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Knee-jerk reactions: Colts on brink of playoff elimination after 23-20 loss to Raiders

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Wow. The Indianapolis Colts fell flat on their collective faces with a playoff berth in their grasp. Defeating the Raiders at home was the easiest route. Winning in Jacksonville is never a guarantee, as divisional games always end up closer than members of the national media might anticipate.


EXCUSES

With much of the team on COVID reserve this week, there was little by way of continuity or in-person practice time for many of the starters. No players appeared more impacted by this than Carson Wentz, who wasn’t cleared to play until Sunday morning. Needless to say, it’s worrisome if a lack of practice at this point in the season has so profound an impact on his performance.


OFFENSIVE ABSENCE

If you exclude Carson Wentz's gift in the end zone, where two Raiders defenders collided as they attempted to intercept an awful pass attempted and T.Y. Hilton came down with it, the Colts’ offense mustered only one touchdown drive, at the end of the first half.

Wentz missed T.Y. Hilton who was entirely uncovered on another drive. Hilton may have gone over 60 yards untouched for a score if he hits on that throw. Alas, he misses and the Colts are forced to punt.

Wentz keeps plays alive by doing amazing things with his legs. His ability to escape a collapsing pocket is uncanny. Then, with wide-open space in front of him, he panics and throws across his body, across the field, incomplete. Had he calmly looked in front of him, the play could have yielded positive yards and shorted the second down attempt. Instead, it’s second and 10.


DEFENSIVE MISTAKES

This defense is predicated on not giving up big plays. It does so by keeping receivers in front. In this one, Hunter Renfrow gave Kenny Moore a run for his Pro Bowl money for much of the day. George Odum got beat over the top by Zay Jones. These big plays allowed Derek Carr to move into scoring territory too easily, too often.

Arguably the biggest defensive mistake came when Darius Leonard, who had a huge day, left his feet on a blitz when he was unblocked. Had he stayed on his feet and in pursuit, Carr goes down for a sack and the Raiders face a 4th and long scenario outside of field goal territory. Instead, Carr has time to hit Renfrow and put his team in a position to milk the clock before Daniel Carlson hits a game-winner.


THE TEAM WILL GO AS FAR AS WENTZ WILL TAKE THEM

While Carson Wentz put together a big fourth-quarter drive against the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas Day last week, his track record in big moments this season isn’t stellar. Stats will show he does a nice job on third down but there are far too many plays that pop out as game-altering mistakes that fall on his shoulders.

RedZone interceptions on pitch concept. Pix-six in a similar scenario backed up on his own goal line. Tons of overthrows and other bouts of inaccuracy when the game is on the line.

At this point, there are two potential realities for what the Colts have in Wentz.

The first is that Wentz may play just good enough to allow the other strengths of this team to win a lot of football games. His mobility aids the run game and Jonathan Taylor. His arm strength can stretch the field enough to allow Frank Reich to work his magic on underneath and rub routes. On his best days, he may be just enough for this team to beat anyone.

The second is that when the season is on the line, or when the Colts’ backs are against the wall, Wentz doesn’t have what it takes instinctually or mentally to turn the tide. He simply cannot afford to miss T.Y. Hilton wide-open for a go-ahead score. He cannot panic to make an errant throw when he can otherwise get positive rushing yards after he pulls a Houdini act in the pocket. He cannot take sacks when his check-down options are available.


FINAL WORD

The broadcast team, specifically Jonathan Vilma, was awful. He didn’t know which team was on the field. He didn’t know the names of the players. His delivery was boring and took away from the importance of the game at every step. He also appears to have very little knowledge about the players who are on the field outside of what he watched of them in high school or college or what the stats tell him.

News flash to him, any fans who don’t know, and to the coaching staff if they aren’t sure: Jonathan Taylor is a threat in the passing game. He isn’t utilized often in the passing game, at least not as of late, but Taylor in the open field is as dangerous or more dangerous than anyone on this team — and that includes Nyheim Hines. Now, is he the proven pass-catching specialist that Hines is? No. But to say he’s not much of a threat as a receiver is flat-out stupid.