Colts fans should be forgiven for getting a little ahead of themselves. It has been quite sometime that the team has gone on a meaningful winning streak, since its quarterback has been so well protected, and since that same quarterback had put on an MVP-level performance that started to generate national attention. There has been a whole lot of positive in Indianapolis over the last five weeks.
Coming into the game, we noted that the two franchises had opposite trajectories. Jacksonville has been crushed by disappointment this season, after making it to the AFC Championship game earlier in the year. The wheels all started coming off earlier in the week, or so it seemed, after they fired their offensive coordinator, demoted their starting quarterback, placed their biggest free agent investment on injured reserve, and saw their biggest offensive weapon lose an appeal for a one-game suspension after fighting against the Bills.
None of that mattered on Sunday.
In the Week 10 home meeting against Jacksonville, Indianapolis put on a devastating offensive show in the first half that culminated in 29 points. It turned out that this was all the team needed to win the game, but the Colts were shutout in the second half and required a late forced fumble to escape without overtime. Throw in yesterday’s meeting and Frank Reich and Indianapolis has gone six straight quarters without scoring against the Jaguars.
This kind of performance cannot become an ongoing characteristic. Reich and his staff had the luxury of entering the 2018 season as relative unknowns. New systems are often successful early because opposing coaches don’t have a reliable way to game plan. This advantage goes away quickly, especially in the division where there are two meetings a year.
Whatever Jacksonville did to answer Reich’s offense at half time in Week 10 was effective. It has continued to be effective. Indianapolis didn’t have an answer to those changes at kickoff on Sunday and they exited the locker room after half time without answers. This has to change.
It’s true, this Colts offense is tougher to face because it is “multiple.” Reich isn’t afraid to use a lot of weapons or targets in a variety of ways. However, the offense does have clear tendencies — some of them are to a fault. Over the last couple of weeks, those tendencies have been easy to predict. If Colts fans have a pretty good idea what the offense is going to do and the fan base can tell you it is one of a few options, NFL defenses know that too.
Don’t get me wrong, the Colts have still met or exceeded any reasonable expectations for the team to this point in the season. In fact, there are games earlier in the season that would have or possibly should have gone the other way. Injuries early in the year may have had an impact on outcomes and put Indianapolis in a hole that it will struggle to fight its way out of.
All things considered, sitting at 6-6 after a 1-5 start is still good. If you want to split the season into pieces, Indianapolis went 1-5 to start the season losing some close games. Since then the team is 5-1 and had only one awful performance. If Indianapolis started 5-1 and had only one dud performance, fans would still feel pretty good.
Let’s revisit the keys to the game and see how the Colts failed to capitalize in a must-win road divisional game.
WIN UP FRONT
This didn’t happen. Luck took three official sacks, another that was called off due to a defensive penalty, and took nine hits. He was harassed in the pocket, had to step up and scramble regularly, and was never able to get into any kind of rhythm.
The offensive line wasn’t all to blame. Some of the shots he took were the result of excellent coverage and holding the ball for too long. Still, since Ryan Kelly has gone down with an injury, things have been different. Losing Jack Doyle didn’t help either. It’s incredible how people forget the little things players do until they are gone.
The defense did a reasonable job of making life difficult for Cody Kessler. 3 sacks and 7 quarterback hits tell part of the story but his 5 runs were also due to collapsing pockets. All 3 sacks, another hit, and two forced fumbles were credited to defensive tackle Denico Autry but numerous pass rushers were able to impact plays.
The Jaguars averaged under 3 yards per carry, the defense allowed only six points, and Kessler threw for only 150 yards.
MAINTAIN BALANCE ON OFFENSE
This key was an abject failure. At no time in the game were the Colts in a pass only situation. While it is true that the running game had its share of struggles, the play-calling left a lot to be desired.
The Colts threw the ball 52 times to only 16 runs. Against the Jaguars. In a six point game.
Perhaps the most effective running back on the roster against this style of defense could have been Jordan Wilkins. He has the most size, has a knack for getting the most out of small windows, and doesn’t go down at first contact on every play.
I get that he has had a couple of key fumbles and maybe he is on the dog house, but if Mack isn’t the answer and Hines can’t get anything going, maybe giving Wilkins a few carries is a better option than becoming one-dimensional altogether.
WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE
The Colts lost the turnover battle by throwing an interception and losing a fumble. On the first drive of the game, Indianapolis forced a fumble and recovered it in Jacksonville territory. All three of the offense’s fourth down attempts failed. All of these failures were within field range, two were in the red zone.
The Colts lost 0 - 6.
CATCH THE DAMN BALL
While Colts receivers were not perfect for the day, most of the dropped passes had as much to do with contested or off-target throws than clear failures to make a clean catch. T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron led the way in targets and were unable to come down with the ball on 5 and 6 of those targets, respectively. Dontrelle Inman caught 2 passes on 6 targets and Ryan Grant didn’t score a reception in his 2 targets. He unofficially caught 2 passes that were called off due to penalties. One was an offensive pass interference and the other who a stupid illegal shift call.