Due to this, you want to have a dig or crossing pattern flash in front of the quarterback in the vacated area of the field.

This is a prime situation for a rub route with a short out going toward the sideline for a first down and to stop the clock — typical in this game situation — with a dig across the face of the coverage. A quick completion for 4 yards is all it takes.

What you absolutely don’t want in this situation is to have routes that take a long time to develop. You don’t want to force your offensive line to hold against some kind of designed stunt or blitz for longer than normal. You don’t want T.Y. Hilton running a flag route more than 15 yards down the field — and if you do it is only because he is softening up the underneath zone for your shallow receiver. None of that happened on this play.

Instead, there was no shallow route. There was no one in the middle of the field. There was no one who was trying to simply get the first down yardage. There was just a stunting defensive end hitting Brissett in his face and a desperate lob that was going no where.

This is the kind of poor decision-making by Chudzinski and a young second-year quarterback that will continue to make it difficult for the Colts to win games late. It is too easy for Indy’s opponents to simply play situational football and rely on Indianapolis to do something they shouldn’t. Unforced errors by the quarterback and by the offensive coordinators have hurt this team mightily in the first half of the season.

What might be the most discouraging thing of all is that this season is made up of too many “almosts.” The Colts lost against the Bengals on the road when they should have won. The Colts lost at home in overtime to the Cardinals when they had the game in hand. The Colts should have beaten the Tennessee Titans on the road but blew it late. For those keeping count, that is three games that Colts should have won.

They almost won.

It takes coaching to win these kinds of football games. You must have your players ready to play in the fourth quarter. You must have your offense and defense ready for situations that occur late in football games to put away an opponent.

This team— this flawed, injured, young football team, could very well be 5-3. HA! Imagine that. What a difference that would make.

Instead, Indianapolis has played its way out of games. The coaching staff has given away games with soft defense and non-existent second half offense. No matter how good the team plays for stretches, there is no confidence that it is able to close an opponent out. This is something the coaches have to fix, or something the owner and general manager need to get fixed with the coaches.