If there was hope for the postseason last week, that hope has evaporated now. The Colts sunk to 6-7 on the season with an agonizing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday. This is not the first tough loss the team has faced in the 2019 season. The last time they played a good and balanced game against a good team was all the way back in October when they hosted the Texans.
Since then they managed to avoid losing (barely) to the Broncos, beat a bad Jaguars team at home, and drop a bunch of games they had no business losing. Injuries, and the weight of the loss at the quarterback position have grown too much for this team to bear. What’s more, the team seems to alternate which phase of the game they’ll fail in at various times. They have been an infuriating watch.
Here are the winners and losers from week 14:
The NFL interception leader is currently Minkah Fitzpatrick, with 5. Locked in a tie for 2nd with 4? Darius Leonard. When you factor in his 5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, this is a man who stands alone as a defensive force for the Colts. He did his best to will the Colts to a win on Sunday, making two incredible picks, one that he took to the house.
Additionally, he nearly had Jameis Winston for a big sack, and was generally a menace for the Bucs, particularly early on. While there is no way he could have had a season that exactly matched the flair of 2018, his follow up act has been excellent. His rookie season was no fluke—Darius Leonard is a big-time play maker and he is going to be making plays for a long time.
Zach Pascal and Marcus Johnson
Once again Zach Pascal proved to be a valuable part of the offense, moving the ball with a really nice 37-yard pickup on a crossing route followed up by a catch for a touchdown and the subsequent two-point conversion. On the day Pascal had 74 yards and a touchdown. With a healthy complement of receivers, Pascal could be a real asset to this team.
Marcus Johnson also deserves mention for his performance. He racked up 105 receiving yards and a touchdown, proving to be a solid downfield weapon in an offense that has been unable to find its deep passing game in the absence of T.Y. Hilton. Johnson also drew a 45-yard pass interference penalty, and Brissett connecting with him deep was about the only thing that seemed to be working offensively.
Last year Pierre Desir was the best cornerback on the roster. This year, he has been constantly hampered by nagging injuries, and his performance has suffered. Sunday, he was absolutely abused by Jameis Winston, and got burned badly by Mike Evans for a deep touchdown. It is clear that Desir is not the same player when he is hurt, and that cost the Colts yesterday.
Another player who was not wholly healthy coming into the game Sunday, Hooker struggled in deep coverage, with miscommunications between he and rookie Khari Willis resulting in several big plays. The Colts defense as a whole was gashed for 467 yards through the air, and Hooker’s struggles were a big reason why. He was able to pull in an interception in the 4th quarter, but it was not enough to make up for the struggles on offense and the inability to contain the Buccaneers’ passing attack.
In close games, turnovers make all the difference. The Colts only had one turnover, but it came at a terrible time. With the score 35-31, the Colts got the ball early in the 4th quarter and were driving to extend their lead. Hines coughed up the ball in the red zone, taking the ball out of the hands of the offense and losing an opportunity to put points on the board. Even if the Bucs had managed to keep them out of the end zone, they were well within field goal range and 3 points would have changed the ending of the game. It was a killer turnover on a day when Hines looked good in the return game, but was a non-factor otherwise.
If you looked at the highlights and the stat line, you could convince yourself that this was a decent game for Jacoby Brissett. 19 of 36 for 251 yards and 2 touchdowns is respectable but not great. To his credit, Jacoby has been willing over the past two weeks to take some deep shots where he was not earlier in the season. He had success connecting with Zach Pascal and Marcus Johnson.
However, much like the quintessential cartoon where the character plugs one hole only to see another one spring up, Jacoby shifted his focus to taking deep shots only to see his short to mid-range accuracy take a dive. Brissett threw the ball late, threw behind receivers, or threw the ball high or low. Jack Doyle was open on multiple occasions and Brissett simply couldn’t get the ball to him, often throwing the ball behind him when Doyle was wide open.
Brissett did a lot of things really well in this game. He evaded pressure excellently. He scrambled to pick up yards when needed, and wasn’t afraid to challenge the defense deep, which has been an issue with this offense all season. This game was, in many ways, a microcosm of his season. There were things to be really pleased with, and there were moments of mind boggling frustration. Unfortunately, in the big moments, there has been more frustration and disappointment than success.
Since Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney left the Colts have simply not had a dominant pass rush. They have found success at times this season, but have never been able to consistently get to the quarterback.
Justin Houston has been a great signing and has added a piece the team needed, but the loss of Kemoko Turay really stung them and they have lacked a real difference maker alongside Houston, who is no spring chicken.
The Colts pass rush simply could not get to Jameis Winston in this game. Winston had been sacked 40 times ahead of this game, and should have been someone the Colts could get to and disrupt. Their inability to do that paved the way for the Bucs successful passing day.
After giving him credit for how well he has gotten this team prepared over the past several weeks, it is only right to saddle him with the blame when the defense comes up short. Removing Darius Leonard’s incredible individual performance, this was a day that the whole of the Colts defense will want to forget.
They allowed the Bucs to convert on 53% of 3rd downs, sacked Winston just once, and gave up 542 total yards to the Buccaneers’ offense. While the offense was unspectacular, the Colts defense had no answers for the downfield passing attack, and both the defensive backs and the lack of a pass rush were to blame. The only good news? With a performance like this happening late in the season, perhaps it will help to cool Eberflus’ name in any head coach considerations and keep in with the team.
Overall I believe that Frank Reich is a very good head coach and has done well in his time in Indianapolis. Faced with a tough slate of injuries and Luck’s surprise retirement, he has had the team in every game and had them well prepared.
Having said that, there are some serious issues that this team has to deal with in terms of late game production on offense. The Colts have not scored any points in the 4th quarter in their last 3 games. On the season they are ranked 20th in 4th quarter points per game compared with 10th for 2018. A fair amount of blame can go to Adam Vinatieri and Jacoby Brissett for those issues, but ultimately the buck stops at Reich to make the offense go.
In this game the Colts had the lead and simply allowed the offense to go cold. They could not find ways to succeed offensively and while we understand that he was hamstrung by injuries, Frank Reich has to be able to adjust to his limited personnel and find ways to score points.
We have seen the Colts with Frank Reich as the coach do this well, and the hope is that with a healthy offense they can be much better. The way this team addresses the offense in the offseason will be very interesting to see.