It sure makes for a better week when the defense shows up, right? The Colts hit week two and their defense seemed to have gotten the memo that the season had started. Despite losing Rock Ya-Sin to illness on game day, the defense came to play in their home opener. There are plenty of winners to talk about this week, so let’s take a look at them.
He didn’t have the splashy start that fans had hoped for in his week one debut as a Colt, so many were really hoping to see a marked step up in production for the man the Colts spent a first round pick on this offseason. Man, did he deliver. 3 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a safety, and 4 QB hits is a fantastic performance from an interior defensive lineman, and his disruption allowed the rest of the defensive line to be more effective as well. The linebackers feasted in this game and the running game for the Vikings never really got going. If the Colts get this kind of production from Buckner week in and week out, they’ll be absolutely thrilled.
Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor had a big day as the featured back for the team, racking up 26 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown, and looking every bit the part of a primary workhorse back. He even had a couple of catches for 18 yards tacked on. The early loss of Parris Campbell likely changed some of what the Colts could do in terms of their game plan, and they opted to ride Taylor to victory. His success running the ball helped the Colts control the pace of the game, and the clock to boot. They finished nearly doubling the Vikings in time of possession. It was a nice showing for the rookie, and one that he can hopefully duplicate.
Michael Pittman Jr. had a solid impact as well, putting together 4 catches for 37 yards. While that stat line isn’t one to write home about, one of his catches was a tipped ball that was headed for the waiting arms of a defender. Pittman was able to reach back one handed and tip the ball into his own hands. It was a turnover saving maneuver, and one that shouldn’t be overlooked. There were some miscues between he and Rivers as the game went on, but the potential was on display.
Safety Julian Blackmon wasn’t expected to be a big factor early in the season, as he rehabbed his injured knee and sat behind Malik Hooker on the depth chart. With Hooker exiting the game with a potential season ending Achilles injury, it was time for the rookie to step up, and step up he did. He had a key 3rd down tackle, a pass breakup, and a tipped ball that paved the way for a Khari Willis interception. Not a bad debut.
Somehow Kenny Moore’s performance got overshadowed on a day when so many other defensive players had big games, but he was excellent in his own right. He had 5 tackles, a truly impressive pass breakup of a 30-yard pass intended for Kyle Rudolph, and a pick that came off the hands of a Vikings receiver. We can’t take this man for granted.
It didn’t look great for Cox when he missed a catch that bounced off him at the goal line and was picked off. Fortunately, that was far from his last contribution. Cox lit up the Vikings secondary to the tune of 5 catches for 111 yards. That included an impressive ball he was able to high-point for the catch, and provides an indication that he is ready to take on a bigger role in the passing game.
For some reason, Jordan Wilkins can’t seem to find the field. It certainly isn’t a matter of production, because all he does is create on offense. He got 9 carries in today’s game, and while several came in garbage time, his 4.4 yards per carry is not an inflated stat. Over the 111 carries in his career he has a 5.8 yards per carry average. With Marlon Mack out, there is a solid chance we’ll see more of Wilkins, and he has continued to show that he deserves it.
After taking a ton of heat for the defensive performance of week one, the Colts defensive coordinator had a great game plan for week two. His team did what they needed to against the run to limit the effectiveness of the Vikings’ offense, and despite losing his top corner hours before the game, Eberflus had the team ready to go. I’m not sure if the Colts count a safety as a takeaway (they should), but if they do then this game puts the ticker at 36 to go to hit their pre-season goal of 40 total. Not a bad place to be in heading into week 3.
Honorable Mentions: Tyquan Lewis, Justin Houston, Khari Willis, T.J. Carrie
There’s just easy way to say it—T.Y. Hilton is in a slump to start the season. Just 4 of 9 for 53 yards in week one, he voiced his frustration with his performance to the media, making sure everyone knew that he was coming for blood this week. That didn’t really manifest itself. Hilton’s meager 3 catches for 28 yards found him third behind Mo-Alie Cox and Michael Pittman Jr. Worse was the fact that Rivers tossed a beautiful 50-yard touchdown pass to Hilton that was dropped without any defender affecting the play. I’m not sure what is going on with Hilton, but the Colts need him to snap out of it, and soon. This team can’t be a serious threat if their best pass catcher is struggling.
Red Zone effectiveness
After today the Colts find themselves 4/9 converting in the red zone. That 44.44% conversion rate is a far cry from the 64.3% they finished 2019 with. One of Frank Reich’s hallmarks since taking over as the Colts’ head coach is his ability to draw up great red zone plays that get guys open and create mismatches. The fragmented offseason may be playing a role in worsening this in 2020. There have been miscues in the red zone in both games, and as the season goes on, they’ll definitely need to find a rhythm with Rivers if they want to improve. Such a low success rate in the red zone is not sustainable for a winning team.
What a tough break for Hooker, who like Marlon Mack, seems to have suffered a season ending Achilles injury. For a player who needed desperately to prove he deserves a spot as an NFL starter, another major injury in his young career is a killer.
Also in the category of devastating injuries, Parris Campbell went down after his first and only catch of the game, having taken a hit to the knee while it was planted. It was a brutal looking injury, and he was clear in serious pain on the field. He was carted off, and the fear initially was of a multi-ligament injury. For a player who struggled through a slew of injuries in 2019, that is crushing. Perhaps as a potential bright spot, the initial reports determined that Campbell is not believed to have torn his ACL. More definitive results will come with his MRI results, but perhaps the second-year receiver has dodged a long-term injury bullet.