On Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts fell to the Baltimore Ravens 24-10 at home in a game that at first, felt like it was a potential future playoff game between the two postseason hopefuls.
The Colts jumped to an early 7-0 start, as rookie running back Jonathan Taylor punched it in (going airborne) from the 1-yard line on Indy’s second offensive series.
Meanwhile, the Colts defense was swarming to the football, and the Ravens offense couldn’t get anything going.
The Colts were cruising on a consecutive offensive drive in the closing minutes of the 1st quarter and had advanced the football to the Ravens’ 36-yard line, when Taylor fumbled, and Baltimore safety Chuck Clark took it 65 yards for the touchdown the other way.
That was one of the critical plays of the game, as the Colts had a chance to take a double-digit lead and take the Ravens somewhat out of their ground-oriented offensive attack all together.
Instead, it was a tie game—in a contest that the Colts had been clearly controlling in convincing fashion up to that point.
The second critical play was with 11:04 left in the 3rd quarter, Colts quarterback Philip Rivers was ruled to have been intercepted by Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters in what was a
highly questionable ridiculously stupid call to say the least.
The Colts defense had just forced a fumble near the goal line, Indy still had the lead 10-7, but the Ravens took the ball and the momentum right back on that overturned interception—and ended up scoring a touchdown on their ensuing offensive drive, 14-10.
Sadly, the Colts would never lead again (or score for that matter) in this one.
Rather, the Ravens defense stifled the Colts offense the rest of the way en route to a 21-10 victory—as Indy could muster next to nothing offensively after halftime as a whole.
Specifically, the Colts had just 138 total yards offensively after intermission.
Philip Rivers Wasn’t Sharp Enough on Sunday
The veteran starting quarterback had been red hot during the Colts past two games—which were both wins, but Sunday was no doubt going to be a difficult challenge against a notoriously stingy Baltimore defense.
Instead, Rivers was 25 of 43 passes (58.1%) for 227 passing yards, 0 touchdowns, and an interception with a passer rating of 62.8.
Now, Rivers isn’t entirely to blame for the Colts offensive ineptitude.
However, he wasn’t particularly sharp either.
The veteran was inaccurate on a number of throws, and while he had a play or two where he was able to escape duress and extend plays outside the pocket, his lack of mobility really hurt the Colts offensively (and continues to do so).
The Colts need more from their starting quarterback against the AFC’s top teams, bottom line. The team simply didn’t get enough from Rivers on Sunday to beat the Ravens.
The Colts Receivers’ Lack of Juice Collectively
Which leads me to my next point...
The Colts need better starting quarterback play against the AFC’s top teams, but Rivers also needs more juice from his supporting cast.
The Colts pass protection wasn’t particularly good, the running game wasn’t efficient, and his receivers don’t appear to be able to consistently generate big plays or get open for that matter.
Rivers was brought in with the idea that he’d have a strong running game to heavily lean on and a solid receiving corps. Neither one of those really held true during Sunday’s loss.
The Colts don’t have any go-to offensive stars right now.
Patrick Mahomes is Patrick Mahomes. The NFL’s de facto top quarterback.
But he also has All-Pros Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to throw to.
The Colts have no one close to like that (especially with T.Y. Hilton battling lingering injuries and potentially father time here in 2020).
In the past year’s Super Bowl, with the vaunted San Francisco 49ers defense buckling down, Mahomes trusted his playmaker, Hill, and delivered a critical 3rd and 15 throw for 44 yards midway through the 4th quarter (on the ‘Wasp’ route) which sparked the Kansas City 4th quarter comeback victory.
Who does this Colts offense have exactly in a similar light right now?
Against tough defenses like the Ravens who are going to clamp down and make it awfully tough to move the football and sustain drives, who can the Colts trust to consistently win their one-on-one matchup and make a big play when the team needs it the most?
It’s not that the Colts’ supporting cast of receivers is ‘all scrubs’, but it seems like a group that is comprised more of role players than saturated with stars.
The Colts offense lacks elite playmakers.
It’s not an offense that has a tight end that can split the seam for 30 yards with blanket coverage or features a blazing fast wideout that can consistently get open or force the opposing coverage to roll a double team—to free up others.
Rookie Michael Pittman Jr. had his best game as a pro with 4 receptions for 56 receiving yards (and was one of the lone bright spots offensively), but long-term, is probably more of a natural WR2 than a WR1.
Who else really stood out on Sunday?
The Colts offense lacks ‘the guy’ or ‘multiple top end guys’ that opposing defenses have to gameplan and prepare for.
Certified game wreckers.
Someone who can generate game-changing plays and whose quarterback can trust to get open enough and make the tough, critical, contested catch on third down in order to continue to move the sticks—even when they’re draped all over in tight coverage.
The Colts franchise at one time had an abundance of them, now they have seemingly none.
Where was Nyheim Hines Exactly?
Which leads me to my next point...
Why wasn’t the Colts scat-back, who had two acrobatic touchdown receptions just a week prior, not utilized a lot more in Indianapolis’ offensive gameplan this week?
Hines had just four total touches (2 rushes and 2 pass catches).
Yes, the Colts were presumably looking to establish the power running game early on against a tough Baltimore front seven to help free up the passing game for Rivers—and that means more Taylor and backup Jordan Wilkins running between the tackles rushing-wise.
However, Hines is one of the Colts offense’s few dynamic playmakers.
He has tremendous speed and is elusive in the open field—with solid hands and the ability to be a mismatch as a receiver against both linebackers and safeties in space.
Hines is dynamic.
He’s the type of weapon offensively for the Colts that can create rare game-changing plays.
Instead, he was hardly utilized which was a particularly head scratching decision offensively—when the Colts offense collectively needs more playmakers, not fewer.
This Colts Defense is Championship Caliber.
If there’s a silver lining from Sunday...
This unit is not a fluke.
It’s the real deal.
It’s an elite NFL defense right now.
The best regular season defense the modern Colts franchise has had featuring speed, athleticism, and star power (see: All-Pros Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner).
[Speaking of which, Leonard had a whopping 15 tackles on Sunday—including 13 solo tackles, helping to QB spy on and corral the always dangerous Lamar Jackson in space].
This Colts defensive unit swarms to the football and flies around the field, generates turnovers—and even when it’s soundly beat, it has the speed to quickly recover and mitigate any would-be extra gain of yards.
There was no slow start for the Colts defense on Sunday, just an impressive overall effort.
The Colts defense held the vaunted Ravens rushing attack to a 2.9 ypc. avg. on 38 carries.
For perspective, the Ravens average 5.5 ypc. avg. when rushing and lead the league with 178.7 rushing yards per game. On Sunday, Baltimore finished with 110 total rushing yards.
The Colts’ stalwart defense limited the reigning NFL MVP to 170 yards passing, 0 passing touchdowns, 58 rushing yards, and a lone rushing touchdown on the afternoon.
Yes, in the second half, the unit tired a bit—largely because of their offense’s ineptitude and inability to sustain prolonged drives, forcing them to always remain on the field.
However, this is a Colts defense that is good enough to win a championship with and even at least partially carry an entire football team.
The problem is the Colts offense did nothing in the second half, scoring just 10 total points on the afternoon, which is not going to get it done against the NFL’s top teams—even when facing a stingy defense like the Baltimore Ravens.
It’s a weird time to be alive for Colts fans, as it’s the offense—not the defense, that appears to be the most common culprit for letting the team down during the team’s losses.
It’s sad to say, but if Peyton Manning (prime) or Andrew Luck had this caliber of defense (the latter which actually could’ve been true), those Colts teams would’ve won an awful, awful lot of football games—and had a serious shot to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
What’s Next for the Colts?
The Colts (5-3) travel to the Tennessee Titans (6-2) on a short week for a nationally televised Thursday Night Football game, in what should be a pivotal matchup for position atop the AFC South against their bitter divisional rivals.
The Colts play the Titans just two weeks later (November 29th), but this divisional clash means a lot for the Colts, and the team’s hopes of ultimately reclaiming the divisional crown. It’ll be another tough matchup, as the Titans are a well-rounded football team.
Let’s start another winning streak!