It took every minute for the Colts to mount a successful comeback against the Giants after falling into an early 14-point hole. It was clear early on that missing Anthony Walker and Clayton Geathers created glaring issues. It wasn’t until after half time that the defense was able to settle down and start playing anywhere close to what it had been playing in previous weeks.
The offensive side of the ball wasn’t considerably better. Eric Ebron dropped a pass that hit him in the stomach and left the game in concussion protocol on the same play. He would not return. Andrew Luck committed one of the more embarrassing mistakes I’ve seen a quarterback making, in trying to throw away a ball that didn’t make it out of bounds on an offensive drive that had real traction. The result was a back-breaking early interception.
The injuries on offense and defense meant that young players had to step up to seal the deal. Let’s take a look at their contributions to steal a late win at home and keep Indy’s playoff chances alive.
It was a strange offensive game for the Indianapolis Colts. Nothing about how the team scored or marched down the field was particularly familiar. Ebron’s injury limited the impact of tight ends, especially during the second half comeback. Ryan Kelly’s neck injury early in the game limited some of what Frank Reich may have originally planned to do on the ground.
Andrew Luck relied heavily on players who had not been previously asked to produce a bulk of the offense. In particular, it is rare that Chester Rogers, Dontrelle Inman, and Zach Pascal would be the seond, third, and fourth most targeted players on the team. The top four receiving targets were all wide receivers. Even Ryan Grant had 3 targets.
With that in mind, rookie linemen Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith took their regular 100% of offensive snaps. On their watch, one sack was allowed but nothing got going on the ground. It is incredible how much game script forced Reich into a pass heavy or pass only mindset. There were only 16 opportunities on the ground for the entire game and 1 of them was a kneel down. Given that the Giants had proven to be susceptible to opposing running backs, it was unexpected.
Nyheim Hines was the only offensive rookie not on the line to make an impact. He saw the field on 34% of snaps and carried the ball twice for 2 yards and a touchdown. His impact in the passing game dwarfed the yardage production on the ground, as he added 4 receptions on 5 targets for 41 yards.
Second-year runner Marlon Mack continued to dominate the backfield duties with 64% of the offensive snaps. He had some key blocks in the passing game and continues to be noticeably improved in this area of his game. He carried the ball 12 times for 34 yards and one touchdown. He added 1 catch on 3 targets for 4 yards.
Sophomore wide receiver Zach Pascal saw the field for 52% of the offensive snaps and brought in 4 catches on 7 targets for 41 yards. Mo Alie-Cox continued to see a lot of the field in a hybrid role, gathering 48% of the offensive snaps but did not record a catch and was targeted only once.
It was all hands on deck for the defense. There were more contributions from first- and second-year players for this unit than at any other time this season. You have been warned, this will take a minute.
Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard tied for the team lead with 9 total tackles. He played on every defensive snap and also played a key factor in the game-winning interception. He was all over the receiver in the deep middle of the field and certainly impacted Eli Manning’s release point. 9 tackles is a solid game for anyone but just shy of the 40 tackle target Leonard set for himself prior to the game.
First-year safety George Odum has been getting a very long look in nickel packages and saw more action without Clayton Geathers on the field. He tied for the team lead with 9 tackles, which is impressive given that he was on the field for 68% of the the defensive opportunities.
Rookie linebackers Zaire Franklin and Matthew Adams worked together to replicate Anthony Walker’s impact at middle linebacker. Franklin tallied 6 tackles and saw the field for 54% of the defensive snaps. Adams gathered 5 tackles, including 3 for a loss, and was on the field 52% of the time.
Rookie defensive linemen Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turay both had opportunities but Lewis continues to dominate the snap count, seeing the field for 80% of the defensive snaps — which is the same of starting defensive tackle Denico Autry. Lewis gathered 2 tackles and 1 quarterback hit.
Kemoko Turay continues to sit on the sideline waiting for a legitimate chance to contribute. He used his one snap, his one opportunity to make an impact on defense to register a quarterback hit on Eli Manning. He was dismissed to the sideline and not heard from again.
Second-year safety Malik Hooker continues to be a defensive mainstay. He saw the field for every defensive snap, gathered 6 tackles, and made the game winning interception. It has to be a bit of a relief for Hooker to finally get a chance to make a big play in the secondary and to come down with it. It has been a completely different in his second season in a new defense and he has had to learn a lot in his new role.
Sophomore cornerbacks Kenny Moore, Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston all received opportunities on defense. Moore led the way with 5 tackles on 95% of the defensive snaps. He went down with an injury during the game but made it back onto the field. Losing Moore would be catastrophic to Indy’s chances moving forward.
Quincy Wilson registered 3 tackles and saw the field for 46% of the defensive snaps. He also went down with an injury and will hopefully not be impacted moving forward. Hairston received 2 defensive snaps and didn’t register a defensive stat but gathered a special teams tackle. It is incredible to see how he went from a rookie sensation to invisible after a scheme change.
Sophomore defensive tackles Al-Quadin Muhammad and Grover Stewart both had important roles to play with Al Woods out for the year. Muhammad gathered 3 tackles, including 1 for a loss on 29% of the defensive snaps. Stewart tallied 1 tackle on 23% of the defensive opportunities.
The Colts will need to recover from injuries at key positions if they hope to not only win in Nashville but have a chance to make some noise in the playoffs. The injury to Ryan Kelly’s neck changes the offensive line from one that can dominate opponents to one that can perform reasonably well. Missing Anthony Walker in the middle of the defense cannot happen long-term. He has been a huge part of the defense stepping up this season and no one player on the roster is capable of replacing him. Finally, Clayton Geathers is one of the more underappreciated members of the Colts defense. He is a blue collar player who does a lot of dirty work at the second level. He doesn’t often get any glory for his contributions but the third line defender plays aggressively toward the line of scrimmage and not having him compounds the loss of Walker.
Until these players can fully recover from injury, rookies will be called upon to step up. It will be a committee approach and a trial by fire when the stakes are at their highest. Indianapolis is left needing at least one more player to step out into the spotlight as having a bright future to get the job done. Who will it be?