The Colts got off to an incredible start in this play-in game against the Tennessee Titans. On the road in a game that will either send them to the postseason or send them packing, this team showed up on both sides of the ball. They won the toss and deferred to the second half.
After a trick play on the opening kickoff put the Titans on the Colts side of the field, the defense clamped down and forced a punt. They pinned the Colts on the eight-yard line and Andrew Luck set to work. He proceeded to drive 92 yards on 12 plays and capped it off with a touchdown to Dontrelle Inman after escaping pressure to buy more time. The offense looked great on the opening drive, getting solid pass and run blocking and getting receivers open downfield easily.
The Titans got the ball back and another great series from the Colts defense ended their second drive with a very near pick by Malik Hooker on a risky deep ball from Blaine Gabbert. The Colts defense came out with a lot more fire in this game than they have in the last couple weeks and Darius Leonard made his presence known early. It seems that this week Eberflus has the defense primed because to a man they look like they came to play.
With the ball back in Andrew Luck’s hands, the offense again began methodically working back down the field, largely on the back of Marlon Mack. A big 3rd down conversion by Ebron kept the drive going, but a short run by Mack stalled the drive out just across the 50-yard line. Frank Reich showed his aggressive tendencies by going for it on 4th and 2, hitting Nyheim Hines for a short gain and picking up the 4th down conversion.
That aggressiveness proved worthwhile as the Colts continued their brutal march downfield, manhandling the Titans defense on their way into the red zone. They ended their 16-play 90-yard drive with a pass to Eric Ebron for another touchdown, this one at the expense of Kevin Byard, scoring the first touchdown by a tight end against the Titans’ defense all season. That makes 14 touchdowns for him on the season and put the Colts ahead 14-0 midway through the 2nd quarter.
The Colts defense really have done well swarming to the ball and limited pass catchers, and despite Derrick Henry’s effectiveness, it is tough to mount a comeback by running the ball. Gabbert has proven incapable of hitting his receivers on 3rd downs where they are in obvious passing situations, and the Colts defense continues to put them in those situations. The Titans again found themselves punting the ball back to Andrew Luck after their 3rd drive. Through those 3 drives, the Titans gained just 2 first downs and 36 total yards.
Fortunately for the Titans, the Colts domination wouldn’t continue so smoothly. With a little pressure on the first play of the Colts next drive, Luck threw a truly awful pick six, gifting 7 points to the Titans defense and allowing them back into the game and giving a jolt of momentum to a Titans team that was reeling. There are some Andrew Luck picks that have been the fault of a receiver or a really great defensive play, but this was not one of those. This was just Andrew making a really bad decision with the football.
That pick knocked the offense off its rhythm and resulted in quick a punt on the ensuing offensive series, but as bad as Luck’s mistake was, Adoree Jackson made a worse one. He attempted to pick up a bounced ball on the punt and muffed it. The muffed punt was recovered by Chris Milton on the Titans’ 9-yard line. Compounding the ridiculous run of errors, Marlon Mack fumbled the ball away and gave it back to the Titans.
Thankfully, the Colts defense continued a solid string of play and locked down the Titans’ offense with a great play by Kenny Moore to lay out for a pass breakup. With just over 2 minutes to go in the first half, Andrew Luck and the offense got the ball back.
Despite being largely used as a decoy and showing signs of pretty significant pain, T.Y. Hilton broke a huge 32-yard screen pass and got the Colts moving and into Titans territory as the Colts began working back into their rhythm again. Luck hasn’t looked quote like himself on this drive, making two dangerous throws that could have been picked. Fortunately, he avoided that, and the Colts settled for a 53-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri with :39 seconds in the half.
With all their timeouts, the Titans began driving to attempt to get a score before the half, and found themselves having more success moving the ball through the air. An incredibly dumb late hit by safety George Odum helped move the ball onto the Colts side of the field. Unfortunately, during that drive, rookie pass rusher Tyquan Lewis found himself on the turf and immediately grabbed at his right knee. His loss for any amount of time is a big blow to both the pass rush and the run defense for this team.
George Odum very nearly redeemed himself with a pick in the end zone but it was broken up as Odum and Desir didn’t communicate well and knocked it away from each other. The result was a field goal from the Titans to end the half 17-10 with the Colts set to get the ball back to start the second half.
Overall this has been a tale of two very different quarters from the Colts on offense. Since Luck’s pick six, this offense has looked out of sync and has been making costly mistakes that they cannot make down the stretch. Hopefully the half will give them a chance to breath, evaluate those mistakes, and start fresh in the second half.