Week five is in the books and the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans have played their first of two matchups this year. It has been a long time since the Colts have been able to bully the Titans. Heck, one off-season Chris Ballard outright talked about getting his (butt) kicked by the Titans and how it was his goal to build a team that wouldn’t let that happen. It’s taken years and the Colts, in 2023, are finally to the point that they’re the bullies of this relationship.
On both sides of the ball Indy dominated their opponent. Coming into the game the Titans were the top ranked rushing defense in the league allowing fewer than three yards per carry. To be perfectly honest with you, I believed the Colts would avoid rushing the ball, I didn’t think they would abandon it all together but I didn’t believe it would be a focal point of the offense. I thought the game plan would include a lot of quick hitters, screens, and anything that got the ball out of the quarterbacks hands and outside of the tacklebox in a hurry. See, I watched the Titans play against the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Chargers and for all of the shortcomings the Titans had as a team, the one thing that had been consistently good to great was their defensive line. Jeffery Simmons is a great player and the only time I heard his name called today was when he was injured.
I could go on all day about how impressive the Colts were in the trenches, it’s my favorite part of football, but I won’t. Let’s get into these highlights:
Zaire Franklin feels like someone that isn’t going to get the attention from the rest of the league that he deserves, but he’s truly playing at an All-Pro level. I’m sure quite a few of you are old enough to remember when Pat Angerer piled up 148 tackles in 2011. It was a lot of tackles! And they all came 8 yards down field. I’m not saying this to hate on Angerer, if he had Grover Stewart and DeForest Buckner in front of him, I’m sure things would have been different. But either way Franklin is playing out of his mind and he drew an offensive pass interference flag with his coverage on this play. He’s currently averaging 14 tackles per game, which puts him on pace for 238 for the season. The NFL record was set by Hardy Nickerson with 214 in 1993. He needs to average 12.17 tackles per game for the rest of the season to break Nickerson’s record.
Jonathan Taylor has landed
Taylor’s first game back after being elevated from the physically unable to perform list might not have gone how he expected, but it seems that it might take him some time to get back up to speed.
Let’s talk about Zack Moss
At the time of this writing Zack Moss is third in the NFL with 445 rushing yards. He’s averaging 5.0 yards per carry and beyond just being incredibly productive, at times Moss seems like he’s impossible to tackle. The one thing Zack Moss had never done was break a long run. Well he was apparently waiting to do it in front of Derrick Henry because on third and one he took a hand off and went 56 yards for a touchdown.
I don’t know if Zack Moss will be a Colt next year. I don’t know if he’s earning himself a starting job somewhere else. The running back market is terrible. If Chris Ballard means what he says about paying the guys who earn it, I don’t know how he could look at himself in the mirror if he doesn’t offer Moss a deal that is at least in line with what the team was paying Nyheim Hines.
Anthony Richardson to Josh Downs is going to be so much fun for so long, I think
I just peeked ahead and this is the last clip with Anthony Richardson in it so we’re just going to go ahead and talk about it now. First, Richardson started the game really well. The kid has it. This play to Downs was nice but other than one errant backwards pass that can be chalked up to a rookie moment, Richardson kept the offense moving, made good decisions and delivered catchable balls.
Then Shane Steichen called a quarterback run to the outside, Richardson took a hard tackle and right away the young passer signaled that he was hurt.
As soon as it happened the chatter started about his injuries and since that’s all anyone is going to talk about for the remainder of Richardson’s rookie contract (at which point if he manages to stay healthy then people will start to talk about his massive contract and if it’s hurting the team) I’ll go ahead and lay it all out.
Week 1: Richardson bruised his knee in his first NFL game. Missed the final snaps in an unwinnable game. Had the game been on the line, he would have been on the field.
Week 2: Richardson slowed down while running into the end zone believing he was just going to jog in untouched. Every player has a “welcome to the NFL moment” and when 6’4” 250 pound Anthony Richardson got blasted off his feet by a 5’11” 200 pound safety, he probably realized that this was the NFL, guys close fast, small safeties hit hard and you need to protect yourself until after the whistle.
So far, neither injury was what anyone would consider good but neither was serious cause for concern. One was a player trying to do too much in his first professional game. The other was a young player learning that things you could get away with against Utah and LSU aren’t the same things you can get away with against the Houston Texans.
Week 5, well week 5 is different. This one didn’t come from a kid making a mistake near the goal line. This was Anthony Richardson, using some of the tools that led the Colts to draft him fourth overall that ended with him taking a normal tackle and then being unable to use his throwing shoulder. That’s not a great sign but it’s also (probably) not the end of the world. At least not yet.
Everyone’s going to talk about Richardson like he’s made of glass and I don’t buy that. Not yet anyway. Week one was nothing and it feels like half the league has suffered a concussion this year. It will be interesting to see how he comes back and once back if the way Steichen uses him changes at all. You’re never going to take away Richardson’s ability to run during a game, but the types of plays called for him could absolutely change. The kind of sweep we saw him get injured on today might open him up to bigger hits from defenders flowing East-West with Richardson running vertically trying to get to the corner to outrun them. When going North-South Richardson seems to run with a natural forward lean that lends itself to falling forward and generally speaking, not getting hurt.
You never want to see your starting quarterback get hurt and I won’t pretend that this is some sort of silver lining, but this could be another part of the learning curve for this era of Colts football. This time more so for Shane Steichen, in understanding Anthony Richardson’s limitations and faults as a runner.
Just know that the “injury prone” label is going to be tossed around a lot. The talk is going to be loud. The injury isn’t great but I’m going to keep it in context and remember this was the only one that was actually concerning. But it’s worth monitoring going forward, obviously.
Weekly E.J. Speed Appreciation
Every week E.J. Speed just makes a great play and this was the one in week five.
Josh Downs really had himself a nice day
Downs had 6 catches on 6 targets for 97 yards. The Titans couldn’t cover him and each week it feels like his role grows a little more.
I really thought this celebration was a 15 yard penalty but I’m glad it wasn’t
Imagine your coworker getting a public raise and now he makes 40x as much as you, after taking a month off and you go out and do all of your work and all of his work and then you do work that not even your boss expected you to be able to do.
Because that’s pretty much what happened to Zack Moss today.
Michael Pittman Jr. Sighting
MPJ went 5 for 52 and had an all around solid day. He fought for tough yards and picked up an almost impossible first down after clawing his way through the arms of a defensive back.
Jonathan Taylor’s biggest play of the day
This play was set up extremely well by the offensive line and Gardner Minshew. Jonathan Taylor still had to catch the ball and follow his blocks, but if not for everyone else on this play, Taylor wouldn’t have mattered. Taylor hasn’t played football in almost a year so it’s not surprising they’re working him back in slowly. It’s not surprising that he didn’t break anything for 80 yards today. He’ll need some time, hopefully not much time, but some time all the same.
The game felt like it was over when this happened
Zaire gets top billing on this play but watch the defensive line if you can. DeForest Buckner does a great job extending his outside arm, shedding his block and making contact with Derrick Henry. Franklin comes in behind him and finishes the tackle, but what Buckner did on this play is so nice. It doesn’t get better than that.
He’s not elusive but good luck tackling the guy.
And this one was almost over
Matt Gay ended up kicking a field goal and the defense headed back out on to the field with 1 minute to play.
When this happened
And that did it. Finally the Colts got a win at home and finally they finished a game in four quarters.
Final Thoughts on Week Five
I know Colts fans clamor for skill position players every off-season and I get it. We see teams like the Philadelphia Eagles with all of their offensive weapons and it’s easy to forget that before they added all of those weapons they built dominant lines on both sides of the ball. Right now, that’s where the Colts are. They have the lines and you can be pretty good with just the lines. They have a couple of good skill players, but that’s the next step in this team building process. I won’t pretend to know what Chris Ballard is going to do (I only pretend to know a week before the draft) but I expect those skill players to start showing up pretty soon.
In the meantime, we’re going to watch the Colts try their best to play bully ball and grind out a lot of 24-17-ish games. And I could not be more here for it.
As always, go Colts.