The Indianapolis Colts fell at home to the Oakland Raiders, breaking a 7-game home winning streak. What makes the loss hard to swallow is that it was arguably the easiest non-division game of the season. The Raiders have been a mess on both sides of the football and have undergone a ridiculous amount of drama heading into this season.
The Colts have been inconsistent but have flashed a lot of talent at most positions. The team is still very young and the defense in particular started rookies Khari Willis, Bobby Okereke and Rock Ya-Sin. Other rookie defenders, including Ben Banogu and E.J. Speed were also a part of the defensive rotation. On offense, with the team’s top two receivers sitting out of the game (T.Y. Hilton and Devin Funchess) rookie Parris Campbell was asked to carry a bigger load and the rest of the receiving room lacks considerable experience.
At the end of the day, the Colts defense has been unable to figure out two key features of modern NFL offenses. First, the defense has been unable to consistently slow down the running game. While the league is pass-heavy, a team like the Oakland Raiders plays old school smash-mouth football and if they figure out they can simply run three times and get a first down, the rest of the day will be difficult.
Second, the Colts have been unable to figure out an effective way to address opposing tight ends. This spans defensive coordinators and a number of years. At a time when tight ends are perhaps more utilized than they have ever been, this is a weakness the Colts cannot afford to leave unresolved. Athletic tight ends are a significant part of the league’s best passing attacks and often find their way into the playoffs.
While we’ll go into much greater detail in our analysis the rest of this week, here are a few observations.
INJURIES ARE KILLING CONTINUITY
Consider that the Colts lost their number two receiver, Devin Funchess, to a collarbone injury that will cost him half of the season. Top receiver T.Y. Hilton has been nursing a quad injury that left him on the sidelines in the second half a week ago and inactive at home today against the Raiders. Behind him is a rookie, a former undrafted veteran who has never been anything more than the team’s third receiver, a blue collar do-it-all player who is often overlooked, and another undrafted rookie who was active for the first time in his career.
Consider that All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard missed his second consecutive game with a concussion. In his absense, starting Mike linebacker Anthony Walker was asked to start at Will again. Rookie linebacker Bobby Okereke was asked to start for the second time at Mike. Behind them, rookie E.J. Speed was also a part of the rotation.
Consider that the team’s top cornerback Pierre Desir has been playing through injury and giving up snaps to another rookie, Rock Ya-Sin. No matter how good Ya-Sin may become, the reality for most young NFL defensive backs is that you will get picked on early. To make matters worse, third year cornerback Quincy Wilson had a rough game and looked foolish in coverage on a Tyrell Williams touchdown. The only veteran, healthy cornerback on the team is Kenny Moore and he’s best suited in the slot.
Consider that the team’s best safety, Malik Hooker, will be out for weeks after tearing his meniscus a week ago. In his place, rookie Khari Willis had a strong performance. He has looked very promising early in his career and the calls to see a Hooker and Willis pairing on the backend are growing.
That said, Clayton Geathers is definitely more of a box safety or third/fourth linebacker than he is a defensive back. Behind these players is second-year, former undrafted George Odum and third-year, former undrafted Rolan Milligan.
Consider that this was Jabaal Sheard’s first game of the season.
The point is, the defense is missing a lot of pieces. It has undergone a lot of change multiple times throughout the off-season process. There is no sense of continuity to be found on either side of the ball. If matters aren’t bad enough, Marlon Mack even missed time in this game.
DROPS WILL KILL ANY TEAM
There were so many drops today that prematurely ended Colts offensive drives. Eric Ebron was responsible for three of them, Chester Rogers was responsible for at least one, Parris Campbell dropped a deep pass that hit him in his arms and fumbled away a possession deep in Raiders territory. Deon Cain was targeted 5 times and didn’t catch a single pass.
The team needed to rely heavily on its very talented trio of tight ends but was only able to complete five passes to the group.
Jacoby Brissett will need the help of his teammates to be successful. If his teammates allow him to be put in really difficult situations, his odds of success will drop considerably. It’s not surprise that he threw an interception on a two-minute drive to try to tie the game. The Raiders knew that he would likely target his receivers on short-intermediate routes and try to get the ball out of bounds as often as possible to preserve time. When Brissett tried to do just that, Oakland snuck up a safety who returned the interception for a touchdown. Game over.
Drops hurt will kill any team’s chance to win games. This team needs to play well and play together to have success. It’s not at the point where it can simply/easily overcome unforced errors.