In the biggest game of the Colts young season, against the AFC South leading Tennessee Titans on the road, Indianapolis played good football in every phase. This well-rounded performance led to a beatdown, including a 21-0 shutout in the second half.
One of the biggest keys to the Colts victory were major contributions on offense from Nyheim Hines and Michael Pittman Jr. Over the last two weeks, Pittman has started to establish himself as one of Rivers’ primary targets and has been put in positions to produce. Hines has been a big part of the offensive game plan every two or three weeks and displayed the type of speed and athleticism that led the Colts to selecting him in the NFL Draft. He led the team with 115 total offensive yards and two total touchdowns.
Defensively, the Colts were able to keep Ryan Tannehill from getting anything going through the air. All-world running back Derrick Henry finished the game going over 100 yards, which has been a seemingly impossible task against the best rushing defense in the league. Still, for A.J. Brown to be so quiet is a huge statement for the secondary. Brown caught one pass on four targets for 21 yards — which was good for second on the team in receiving yards. Jonnu Smith? Two receptions on six targets for 14 yards. If you add in tight end Anthony Firkser, who caught one pass on three targets for five yards, Indianapolis held Tennehill to three-of-nine throwing to his tight ends for only 19 yards.
Special teams played a big role in the outcome as well. Titans punter Trevor Daniel shanked a punt while deep in Titans territory (thanks defensive stop) and gifted the Colts incredible field position, which turned into a touchdown. On his next attempt, the Colts were able to block his punt and T.J. Carrie returned it for another touchdown. Rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship was perfect on the day with two field goals and all four extra point attempts, including a long of 43 yards.
A few small blemishes in the game include Tennessee’s first offensive series. It appeared that the Colts defense was ill-prepared for what the Titans dialed up to start the game and it put the Colts in an early hole. Given the history of the Colts offense this season, that’s not the type of thing you want to see out of your dominant, league-leading defense.
Another blemish is that Jonathan Taylor still has been unable to figure things out and continues to see his share of snaps dwindle. He had a total of seven carries for 12 yards, a paltry 1.7 yards per carry average. It’s true that he was often used in short-yardage situations but seeing both Wilkins and Hines be more productive with their opportunities has to have Chris Ballard and Tom Rathman scratching their heads a bit.
While T.Y. Hilton was more involved in Tennessee than he had been in some time, he was third on the team in targets and caught four receptions for 40 yards. He still hasn’t scored and he has been unable to really break out — even against a familiar foe that he had abused in previous years. He did just return from a groin injury, so perhaps he will use the additional rest this week to get fully healthy but it is always tough to watch one of the franchise’s most treasured players shows signs of decline.
At the end of this one, the Colts remain an imperfect team. Their defense has displayed dominance throughout much of the season and could look even better when Kemoko Turay returns to the field. Their offense has looked vanilla for much of the season but maybe Frank Reich has been holding in all of his best stuff until he got to divisional games — as our own Chris Shepherd suggested. Still, this is a team that is capable of getting into the playoffs and with a defense this good, it wouldn’t take much to serve up a surprise or two.
Just ask the Titans.