For the first time this season, the Indianapolis Colts offense had to make up for a lousy defensive effort. Well, that is until rookie linebacker Darius Leonard forced a fumble and gifted Indy’s offensive line and running backs the ball with a short field. This defensive play effectively sealed the game.
NFL history was made today. Adam Vinatieri broke the all-time NFL scoring record in the first half. The fact that he returned just a week after a groin injury that was clearly hindering his ability to kick with accuracy makes the accomplishment all the more impressive.
If you thought that was the only all-time NFL record, you would be wrong. Andrew Luck threw touchdowns to three different tight ends today. No other team and no other quarterback has ever done this before. It is difficult to express just how good the tight ends have been for Frank Reich’s offense this year. Erik Swoope has been a red zone threat himself, and he didn’t even dress this game due to injury.
Despite these storylines, the most impressive part of the game is the offensive balance the Colts displayed for a second consecutive week. Andrew Luck and Frank Reich ran the ball 38 times (not counting Luck kneeling at the end of the game). The offense threw 31 times. Luck completed just over 70% of his passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions — good for a passer rating of 125.6.
The backfield? If you remove Luck’s two rushes for negative two yards (kneeling in victory formation) Indy generated 224 yards on 38 carries, good for a 5.9 yards per carry average. Marlon Mack rushed for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns on 25 carries, for a 5.3 yards per carry average. Rookie Nyheim Hines added 11 carries for 78 yards, an exceptional 7.1 yards per carry. Even Jordan Wilkins rushed twice for 14 yards — 7.0 yards per carry.
The offensive line? No sacks allowed in three straight games. They allowed 1 hit today. Consecutive 200+ yard rushing games — the first time since 1985. Mack? First running back to run for 100+ yards in back-to-back games since Joseph Addai in 2007. The line suffered from highly annoying penalties, including some very questionable holding calls, but otherwise had their way with Johnathan Hankins and the rest of the Raiders defensive line.
All of this was good, but the defense has to get things figured out. We saw how huge Malik Hooker is playing in the back half of the secondary today. Corey Moore, Mike Mitchell, and Clayton Geathers were abused deep. Hooker needs the bye week to get and stay healthy. Mitchell will be needed in the back half of the season as well — and he left the game with an injury.
The defensive line was ineffective, particularly generating pressure on Derek Carr. Margus Hunt slipped off of what would have been two sacks. One of his near sacks resulted in a touchdown pass. This cannot happen consistently. If you get a hand on the QB, you have to get him down. If you can’t, there is no excuse that the defense isn’t effective enough at generating pressure to have someone there to clean it up.
This season has been a little Jekyll and Hyde for Indianapolis. The only game that saw the Colts dominate on both sides of the ball was a week ago, at home against Buffalo. Otherwise, every week there has been one side trying to carry the other. If defensive players are playing injured, the bye might be coming at just the right time. If not, Eberflus will need to get back to the drawing board.
Every game will continue to be devastatingly important for 2018. There really is no meaningful margin for error. The Colts had to win. An inspired fourth quarter allowed them to stun Gruden and his grinders, 42-28.
Let’s revisit the keys to the game.
KEEP CATCHING THE DAMN BALL
While Dontrelle Inman was unable to make a leaping catch in the end zone in the first half, it is difficult to kill him for it. It would have been a pretty incredible finger tip grab. Speaking of incredible grabs, Mo Alie-Cox picked a pretty incredible way to score his first touchdown.
Marlon Mack dropped a pass late in the third quarter for no reason. I suppose his monster day will make up for it but that is the kind of thing that can kill drives. The drop came on first down and not third, so Luck and company were able to keep things going.
In all, Colts receivers were relatively reliable. A deflected pass thrown to Zach Pascal actually ended up in the arms of Dontrelle Inman — and that was key to keeping the offense going. Speaking of Inman, he had an impressive game in his second week with the team. I like him a lot as a third receiver.
DIAL UP THE PRESSURE
Didn’t happen. A few hits and a couple of missed opportunities won’t get it done.
As stated above, the Colts have not only stayed balanced, they have managed to put together two run heavy weeks in a row. We haven’t seen it all come together quite yet, and we could be one deep receiving threat away for it to happen but if the running game continues to be this dominant, Luck is bound to rip open secondaries with play-action passing at some point this year.
If the offense stays at this pace, it could be a special year for the group. Thank you Chris Ballard and scouting staff for putting together the best tight end room in the NFL, and for fixing the offensive line in two years.
Ryan Kelly left the game early with a hand injury and was immediately listed as questionable to return. The Colts were fortunate to see him return to the game in the first half.
Mike Mitchell left the game with a calf injury. A missed tackle by Mitchell early in the game allowed Doug Martin to rip off a long run. After two solid games, Mitchell came down to earth, allowing two deep passing touchdowns and taking a horrible angle against the run. These things happen but the Colts need him to clean up the errors and stay healthy.
SET THE TONE EARLY
While the Colts jumped out to a 10-0 lead, the tone they set flamed out by the end of the first half. Two offensive drives that resulted in field goals instead of touchdowns put them in a one point second half hole.
It turns out, the key was finish the game strong. The Colts did it and the Raiders did not. Oakland’s defense was gassed in the second half and Indy’s offense had its way with them.
By the way, the officials were awful. They didn’t determine the outcome of the game but it is infuriating to see them ruin what would otherwise be a competitive game by throwing laundry all over the field.