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Knee-Jerk Reactions: Colts lose to defending champion Eagles 16-20

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect the Colts to win coming into the game today. I expected that the Eagles would be just a little bit too talented and too experienced for the young transitioning Colts to pull of a win on the road. When the weather turned rainy, it didn’t make me feel any better as I acknowledged how stout the Eagles front seven is and how strong their run defense has been for over a year.

That said, this team had me believing that it could win the game the entire way. Every time I was worried that the team would fall flat or start to fade, they didn’t. Specifically, the Colts defense is a highly underrated and under appreciated unit who has been significantly better through three weeks than almost anyone would have predicted during training camp and in the preseason.

One week after earning AFC defensive player of the week honors, rookie linebacker Darius Leonard led the Colts with 13 tackles, including 9 solo, 2 sacks, 5 tackles for a loss, and a pass defensed. This is will put him right back into consideration for defensive player of the week.

Defensive end Margus Hunt is doing his very best to embarrass anyone who doubted him (I’m guilty) by acting as a defensive force on the the defensive line, inside and outside. He finished the game with 4 tackles, a strip sack fumble recovery, and 4 tackles for a loss. This is against an offensive line recognized as perhaps the very best in the NFL just a season ago.

If you would have told me before the game that the Colts defense would generate two turnovers, 5 total sacks, 9 tackles for a loss, and six passes defensed, I would have expected the score to reflect a stunning victory against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

In a strange turn of events, the Colts offense has come out of the gate looking lost and has not yet found its way. The quick release passes, no huddle and hurry-up style, and use of numerous weapons looks impressive when it is working right. The group just isn’t hitting on all cylinders yet.

Now, if fans can accept that this was a difficult game to win and a likely loss from the time it was first announced on the schedule, there is something to feel confident about. This very young team just took the defending Champs to the wire on their own field only three weeks into the 2018 NFL season. Andrew Luck is still working his way into a new offensive scheme and back onto the field after not playing in a regular season game for nearly two years. Once the offense gets going and the schedule eases up a bit, this group could do some exciting things.

Let’s revisit our five keys to the game.

Keep Carson Wentz uncomfortable

The Colts were more disruptive in the Eagles backfield than they have been in a game for a very long time. For the day, Indianapolis tallied 5 sacks and 9 tackles for a loss. One of those sacks was a strip sack and fumble recovery for Margus Hunt. Carson Wentz’s stat line of 25/37 with a TD and an INT is still a respectable outing, but he took 7 total hits and threw from very small pockets or had to scramble to keep plays alive on numerous occasions.

In all, the Colts defense has to consider this area of the game plan a win.

Limit Zach Ertz

Zach Ertz led the Eagles in receiving yards with 5 receptions for 73 yards. He was targeted in the end zone but the pass was broken up by Clayton Geathers. Linebacker Anthony Walker also picked off a pass intended for him to give the ball back to Andrew Luck and allowed the offense to setup a second consecutive scoring drive to give the team the lead for the first time.

This is a reasonable performance against one of the best tight ends in the NFL.

However, rookie Dallas Goedert added 7 receptions for another 73 yards and a touchdown. This was the player at the tight end position who gave the Colts the most fits. If they could have held all other tight ends in check on the day, they likely come out with a win. Giving up 146 yards and touchdown to Philadelphia’s tight ends collectively is something opponents will rarely be able to survive.

Win the turnover battle

Perhaps the most frustrating facet of the game comes from the failure to capitalize here. The Colts did a great job of forcing two second half turnovers. Anthony Walker’s INT to stop an Eagles drive in the third quarter allowed Adam Vinatieri to give the Colts their first lead of the game. Margus Hunt’s strip sack and fumble recovery gave Andrew Luck and the Colts offense the chance to really turn up the pressure and put the Eagles in a difficult situation.

Rewarded with two extra possession from these turnovers, the offense still only possessed the ball for 20 minutes. Philadelphia had twice the time of possession and they were able to capitalize on a couple of key long drives that turned the tables. This isn’t a knock on the Colts defense who held their own all day long against the defending Champs. This is a sign of real work to do on offense and potentially an indication of how much it hurts to not have players like Anthony Castonzo, Jack Doyle, Robert Turbin and Marlon Mack on the field.

Stay balanced on offense

This wasn’t even close. There were 40 passing attempts compared to only 12 rushing attempts — excluding Luck’s 33 yard scramble. This is a highly imbalanced offensive game plan and the weather certainly made it more difficult to win the game through the air. Give credit where it is due here, the Eagles front seven is formidable and the best rushing defense in the NFL — in 2017 and so far in 2018. Still, this offense must find a way to maintain balance or they will struggle to get anything going.

Hit Field Goals

Once again, playing in poor weather conditions makes special teams very important. Adam Vinatieri continued to be reliable and his 3/3 stat line would have played a very big role in a Colts victory if things turned out differently. Jake Elliott’s first half field goal miss would have also stuck out as a key moment in the game if the Eagles don’t punch the ball in on their devastatingly long game winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.