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Colts Rookie Report: Wild Card at Buffalo

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

OFFENSE

Jonathan Taylor remained the Colts’ offensive priority in Buffalo. He didn’t put together another game with franchise-record levels of production but he was effective when called upon as a runner. He was less involved in the game in the second half more due to script and playing from behind than anything else.

The biggest downside of his performance is that he chose exactly the wrong time to prove his doubters right as a pass-catcher. One of his drops killed a strong drive that was trending toward a Colts touchdown. This ball hit him in both hands, directly in the numbers, and he focused on running before securing the catch. The second one was partially Philip Rivers’ fault, as the ball came behind Taylor and lacked the velocity to keep up with his route. Still, the ball hit his hands, and anytime that happens the receiver needs to secure the pass.

He finished with 78 rushing yards on 21 carries (3.7 yards per carry) and added two receptions on four targets for six yards in the passing game.

The most encouraging rookie on offense was Michael Pittman Jr. who had what could have been his big breakout game in the playoffs. Rivers was comfortable targeting Pittman crossing the field and getting the ball up where only Pittman could get to it due to his height advantage over defenders. Once Pittman had the ball in his hands, he managed to create additional yards with his legs.

There were two big misses for Pittman, both more the fault of Rivers, that could have led to points. One was a great goal-line 4th down play call that left Pittman wide open on a fade to the left corner of the end zone. The ball was thrown just a little bit too far ahead of Pittman, who dove but couldn’t reach it. The second was a skinny post route in the red zone where the ball was delivered well behind Pittman, so much so that he didn’t have a legitimate shot of bringing the ball in.

Pittman finished the day with five receptions on 10 targets for 90 yards and one rush for 11 yards — which makes him the most productive offensive skill player for Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon.


DEFENSE

Julian Blackmon continued to hold down his safety position in the playoffs. While he didn’t create a final impact play by way of an interception or forced fumble, he did finish with five tackles, all solo.

Colts fans have seen really big flashes from Blackmon early in his rookie season. He did trail off a bit in terms of his impact in the back-half and will need to learn a bit from some of the mistakes he made and try to rediscover the mojo he had or what allowed him to make impact plays.

Isaiah Rodgers has spent much of this season relegated to kick return duties. Only late in games, with a strong lead, has Rodgers received a handful of snaps this season. With Rock Ya-Sin out of the game still in concussion protocol and T.J. Carrie going down with an injury for a stretch, Rodgers got a chance.

While the final stat line awards Rodgers only one pass defense, he looked comfortable in coverage and had the same game-breaking speed on defense as he has shown in the return game. It will be interesting to monitor how his game develops with a full offseason. If he continues to develop on defense and Marvell Tell III returns to the field after a promising rookie season, the Colts secondary may have more young talent than some might think.


SPECIAL TEAMS

Speaking of Rodgers again, he looked absolutely dangerous in the return game. When he’s stayed healthy and returned kicks, every opportunity carries the threat of a long return or even a touchdown. In his highlight return for the day, he hurdled one Bills defender and nearly hurdled a second. If he clears the second defender cleanly, he may have very well taken the kickoff to the house.

Rodgers finished the game with two kickoff returns for 59 yards, with a long of 38 yards.

When our analysis turns to Rodrigo Blankenship, things are a little bit murkier.

The good for Blankenship is that he had a really strong rookie season (record-breaking actually) — one that it’s rather hard to complain about under the circumstances. He’s an intelligent and well-mannered young man who has the kind of locker room leadership qualities Chris Ballard covets.

The bad is potentially career-defining. Inside of 45-50 yards this season, Blankenship was nearly automatic. Outside of 45-50 yards he regularly showed a lack of leg strength to get the ball home.

In what turned out to be the biggest moment on the biggest stage of his career, he bounced a 33-yard field goal off of the right upright. Simply put, in the playoffs, on the road, down a touchdown, missing what amounts to a chip shot field goal for an NFL placekicker just can’t happen.

Blankenship needs to work on developing his leg strength as a kicker if he hopes to have a long NFL career. He also needs to come through in big moments. If the front office can’t trust him to do either of those two things, the franchise will have to consider its options.