The Indianapolis Colts continued to rely on contributions from first- and second-year players to pull off a fourth quarter comeback win at home against the Miami Dolphins. The defensive side of the ball is still more heavily represented, with Darius Leonard showing no signs of slowing his blistering pace. However, an even larger group of young players is getting involved on both sides of the ball.
Let’s take a look.
Rookie offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith continue to dominate in terms of snap count. They both played 100% of the offensive snaps and are locked in as long-term starters at their respective positions. The offensive line gave ups its first sack in over five weeks on Sunday, with Cameron Wake beating Smith around the edge.
An earlier sack was waived off due to a defensive penalty called against Miami. Robert Quinn came around the edge against Anthony Castonzo, while Luck stood in the pocket like a statue. This sack would have been on Luck for holding the ball way too long if it stood.
One of the bigger surprises of the game is that Nelson was called for numerous penalties, making life difficult for Andrew Luck and the offense. His first penalty was in the second quarter on a Marlon Mack run, the film shows that the call was questionable at best. If there was a hold, it didn’t impact the play at all.
The second hold occurred on the Colts first drive of the fourth quarter. This appeared to be a guess by the side judge. The reason Nelson drew the flag is because his right hand slid outside of the defender’s shoulders. As in-game commentators often mention, it is a cardinal sin for an offensive lineman to allow his hands to get outside of a defender’s body because officials will throw the flag all day — even if they get it wrong.
In this case, the defender lost his balance as he tried to redirect toward the rushing lane, which required that he move through Nelson’s left arm that was likely planted deeply in his sternum. The outside hand doesn’t grab or otherwise pull on the jersey but he was called for the penalty anyway. Officially, the penalty was declined on him and accepted on Jack Doyle.
The third penalty was a false start on the same fourth quarter drive. There is no explaining this one. Nelson flinched with his right arm and when the defender reacted, tried to play it off. The officials saw the flinch and he was rightly called for a false start.
Rookie running backs Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins both received backfield snaps. Hines led the rookies with 26 snaps. He carried the ball 9 times for 28 yards and caught 2 passes for another 22 yards. Wilkins saw the field for 8 early offensive snaps and did not receive a rushing opportunity. He did catch two passes for 32 yards but coughed up a fumble that was recovered by the Dolphins.
Second-year feature running back Marlon Mack played on 36 offensive snaps, leading the team with 15 attempts, 85 rushing yards and 2 receptions for 11 yards. His average of 5.7 yards per carry and long run of 25 yards were both impressive. A concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit from Kiko Alonso has him in concussion protocol and uncertain for next week’s game in Jacksonville.
Each week is the same story on defense, at least as it pertains to rookie contributions. No defensive player has a greater impact on the game than Darius Leonard. He took the field for 48 defensive snaps, missing only five after an early injury scare. He led the team with 10 tackles and had the defense’s only sack of the day.
Leonard has stretched his tackle lead to 17 over the next defender and has played in 10 games — each of those players have played in 11. He is averaging 11.4 tackles per game. They are averaging 8.8. He also leads the team in sacks, on a team that rarely blitzes.
Second round rookie ends Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turay both had opportunities. Surprisingly, Lewis more than doubled Turay’s snap count — 40 to 17 respectively. Neither rookie recorded a tackle but both collected quarterback hits. Lewis led the team with 2 and Turay added another.
This is a situation worth monitoring as the team moves forward. Turay had really started showing signs of development so it is tough to fully speculate as to the reason Matt Eberflus felt like sticking with Lewis. Perhaps even more surprising is that Lewis received more snaps than Jabaal Sheard as well. It would be interesting to break down how many of those snaps were at defensive tackle.
Tied with Turay was linebacker Matthew Adams, who used his 17 snaps to make three tackles, including a monster hit on DeVante Parker late in the fourth quarter to help force a three-and-out. Early in the season, Zaire Franklin was getting more opportunities on defense. Now, Adams has taken over those reps.
Undrafted rookie linebacker Skai Moore also saw the field for 7 defensive snaps but did not record a tackle. He came onto the field to replace Darius Leonard for the five snaps he missed early in the game.
The second-year defenders were led by Kenny Moore II and Malik Hooker, who both played on every defensive snap. Moore had two tackles and pass defensed. Hooker had two tackles and an unofficial pass breakup on what would have otherwise been a Quincy Wilson interception in the end zone.
Linebacker Anthony Walker had another solid game. He used his 41 snaps to gather 9 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a pass defensed. He drew a defensive pass interference call early in the game playing aggressively in the middle of the field and nearly had a pick-six that he wasn’t able to haul-in — intended for Frank Gore. If he can continue to develop in coverage, the Colts could be in really good shape at linebacker in 2019.
Corner Quincy Wilson was on the field for 36 defensive snaps and had one tackle with one pass defensed. The pass breakup was on great coverage in the end zone.
Defensive tackle Grover Stewart saw the field for 13 snaps. His only contributions were a tackle that was waived off due to an offensive holding penalty and an embarrassing off-sides penalty that came during an obvious hard count situation at the end of the third quarter.