The Indianapolis Colts are arguably the hottest team in football. After starting the season 1-5 and being completely written off, the team is dangerously close to a playoff berth. The two opponents that remain should be easier than the two Indy just defeated. With just a little help, the Colts could enter the playoffs as one of the most feared wild card teams in the NFL.
Perhaps the quietest part of the Colts comeback story has been the performance of a extremely young defense. No defense in the NFL has held opponents to fewer points since Week 7 — only 15 points per game. The unit is now top 10 in yards per game, top 10 against the run, and the secondary just shut down the hottest receiver in the NFL.
The offensive line, bolstered by the return of center Ryan Kelly, did not allow a sack. Veteran Joe Haeg took over as starting right guard for Mark Glowinski, who took over for Matt Slauson earlier in the season. This new line combination helped generated 178 yards on the ground, 181 if you don’t count kneel downs. Even after getting abused by Colts ball carriers, the Cowboys have the fifth ranked run defense in the NFL, allowing 93.4 yards per game.
Andrew Luck threw the ball 27 times, completing 16 passes for 192 yards. The Colts ran the ball 39 times and Marlon Mack rushed for the team’s only two touchdowns. The offense went right into the teeth of the Cowboys defense and had an incredible day. The Colts defense held Ezekiel Elliott to only 87 rushing yards and forced Dallas to use him primarily as a receiver. The longest passing play allowed by the Colts went for 18 yards.
Indianapolis is starting to put full games together. They started the season with a good first half or second half performance that wasn’t enough to win. Now, they are imposing their will throughout entire games and asserting dominance over opponents.
Do they have two more games in the tank?
Let’s revisit the keys to the game.
Prescott was sacked three times, hit 5 times, and faced pressure throughout much of the game. The Colts defensive line pushed the line of scrimmage into Prescott’s face regularly and forced him to get rid of the ball quickly. Nothing was opening up down the field and the swarming linebackers and secondary kept plays in front of them.
Playing from behind has been unfamiliar for the Cowboys in recent weeks and they didn’t look very comfortable handling the situation. Prescott finished the game with 206 passing yards and an interception.
The Colts managed to reduce Elliot’s impact by establishing a lead and by limiting his ability to make big plays. His longest run went for 24 yards, his longest reception went for 10. He touched the ball 25 times, which is more than half of Dallas’ offensive touches for the day.
Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker were all over Elliott for much of the game, especially as a receiver. Each time he brought the ball in, he turned to face a linebacker barreling down on him.
Don’t misunderstand. Elliott is a dangerous offensive player who still averaged nearly 5 yards per carry. Indianapolis didn’t keep him from being a very good player. The team simply kept him from dictating the outcome of the game.
LEAN ON LUCK
I didn’t see this coming. Not in my wildest dreams did I see a scenario where the Colts shutout the Cowboys. I never imagined that Marlon Mack would run for over 130 yards and have two touchdowns. I couldn’t have predicted that Frank Reich and his high powered, up-tempo, no huddle offense would run 39 times to only 27 passes.
The Colts punched the Cowboys in the mouth repeatedly with a rushing attack that generated just shy of 5 yards per carry. They dominated the second half time of possession and left Dallas powerless to do anything about it.
Luck had a casual Sunday afternoon.
COMPLETE THE CATCH
Achieved. Except for Ebron.
What was most encouraging about the receivers today is that Nyheim Hines was utilized heavily as a weapon and showed patience and concentration to bring the ball in on plays he has blown in the past. His 10 touches were important to maintaining offensive balance and his four receptions were incredibly well designed by Frank Reich.
What happens when Eric Ebron drops passes is stunning. It reminds me of Pierre Garcon. Easy pass and catch plays challenge him. Difficult leaping end zone catches are made to look easy. Go figure.
MAKE THE REICH CALLS
Frank Reich’s best call of the day was sticking with what was working. He didn’t try to reinvent the wheel. The running game was working and he stuck with it. He dialed up big passing plays occasionally to keep the Cowboys honest but otherwise allowed the offensive line to open up rushing lanes and completely tire out their opponents.
If you think up-tempo passing attacks are enough to gas an NFL defender, imagine a quick pace rushing attack where you get punched in the mouth over and over without a real opportunity to make substitutions. Indianapolis broke the will of the Cowboys sideline in the second half, and Reich did the right thing by sticking with what was working.