The Colts fell in their week three contest on the road against the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles showed the kind of resilience, toughness, and talent required to win a Super Bowl, while the Colts looked inconsistent, banged up, and struggled at times. In other words, they looked like a young team still finding their footing.
Still, the Colts were in the game in the final minutes with a chance to win, despite a terrible offensive game and a ton of penalties. There were lots of things to take away from this game and many players in both the winners and losers column. So without further ado, let’s jump right into them.
There are a few things you can generally count on to surface with rookie players at the NFL level. Even some of the best tend to be somewhat inconsistent from week to week. That hasn’t been the case through three weeks for Leonard. He has notched 41 total tackles through three weeks of this season.
Darius Leonard (41) is tied for the most tackles through the first three games of a season in NFL history behind Ray Lewis (44), London Fletcher (43) and Zach Thomas (43).— Andrew Walker (@AWalkerColts) September 23, 2018
More facts and figures from today's #Colts loss to the Eagles:https://t.co/vJqtfxLpiM pic.twitter.com/2i6RaWr7GC
That number is good for a tie for 4th most through the first three games of an NFL season. What did Leonard do in his 3rd game? He had 13 tackles, 5 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 2 QB hits, and a pass defended. The Colts simply can’t ask for a better performance from a rookie, and Leonard has helped to start solidifying this team’s identity on a young defense.
While we’re in the linebacker group, how about Anthony Walker? Not to be greatly outdone by Leonard, Walker played a big role in the game as well with 9 tackles, a pass defended, and an interception. Walker has been a solid player in the defense alongside Leonard, and the pair have definitely lifted the linebacker play substantially from any thing we’ve seen in the past. Against a tough assignment in terms of limiting the Eagles’ tight ends, Walker did an admirable job and made a key turnover that resulted in points.
This feels like a broken record, but Margus Hunt and Darius Leonard have become frequent fliers when discussing team winners. Hunt is off to a dominating season with a strip sack and fumble recovery, 4 tackles, with 3 tackles for loss.
.@Colts DT Margus Hunt (8.0) and LB Darius Leonard (6.0) currently rank 1st and 2nd in the @NFL in tackles for loss.— Christian Edwards (@ColtsEdwardsC) September 24, 2018
Hunt is first in the league in tackles for a loss through three games, and Darius Leonard is second. Not bad for a guy who hasn’t had a major impact in this league and turned 31 this summer. At his current pace, Hunt is trending toward a double-digit sack season that the Colts desperately need in order to be competitive.
Another rookie who had a solid performance against an excellent offensive line was defensive end Kemoko Turay. Turay managed 1.5 sacks, 3 tackles, and 2 QB hits. Turay has a great first step and has been showing flashes each week so far, but had previously been unable to get home. If the Colts can get consistent production from another rookie, it will bode very well for this team’s future.
4th Quarter Penalties
The Colts were killed by late game penalties, and there were 3 in particular that really made things tough on both sides of the ball. The Eagles had the ball early in the 4th quarter, and drove from their 25-yard line all the way down the field to take the lead, scoring a touchdown. The drive took 11:58 seconds off the clock.
The most devastating penalty might have been the first one. Leonard got a sack that put the Eagles at 2nd and 20. Then, an offensive holding call brought the Eagles to a 2nd down and 26 on their own 20-yard line. The Colts defense had them in excellent position and then had that deficit erased by a defensive holding penalty on Nate Hairston. Margus Hunt, Pierre Desir, Jabaal Sheard, and Al-Quadin Muhammad all added penalties on the drive, allowing the Eagles to methodically move down the field and take over the game, leaving little time for the offense, which had struggled all game, to retake the lead.
Overall, this is to be expected of young defenses. However, Hunt, Sheard, and Desir aren’t young, and have to have better discipline in these critical situations, although Sheard’s call was a questionable one.
I am not going to overreact to this game, but there is a tough reality we need to look at in terms of a certain stat. In 2013, Luck experienced his lowest yards per catch average of 11.1. So far this season he is sitting at 7.8. While his completion percentage is through the roof, this one-dimensional passing game simply won’t fly.
The Eagles were torched through the air in week 2 by the Buccaneers, yet the Colts never even attempted to test them downfield. Even with the game on the line, the Colts played it safe and Luck did not consistently look downfield during the closing minutes of the 4th quarter.
Combine this with the fact that Frank Reich very oddly brought in Jacoby Brissett to throw a final “hail mary” at the end of the game, and it raises serious questions about Andrew Luck’s downfield ability.
It is altogether possible that the game plan is heavily catering to a beaten-up offensive line. When Anthony Castonzo and Jack Doyle are back in the lineup we may see the Andrew Luck of old make an appearance. However, right now we seem to have a quarterback who is either uncomfortable with, or unwilling to push the ball down the field and take deep shots against defenses.
Luck still managed to lead the team in rushing yards, and his movement in the pocket remains excellent. It is too early to completely freak out about anything, but if Luck continues relying only on checkdowns over the course of this season, this team will not be able to win many games.
I get it, the Eagles are a very good team against the run. However, this is both what your offensive line is best at blocking for and a means to set up your passing game. The Colts inability to run the ball is a major part of what allowed the Eagles to absolutely dominate the time of possession. Admittedly, they are limited in what they have in terms of their backs, but this was a close game. There was no point where the score dictated the way they needed to call plays.
The Colts ran the ball just 12 times in this entire game. Jordan Wilkins had just 6 carries despite being their most successful back thus far. Nyheim Hines was used effectively in the passing game, but ran the ball just 5 times. By essentially giving up on the run, the Colts allowed the Eagles’ defense to key off on the passing game, and since they also didn’t really ever threaten the defense with deep shots, it made the job of the defense much more straightforward. You can’t make a defensive coordinator’s job this easy and expect to win against a team with this kind of talent.
3rd Down Conversions and Red Zone Efficiency
Two areas where the Colts had done relatively well were in terms of converting third downs, where they led the NFL handily, and in red zone efficiency, where the week before they were 3 for 3 in the red zone. This week saw a full reversal of that. The Colts converted on just 2 of 12 third downs, and were 1 for 5 in the red zone. You can’t be that ineffective in those areas and beat quality teams. If the Colts had performed even slightly better, they would have walked away with a win.