Another week, another game impacted by injuries at numerous positions for Indianapolis. The good news is that a lot of young players actually got back onto the field, including linebacker Darius Leonard. There were some interesting splits at numerous positions, particularly on defense, that led to an even heavier load carried by first and second year players.
Let’s take a look at each side of the ball for what stood out the most.
With the return of left tackle Anthony Castonzo and the installation of rookie Braden Smith at right tackle, the offensive line is starting to take shape. Mark Glowinski may not necessarily be a lock at right guard, but barring injury there is a pretty strong reason to believe that rookies Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith will take every snap the rest of the way — as they did against the Jets.
Second-year running back Marlon Mack returned to the field for the first time since Week 2 in Washington. Mack’s return, along with Robert Turbin’s first game this season, pushed rookie Jordan Wilkins out of the game plan. Unfortunately for the Colts, Turbin’s primary contribution to the game was a lost fumble that gave the Jets excellent field position.
Rookie Nyheim Hines remained an active part of the offense, leading the backfield committee in snaps with 30. Mack had 24 and Turbin had 13.
Mack led the team in rushing production, generating 89 rushing yards on only 12 carries for an impressive 7.4 yards per carry. Hines carried the ball 3 times for 14 yards, a 4.7 yards per carry clip. Hines caught 3 passes for 21 yards and dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone. Mack bobbled a dump-off pass on the second play of the game, which led to a pick-six and put the Colts in an early hole. He also caught one pass for 4 yards.
Three running backs, three awful plays at different times in the game that helped lead to a disappointing loss on the road.
Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard reinserted himself quickly into the defense. He tallied 8 tackles and a forced fumble. For the first time since Week 1, however, he disappeared for long stretches. This isn’t to suggest that he is fading or that he struggled but Leonard was so quiet in the second half that I assumed he must of have left the game.
Official game stats indicate he was in on every defensive snap.
After six weeks, Leonard leads the NFL in tackles. Note: he missed the Week 5 game in Foxborough.
Rookie defensive end Kemoko Turay used 49 snaps to gather two tackles, linebacker Matthew Adams collected two tackles and a tackle for a loss in 14 and Zaire Franklin added 1 tackle on 9 snaps.
Two sophomore defenders, Nate Hairston and Malik Hooker, were on the field for every defensive opportunity. Kenny Moore was on the field for 70 of 71, though he wasn’t as effective as he had been earlier in the season. Hairston finished with 4 tackles, Hooker with 1 tackle and an interception, and Moore with 5 tackles.
Inside linebacker Anthony Walker continued to be an active part of the defense with 6 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, and a pass defensed on 60 opportunities. Grover Stewart had 4 tackles in 39. Quincy Wilson collected 2 tackles on only 11 snaps.
Newly acquired Mike Mitchell joined Al Woods and Pierre Desir as the most experienced defenders on the roster who are getting meaningful opportunities to play.
Chris Ballard and Frank Reich continue to give their youngest players opportunities for significant playing time. The positives are that two rookie offensive linemen have asserted themselves into roles as long-term starters and a rookie running back has become an integral part of Reich’s new offensive scheme. Rookie defender Darius Leonard is an early front runner for rookie defensive player of the year and project defensive end Kemoko Turay has shown early signs of development and flashed of encouraging potential.
The downside is that the youth on the team is most certainly having an impact on frustrating mistakes and inconsistency. While it may still be true that the Colts are better than their record, consistently finding ways to lose games makes all of that irrelevant — at least for now. The youth movement in Indianapolis may give fans some confidence in the future these players will have to grow up fast, and a brand new coaching staff will play an important role in making that happen.