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4 Takeaways from the Colts’ 23-0 shutout win over the Cowboys

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The Colts’ performance against the Cowboys was arguably their strongest of the season, with all facets of the team performing at a high level. The Dallas Cowboys were the hottest team in the NFL, winning their last five games, including a win against the Saints. The Colts shut them down on both sides of the ball and even added a blocked field goal on special teams to add an extra whammy on the game.

Marlon Mack lead the way on the ground with 27 carries for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns. TY Hilton lead the way in the passing game with 5 catches for 85 yards including a couple of fantastic catches.

The Colts had a tough time stopping Ezekiel Elliott, but when they took a double-digit lead, the Cowboys were forced to pass more, which hindered his impact. He finished the game with 18 carries for 87 yards and 7 catches for 41 yards.

The win moves the Colts to 8-6 and keeps them right in the middle of the playoff hunt. They’ll play the Giants next week followed by what’s looking to be a massive season finale matchup against the Titans.

Defense Was in Bend Don’t Break Mode

The defense allowed a lot of yards and had to defend against some long drives early in the game, but they played a stout bend-don’t-break style of defense. In the first quarter, the Colts had a massive goal line stand after a long Cowboys drive. In the second quarter, the Cowboys bled the clock for half the quarter, but the Colts stood strong at the beginning of field goal range and forced the Cowboys to punt. They allowed 159 yards on three drives in the first half, but did not break. Even though the Cowboys held the ball for over 19 minutes in the first half, the Colts allowed no points. It was a very strong defensive performance and their bend-don’t-break mentality in the first half set the tone for a strong overall game.

Ryan Kelly’s Return was Huge

Ryan Kelly’s return sparked a resurgence in the Colts’ running game. Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines had 158 yards on the ground on 33 carries. It’s worth noting that the 4.8 yards per carry doesn’t do the stat justice as the Colts ran the ball most of the time in the latter portion of the 3rd quarter and essentially the entire 4th quarter against a Cowboys defense that stacked the box to stop the run (knowing the Colts were only going to run it with a 20+ point lead).

It’s no surprise that Ryan Kelly was often seen opening holes and leading the way for many blocks. There was one play in the 1st half where he pulled and lead blocked for Mack on a 15 yard run, but it was called back because of a bad penalty call. Kelly’s return paid major dividends in the running game.

In the passing game, the Colts allowed no sacks and while Luck did feel pressure on several occasions, it’s worth noting that the Cowboys have one of the best front sevens and pass rushers in the NFL, so that would definitely be considered a big win for Kelly and the big boys up front.

Balanced Attack Was Key to Strong Play on Offense

The Colts finished the game with more rushes than pass attempts, and the balance, especially in the entire first half and 3rd quarter were instrumental in the Colts’ victory. By utilizing a balanced attack, they were able to effectively move the ball the entire game against a strong defense. It made third downs easier (they went 8 for 12 on third downs) because they kept the yardage very manageable.

Colts Secondary Shut Down Amari Cooper

Amari Cooper was setting the league on fire. In his last three games, Cooper had 26 catches for 473 yards and 5 touchdowns. Against the Colts, Cooper had only 4 catches for 32 yards and a rush for 11 yards. You can call that a shutdown. The Colts mixed up a few different defensive backs against him, but Desir got a lot of action against him. The Colts, especially on passing downs, shadowed Malik Hooker over the top to ensure that Cooper would not take the lid off the defense.

Stopping Cooper was instrumental in stopping Dak Prescott and the Cowboys passing game as their other receivers (Gallup, Hurns and Beasley), failed to separate themselves from the pesky Colts secondary and all had sub-par performances.