Frank Reich had the Indianapolis Colts ready to play at home against divisional opponent Tennessee. They controlled the pace of the game and won on both sides of the football, and threw crippling blows in the first half. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter, with the game well in hand, that Indianapolis took its foot off of the gas.
Luck entered the half 12 of 17 for 195 yards and a touchdown. The running backs combined for 51 yards on 11 carries, good for 4.5 yards per carry, and two touchdowns. These are strong performances in both offensive phases against a defense that was ranked sixth overall heading into the game. The Titans defense came into the game averaging 328 yards allowed and entered half time after giving up 246.
They entered the game as the top scoring defense in the league, allowing less than 17 points per game. They went into the half down 24-3.
A week ago, the Colts were unable to keep momentum heading into the second half. They nearly allowed Jacksonville to mount a successful comeback. A week ago, the Titans shocked the NFL by soundly beating the New England Patriots.
Not the case this week. For either team.
In the second half, Andrew Luck was 11 of 12 for 102 yards and two touchdowns. This was good for a game total of 23 of 29 for 297 yards and three touchdowns. This is a 79% completion percentage and good for a QB Rating of 143.8. T.Y. Hilton abused Adoree’ Jackson, hauling in 9 passes on 9 targets for 155 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Colts defense? My goodness, they played as fast as I can recall seeing them play. Matt Eberflus mixed things up all game. The defensive line generated pressure on its own, and well-timed and well-designed blitzes created pressure on Mariota throughout the first half. Tennessee went into the locker room having allowed four sacks, having thrown an interception, and having fumbled the ball (although they recovered it). Oh yeah, Mariota suffered an injury on the final sack of the first half and would not return to the game.
I’m not sure I’ve seen an opponent enter the locker room at half time so dejected and defeated. There would be no second half comeback on Sunday as the Colts finished the Titans off 38 - 10.
Let’s revisit the keys to the game.
CATCH THE DAMN BALL
Nyheim Hines continues to have issues catching the ball when he is running away from Luck in the backfield. He is lucky his first drop wasn’t a fumble on a backward pass. He only caught 1 of his 3 targets for 20 yards.
Marlon Mack also missed a pass his way and Indianapolis will need the rookies to clean this up to be effective moving forward in the season. The backfield is a big part of Frank Reich’s offensive scheme and having hands is a must.
The Colts accomplished this goal. 25 rushing attempts versus 32 passing attempts, for 105 rushing yards and a 4.2 yards per carry average — excluding three kneel downs to close the game. Marlon Mack and Jordan Wilkins both scored rushing touchdowns. The offensive line re-established dominance in the trenches against a formidable defensive front.
My word, did the Colts contain Marcus Mariota. He only ran four times for 17 yards, unless you include a couple of sacks where he was attempting to scramble and couldn’t make it back to the line of scrimmage. The times he did run with the ball left him quickly sliding to avoid hard contact.
FIND SOMEONE TO COVER DEEP
Frankly, deep passing never became much of an issue. Quincy Wilson picked off Mariota on an under thrown pass when he attempted to test the Colts secondary. There was enough push by the Colts front four on most plays and enough sacks to land that Indianapolis was able to make it through the game without missing Malik Hooker.
They will need him to get healthy if they hope to repeat these results to close out the season.
PASS RUSH NEEDS TO TURN UP THE HEAT
Eberflus put together a masterful defensive game plan that led to pressure all over for Mariota and Blaine Gabbert. His unit generated 5 sacks, 7 hits and 8 tackles for a loss. Sacks came from all over too, with 1.5 credited to Jabaal Sheard, 1 to Darius Leonard (who also forced a fumble), 1 to Denico Autry, 1 to Kemoko Turay, and a .5 sack to Kenny Moore II.
This pressure certainly played a role in allowing Quincy Wilson to snag an errant throw from Mariota and helped Darius Leonard pick off Blaine Gabbert, as he desperately tried to get rid of the ball in a collapsing pocket. This is the way a Tampa 2 defense is supposed to work.
For those keeping track, while Tyquan Lewis was not credited with a sack, he did have a tackle for a loss and was a part of creating pressure on the inside. When the Colts started the season with a philosophy of throwing the defensive line at opponents in waves, there were some questions about what those waves would look like.
That picture is starting to clear up.