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Knee-Jerk Reactions: Colts lose to Patriots 24 - 38

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

A bruised and battered Colts team was simply no match for the New England Patriots in Foxborough. The Colts defense spent the first half getting carved up by Tom Brady and the bevy of pass-catchers in Bill Belicheck’s aerial attack. It clearly hurt not having Darius Leonard in the game to wreak havoc or to potentially put some pressure on the quarterback. It was also clear that the secondary continues to struggle without key contributions from Kenny Moore.

Somehow though, not all was bad. Consider that Nyheim Hines continues to work his way into being one of the primary weapons on offense, catching 7 passes for 45 yards and rushing 15 times for another 45 yards. Consider that Jordan Wilkins averaged over 6 yards per carry and generated 39 yards on ground. If he didn’t have the ball stripped away on one of his runs, he had an impressive day.

Consider that even without primary weapons on offense, Andrew Luck targeted 9 different players throughout the game. He completed nearly 65% of his passes for 365 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions — and tallied 59 passing attempts. His shoulder looks fantastic and he threw some incredible passes that were dropped by his receivers.

Even the defense showed heart in the second half by clawing its way back into the game. It is clear that Matt Eberflus made some important second half adjustments that started to slow Brady down. Back-to-back second half interceptions gave Indianapolis a chance to get back in the game and there was a time where the momentum had completely swayed in the Colts direction. Safety Matthias Farley was key to both interceptions in relief of Clayton Geathers.

Ultimately, missed opportunities, dropped passes, and mistakes cost the Colts a chance to beat New England on the road. The dropped passes are an epidemic that must be cured for the team to have a chance to win football games. Zach Pascal had one reception on 7 targets. Chester Rogers had a strong game, except for an open field drop that would have gone for a huge gain and another shot at a touchdown that he couldn’t bring down in the end zone. Eric Ebron managed 9 receptions for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns but he was targeted 15 times and had multiple drops of his own.

Injuries. It is hard to quantify the impact this is having on the Colts season. The team started with key players either sitting out due to injury or players who have not fully recovered from key injuries and who are clearly shells of themselves at this point in the season.

A hamstring injury has kept starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo out of the first 5 games. The second most relied upon receiving target in the offense and one of the most well-rounded offensive weapons on the team, Jack Doyle has missed the last 3 games and only has 9 receptions for 80 yards on the season. T.Y. Hilton was unable to dress for the Patriots game dealing with injuries to his chest and hamstring after getting pummeled on a couple of plays against the Texans on Sunday.

One of the team’s other most rounded and talented offensive linemen, Joe Haeg is on injured reserve and will have to wait until late in the season to be eligible for a return. Second year running back Marlon Mack has played in only 1 game, missing 4 others this season and was the presumed starter in a backfield committee. Starting cornerbacks Kenny Moore and Quincy Wilson have suffered concussions and missed time this season. Defensive rookie of the month for September, Darius Leonard was unable to play against the Patriots.

The team is currently being held together by medical tape and it is certainly making it really tough to win football games. More than anything else, this team needs to get healthy.

Big Games from Small Names

Nyheim Hines followed up an impressive 2 touchdown performance against the Texans on Sunday by remaining a focal point for Andrew Luck in the offense. He was targeted 9 times in the passing game and carried the ball 15 times, which is easily the largest offensive workload of any player on the team. If he continues to expand his role in the offense and can manage to stay healthy, it is starting to look like he can be a legitimate receiving weapon out of the backfield.

Erik Swoope caught three passes for 44 yards and a touchdown. Swoope nearly had a second touchdown but his knee went down just before the ball crossed the goal line. Eric Ebron ended up poaching the score on the next play. Either way, he was sure-handed and made difficult catches in traffic and showed impressive body control to adjust to the pass he caught at the goal line. It’s difficult to understand how he has shown flashes so much when he has been given the opportunity but is the first player to be overlooked when roster shuffling happens.

Pressure Brady

The Colts ended the game with no sacks and only three quarterback hits. Health on defense certainly played a role here and the score didn’t help either. Once the Patriots got into the second half with a comfortable lead, Belicheck and Brady were able to open up the playbook and stay very balanced.

It is difficult not to notice that Kemoko Turay regularly gets very close to a sack but has been unable to land hits on the quarterback by only a matter of inches. It will be interesting to monitor if he manages to start landing some of these close calls as the season progresses and as he continues to develop.

No Turnovers

All three Colts turnovers were entirely avoidable.

Andrew Luck’s first interception was embarrassing. He panicked with pressure in his face and didn’t even look before releasing a pass toward Nyheim Hines. While Luck knew Hines would be there, he had no clue if a defender was in the area and simply threw it to Patrick Chung.

Jordan Wilkins had the ball stripped as he was attempting to rip through a tackle and gain extra yards. It is hard not to appreciate that he was willing to make the extra effort but these are the kinds of plays NFL defenders make. Wilkins needs to know when to get down and take what he can out of the play. It was a nice gain already that turned into a disaster.

Luck’s second interception came on a pass to Zach Pascal that would have otherwise kept a nice offensive drive going during a key part of the second half. Pascal managed to muff the catch and allow it to get batted into the air for a back breaking interception.

Limit Rob Gronkowski

Honestly, the Colts did very little to limit Gronkowski. It seemed entirely clear that he wasn’t full speed and was still dealing with an injury. Still, whenever Brady needed a big play he turned to Gronkowski, who hauled in 6 passes for 75 yards. I suppose the Colts can feel good that he didn’t take over the game or get into the end zone but, honestly, he didn’t have to.

Offensive Balance

Getting behind early in football games is a recipe for imbalance. The Colts pass to run ratio was 3:1 with 59 passing attempt to only 21 rushing attempts. There were signs that the Colts ground game was actually rather effective. In fact, Hines and Wilkins combined for a 4 yards per carry average. Still, a three touchdown lead going into half time means you can’t afford to run the ball and it also means the defense can put themselves in optimal position to slow you down.