Kenny Moore II
If you’d asked me early on about Kenny Moore’s performance in this game, he probably was trending more toward the loser column. He gave up a touchdown to Foster Moreau, had a horse collar tackle on Darren Waller, and got burned for a long pass to Nelson Agholor. It was a rough start for him, and certainly not up to his usual standard of greatness.
Late in the second quarter, things were starting to look a bit troubling, as the Raiders were driving and found themselves again in the red zone with a chance to take the lead. That was when Kenny Moore made the defensive play of the season.
This is an insane play. While the ball is a little underthrown, it is still a pretty good pass. For a normal 5’9” cornerback, this is probably a touchdown to Darren Waller. Instead, Moore goes up and grabs a one-handed pick in the end zone to stop the Raiders’ drive cold. Moore put the icing on his performance with a 4th quarter forced fumble, taking the ball away from Hunter Renfrow and giving the offense a short field.
It is tough to redeem yourself more than Moore did in this one. He continues to prove that he’s the most impressive find of Chris Ballard’s time in Indy.
The 2nd round rookie has taken more than a little criticism for his slow start this season. Taylor has struggled to carry the load in the absence of Marlon Mack, and given where he was picked, it was understandable that there be some frustration. However, it is impossible not to see the improvements he has made over the course of the past several weeks.
Beginning against Green Bay and forward, Taylor has been a new man. We have seen a player who was tentative and sometimes seemed to be second guessing his reads. No more. Taylor is patiently waiting on holes to hope, and then hitting them decisively. Has he benefitted from bad defenses? Sure. But let’s not pretend the Colts faced leviathan defenses early on. The Colts have struggled on the ground all season.
Taylor’s emergence to the tune of 150 rushing yards including a 62-yard burner for a touchdown showed that he’s rounding into his top form just in time for playoff time. If this is a permanent fixture of the offense, this Colts team might just be the most well-rounded team in the NFL, and they’ve made that transformation at the perfect time.
I don’t get to be right very often, so when I am, I occasionally have to point it out. Back in early October, I broke down Hilton’s early play to find out if there were any indicators as to why he had struggled. My conclusion was a lack of rapport with Rivers, and Philip Rivers’ tendency to spread the ball around.
Well entering December, it seems like that rapport has been established, and Hilton has been on a tear, putting up 277 yards and 4 touchdowns in 3 weeks. As with Taylor, this emergence couldn’t come at a better time, as the Colts are in a dogfight for the division and looking to make noise in the playoffs. The Raiders were perhaps only spared more substantial damage at the hands of Hilton because of Taylor’s success on the ground.
Returning after suffering back and quad injuries, Willis made his presence felt in a big way Sunday afternoon. Willis has been one of the best defensive players on a very good defense and hasn’t gotten nearly enough credit for his excellent play against the run, and solid defense against the pass.
Against the Raiders, Willis turned what was becoming a lopsided game into a total blowout with his pick sick late in the 4th quarter. On first glance, it looks like a gimme interception. Derek Carr hits his receiver with a short pass, and Willis is coming down hard, having read the play and looking to make a big hit on the receiver. The ball bounces off Richard, and Willis has the presence of mind to wrangle the ball in and take it to the house. This is one that would have been easy to overrun, and a really great example of concentration and presence of mind. Add to his night a couple passes defended and 6 tackles, and you’ve got a pretty great return.
I haven’t given Rivers a lot of winner labels this season, and that’s been because he has often been overshadowed by other players, but make no mistake, he’s a big winner in this season, and this game as well. The Colts consistently find themselves in the right looks for the moment, and that’s largely due to Rivers. He has made adjustments at the line that put them in position to succeed, and most importantly, he’s found a rhythm with his receivers that have allowed him to move the ball successfully. He’s thrown 10 touchdowns and 2 interceptions over the past 5 games and is playing with a pretty painful foot injury.
His ball placement remains excellent, he gets the ball out on time, and he has shown a willingness to stand in and take shots downfield more readily as he’s gotten comfortable with his receivers. This is Rivers at his best. He may not have the arm he once did, but he’s proven that what’s left is more than enough to lead a winner.
If we’re going to give credit to Rivers, let’s also note that the offensive line is largely responsible for keeping Rivers clean all day. Further proof of the impact Anthony Castonzo has on this unit, the offensive line looked like themselves again Sunday, and they were dominant. Whether it was blowing open massive holes for Taylor and Hines to run through, or shutting out the Raiders attempts to get to Rivers and impact the pass, the line was exactly what they should be. Anthony Castonzo deserves specific praise, coming back and dealing with obvious pain to help lead the Colts to a win they absolutely had to have.
Honorable Mention: Rock Ya-Sin
It wasn’t a perfect game for Ya-Sin. He bit on the Raiders’ trick play and gave up a long pass to Agholor, but with the Raiders driving in the 3rd quarter and looking to take the lead on the doorstep of the end zone, he made a critical play. On 3rd and goal, he broke up a pass to Agholor that would have tied the game up with a chance to go ahead on the extra point. The game would shift dramatically from that point on.
Seriously. That’s the list. The Colts got the Raiders’ defensive coordinator fired. If your opponents are firing staff after you’ve played them, you’re doing something right.