The Colts suffered a frustrating and promising opening loss to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday afternoon. It was frustrating because the game’s result came down to missed opportunities and untimely mistakes. It was promising because this team showed that it can play with a playoff caliber AFC team, on the road, under extreme adversity.
We’ll be taking a longer look at the outcome of the game later but let’s cover a few key factors that led to the outcome.
I stated in the second half open thread that I’ve started to have some concerns about Vinatieri. This is perhaps one of the more laughable thoughts I’ve had, or at least it feels that way, but my wife and I traveled to Kansas City to watch the Colts play the Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the 2018 NFL Playoffs. Vinatieri looked horrible in that game, missing kicks that were entirely out of character, in a situation where he is usually automatic.
Today, we saw the same thing happening. His kicks looked forced, like he was trying to direct them one way or another. He is second-guessing himself or is trying to make up for some kind of injury that is limiting his ability to kick naturally. Either way, the Colts left 7 points on the field in regulation. Two missed field goals that were both in entirely make-able range and one missed extra point that forced the Colts’ hands late in the game.
Let’s hope this is an anomaly and not something more. It’s hard to feel that way when, in Indianapolis, we watched one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history fall apart in what appeared to be just a few months.
The penalty called on Denico Autry on the Chargers’ first field goal attempt gave Los Angeles another shot at the end zone. The Colts defense couldn’t hold them out of the end zone again.
The call on the field was unnecessary roughness because Autry and other Colts defenders contacted the long snapper. The announcers suggested that the rule is that the long snapper is protected when his head is down. This is incorrect.
In reality, the officials have to make a subjective call about whether contact rises to the point of unnecessary roughness. The 2019 NFL Rule Book states:
Art. 9 (a)(11) The offensive player who attempts a snap during a Field Goal attempt or a Try Kick. He is no longer a defenseless player after he has had an opportunity to defend himself or moves downfield.
What constitutes “an opportunity to defend himself?” In my view, it has to be a reasonable period of time for the snap to be complete and the long snapper to become a football player again. In this instance, the long snapper simply left his head down (it was his first long snap ever) and they called a silly penalty.
This 4 points could have resulted in a Colts victory in regulation.
I’ll also argue that the rule on completed catches in the end zone is still a bit of a mystery. Even Gene Steratore after the game drew what I believe is a silly conclusion and also a mis-statement of the rule on catches. He suggested that the rule on the field should stand because Ebron didn’t have “two feet down” with possession in the end zone.
In reality, two feet isn’t the rule at all. Also, he had a foot, elbow and his entire body down in the end zone. The only question at this point is possession and whether it was established before Ebron went out of bounds. In my view, the ball moved when Ebron’s elbow hit the ground but he never “lost control” throughout the entire play. If the ball can touch the ground and possession can be maintained, a ball should be able to be held against a players body and constitute a catch.
If this call goes the other way on the field, it stands as a touchdown. If it does, the Colts have four more points and win in regulation.
GIVING UP BIG PLAYS
The Colts defense did not look like the same unit that finished the 2018 season. This is partially due to changes Matt Eberflus has started to implement with some of the new athletes he has at his disposal. The man-to-man defensive snaps heavily favored the Chargers. It gave Philip Rivers the opportunity to dictate match-ups and give his guys a chance to make a play.
The unit will need to work hard over the next week and the early part of this season ironing out the details. The middle of the field was left open to get gashed by the run and these big plays on the ground and in the air allowed the Chargers to stay in the game.
Perhaps it is time to get back to basics?
JACOBY BRISSETT LOOKED COMFORTABLE
The biggest unknown heading into the game Sunday afternoon was whether or how much Jacoby Brissett would alter the offensive game plan and production. The great news after this game is that Brissett looked very comfortable leading the first team offense and targeted a ton of his offensive weapons throughout the game. He still lacks touch on short throws but did nothing to give this game away either.
PLAY CALLING NEEDS WORK
There were times in the game where Frank Reich drew up some pretty silly play calls. Included in this observation is that the offensive line and Marlon Mack absolutely tore the Chargers defense to pieces. The defensive line was on its heels and sucking wind. Where in the hell was the play-action passing game? Why in the world wouldn’t it have played a bigger part in the game plan?
Additionally, the outside runs were stupid. The offensive line’s strength is on the interior. The Colts boast one of the best run blocking centers in the NFL and arguably the best run blocking left guard in football. The Chargers defensive interior was weak and hurt. Why did Reich waste valuable time early and at times late in the game with an entirely ineffective attempt to get the ball outside?
The good news is that Reich might get his wish, the Colts could become a top-5 run offense with this kind of production. The bad news is that we’ll need to learn how to take advantage of that ground game more in the passing game for Brissett. Perhaps that will come in time, as Brissett and Reich feel each other out.