The Indianapolis Colts season opener in Los Angeles was historically bad. Quarterback Scott Tolzien had the lowest QB rating (33.8) for the Colts since Andrew Luck had a QB rating of 23.0 against the New England Patriots in the 2014 AFC Championship Game.
The Colts defense allowed Jared Goff to throw for over 300 yards for the first time in his career, including 1 touchdown, a 72.4% completion percentage, and a QB Rating of 117.9. Prior to playing the Colts, Goff had not won a game in the NFL and his average QB rating in 2016 was 63.6.
It’s one thing to tell it and another to see what it looks like get embarrassed. We will break down some of the key plays in the game that tell the story of how the Colts made the Rams look like world beaters in Los Angeles.
UGLY: INTERCEPTION 1
This is Scott Tolzien’s first throw, on the Colts first possession. He takes the snap and immediately looks to his left at Hilton running an out-route. It was easy for Trumaine Johnson to read his eyes and the short looping throw came right to him. It was so far short of Hilton that even Johnson had to come back for it.
GOOD: CATCH AND RUN FOR TD...?
This play is good because this was Marlon Mack’s first play in a regular season NFL game, on the Colts second possession. One play, one reception, and one... touchdown? It was hard to tell from this angle whether Mack stepped out of bounds with his right foot but it otherwise seemed clear that he broke the plane of the end zone with the ball inside the pylon.
Mack shows excellent speed, enough so that the initial would-be tackler underestimated him, and was strong enough to run through the tackle at the goal line. These are definite positives.
UGLY: NO CHALLENGE FLAG
The replay clearly shows that Mack kept his right foot in the field of play and reaches the ball over the goal line. This is an easy win if Pagano throws the challenge flag.
Instead, the Colts offense rushes to the line in an effort to catch the Rams “napping?” Mack carries the ball up the gut for a two-yard loss. Chudzinski dials up a second Mack run up the gut for no gain. Turbin enters the game on the goal line only to see Chudzinski put the ball in Tolzien’s hands for the inevitable incompletion.
The Colts have to settle for a FG.
On the Colts third possession, Tolzien’s pass to Hilton is on-target enough for him to make the catch. Hilton stumbles as he prepares to turn up field and tries to recover to get the ball over the first down marker. The Rams defender is fortunate enough to get his hand on the ball as Hilton is going to the ground and the Colts have their second turnover in three drives on a lost fumble.
BAD: GOAL LINE DEFENSE
Another example of bad comes for the Colts defense in this goal line situation on a Todd Gurley run up the middle. There are defenders all around Gurley but Butler isn’t strong enough to stop him by himself, Woods is slow to get over to help, Simon jumps over him, and T.J. Green’s attempt to keep him out of the end zone knocks Woods completely out of the play.
Here is a view of the same play from the other side. Up to this point the Colts defense had done a relatively good job of stuffing the run and even helping the putrid offense stay in the game. This failure opened the flood gates.
UGLY: FIELD GOAL MISS
After getting lucky on a punt that went through Tavon Austin’s hands, the Colts offense was unable to get the ball into the end zone. Usually one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL, Adam Vinatieri lines up for what is typically an automatic field goal. Let’s put it this way, the high school football team I coach has a promising young kicker who knocked one down from close to this distance on Friday.
There has been a lot of talk about how a new long snapper and holder might change things for Vinatieri but based upon what we see here, this was a perfect hold with the laces away. Nothing looks out of sorts from either of Vinatieri’s counterparts.
UGLY: INTERCEPTION 2
Already down 27, Tolzien made it clear that nothing changed over the half time break. He again telegraphs a throw to T.Y. Hilton on an out route and is easily picked off. This was a walk-in the park pick six and was about as ugly of an NFL throw as you will ever see.
UGLY: NEAR INTERCEPTION 3
Don’t worry, nobody could possibly make the exact same mistake three times in a game, right? At some point, you have to believe that players who are on NFL rosters are at least good enough at football to simply avoid a throw that has failed on the two previous times it was attempted. Cornerbacks should have short memories, quarterbacks should not.
Apparently Scott Tolzien still hadn’t receive the memo as he looks to his left at Donte Moncrief on out route (deja vu) and again is nearly picked off. In fact, this was a pick all day long if it wasn’t for Moncrief mugging the daylights out of the defender.
When in doubt, when your quarterback is awful, grab the facemask and pull. The penalty was better than giving up the touchdown.
GOOD: OUTSIDE RUN
After the Colts coaching staff tired of watching Tolzien throw the ball away, they brought in Brissett — who has been with the team for a week — and have him hand the ball off to Mack. Mack rewards him by bouncing the play outside and make the first would-be tackler miss. This 24-yard romp is the longest rush by a Colts running back in over a year.
GOOD: LONG PASS TO MONCRIEF
On the same drive, another bit of good shines through as Brissett shows that he has an NFL-caliber arm. While Moncrief had to come back and adjust to the ball, this is the kind of throw you make to your top receivers. Moncrief was one-on-one with the corner and Brissett put the ball up in the air to give him an opportunity to win the battle for it.
It was a fight Moncrief should and did win. This was the longest offensive play of the game for either team.
The replay shows how well Moncrief adjusted to the ball and why throws like this are completely okay. He sees the ball well before the defender and has already started to adjust before Countess can do the same. Disregard the commentators suggesting that Moncrief got away with a penalty. His hand is on the back of Countess but had very little or no impact on his ability to make a play on the ball.
GOOD: MACK FIRST TD RUN
Marlon Mack comes back again to cap the drive with his first official NFL touchdown. He runs up the middle and is untouched.
UGLY: MACK FUMBLE LEADING TO SAFETY
After having what would have otherwise been a near-perfect NLF debut, the one mistake Mack made occurred when the game was already entirely out of hand. He was stood up in the hole and one-armed the football. He found out quickly that in the NFL, he will not get away with that. Let’s hope he learned his lesson in the same way Kareem Hunt did against the Patriots.