If the first six games of the season were an example of what it looks like when everything goes wrong, this game was an example of what happens when everything goes right. No tipped or batted passes from Luck were intercepted. No fumbles handing the ball over to the opponent in Colts territory. A 4th and 1 at midfield that converts and keeps the offensive drive going.
Everything went right.
Okay, kicker Adam Vinatieri had an awful day and is clearly suffering from some physical limitation — he was listed with a groin injury a couple of weeks ago. Also, Ryan Kelly snapped the ball early and ended up giving up a safety. So, not everything went right — but still.
This was the coming out party for the offensive line and running back Marlon Mack. The second half against the Jets showed signs of real improvement for the running game. Today validated that performance.
The Colts finished with 220 rushing yards. They averaged 5.9 yards per carry, which is more impressive when you consider that they rushed the ball 37 times. For the first time in quite awhile, Indianapolis ran the ball considerably more than they passed. Andrew Luck threw the ball 23 times, completing 17 of those attempts for 156 yards and 4 touchdowns.
The defense showed what it looks like when it plays with the lead. They were fully willing to give up chunks of yards on the ground but unwilling to allow Derek Anderson to get things going through the air.
The defense finished with two sacks, including a strip sack by rookie Kemoko Turay that was recovered by second-year cornerback Quincy Wilson to setup a touchdown. Veteran safety Mike Mitchell has been outstanding since joining the team before the Jets game. Today, he forced a fumble in the first half that was recovered by Darius Leonard and collected one of the team’s three interceptions.
For those who are wondering how impressed they should be by the offensive performance today, consider that Buffalo was one of the league’s toughest defenses entering the game. They were the third rated defense overall, allowing an average of only 311 total yards per game. They were the fifth rated passing defense, having allowed only 9 passing touchdowns through six weeks. They were the eighth rated run defense, allowing an average of only 92.5 yards per game through the first six weeks. One of their games pitted them against the Chargers’ tandem of Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon who combined for 105 rushing yards.
There is no doubt that this young Colts team desperately needed a win. They have to feel really good about their performance on both sides of the ball and even better about their chances to put another full game together. As we mentioned earlier today, it isn’t wise for the Colts fan base to entertain hopes of a playoff berth. The team is a long way from that, for now.
But progress. Strides. Moving in the right direction? If the team can keep showing signs of that, fans can start to feel good about the team’s future. That might be good enough for 2018.
After a convincing win, with the Colts coming out on top 37 - 5, let’s revisit the keys to the game.
ESTABLISH THE GROUND GAME
As previously mentioned, the Colts generates a total of 220 rushing yards. They went over 100 yards rushing in each half. Marlon Mack generated 126 rushing yards on 19 carries, 6.6 yards per carry, and added a rushing touchdown. He also caught 2 passes for 33 yards and a receiving touchdown.
Rookie Nyheim Hines took five carries for 47 yards, a 9.4 yards per carry average. He also caught one pass on a screen that lost 5 yards. Fellow rookie Jordan Wilkins took 6 carries for 46 yards, a 7.7 yards per carry average and hauled in one pass for an 8 yard gain.
Every ball carrier had success on the ground, at all points in the game. In the past, we have seen the offense struggle to run against a defense when the opponent knows there will be a concerted effort to chew up the clock. Today, the offensive line continued to dominate up front and Buffalo was entirely helpless to stop it.
PLAY AGGRESSIVELY IN THE SECONDARY
While it is unfair to say that the Colts secondary was aggressive as a unit, safety Mike Mitchell has done his best to set the tone on the back end. He generated a fumble, snagged an interception late in the first half, and laid the wood on Buffalo ball carriers. Kenny Moore displayed his speed, breaking on the ball on a short pass across the middle for another interception.
The unit is still giving quite a bit of cushion but, with the lead, real damage can be done. This game hearkened back to the Tampa 2 days with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Not so much because we had a dominant edge rush but more because the defense thrived with a lead and started to generate back breaking turnovers.
GENERATE CONSISTENT PRESSURE
Frankly, the Colts didn’t generate consistent pressure today. Derek Anderson spent much of the game getting rid of the ball quickly and it made for tough sledding up front.
However, the pressure they did generate made a big impact. Margus Hunt batted down a pass that ended one of the Bills’ first half drives. Al Woods batted a pass that was nearly picked by Hunt. Jabaal Sheard had a first half sack that made life difficult for Buffalo. Finally, the biggest pressure came from Kemoko Turay coming around the edge to bat the ball out for a strip sack that was subsequently recovered by Quincy Wilson — who returned the ball down to the two yard line and setup a Colts touchdown.
CATCH THE DAMN BALL
Only three of eight receivers didn’t catch every pass thrown their way. Nyheim Hines caught one pass on two targets. Marlon Mack caught two passes on three targets. Eric Ebron caught three passes on seven targets.
A couple of passes bounced off of Ebron’s hands but they would have been difficult catches. Luck led him a bit too much on an out route. Another the ball sailed too high over the middle. It’s possible that he was legitimately to blame for one drop but if that’s the case, one drop for the game out of 23 passing attempts is something the team can live with.
NO BACK BREAKING TURNOVERS
In what would have otherwise been a turnover free game, Ryan Kelly snapped the ball on the wrong count and saw it skate through the back of the end zone for a safety. It is somewhat frustrating to see an otherwise perfect day get blown up by a play like this but, thankfully, no real damage was done.