Injuries continue to plague the Indianapolis Colts. This certainly places more pressure on rookies and second-year players to impact the outcome of football games. The bad news is that this will sometimes breed some inconsistencies and growing pains. The good news is that the Colts rookie class has continued to handle the heavy workload quite well and all of this early experience could payoff considerably down the road due to intensive player development.
As has been the case all season, young Colts played a major role in the outcome of Sunday’s home divisional game against the Texans. Let’s take a look at their contributions and see how their impact is changing.
The offensive contributions are still heavily influenced by Quenton Nelson and running backs Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines. Nelson has still played every down in 2018 and has established himself as a building block for the unit’s future. He was visibly abused on a stunt by Jadeveon Clowney on Sunday but is still the best young lineman on the team.
The running game is starting to fall off entirely in Indianapolis. This is certainly impacting the role and production for rookie rushers Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines. Wilkins only carried the ball 8 times for 16 yards and Hines rushed 4 times for 10 yards. Neither player was particularly effective but when the play-calling balance is 62 passes to 14 runs (excluding quarterback scrambles), it won’t be easy to get things going.
Indianapolis fell behind early in the first half that saw little signs of offensive life. This certainly changed the game plan and the half time adjustment was to put the team on Andrew Luck’s shoulders and move the ball through the air. No player was a greater beneficiary of the new game plan than Hines. This was a breakout game for him as a receiver and as a facet of the passing offense. He caught a team high 9 passes on a team high 11 targets for 63 yards and 2 touchdowns.
With second-year running back Marlon Mack still on the sideline and veteran Robert Turbin serving the final game of his suspension, Wilkins and Hines dominates the offensive snaps. Hines was in the game for 68% of offensive snaps with Wilkins gathering 35% of the opportunities. The only other running back to take a snap was Jeremy McNichols with 2 total.
The Colts run defense has continued to look strong through four games but the pass defense struggled against the Texans. This could be partially due to injuries keeping Quincy Wilson out of the game and ending Kenny Moore’s day early but Houston was able to effectively move the ball through the air.
I think it’s fair to point out that fans might be overlooking at least 14 points that Houston scored that were essentially due to offensive mistakes in the first half — meaning that the defense was far better than the score indicates — but the final passing play in overtime was a prime example of some of the struggles the unit faced.
Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard didn’t have a signature play this week but he did continue to set the tone for all of the defense. He missed his first snap of the season after hobbling off of the field but was immediately back in, gathering 99% of the defensive snaps. He led the team with 13 tackles, including 8 solos and 1 sack. Through four weeks, Leonard’s 54 tackles is 8 more than any other player this season and one of the highest four week totals in history. Also this:
There is nothing more fans can ask from Leonard to this point in the season. He has vastly outperformed any legitimate expectation and has to be considered a front runner for NFL defensive rookie of the year. It is exciting to imagine what he will be able to accomplish if he can stay healthy the rest of the way.
The other rookie defensive contributor is edge rusher Kemoko Turay. He followed up a breakout performance against the Eagles by adding another half sack on an impressive play against the Texans. He has been visibly improving and has created pressure on the quarterback for much of the season. His stat sheet also included another quarterback hit. He led all other rookies with 36% of the defensive snaps.
The only other rookie to see the field on defense was linebacker Zaire Franklin who took five total snaps and continued to out-pace veteran Najee Goode who took only 1.
Second-year contributors, Malik Hooker and Nate Hairston continued to be relied upon for a full days work on defense, taking every snap. Linebacker Anthony Walker took 84% of the defensive snaps with Kenny Moore behind him at 37%. Moore left the field with concussion early in the game and did not return.
Of the second-year players, the biggest contribution came from Anthony Walker who finished the game with 10 tackles, including 9 solos, a sack, and 2 tackles for a loss. He continues to play a bigger and bigger role in the Colts new defense and has been promising since he returned from injury. Hooker finished the game with 2 tackles, Hairston with 4, and Moore with 3.