The Indianapolis Colts have not put it all together in 2018. Andrew Luck has been asked to play a big role at times and has been ineffective at others. The offensive line has shown some signs of improvement, especially along the interior, but the tackle depth is a major weakness. The defense has been very impressive for much of the season, creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and making difference-making plays that give the team the opportunity to win football games. The unit has also come up a little short by allowing big drives to get into scoring position late in games.
The first and perhaps most important knee-jerk reaction from the Colts and Texans game is that Andrew Luck is completely healthy. All of the chatter and nonsense about hidden issues facing Luck’s throwing shoulder or a lack of arm strength were answered repeatedly today. No quarterback with arm strength or shoulder weakness throws more than 60 times in a ball game including taking numerous deep shots and a ridiculously long hail mary. If Reich was worried about shoulder strength or setbacks, he doesn’t have Luck throw over 60 yards with one second left in regulation.
The Colts need to get Zach Pascal more active in the offense every week. This unit lacks a ton of proven talent at wide receiver and Pascal has been a consistent contributor on offense and special teams. Most importantly, he has shown tremendous hands and isn’t dropping key passes at key moments.
Nyheim Hines is starting to make his presence felt. He should be rarely used to pick up yards on the ground as a lone running back but he can move all over the field and create the kinds of defensive issues that Reich and Sirianni envisioned when they selected him in the 2018 NFL Draft. It is stunning to think about how far he has come from fumbling away punts in the preseason to looking like a speedy and shifty offensive weapon just 4 weeks into his rookie season.
The Colts gave away another winnable game. Remember in Week 1 against the Bengals when Andrew Luck was driving down the field on a would-be game winning drive and Jack Doyle fumbled? Remember when Andrew Luck and the offense had multiple chances to punch the ball into the end zone against the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles but failed to do so? Well, mark down another example of a would-be win in your memory.
The Indianapolis Colts defense was legitimately responsible for giving up 17 points to the Texans offense during regulation. Andrew Luck led the offense down the field for 31 offensive points. Unfortunately, a bad snap by Ryan Kelly on the goal line and strip sack given up deep in their own territory on another possession resulted in another 14 points for Houston.
Frankly, Indianapolis shouldn’t have been in a position to play for overtime and the Texans should have gone home devastated after a thrashing on the road. Sadly, after an impressive four quarters for the defense, overtime saw the group fail to make big plays when they needed it most. Darius Leonard guessed wrong on a key Deshaun Watson scramble on third down. The pass rush couldn’t land when the defense needed a big play. The secondary, safeties in particular, played way too loose in coverage and allowed huge passing plays in front of them to keep drives going.
Lastly, the Frank Reich decision to go for a first down on 4th-and-4 in overtime was bad football. If his team of analytics experts played a part in that decision, Reich needs to recognize when football intelligence overrides statistical analysis. This was a game that 1) the Colts really needed to win, 2) they had no business taking to overtime after the offensive disasters of the first half, and 3) has huge implications for the division. You don’t play “aggressive” in your own territory in overtime when a field goal defeats you. Ties may not feel good to a fan base but they will make a difference when tie breakers come into play for playoff consideration later in the year.
Unless you don’t care about your chances to make the playoffs, you punt the ball away and take the tie. No-brainer football stuff. Analytics or no.
Let’s take a look at how the keys to the game played out against the Texans.
Pester Deshaun Watson
For a second straight week, the Colts found ways to get to the quarterback. There has been a lot of mutually beneficial work happening in the secondary and along the defensive line. Some of the sacks have been due to edge rushers landing with athleticism and speed. Some of the pressure has been the result of excellent coverage from a young secondary.
It is certainly fair to recognize that the pass rush is still inconsistent but it is also clear that this group has come a very long way from 2017. The Colts accumulated 7 sacks today, versus 4 given up against J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney with backups at both tackle spots.
Red Zone Efficiency
After struggling early in the year, it is a relief to see the Colts score in each of their 4 red zone visits. The first half offense was putrid and did not get much of an opportunity to get in Texans territory but once the ball started moving in the second half, things really started to click.
Andrew Luck’s Decision-Making and Accuracy
This is perhaps one of the most impressive single game performances of Andrew Luck’s career. He completed 40 of 62 passing attempts for 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. He did this without T.Y. Hilton for a significant portion of the second half and while facing considerable pressure from Houston’s marquee pass rushers J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
Of Luck’s incompletions, a half dozen were drops by his receivers. Without those drops, he would have a 75% completion percentage. Other than a couple of passes that were slightly overthrown or underthrown, his accuracy was fantastic. He hit T.Y. Hilton on a 42 yard bomb along the right sideline and threw a hail mary at the end of regulation that went 60 yards down the field.
Any suggestion that Andrew Luck’s throwing shoulder is causing a strength issue at this point is comical. His first game back saw him throw over 50 times, this game saw him throw over 60 times and put up a QB rating of over 108. If Luck’s shoulder is causing an issue, it isn’t enough to impact his ability to win football games.
Frankly, there isn’t any. The Colts have failed to create any threat of a running game and are having to rely entirely on Andrew Luck. Anthony Castonzo’s pending return may play an important role in improving the running game and Robert Turbin’s return from suspension will also help but Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni must find a way to create some balance offensively or Luck will be a sitting duck in the pocket.
Slow Down the Texans Pass Rush
The offensive line struggled mightily in the first half with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Watt gathered two sacks and was credited with two forced fumbles. Watt beat Le’Raven Clark with speed around the edge.
The second half?
The coaching staff and offensive linemen made some changes that really slowed things down. Luck ran a quick no-huddle approach that was creating real issues for the Houston defense. It wasn’t until overtime that Clowney was able to land another sack with a stunt to the inside beating Quenton Nelson.