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What We Learned: Cardinals v Colts Week 2

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts have officially started the season 0-2 for the fourth year in a row. While playing without Andrew Luck might make it less surprising in 2017, the Colts had opportunities to put the game away against the Cardinals at home and failed to do so. At this point, Luck’s return still has no timetable so the players and coaching staff will have to figure out how to get a win or two in his absence before the season gets entirely away from them.

We Learned that the 2017 Defense is Clearly Better

After a complete mess of a game in the secondary against the Rams, the Colts tightened things up this week. There still were too many missed assignments that allowed long first downs and cost Indianapolis the game down the stretch. However, there still is some promise in the fact that on the big play touchdown that Arizona desperately needed to gain momentum, there was tight coverage by rookie corner Quincy Wilson.

Quincy Wilson played this very well chasing the entire play. How the ball gets through here is kind of astonishing. The bigger question that popped into my head while in attendance (with an assist from my Dad — shout outs) is where is Malik Hooker? This is the exact kind of play where you need your center fielder. Farley is responsible for helping over the top on this deep middle throw and isn’t fast enough to get there.

Again, Wilson was super close to batting this pass away. Great concentration by Nelson to haul it in.

The Colts defense was once again stingy on the ground. The unit allowed a long run of 11 yards and an average of 3.3 yards per carry, which is borderline top 10 from a YPC perspective through two games. The Cardinals converted on 40% of their third downs, while Jacoby Brissett and the Colts offense converted on 44% of theirs.

The unit also did a much better job of generating pressure, sacking Carson Palmer four times on the day and hitting him a total of 9 times. The defense also made 7 tackles for a loss and made it tough for Arizona to get anything going through much of the day.

Put it this way, in the middle of the game I sat asking myself, when is the last time the Colts legitimately held an opponent to only 3 points midway through the third quarter? The answer is both that it’s been awhile and it doesn’t happen very often.

The Rookie Defensive Backs are Going to be Good

The Colts have had a rough time putting together a solid group in the secondary. For years the team has had one good outside corner, a good nickel, and maybe a good safety. Finally, when this team gets healthy, they might have a full complement of players in the secondary with a bright future.

While rookies Malik Hooker, Quincy Wilson, and Nate Hairston are expected to make mistakes early on, they are showing they can absolutely make an impact in the NFL. Imagine the Colts getting back Vontae Davis and hopefully Clayton Geathers — with Rashaan Melvin and Matthias Farley in reserve roles — and the picture starts to look pretty good.

There is no doubt that the secondary has been the Colts biggest weakness early in 2017 but if the positive strides that were made between week 1 and 2 are any indication of how much the group can continue improving, it bodes well for the long-term.

John Simon Continues to Play a Big Defensive Role

Simon finished the game with 5 tackles, 1 sack, 3 quarterback hits, and a tackle for loss. He continues to play a key role in setting the edge on defense and is a big part of why it has been far more difficult to run on the Colts this year. He forces runners back into a vastly improved Colts defensive line that swallows up ball carriers before they can get anything going.

Coaching Decisions Still Having a Negative Impact on the Team

There were some strange personnel decisions in the second half of the football game that didn’t make a great deal of sense. I think it’s great to put in your rush package on the defense when there is a third or fourth and long situation. However, there were big stretches in the third and fourth quarters where the starting defensive line was off the field.

I get that Hankins and Woods may not be as great at generating pressure as Ridgeway or Hunt, but I’m convinced that they give the offensive line considerably more trouble than their counterparts.

Another key play in the game was when Carson Palmer took a fumbled snap for a first down that the Cardinals desperately needed. He went right through the middle of the Colts defensive line. I have a hard time believing that Al Woods doesn’t flatten him and the football if he is in the game on that play.

For those who don’t remember, it is on the same drive that Palmer throws the long touchdown to bring the Cardinals within striking distance. On that drive, you have the fumbled snap on third and short with Grover Stewart, Hassan Ridgeway, and Margus Hunt on the field that Palmer recovers and goes through a vacant hole in the middle of the defensive line for a first down. There is the ticky tack roughing the passer penalty on Jabaal Sheard that put the Colts on their heels. Then there is the touchdown pass that Wilson nearly batted away.

Tough series.

On the play, as previously mentioned, Hooker should have been playing center field. There is no circumstance under which it makes any sense to have Farley covering deep middle over Hooker. It is worth noting that Hooker played up toward the line with Farley deep on multiple occasions throughout the game.

Finally, when the game went to overtime and we got the ball, the play call was horrific out of the gate. I don’t understand why Marlon Mack was so underutilized and I don’t see how a situation like that isn’t precisely when you have Mack in the game. He offers a huge threat by being a big play waiting to happen and is an obvious check-down option if the receivers are covered deep.

The biggest silver lining of all from this game is that the Colts kept it close. For all intents and purposes, they should have won the game.

I get that the Cardinals were without David Johnson, John Brown, and a couple of starters on the offensive line. I get that they may not be near the team that was a big player in the NFC two seasons ago. However, after last week, I think it’s fair that almost everyone, everywhere, expected that the Colts would lose — and that it likely wouldn’t be a close game.

Instead, with a second-year backup quarterback who has been with the team for all of two weeks, the Colts took the Cardinals to overtime and looked like a competitive football team. If they can keep this trajectory, they might win some football games.