It’s a difficult time to be a Colts fan. Everyone knew this was a must-win game. The offense put together a convincing first drive. The defense made a big play leading to a second offensive touchdown in less than one minute of game time in the first quarter.
This was the start the Colts needed. This put them in the driver’s seat. Any team with self-respect and sufficient talent on the field and on the sidelines finds a way to win a ball game with that kind of early game momentum.
Not the Colts.
The Colts' defense again shut down Tennessee’s offense, leading to a punt and a third offensive possession. This time, the offense has the chance to put together another scoring drive that would break things wide open. Let’s take a look at the plays called on the drive.
From their own 32-yard line, Indianapolis dials up two Jonathan Taylor runs. The first goes for 11 yards and a first down, and the second for no gain. The next five plays were passes. One to T.Y. Hilton for a first down. Three of the next four were incomplete and led to a punt.
On the Titans' next offensive drive, the Colts' defense looked silly. Matt Ebeflus and his defense appeared entirely comfortable allowing completions underneath. Ryan Tannehill and the Titans offense were happy to take them up on that. Tight ends feasted to move the ball easily down the field for a score. On third and short, Tennessee abused the Colts’ defensive aggressiveness by bootlegging with Tannehill, picking up big yards, and keeping the drive going.
Indianapolis failed to capitalize on a 20-yard Taylor run to start their next drive. Braden Smith was called for holding and two passes and a sack later, the Titans were getting the ball back. After a great punt by Rigoberto Sanchez trapped the Titans deep in their own territory, another big defensive play was the reward. Tyquan Lewis dropped into coverage to pick off Tannehill again — wait, the turf monster jumped up and big his knee — leading to a fumble that the Titans recovered.
On the next play, Tannehill connected with A.J. Brown for a touchdown down the right sideline. Xavier Rhodes was in coverage on the play and rather than wrap up Brown, he attempted to push him out of bounds and missed.
Tie ball game. Just like that. Advantage... gone.
To the Colts’ credit, they managed to put together a long drive at the end of the first half to have a field goal advantage at the break. Unfortunately, the Titans would take their first possession of the second half down the field to take their first lead.
The story of the rest of the game falls on a few key takeaways that leave questions unanswered.
Why didn’t Jonathan Taylor play a bigger role in the second half and overtime?
While Taylor didn’t have a huge statistical day, all of his big runs were called back due to holding penalties. His longest run wasn’t impacted at all by the ticky-tack holding call but that play would have given Taylor another 100-year rushing performance.
The point is, Jonathan Taylor is the best offensive player on the football field for the Colts. Michael Pittman Jr. has been staking his claim to that title as well but there isn’t any good explanation as to why Taylor isn’t a much more consistent piece of the offense - namely running the football behind an offensive line that has been tailor-made (no pun intended) to open holes on the ground.
What makes this even more unfathomable is that the Colts are really short on receiving weapons. T.Y. Hilton went out with a possible concussion, Parris Campbell is likely out for the year, and there were only three receivers running routes all game long. Why force a passing game that is clearly weakened at the moment?
What is the deal with Frank Reich’s play-calling in key moments?
Building upon the theme with Taylor is that Frank Reich has dialed up some really questionable offensive play-calls in key moments. If the pass-run balance wasn’t enough, when the Colts won the toss in overtime there was no reason to do anything other than work the ball down the field to score. Taylor should have had free reign with the game clock no longer a factor. Late in the game, players tired, Taylor with a relatively light second-half workload. Why not feature him?
When late in the second half you have an opportunity to go down and score but start deep in your own territory, why are you drawing up a screen play that will put your quarterback into your own endzone? Wouldn’t it make more sense to run the ball, create some space, and give yourself some options? Perhaps a quick-release pass could accomplish the same?
No, instead, the Colts invite a dominant Titans pass-rush on a screen play. Unbelievable.
Can Carson Wentz learn to make better desperation decisions?
Ball security is incredibly important. Possessions are at a premium in the NFL. It’s nice to have a desire to keep a play alive but there are some habits that need to be broken permanently. The last-second “flip” in the general area of a player wearing your jersey must be trained out. If it can’t be trained out, Wentz will not last a long time as a starter at this level.
It’s maddening to see Wentz do a lot of good things this season only to see the really bad things he does pop up in horrible moments.
If there’s anything we know for sure at this point, it’s that the Colts will need a lot of help to get anything going in the back half of their schedule.