The Colts welcomed the Oakland Raiders this Sunday, and the Raiders came into their house, clogged the toilet, drank milk out of the carton, knocked over the trash can, and took most of the valuables before stumbling out the door like a half drunken pirate and sailing back home on a strong current of the Colts’ tears.
It was an ugly affair, and one that the Colts would do well to remember. The Raiders aren’t a good team, and they shouldn’t have been a major problem. They were barren at linebacker and lost their best run stopper, Vontaze Burfict, due to him being a dirty piece of garbage during the game when he tried to take Jack Doyle’s head off.
They had a patchwork offensive line, and lost their starting right tackle to a hand injury mid-game. This was a team that was less talented and more undermanned than the Colts, though the product on the field certainly didn’t show it. So let’s get right to this week’s winners and losers.
The rookie safety has looked like a real talent at the safety position through four weeks. He is a rookie, and mistakes are to be expected, but Willis consistently has the instinct to get upfield and make hits for short or no gains. He sniffs out swing passes and screens well, and has great technique to wrap and tackle. The Colts may have found a gem in this class at a position where they need it.
No one made more meaningful, or tough, catches Sunday than Zach Pascal. Where many of us, myself included, have written him off as a non-factor, Pascal just keeps making plays. Both the blocks and less glorified kinds on special teams, and the ones where he keeps drives alive. He looked like the best receiver on the field in T.Y. Hilton’s absence, even if that wasn’t saying much.
Apart from a muffed punt, Rogers also made big catches When the Colts needed it. He proved a reliable option for Brissett and apart from an early drop and a muffed punt that was nearly a disaster, he had a solid game. (It should tell you something about the quality of play that someone with those mistakes makes the list as a winner)
Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines
With Marlon Mack suffering an ankle injury in the first half, the coaching staff elected to sit him and get Hines and Wilkins some time. The two were key parts of the offensive success in the fourth quarter, not in the running game, but as options underneath in the passing attack. They totaled 5 catches for 47 yards in the 4th quarter and on the drive that ended in the touchdown to Eric Ebron, Hines was essentially the only one able to move the ball.
Denico Autry, Margus Hunt, and Grover Stewart got manhandled in the interior and couldn’t keep the linebackers clean in the running game. This allowed Josh Jacobs to get consistent yards running straight downhill and the Raiders as a whole ran for 188 yards.
Perhaps worse, the Colts were unable to get consistent pressure and penetration to get to Derek Carr. For a second week the Colts were unable to get a sack, despite the stat line giving them credit for Carr running out of bounds slightly behind the line of scrimmage. That issue starts up front with the defensive tackles, and Autry has to be more consistent if they want to improve there.
On the outsides, Jabaal Sheard, Justin Houston, Ben Banogu, and Kemoko Turay were unremarkable. Sheard hardly belongs as a loser, but Banogu was responsible for Trevor Davis’ big 60-yard touchdown run because he didn’t hold the edge.
It would be frustrating if these guys were getting great pass pressure but couldn’t handle the run. To fail in both areas is simply unacceptable.
Speaking of unacceptable, don’t let the stat sheet fool you. Anthony Walker didn’t have a great game. This position group is harder to judge without yet seeing the All-22 film, but Walker and Bobby Okereke looked like they consistently took the wrong angles, and whiffed on tackles. One of Josh Jacobs’ runs went right by Walker and he simply didn’t do anything more than make a half-hearted arm tackle. Both players are tough evaluations every week, because they do make good plays, but often those are used to mask some of the off plays they’re missing. Without Darius Leonard, this linebacker corps is rough, and they were abused by the Raiders in the run game Sunday.
There are lowlights for everyone in this game, and even though Quincy Wilson and Rock Ya-Sin were in position to make plays at key points in the game, both gave up touchdowns. Young corners have to find ways to get their heads around and locate the ball. That’s been an issue for Wilson since arriving in the league, and it isn’t unexpected for someone like Ya-Sin, but when they’re right there with the receiver, you need them to make plays.
Kenny Moore even got beat at the edge when he took an awful angle to stop a pass to the flat to one of the Raiders’ tight ends. It was a sloppy affair all around, and these corners haven’t shown the ability to do much more than what we saw in this game so far this season. They can’t play like this and win many games.
Deon Cain and Parris Campbell
What a disappointment these two have been so far in 2018. The hopes were so high for both, and maybe that is unfair, but they’ve been a major letdown. Cain wasn’t a factor at all in this game, and hasn’t been all season. His most significant contribution in 2019 so far has been to draw a pass interference call.
Parris Campbell was only marginally better. The guy they brought in to be a yards after the catch monster managed 25 yards on 5 catches and on his best play of the game he coughed up a fumble.
On a day when the Colts desperately needed him to have a big game, Ebron did not. He came out flat and missed four catches. Two of them would have been admittedly very tough to make, with one in double coverage that was very well defended. Two others should have been catches. After watching the game a second time, I still think Brissett could have delivered a ball with better touch and getting it there earlier would have been better, but ultimately they were catchable and they hit Ebron’s hands. Those drops were killers and they can’t happen.
He did haul in a good catch for a touchdown that kept them in the game late, but by that time it was a long shot to win. If those early mistakes hadn’t happened, maybe this is a different ball game.
When your defense is missing key players at multiple levels, it is expected that you’ll struggle a bit. But as a defensive coordinator you simply cannot allow a performance like this on defense, and it isn’t the first time this Colts defense has come out and played ineffectively this season.
For the second week now, the Colts have been unable to get a sack against offensive lines that are missing starters, or playing with poor talent. Injuries or not, you have to find ways to get pressure in those situations. Even top quarterbacks struggle under pressure, and not finding ways to create it up front puts even more heat on your secondary.
It can be forgiven if you have a defense that eats quarterbacks for lunch but struggles against the run. The reverse is also more acceptable--being a run stuffing team that can’t consistently get to the passer would be better than nothing. It simply is not okay to be neither of those things. Right now Eberflus is engineering a defense that can’t stop the run, can’t hit the quarterback, and can’t consistently take the ball away. He is going to have to get more creative with this group, and fast, because the Chiefs are up next, and they aren’t going easy on him.
This game was awful. I’ve watched it twice now, and it wasn’t more fun the second time through. As much as their wins this season have been team efforts, this was a team loss. There were mistakes made by just about everyone, and some great performances by Raiders players like Lamarcus Joyner, Eric Harris, and Gareon Conley, Maxx Crosby, Josh Jacobs, and Darren Waller. They do deserve credit for a good game and Jon Gruden put together a solid plan to beat the Colts which was well executed.
Despite all that went wrong, the Colts were driving with a chance to tie the game late. The reality for this team is that they are not talented enough to have this many players take the night off. They need better performances across the whole defense, they really need Darius Leonard back on the field, and they need to catch the ball. This loss stings, but this isn’t the norm. Maybe we shouldn’t expect the defense we had in 2018 to make an appearance this season. Perhaps there was a fluky nature to it and teams have figured it out a bit. However, they aren’t as bad as they played today either.
There are a lot of things to get figured out going forward, but hopefully this is the gut check game this team needs to get them worked out.