The Colts have strung together back-to-back big wins over quality opponents, this time putting away the division rival Houston Texans at home to take sole ownership of the AFC South. Their defeat of the Texans on Sunday puts them in prime position to go on a tear and gain a stranglehold on this division, and they did it in classic Frank Reich style—as a total team effort. Let’s take a look at some winners and losers from this game.
I am quick to point out Brissett’s struggles, so I want to be equally quick to give credit when he plays great. That’s exactly what he did Sunday. You could argue that he was facing a dreadful secondary—he was. However, he was also facing pressure in his face consistently as J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus did their best to make him miserable.
Despite the pressure and the fact that the run game couldn’t seem to get going, leaving the offense utterly one-dimensional, Jacoby Brissett took just 1 sack and looked supremely confident as he moved around the pocket to avoid defenders and make plays. He linked up with 8 different targets for 326 yards and 4 touchdowns with no interceptions and looked unflappable under center.
The only real issue with his play was something that has happened before this season and bears examination. His fumbled snap that resulted in a turnover could have been devastating, and plays like that are exactly the kind that let good teams back in games. This looked like a concentration issue, where Brissett was trying to go before he had the ball in hand. Not surprising, given the amount of pressure he faced all day, but something to clean up nonetheless.
It is still too soon to say that Brissett is “the man” at the quarterback position, but if he logs a few more games like this against quality opponents, it will certainly make that call a lot easier.
If he didn’t do it so consistently, you’d think Darius Leonard’s knack for making game-sealing plays was a fluke. There was no doubt that the Maniac was back—he lead the team in tackles with 10, and his ridiculous pick of Deshaun Watson late in the game let the Colts kneel their way to a huge victory.
His presence does more than just fill the stat sheet. The defense with Leonard on the field is more organized, gets up for plays, and overall benefits from the guy who is the heart of the unit. It is crazy to think they’ve managed to scrape through a tough stretch without him around, but his return is huge, and with him in the lineup, they will always be a tough out.
The banged up wide receiver room of the Colts has a vacuum below T.Y. Hilton in terms of players who they need to step up and make plays. We know what Chester Rogers is--a reliable player who isn’t blowing a game wide open. Parris Campbell is out with an abdominal issue. Devin Funchess is on IR and won’t be back until at least week 11. Deon Cain? We’ll talk about him later.
Into that vacuum has stepped Zach Pascal, the Swiss Army-receiver who is making big blocks when they need it, running the ball into the end zone when called upon, and even taking some shots downfield when Frank Reich dials up the play to do so.
Mostly what he did Sunday, though, was make big plays whenever and wherever they needed him. His 106 yards for 2 touchdowns show just how much faith Jacoby Brissett and Frank Reich have in him as a player, and he didn’t disappoint. The locker room loves him, and right now he looks like the WR2 on this roster.
Justin Houston and Jabaal Sheard
I considered including these two separately, but from what I can tell, their production is made possible because they’re both out there. Since Sheard’s return to full strength, the run defense of this front seven has been dramatically improved.
While it is true that the Colts haven’t played a stellar run team during those two weeks, the Texans have been finding a good amount of success on the ground this season, and having a good rushing attack wasn’t stopping the Colts from making running backs look great early in the season.
In addition to their transformation in run defense, the return of Sheard seems to have unlocked Justin Houston’s pass rush potential. No longer can defenses key on Houston with impunity. With Sheard opposite him, they have a disruptive force on both ends to account for, and Houston has been making the most of it. He had 2 sacks and 4 QB hits on the day, and Sheard was in on a sack of his own.
Most notably, these guys played a big part in keep Watson from escaping the pocket regularly and making big plays with his legs. If this kind of play continues, this front seven could be really impressive.
Call it a case of the yips, but Ebron hadn’t looked like himself so far this season. Not the version of himself Colts fans fell in love with, anyway. In this game, though? He caught 4 of 5 targets for 70 yards, including a ridiculous hurdle that he somehow made look effortless, and what might be the best touchdown catch of the 2019 season.
It is not hard to think that given his past history and the looming contract year, Ebron got into his own head a little bit after struggling initially. True to form, Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni didn’t give up on him, but helped get him involved to work through it. If they can get him rounded into 2018 form for the remainder of this season, the passing attack just got a lot better.
- Frank Reich should be the top choice for coach of the year, and it isn’t close.
- Khari Willis looked again like the best safety on the field, with another great play where he stopped the RB in his tracks.
- Ben Banogu had a great play where he got quick penetration to disrupt a run for a loss.
- Pierre Desir played a solid game despite being questionable and being uncertain almost up until game time. He snagged a pick for his troubles.
- T.Y. Hilton had a “quiet” game against the Texans, only managing 74 yards and a touchdown, which almost feels like a bad game when stacked against some of his prior outings against them.
Braden Smith and Mark Glowinski
The Texans were essentially playing their scout team cornerbacks by the midpoint of this game, which would normally have made easy targets in the passing game. However, it was a lot tougher job for Brissett because on the right side of the line, J.J. Watt was routinely shaking these two down for their lunch money on his way to his 6 QB hits.
While it is true that Brissett was sacked just once, it wasn’t because the line kept him clean as much as his good pocket movement. J.J. Watt is a great defensive player, and losing a matchup to him is understandable. However, they’ll need to find a way to do better against him next time they meet.
There is little doubt who the weak link is on this defense, and whether he has a captain patch or not, they have to be considering further limiting Geathers’ snaps. He looks slower than he has in any season since he joined the league, and his reactions have been behind as well. Without the benefit of the All-22, it is tough to know just how often he was picked on, but there were several instances where he was either out of position or simply too slow to come over in support. When Malik Hooker returns, the clear starters at safety should be he and Khari Willis.
Not much to say here other than that Deon Cain was in this game for 32 snaps and wasn’t targeted at all, against probably the worst secondary they’ll face all season given the injuries they had sustained.