The Indianapolis Colts Week 1, 34-23 loss looks bad on paper if you’re simply looking at the score, but the Colts showed signs of being a team that can make the division very interesting as the season progresses. It wasn’t all good, otherwise they would have won the game, but they were clearly better prepared than in year’s past.
The season is obviously very young, so there’s not much that we can truly know about them, but the four quarters we all saw did give us a little peek at what the Colts may be this year. It’s certainly not all doom and gloom, but the team still has a long way to go.
Here are 3 things we learned about the Colts in Week 1.
The Colts defense is bending a bit too much
It’s understood that the Colts new defensive scheme is going to have these kind of games where they allow a ton of yards. They want the speed and instincts from their players in order to turn the ball over, and the defense is ultimately made to play with the lead. Similar to the days of Peyton Manning.
Well, that didn’t turn out too well Sunday. At first, I presumed the Colts were significantly better in the first half being as the defense had only given up 10 points. That was not the case, in fact, they were technically better in the second half in a couple areas. Let me explain.
The Bengals actually were trying to rack up some big plays by putting guys like Joe Mixon in space, but the Colts forced two turnovers in the first half and managed to turn the tide a bit. The Colts did, however, allow 7.36 yards per play (28th) in that first half, but because they were so good on third downs, they weren’t allowing long, sustained drives.
They allowed one 10-play drive that ended in a field goal, but otherwise, a 5-play drive — a touchdown drive nonetheless — was the high for Cincinnati in the first half. The Colts’ 22 defensive plays in the first half was fourth-lowest in Week 1.
In the second half the Colts allowed 6 yards per play (24th), and that isn’t good either, it’s just less than the first half. They began to allow long drives as Andy Dalton regained his confidence and the Bengals were putting points on the board each [possession. They scored on every meaningful drive in the second half aside from their first.
They were equally porous on the ground and through the air allowing 5.1 rushing yards per attempt, and 7.6 net passing yards per attempt throughout the duration of the game, and that simply has to stop.
It’s going to be a process, we know that much, this defense is new for most of the Colts. But, Matt Eberflus must scheme a way for them to take away some of the big plays that came in space Sunday. The Colts only allowed 4 plays over 20 yards, but they allowed a 75% completion rate which tells you that the Bengals challenged the Colts to stop them on these underneath routes as the game wore on.
The Colts have to be better in that respect, but again, that’s how this defense is designed. The pass rush did create some occasional pressure, but Andy Dalton was 11-of-14 in the second half and was nearly unaffected by it. An increase in successful pressure needs to be created in future games if those in the back seven are going to be able to stop anyone this year.
The second half is still the Colts’ enemy
The Colts were 6-of-8 on third downs in the first half. They were rolling. They were getting some good yardage on second downs — 7.5 yards per play (10th) — to make third-and-manageable a regular occurrence Sunday afternoon. They did manage to go 5-of-9 on third downs in the second half, but they simply weren’t doing anything with ball averaging only 4.05 yards per play.
With the Bengals scoring on their possessions, the Colts allowed both of their sacks in the second half, Luck nearly threw 2 more interceptions, and added the crucial fumble recovery in the final seconds to sew it up. No amount of stats can tell you that a team shouldn’t give away a 23-10 second-half lead with Andrew Luck under center.
The thing is, though, is that they did. They were dominated in the fourth quarter, again, and when they did begin to get it together they coughed up the ball. Last season the Colts amassed a total of 3 touchdowns all year, and while you’d have to be quite irrational to think that will be a trend with Luck under center, it’s still a problem that needs to be rectified by Frank Reich at the very least.
Colts offensive line is a work in progress, but still better
The Colts started two backups, a rookie, a former first-round pick, and an old guy Sunday. Andrew Luck did get forced out of the pocket a handful of times, and did take his two sacks on the day, but with all things considered, this group of lineman did a pretty solid job of protecting the franchise quarterback.
Luck dropped back 56 times... Fifty. Six. against one of the better defensive fronts they’ll play all season. The Bengals did generate 8 QB hits behind the line of scrimmage, but very few of those were hard hits or affected Luck’s ability to make the throw outside of the two sacks. It’s not an excuse for them, necessarily, rather more of an acknowledgement for the workload they were tasked with and how they worked together.
For some perspective about the group this offensive line had to battle in Week 1, five of them that they matched up against accounted for 31 of the Bengals’ 41 sacks from 2017. That was no small feat in my eyes by this Colts’ line. I was actually pretty encouraged by their efforts and am quite interested to see what they can accomplish once they’re fully healthy.
Colts fans are used to having a swiss cheese offensive line, and everyone wants Luck untouched as he comes back from an entire season of rehab — I get it. They may still have a bad year with the injuries they’re accruing, but Week 1 wasn’t one of the games we should attempt to form much of a judgement. They could just as easily improve with such a young group along the front line.
There are too many bad things that could have happened with Joe Haeg in his first start at left tackle and the slowest human on earth (J’Marcus Webb) at right tackle — so let’s not overblow this one. It is Week 1 after all.