In a year that has been characterized by a steady dose of second half collapses, resulting in weekly gut punches to a fan base who has continued to watch a team show that it can impose its will for just about three quarters of a game, its becoming harder to find silver linings. They are certainly there. There are players who represent a bright future at certain positions. Still, pointing them out after the team fails to uphold a lead time and again gets cumbersome.
The only two offensive weapons who deserve to be included in this category are Jack Doyle and Frank Gore. Doyle caught 7 passes on 8 targets for 94 yards. He was the only reliable and consistent target in the passing game all day and this is despite the fact that the Titans are completely aware that he is going to be featured. Gore ran for 62 yards on 17 carries (3.6 ypc), rushed for a touchdown, and caught 2 passes on 5 targets for 17 yards. While not spectacular, his touchdown run up the middle earns his mention here.
On defense, a number of players had strong games. Al Woods had 4 tackles and a tackle for a loss, dominating the Titans ground game early on. Johnathan Hankins also had 4 tackles and played a key role in shutting down Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry in the first half. In the secondary, Pierre Desir had 7 tackles and was rarely targeted. Rashaan Melvin had an interceptions and a pass defensed, helping shut down his assignment prior to the injury he suffered on his interception. Nate Hairston had a game that was closer to Gore’s in that he had an interception, two passes defensed, and five tackles but was abused early on by mismatches against Eric Decker and Delanie Walker.
Jacoby Brissett entered the game coming off of a bye week with more time to prepare for an opponent than he has had at any point in his NFL career. He has often been very strong in the first half of games and has thrived hitting on big plays. These characteristics, the good ones, were no where to be found in this game. He missed on his down field targets, finished the game without a single pass over 20 yards to a receivers, finished 17/29 for 196 yards and a passer rating of 79.1. At some point the team needs to see some growth and improvement from the young quarterback but it feels like he is stuck in mud.
T.Y. Hilton is the biggest offensive weapon in Indianapolis. The team goes as he goes. When he has a big game, there is a strong likelihood the Colts will win the game. When he doesn’t? Not so much. In this game he caught 2 passes on 5 targets for 15 total yards. The ghost was invisible yet again, this time in a home divisional game.
John Simon, Jabaal Sheard, and Barkevious Mingo combined for 0 sackes, 0 quarterback hits, and 5 total tackles. Even worse, in the fourth quarter, when the defense needed to stop the run at all costs, the Titans gashed the Colts for 80 yards on the ground by attacking the edges. Containing rushers on the edges has to be a priority.
The Colts are awaiting the result of an MRI on Monday to confirm whether Rashaan Melvin has a fractured hand. If he does, it will have an impact on his effectiveness in the secondary. If they choose to shut him down, they will be losing their best defender for all of 2017.
On the offensive side of the ball, Ryan Kelly exited the game with was was reported to be a concussion. This is a continuation of what has been an injury plagued year for the second-year center who suffered an injury in training camp, has played through a hamstring injury, and who now has a concussion.
The coaching staff continues to be the ugliest part of this Indianapolis Colts team. Coming out of a bye week there should have been a great deal of time to put together an offensive game plan that would keep the Titans off-balance and exploit its weaknesses. Instead, the entire first half reeked of vanilla play-calling and there was no first half offensive push as there has been in previous weeks.
The play-calling left Brissett to be brutalized and did very little to get anything going on the ground. It is a coaches responsibility to game plan and scheme certain players into the flow of the game. T.Y. Hilton catching only 2 passes is as much on the coaching staff as it is on on the veteran.
On the defensive side of the ball there continues to be a fourth quarter let down. In the first half, the run defense put up the most dominant effort I’ve seen in Indianapolis. It was clear that the defense was going to force Marcus Mariota to win the game through the air — as it should.
In the fourth quarter, after a fumble inside the Colts five yard line resulted in a Tennessee touchdown late in the third, it was clear that the Titans going to try to grind the game out on the ground. There was blood in the water and they were going to eat clock. All of the sudden the outside linebackers were vacant on the edges. Backup defensive lineman were in the game getting mauled by the Titans starting offensive line. The defense went soft, it got away from what it was doing in the first half.
Unless the players who have proven to be very good in this role all game and much of the year simply agreed to stop playing, there has to be focus directed at a coaching staff that has continuously failed to put compete games together.
Finally, Marlon Mack is too deep into his rookie season to get free passes and excuses. He has not been a reliable part of the Colts offense. Even if he has been misused, and he has, he is entirely dependent upon big plays to be relevant. He is not an effective rusher inside the tackles and relies on getting into space to get anything going. The team shows no real intention to get him the ball in space so he really doesn’t have much of a role.
Of course, when he does get targeted on quick outs or pitches he has a tendency to not catch the ball. This lack of dependability has made him difficult to keep out on the field.