Outside of the notable absences of Darius Leonard and Mo Alie-Cox, the Colts game day roster started to look closer to normal on Sunday. The starting offensive line welcomed back veteran left tackle Anthony Castonzo and the defensive line rotation got a boost with the return of Sheldon Day — who would log his first snaps in a Colts uniform.
With all of the team’s injuries at wide receiver, it has been a weekly game of musical chairs by Chris Ballard and the offensive coaching staff to figure out an effective combination. If Sunday’s offense from the second quarter on was an indication, things may be trending in the right direction. All that is left to figure out is when Michael Pittman Jr. and if Parris Campbell will return this season.
To the counts!
Philip Rivers has not enjoyed the kind of success he or Colts fans had hoped entering the season. His gun-slinging, turnover happy ways have littered his early 2020 performances and have been partially or at times primarily responsible for each of the Colts losses.
Something felt different in this one.
Rivers appeared to settle in and looked really comfortable running an up-tempo style. He surgically dissected the Bengals defense on numerous plays with pre-snap reads and audibles. His football IQ and Hall of Fame worthy experience were instrumental in an unlikely rally from an early 21-0 deficit.
He had the most productive second quarter of his career on Sunday, the second best of the season to only Dak Prescott. Setting an in-game career mark of any kind at this point in his career and with this supporting cast (decimated by injuries) is pretty incredible.
P Rivers QB 63 100%
Little has changed with the Colts backfield at this point. Jonathan Taylor continues to carve out a bigger share of carries. Nyheim Hines remains the third down and 2-4 minute drill back. Jordan Wilkins spells Taylor at times but has continued to receive only garbage time carries or spot work.
It’s incredible to think about how talented this backfield would have been with a healthy Marlon Mack in the rotation.
J Taylor RB 37 59%
N Hines RB 21 33% 3 10%
J Wilkins RB 4 6% 10 34%
T.Y. Hilton continues to have a disappointing season statistically. The officials weren’t particularly helpful to his cause on Sunday, allowing defenders to hold and interfere on more than one play, and calling him out of bounds on what looked to be a toe-tapping sideline reception. The silver lining is that he remains a focus for Philip Rivers and he is clearly healthy, given his high snap count. There is a chance that Hilton will breakout of his early season slump as Rivers continues to develop on field chemistry with his new team.
The two most surprising receivers on Sunday were Marcus Johnson and De’Michael Harris. Johnson has spent parts of the last three years on the field for the Colts, and has used those opportunities to look like he could be the best receiver on the team. An injury halted his progress in 2018, the end of the season required him to start over after a strong finish to 2019, and yet again he finds himself playing practice squad hopscotch.
It’s time to acknowledge the Johnson has a weekly role and that he is the kind of field stretcher that will make the offense work. When Parris Campbell returns, he could see his role diminished but the Colts would be wise to keep him on the active roster the rest of the way.
Harris was an undrafted rookie who has spent the entire season developing on the practice squad. He’s one of those guys that leave fans scrambling to get to a smart phone to lookup where he played in college and how he ended up in Indianapolis. Three words come to mind - athlete, tiny, and long-shot. Harris returned kicks, played running back and wide receiver, and generally was used as an offensive weapon at So. Miss. He looks like he gets shot out of a cannon every time he touches the ball.
If the Colts were looking for a short-term replacement for Parris Campbell on short-crossing patterns or wide receiver screens, Harris might be a great option.
T Hilton WR 59 94%
Z Pascal WR 58 92%
M Johnson WR 40 63%
D Harris WR 12 19% 6 21%
A Dulin WR 6 10% 17 59%
There is very little doubt at this point that Frank Reich intends to make Trey Burton a key focal point in the passing offense. With injuries at wide receiver and Jack Doyle having a sluggish start to 2020, Burton may be the team’s saving grace. He got nicked up a few times in the victory over the Bengals but he took a snap at the goal line and rushed for a touchdown and caught a touchdown as well.
Doyle has been the team’s reliable, blue collar option for years. He partially redeemed his fumble to start the game with an end zone grab that helped to seal the Colts comeback but it’s fair to say this has been the roughest start to a season for Doyle since his rookie year.
J Doyle TE 39 62%
T Burton TE 35 56% 3 10%
N Togiai TE 4 6%
Getting Castonzo back onto the field was a relief. The offensive line held up well and gave Rivers time to throw consistently throughout the day. Rivers helps by getting rid of the ball quickly but if this unit stays healthy and can help the offense find balance, things could come together nicely.
M Glowinski G 63 100% 5 17%
A Castonzo T 63 100% 5 17%
Q Nelson G 63 100% 5 17%
B Smith G 63 100% 5 17%
R Kelly C 63 100%
The defensive line got contributions from 9 different players on Sunday. A nine-man rotation on a defensive line is rare. To get defensive statistical production out of six of the nine is also rare.
While De’Forest Buckner and Grover Stewart continue to look like one of the league’s most dominant pairings at defensive tackle, Tyquan Lewis stole a lot of attention against the Bengals. In 21 snaps, just under a third of the defensive opportunities, Lewis tallied 5 tackles, half of a sack and a tackle for loss.
Sadly, one can only assume that the defensive coaching staff will move Lewis back inside and negate any chance he has of making an impact, even though he has consistently shown promise at end.
D Buckner DE 58 79% 12 41%
D Autry DE 52 71% 6 21%
G Stewart NT 45 62% 12 41%
J Houston DE 43 59%
A Muhammad DE 39 53% 6 21%
T Lewis DE 21 29% 2 7%
S Day DT 15 21%
T Stallworth DT 10 14% 7 24%
B Banogu DE 9 12%
There is really nothing that can be said about this Colts linebacker room that hasn’t already been said. It’s an absurd luxury to be without a two-time All Pro in consecutive weeks and suffer such a small drop-off in production or performance.
Anthony Walker is an NFL starting linebacker on almost any team and he will continue to lose snaps to second-year backer Bobby Okereke and the aforementioned Leonard. A pairing of Okereke and Leonard is almost too good to not put on the field together. They give the Colts the best combination of speed, range, and a flexible skillset against the run and pass. Throwing across the middle with a healthy Leonard and Okereke will be a dangerous proposition for opponents moving forward.
A Walker LB 73 100% 15 52%
B Okereke LB 73 100% 10 34%
Z Franklin LB 9 12% 24 83%
The operative number for this group on Sunday is 7. Kenny Moore, Xavier Rhodes and Rock Ya-Sin combined for 7 passes defensed. Ya-Sin added a forced fumble. While Ya-Sin was publicly humiliated by biting too hard on a double-move by Tee Higgins early in the game, he managed to keep things together and put in a significantly improved performance in the second half.
It should also be noted the Kenny Moore finished second on the team with 8 tackles, had a tackle for a loss, and was responsible for 2 of those pass breakups. Xavier Rhodes broke up 3 passes.
While I still contend that Matt Eberflus can afford to be more aggressive early in game, there is little denying that once he makes adjustments, the defense clamps down. Perhaps no position displays that more than the cornerbacks.
K Moore CB 73 100% 12 41%
X Rhodes CB 69 95%
R Ya-Sin CB 64 88%
T Carrie CB 4 5% 20 69%
The Colts are looking at a safety pairing that could stick for some time. Khari Willis has had his ups and downs in coverage but he led the team with 10 tackles and added a pass defensed. Rookie Julian Blackmon has terrorized quarterbacks in deep coverage this season and had the game-sealing interception of Joe Burrow.
Blackmon has two interceptions of his own, caused another that landed in Willis’ hands, and is second on the team with 6 passes defensed. He has a very long way to go but certainly belong on the fringes of the defensive rookie of the year conversation early this season.
K Willis SS 73 100% 3 10%
J Blackmon FS 73 100%
The Colts put together another solid special teams performance on Sunday. Rigoberto Sanchez and Rodrigo Blankenship have both been strong and consistent. Blankenship was again perfect hitting his only field goal attempt and four extra points. Sanchez showed his skillset in the third quarter by pinning the Bengals down at their own 1-yard line. He had another long boot that was returned to the 21-yard line.
After a difficult special teams performance in 2019, Bubba Ventrone has his unit hitting on call cylinders.
G Odum FS 24 83%
J Glasgow LB 17 59%
T Wilson SS 15 52%
R Sanchez P 14 48%
I Rodgers CB 14 48%
E Speed LB 14 48%
T Smith CB 9 31%
L Rhodes LS 8 28%
R Blankenship K 5 17%
J Eldrenkamp G 5 17%
L Clark T 5 17%