The Indianapolis Colts closed out the Atlanta Falcons at home to start the season 2-1, even without franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. In the first half, quarterback Jacoby Brissett looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the league, connecting on all 16 of his throws to start the game.
Head coach Frank Reich called one of the best offensive games of his Colts career on Sunday. 9 different receivers caught passes. Five different receivers had 3 or more receptions on the game. It was red zone play design that really separated the Colts from the Falcons offensively, including two big plays to Zach Pascal for 53 yards and a touchdown.
As per usual, Stampede Blue will spend the entire week taking a much closer look at this game. For now, here are some quick reactions.
Jacoby Brissett has mastered zone defense
While it is entirely fair to question Jacoby Brissett’s identity, there is little doubt that Frank Reich and Brissett are extremely comfortable working against a base zone defense. Zone coverage invites the use of tight ends and running backs on check downs and create spaces on the field.
To Brissett’s credit, he threw some lasers today to his receivers. He displayed incredible accuracy and flashed some touch to receivers in the end zone as well. He did a better job in the first half getting the ball out of his hands quickly than he did in the second half but 28/37 for 310 yards and 2 touchdown in a home opening win is hard to complain about.
The offensive line is the engine
Make no mistake about it, there are plenty of offensive weapons available to Frank Reich. Granted, the injury to Devin Funchess and nagging quad issue for T.Y. Hilton is creating a bit of a challenge but this team has offensive weapons at every skill position.
That said, this offensive line and guard Quenton Nelson specifically drive the entire offensive game. Keeping Brissett clean in the first half allowed him to carve the Falcons defense to pieces. Opening running lanes in the fourth quarter for Marlon Mack to close out the game was absolutely smash mouth. The fact that Nelson pulled right to opening a huge running lane for Mack is proof positive that Reich and Ballard realize the offensive line will take this team places.
During the game I commented to our writing staff that Quenton Nelson is the best player on the team. I added to it that he was the best player on the team even before Andrew Luck retired. I get it, some have balked at such a suggestion, but at this point there is a chance Q will go down as the greatest offensive lineman in history. Luck was really good but was never anything close to that — he wasn’t even the best quarterback in any given season of his career.
Love me some Andrew Luck. I hope he comes back. He could definitely carry the Colts to Super Bowl victories and find his way to the Hall of Fame. However, Q is in a world of his own as an athlete and is re-writing what it means to play guard in the NFL.
Adam Vinatieri Returns
Let’s face it, Adam Vinatieri’s 49-yard field goal was not pretty. It wasn’t particularly confidence inspiring. However, if Vinatieri is/was in fact suffering from mental demons, that little break should have given him some ammunition to fight back.
While the situation is still worth monitoring, Colts fans were very supportive of Vinatieri, giving him an incredibly supportive welcome as he came onto the field and it is clear the city of Indianapolis is behind him.
Welcome back Vinny. May your kicks stay true.
A soft underbelly on defense
While Indianapolis has gotten away with having a soft defensive interior for much of the first three weeks of the season, their luck will run out if they don’t do something to fix it. There is simply no one on the interior who is particularly gifted as a run stuffer and opponents are figuring out that they can lower the boom on the inside to not just grind out first downs but to also generate big plays.
Mark my words, if this doesn’t get figured out the Colts will be exploited later in the season. Namely in the playoffs, if they find their way in.
3rd down defense is embarrassing
Speaking of defensive problems that need to be fixed, the soft zone coverage on third downs has to end. The Colts talked about having more flexibility to move into man coverage after Chris Ballard loaded up the roster with young talent. That wasn’t the case on Sunday.
If the Colts can’t stop the interior running game and sit so far back on third down that they allow third-and-long conversions regularly, they will have a really hard time winning football games — especially when they play good teams (not ones who have over 100 penalty yards).
For those keeping track, here is the injury list to track to start the 2019 season. QB1 - Andrew Luck retires due to nagging injuries. RB1 - Marlon Mack limited in practice. RB3 - Jordan Wilkins misses much of training camp with a foot/ankle injury. RB4 - Jonathan Williams suffers cracked ribs in pre-season. WR1 - T.Y. Hilton suffers quad injury in Week 2 and leaves the game at half time in Week 3 as he continues to deal with the injury. WR2 - Devin Funchess suffers a fracture to his collarbone as he goes airborne for an end zone target. DE2 - Jabaal Sheard has been unable to play to start the season and is one of the best run stoppers on the defensive line. LB1 - Darius Leonard misses Week 2 with a concussion.
Credit is due to Chris Ballard for building a roster that is deep enough to handle these injuries but something has to get better. If the Colts are fully healthy, they have a chance to surprise people. If the injury list continues to grow like this, things will become challenging.