While the sting of Week 4’s 37-34 overtime loss to the Houston Texans still pierces through the organization and fan base, it wasn’t all bad for the Colts on Sunday. Certain players/positions groups struggled but it was a strong day for the cornerstone of the franchise and a surging rookie running back.
Stock up: Andrew Luck
The most impressive athlete on the field Sunday was the same generating widespread doubt a week ago. Any doubts about Andrew Luck’s arm strength were shot to pieces at Lucas Oil Stadium, as Luck threw a career-high 40 completions and a milestone mark of 464 yards.
He found eight different receivers, all of which had 17 yards or more, and five different teammates had five or more catches. Whether it was the 16-yard completion on the run in the opening drive to Marcus Johnson that was followed up by the game’s opening touchdown to Zach Pascal between two defenders, or the 42-yard teardrop down the sideline to T.Y. Hilton late in the third quarter, Luck was electric.
This performance was a great setup for Thursday night’s game vs. New England. While some may worry if he tired himself out Sunday and won’t be at 100 percent on a shortened week, the array of throws he was able to consistently hit and the number of receivers and backs he got involved should make for a nice building block for next week and the rest of the season.
Stock down: Jordan Wilkins
While it was a terrific game through the air for Indy, the same could not be said for the rush offense. The Colts averaged 2.4 yards per rush, and only 41 total yards on the day.
In lieu of Marlon Mack and in Robert Turbin’s absence, we’ve seen a lot of Jordan Wilkins in the rushing attack. Wilkins did perform nicely against the Redskins in Week 2, but he’s only rushed for 35 yards on 14 attempts since then. The Colts were playing from behind for the majority of Sunday’s game, but even in the earlier rush attempts Wilkins struggled to find open holes and evade defenders.
The Colts were playing against a solid front seven of Houston, but it’s safe to say they’ve faced strong rush-defenses all year. While there may have not been the highest expectations for the 2018 fifth-round pick, he hasn’t fully taken advantage of the opportunity he’s been given.
Stock up: Nyheim Hines
With Wilkins underperforming and a pass-heavy focus on offense for the majority of the afternoon, we saw a lot of rookie runner Nyheim Hines — who did anything but disappoint. He only ran the ball four times for 10 yards, but it was his performance in the passing game that made all the difference.
Hines caught a team-high nine balls for 63 yards and two touchdowns. His breakaway speed and route running ability was something Houston linebackers struggled to defend, and he played a large part in the Colts’ second-half comeback.
Since the beginning of the season, Hines has seen a gradual increase in his touches per game. It almost seems as if his preseason woes have vanished in thin air. With Frank Reich known for using tight ends and running backs an overwhelming amount in his play calling, Hines seems to have carved a nice role for himself in a budding Indy offense.
Stock down: The Colts’ secondary
Heading into the season, we all knew the secondary was the glaring weakness of the Indy defense. The 2017 secondary ranked 28th in total passing yards allowed and gave up a league-worst net yards gained per pass attempt, and they didn’t do much in the offseason to bolster the unit.
Week 2 and 3 painted a mirage for the Colts secondary and suggested things were looking up. Alex Smith only averaged 8.8 yards per completion, and a healthy Carson Wentz averaged 10.2. These were slow, but steady, improvements from the 11.6 they allowed to Andy Dalton in Week 1, until they gave up a season-worst 12.9 to Deshaun Watson on Sunday. Two different wideouts caught 10 or more balls for over 100 yards, and five different receivers averaged 12 or more yards per catch.
What looked like an improvement in the pass defense was now seen as just good fortune in weather. Both the Philadelphia and Washington games were played outside and in the rain, while Dalton and Watson both shredded the secondary inside Lucas Oil Stadium. The big plays were momentum killers as Indy tried to crawl its way back into things, and it was a deep pass to the middle of the field that set up the dagger for Houston. The secondary will face a massive challenge Thursday against one of the best play caller-quarterback duos in Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady.