Monday, November 25, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 12 vs. Cardinals

Basically, take my Week 10 Observations vs. the Rams and put it on Arizona time.

Beyond slow starts. The problems with this team go beyond the slow starts. Neither the offense nor the defense can get much traction. The defense can't get stops, the offense can't answer, the defense falters again, ditto the offense. It's a vicious cycle that continues to repeat.

No running game. The Colts lacked any semblance of a running game although it's really impossible to gauge it because they fell so far behind so quickly that the team was relegated to letting Andrew Luck get killed in the pocket. Trent Richardson did have that eight-yard run, so "he's arrived."

Where have you gone, Vontae Davis? The most puzzling thing over the last several games has been the complete and utter collapse of the secondary. During the first part of the season, Vontae Davis looked like an All Pro. Now he's just burnt toast week in and week out. Could Greg Toler's injury have that big of an impact on the whole secondary? It's hard to say, but they haven't been the same since he went down. Davis also suffered a groin injury in the second half.

Samson Satele caught a pass. That's one more than David Reed. Speaking of which...

Why is David Reed a professional football player for the Indianapolis Colts? This guy shows nothing. His kickoff return judgment was better this week, but the Colts went with only four active receivers (T.Y. Hilton, Lavon Brazill, Darrius Heyward-Stonehands, and Reed). Reed showed nothing. Don't ask me why the Colts elevated Da'Rick Rogers to the roster, sent Griff Whalen to the practice squad, and signed Chris Rainey as a return guy so we could have approximately 85 tight ends, use Reed as a kickoff returner and useless fourth receiver, and make Rogers and Rainey game day inactives. Seriously, don't ask me because I don't have the answer.

Sergio Brown had some fun. The Colts' special teams ace blocked a field goal when the game was actually a game and pushed a Cardinals player into his own return guy, which was kind of funny.

Robert Mathis sacked Carson Palmer. Mathis now has 14.5 sacks on the season after a sack-and-strip on Palmer (that's a career high). Because no one else got any penetration, there were about 85 Cardinals around to recover the fumble. I like the number 85 for some reason today.

Ricky Jean Francois showed up. This is notable only because no one else did. Jean Francois finished with a pair of sacks and thrilled us all with an overly enthusiastic celebratory dance while his team was down by about 85 points.

67-44. This is a statistical category the Colts actually won: their number of tackles (67) compared to the Cardinals' (44).

71-55. And this is why the Colts had so many tackles: the Cardinals ran 71 offensive plays to the Colts' 55. The time of possession, by the way, favored the Cardinals (36:49 to 23:11).

The game was over when... Well, pretty much when the Cardinals scored their first touchdown. Any hopes of a miraculous comeback vanished when the Colts failed to muster any points on their opening drive of the second half. Look, I knew they weren't coming back, and you knew they weren't coming back, but that's the point that sealed it.

Rally sons of Notre Dame... Michael Floyd had 7 catches for 104 yards. Nice to see a Golden Domer playing well. Not as nice to see it happen against the Colts.

Coby Fleener caught a touchdown. Luck targeted him 8 times. Fleener caught 4 passes for 55 yards and a touchdown. He was also the target on the ill-advised pass that led to a Cardinals TD return.

Get up, T.Y. Get up! T.Y. Hilton was down for several minutes after diving for a pass. He eventually returned.

7-4. The Colts still control the AFC South and can cement their place by beating the Titans next week at home. I have no idea which team will show up, but the Colts team that beat the 49ers is a distant memory.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A personal history of gaming

It's time for another console generation. Sony released its PlayStation 4 last week; Microsoft launches its Xbox One this week.

These things make me wistful. Heck, I remember when I refused to believe a GamePro editorial telling me that 16-bit gaming would come to an end. I was that stubborn. The Sega Genesis/SNES era was a great one for videogames. I didn't think it would get any better. In many ways, the current era that's "over" ended up being just as strong.

What follows is a quick look at my personal videogaming file. I don't play as much now as I used to--a lot of my spare time goes to writing--but videogames were definitely a major part of my childhood. And as they've crept into the public consciousness and become more mainstream, I've been there, too.

Here's a look back.

Intellivision. Oh, Intellivision. You were so clunky with your wood-grain base and that strange golden metal finish. Your controllers looked like little cellphones--although we never realized it because cellphones were a heckuva lot bigger in those days. And who needs joysticks? No one. Your little directional disc at the bottom got it done.

The controller also featured buttons on either side and plastic overlays for the numerical keypads. Woe to the lost gamer who misplaced his overlays and had to learn through trial and error how to play a game.

I loved our Intellivision. This was a system for the entire family, and the first videogame system I remember playing. We've always been a sports-oriented family, so favorites included Major League Baseball (and, later, World Championship Baseball), Slam Dunk Super Pro Basketball, and NFL Football (and, later, Super Pro Football). When we weren't playing sports games, we evaded killer robots in Night Stalker, blew up asteroids in Astrosmash, and evaded hot dogs in BurgerTime (an absolute CLASSIC). Other frequently played games included Triple Action (a game featuring three modes: tank battle, biplane battle, and car racing) and the ports of Frogger and Pac-Man. The bowling game was also fun although I was never very good at it.

We sold our Intellivision at a garage sale one year. I kinda miss the little guy.

NES. Ah, the Nintendo Entertainment System. When I was in elementary school, this was the system to have. I constantly swapped games with friends. The controller was absolutely perfect. D-pad, select, start, B, and A. You didn't have shoulder buttons or anything like that--it was gaming simplicity. The console itself was visually unassuming and easy to use.

As with the Intellivision, sports games were huge for my family. Bases Loaded II: Second Season was an immensely satisfying baseball game. We were big fans of Play Action Football. We never found a great basketball game, though. My brother and I weren't big fans of Double Dribble and we ended up with Magic Johnson's Fast Break, which was a horrible game. Blades of Steel was a fantastic game even though we aren't big hockey fans.

But it wasn't just sports games. I loved Super Mario Bros. (who didn't?) and Bionic Commando. I'm not the greatest fast-twitch action gamer in the world, but I loved Bionic Commando so much that I played it and played it until I could get through it without dying. I enjoyed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game even though it wasn't as awesome as the actual arcade game. Al Unser Jr. Turbo Racing also ranks as one of my favorite NES games; loved the way you could paint your own car and race it. I didn't own the NES port of Smash TV, but I rented it a lot. The Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back games got a lot of play, too. I always loved the Hoth/AT-AT level in ESB. I also liked Tetris (the Nintendo version, not the Tengen one) and WWF: Steel Cage Challenge mostly because you could play as the Mountie. I also have to mention The Legend of Zelda.

I ended up selling my NES to get a Sega Genesis. And, like the Intellivision before it, I kinda miss the little guy.

Sega Genesis. By the time the Sega Genesis really got going, I had a paper route and decided I absolutely needed a Sega Genesis. I can't explain what drew me to the Genesis over the Super Nintendo. The SNES was a fine piece of hardware and had a lot of games I really wanted to play (mostly the Super Star Wars Trilogy, which never made it to Sega's system). I've never really been a huge Mario/Zelda guy (I like the games, but I'm not married to them), so missing out on Super Mario World and Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past didn't bother me at all.

When I bought my Genesis, Sonic the Hedgehog was the pack-in game AND you could send off to get Sonic 2 for free. I thought that was absolutely awesome. I really enjoyed the Sonic games although I was never particularly good at them. Loved the Casino Zone in Sonic 2. Those were my first two games for the Genesis.

From a sports game perspective, I spent a lot of time playing NFL Football '94 starring Joe Montana. It was a SportsTalk football game, so you got the announcer that totally didn't sound at all like a computer. That football game was the first one that looked and felt truly realistic as far as the player models went. The passing game never worked all that well aside from a few of the short passing plays like the 212 Shoot, which you could absolutely kill defenses with if you had a decent #2 receiver. In later years, the Sega games went downhill and we turned to Madden Football.

I had RBI Baseball '93 and a couple of the Hardball games, which were awesome because you could name guys on rosters and design logos. The music that played during home runs was atrocious. College Football USA was fantastic; the sheer number of teams was staggering. I loaned that game to a guy in high school and never got it back. You could kill teams with Indiana's Alex Smith...although it wasn't Alex Smith even though it really was Alex Smith.

I couldn't mention the Genesis without including Captain America and the Avengers. My brother and I played that game all the time. I would play Cap, Greg would play Iron Man, and we could get through the game without losing a single life. I never owned Ecco the Dolphin, but I thought it was a fantastically unique game. Earthworm Jim was a revelation, and my friends and I got our fair share of play out of the Mortal Kombat series.

The Genesis had great basketball games in the Bulls vs. series and NBA Live. Given Live's recent history, I think it's best that we remember the 16-bit versions, which played great. NBA Live games were out when the Indiana Pacers were in their golden age, so you could run around and pop threes with Reggie Miller all day. If sim basketball wasn't your thing, NBA Jam and NBA Jam: Tournament Edition provided plenty of over-the-top bball action.

EA's NHL games were fantastic. I had NHL '96.

Sega CD. This was supposed to be the future of gaming.

It wasn't.

Still, I have a soft spot for the Sega CD even though its pack-in game, Sewer Shark, was abysmal.

I had NHL '94 for the Sega CD. This may have been the best version of that fantastic game thanks to the CD-ROM's awesome music. Player cards had grainy video. There was an awesome grainy video intro. ALL SEGA CD VIDEO WAS GRAINY.

Star Wars: Rebel Assault was the reason I got the system. At the time, my family had a 286 that struggled to play X-Wing. The Sega CD Rebel Assault, I would later discover, was missing a level. The video was also grainy. Shocking, I know.

I logged a fair amount of time in the port of Wing Commander and actually enjoyed the quirkiness of the point-and-click Jurassic Park game. That's the only game where I've ever discovered a cheat code by chance without consulting a strategy guide or hearing it from a friend.

How did I not have Sonic CD? Honestly!

I still have the Sega CD and the Genesis. They're in a plastic tote with all of their games. All I need is a new RF adapter for the Genesis and a power adapter for the Sega CD. One day, they'll play again.

Sony PlayStation. I don't remember exactly what possessed me to get a Sony PlayStation other than the fact my friends had one. It was a good system--I took it to college and played it a lot during my freshman year--but the only strong memory I have from it is Metal Gear Solid, which remains one of my all-time favorite games. I actually popped it in the other day. I had the usual sports games, including MLB 99, Triple Play Baseball, a few versions of Madden, etc. I don't remember having a basketball game or a hockey game.

Mortal Kombat Trilogy got a lot of play during college, and we nicknamed Noob Saibot "Noob Cheap-Move-Bot." I'm probably the only MK player who ever enjoyed playing as Stryker, who was admittedly an awful character in design and purpose. We had a lot of fun with Medal of Honor, which was a seriously great game ("Ah! It's Jimmy Patterson!"). A friend of mine and I had a little song we'd sing when you picked up the shotgun: "Shotgun, shotgun, get it, get it." I guess you had to be there.

So I guess while I enjoyed the PlayStation, I wasn't particularly enamored with it or attached to it. That probably explains why my next console became...

Xbox original. It's gigantic. The controller is gigantic.

I loved it.

The original Xbox had a comically short lifespan as Microsoft tried to get a handle on the whole videogame thing. During this first PlayStation/Xbox war, this generation went to Sony. Most of my friends had PS2s. A couple had Xboxes, but the PS2 was much more common. Still, I liked my Xbox. The hard drive was nice for adding music and having plenty of space for saving games.

NHL Hitz was fantastic, and I played it a few months ago. Just a super fun, super addictive game. I love the Franchise mode where you acquire players and equipment as you work your way into the NHL. NFL2K5 was a revolutionary game in terms of presentation and value. Had it not been for this formidable competitor, we may have never seen EA's exclusive license (although we probably would have anyway).

I had Halo and I sucked at it, but the game was pretty awesome. The Grand Theft Auto Double Pack rocked, and I got a lot of use out of that. Lego Star Wars was a great deal of fun. The NCAA football games were usually solid, especially the last couple in that generation. My poor, underpowered Celeron PC couldn't run Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast: Battle of the Colons, so I had it on Xbox. Surprisingly, I really got into Tiger Woods 2004 even though I'm not a golfer.

And then there was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which is probably the best Star Wars game ever made.

I still have the Xbox, although it needs a new power cord.

Xbox 360. Microsoft showed it could make a decent console with the first Xbox.

It showed it could make a great one with the Xbox 360. Despite the red ring of death, despite the Xbox live paid subscription, despite the popularity of the PlayStation brand, Microsoft turned Xbox into a huge brand. The console was designed for multiplayer games, and it delivered. About midway through its lifespan, Microsoft added multimedia content like Netflix. It added Kinect.

But those weren't the reasons I loved my 360 (I don't have Kinect). I loved it because of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. I loved it because of the Online Dynasty mode in NCAA Football--the only place where Purdue could win a national championship. I loved it because of Lego Batman. Halo 3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Mass Effect. Mass Effect 2. Mass Effect 3. Batman: Arkham Asylum. Arkham City.

I loved it because I used to work in TV news and one morning we decided to feature Madden 10 on launch day. We almost failed to get a coherent newscast on the air because we stopped to watch a Madden game in demo mode.

I loved it for Plants vs. Zombies. The Marvel pinball tables. Guitar Hero II. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

My first Xbox ended up RRODing, but the repair was quick and relatively painless.

In closing

My little trek down memory lane shows I don't have much brand loyalty. I've bounced around from Nintendo to Sega, Sony, and Microsoft. You could even argue I missed the "best" systems from each company (Nintendo's SNES and Sony's PS2). I don't even know if I'll get a next-gen system. History says I probably will, but I don't know which one it'll be. Microsoft made some mistakes in the lead up to this November launch; Sony seized the momentum and released a sexy-looking system.

I'm probably leaning toward Xbox One, however. The product intrigues me and I've been in the Xbox ecosystem for more than a decade now. That doesn't mean I can't change, though, because that PS4 looks awfully nice.

Either way, I'm waiting until these systems get some must-have games. Right now, they don't have an "killer apps."

Oh, a price cut would be nice, too. Really nice. I'll wait for that.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 11 vs. Titans

Chris Johnson for 30 yards. On the first drive, after a series of passes, Chris Johnson bolted right, got great blocks, and raced to the endzone. 7-0, Titans. Just like that.

Trent Richardson's first carry. He gained a yard. Barely. The Colts did make an effort early in the game to get him involved in the passing game.

GRIFFNATION--uh, never mind. Griff Whalen gave us his best DHB impression, dropping a third-down pass on the Colts' first series. It was awesome.

Will someone cover Delanie Walker? The first quarter wasn't even over, and Walker had four catches for 40+ yards. He finished with 10 grabs for 91 yards and a TD. Fun fact: he was targeted 10 times, meaning each time Ryan "Rugged Outdoorsman Beard" Fitzpatrick looked for him, he caught a pass.

Great start. Two drives, two touchdowns for Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans. Just like that, the Colts were down 14-0. Mission critical.

Finally on the board. The Colts finally scored early in the second quarter with a field goal from Adam Vinatieri. They were down 14-3, but it felt quite a bit different from the Texans or Rams deficits. I can't explain why I felt that way.

DHB: Hands of Marble. DHB dropped another pass on what should've been a big play. The ball got tipped slightly, but he had it in sight and got both hands on it. Will this guy ever make a play?

Momentum swing? Guess not. The Colts forced a three-and-out after Vinatieri's field goal. They picked up a couple first downs before punting.

The Flag Drive. Penalties against Robert Mathis, Cassius Vaughn, and Erik Walden gave the Titans plenty of free yards, showed the Colts had lost their composure, and put Tennessee in scoring position. Ryan "Zero Dark Thirty Beard" Fitzpatrick almost rope-a-doped the Colts into a free first down, but the Titans settled for a field goal. So...I guess one point for each flag?

The headbutt. Erik Walden headbutted a helmetless Tennessee receiver (Delanie Walker--so I guess they tried to stop him?). So there's that.

DHB caught a pass. It happened. I saw it. He even got out of bounds near the end of the first half. It was his only catch of the game.

Field goal before halftime. The Colts faced a 17-6 deficit at halftime. Luck led them on a nice drive to get close to the endzone. The drive sputtered with about 40 seconds left after Luck got sacked, setting up a short FG by Vinatieri.

And Donald Brown gets into the endzone. The Colts put together a terrific drive to start the second half. Luck converted some third-down opportunities, we saw a couple of decent runs from Trent Richardson (!) and Donald Brown. The drive culminated in a nice TD run that was well blocked by the Colts.

And a turnover! Tennessee fumbled the ball on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Colts great field position. Indy capitalized with a touchdown. The fumble turned the game around, and the Colts never trailed again. They scored 20 unanswered points from the end of the first half through the fourth quarter.

Call your own number, man. Luck had Griff Whalen open in the flat, but pump-faked a Tennessee defender and took off for the endzone. The guy's incredible. Just like that, the Colts had a 20-17 lead.

"A Football Life: The Forward Pass." I love the NFL Network show, but the concept of this one is just weird.

Erik Walden shouldn't be allowed to dance. He sacked Ryan "Wookie Pelt Beard" Fitzpatrick, but Erik Walden--he of the cheap headbutt--shouldn't be allowed to do a celebratory dance.

First down challenge. Titans had to do it. It also had to fail. The spot on the QB sneak was very generous; I have no illusions about that. I understand why the Titans challenged the call, but I also knew there was no chance of a reversal. There was nothing--nothing--in that replay that would've reversed that call. And...the Titans probably could've used that timeout later, right?

Vinatieri with another one. After a failed third-down conversion, Adam Vinatieri came on the field to do what Adam Vinatieri does: nail big kicks.

Grinders. I didn't think they had it in them anymore, but Indy stepped up and brought back a balanced offensive attack in the second half. The power game worked and guys held their blocks. Indy had four drives of 11 or more plays. Each of those drives led to points, and none was more important than the 11 play, 74 yard drive that resulted in Donald Brown's second touchdown of the game. In fact, each Indy touchdown came on the ground (two by Brown, one by Luck). The resurgent running game also allowed Luck to hit on some big play-action passes.

Fantastic Fleener. I've been known on Coby Fleener from time to time. However, he proved his worth in this game, catching eight passes for 107 yards. He was there just about every time the Colts needed a big play, and I don't remember any of his signature, inexplicable drops either. Luck targeted him ten times vs. Tennessee.

Dashing Donald. Donald Brown had a phenomenal game, carrying 14 times for 80 yards and two touchdowns. He just looked more decisive and comfortable in the running game than Richardson. I've noticed that the Colts tended to run Brown out of different sets than Richardson, but against the Titans, Indy put Brown in those power formations. He showed patience, burst through the hole, and got to the second level. He's nimble-footed and has great vision. Let's put it this way, if this is the way the Colts' 2009 first-round pick plays in 2013, I'm expecting big things from Trent Richardson in 2016.

Protecting Luck. What a difference a running game makes. The Titans got to Luck a few times, but he avoided getting hit for the most part. Tennessee had one sack and four QB hits, a markedly better performance than we've seen in recent weeks against the Texans and Rams.

Luck's legs. Luck made big plays tonight when he saw running lanes. One scramble went for a key first down; another resulted in a touchdown. And I'd just like to say the "Luck Spike" is a thing of jubilant beauty. He ran nine times for 31 yards.

All too easy. Brown's second TD run late in the fourth quarter should've salted this game away, but the Colts defense let the Titans march right down the field and score despite the fact they had no timeouts. The onside kick failed, but there was absolutely no excuse for the easy TD.

And Chris Johnson had less than 100 yards rushing. After victimizing the Colts repeatedly in the first half and scoring two touchdowns, Chris Johnson disappeared in the second half. True, the Titans fell behind and the Colts did a better job on the running back, but it's still baffling to think CJ2K couldn't crack 100 yards after gaining 80 in the first half.

Reggie the Mentor. We'd like to see Reggie Wayne in the game, but we know that can't happen right now. It was great to see him on the sideline mentoring the young receivers and cheering on his team. The Colts may not be able to "Win One for Reggie" this year, but they'll certainly give it their best shot.

How the South was won? The Colts likely sealed the division and a playoff spot with this win. They hold a three-game lead over the Titans and will play them once again. As up and down as the Colts have been lately, this game will probably end up being a major turning point for the season.

Back-to-back streak intact. With the comeback win, the Colts still haven't lost back-to-back games in the Pagano/Luck era. I realize everyone knows this already.

No turnovers. Take care of the ball, and good things happen.

Good challenge. When the Colts caught the Titans with approximately 75 defenders on the field, and the refs missed it, Chuck Pagano threw the challenge flag. Indy got the call and ended up scoring a field goal on the drive. Considering the score was 14-0 at that point, it was a pretty big decision.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 10 vs. Rams

Well, that escalated quickly. Really, all the Rams needed was Chris Long's fumble return for a touchdown. It was all downhill from there. The Colts looked clueless, punchless, gutless, and unprepared.

Robert Mathis got a couple of sacks. No. 98 was about the only player who had any production on defense. He now has 13.5 on the season.

You know, it's okay to play with a lead. The Legend of Andrew Luck has built itself on the Comeback Win. That's fine. That's thrilling. That's nerve-wracking and simultaneously enjoyable. That said, I'd like to point out that it's okay to come out swinging early in the game and jump on the opponent. You don't always have to be the team that gets stomped on, picks itself up, and wins in the end.

Matt Hasselbeck sighting! Honestly, I think the Colts should've subbed Luck out earlier. He was getting battered and beaten by the Rams defense with no hope of winning the game. The only thing you risk by keeping him in a game that was clearly lost--I mean, the Colts had zero things go right in this one--is an injury. Concede that Luck's not on his game, and stick Hasselbeck in there earlier.

In the time it took to get a bowl of chili, Tavon Austin scored a touchdown. I watched the game at my in-laws' house. I went upstairs to get a bowl of chili, and when I came down to the basement Tavon Austin had scored on a 57-yard pass. I got back downstairs just in time to see the Rams kick the extra point.

How's the running game? Pretty sucky, but then again, so were the Colts.

Vontae Davis transforms into David Macklin. Vontae Davis has had a couple really rough games in a row. He couldn't contain Andre Johnson last week. This week's debacle was Tavon Austin, who did just about anything he wanted. Reminded me of the "good ol' days" when David Macklin routinely got beat deep.

Suck for Luck? More like Suck is Luck. Andrew Luck clearly wasn't himself. Go back and look at that first half--he missed a lot of throws. I can think of a pass to T.Y. Hilton that would've gone for a huge gain and a couple high overthrows to Coby Fleener that would've sustained drives. No. 12 had an "off" game, and his usually sound decision making was a disaster.

Which is worse: Darrius Heyward-Bey or Trent Richardson? I'm going with DHB on this one. I don't think it would've made any difference in this game, but DHB dropped a third down pass that went right through his hands and bounced off his chest. You just can't trust the guy. Richardson, by the way, averaged a meaty 0.4 yards per carry. He also caught three passes for 33 yards.

#GRIFFNATION. Three catches for 36 yards for Griff Whalen. I keep hearing things like he's "average" and "Griff Whalen is just Griff Whalen" and "he's nothing special." I refuse to believe these things. He also got rocked on a 25-yard catch late in the game. I BELIEVE, people. I BELIEVE IN GRIFFNATION.

About that punt return... As it unfolded, you couldn't believe it. It looked harmless enough and then Tavon Austin took it the distance. The return was pretty much a microcosm of this disastrous game.

The division. The Colts have no time to sulk about this one--they're up on Thursday Night Football this week. They'll take on the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. The Colts have a chance to get some distance in the AFC South with a win. An unlikely victory from Jacksonville preserved the Colts' two-game lead on the Titans. I think that result is just as jaw-dropping as the St. Louis-Indianapolis final.

A truly offensive line. They can't run block. They can't protect The Franchise. If I were an Indianapolis Colts lineman right now, I'd be completely embarrassed. The Rams were in the backfield all day, stuffing the run and punishing Luck. True, Indy didn't think Donald Thomas would get hurt, but it's clear this unit is struggling.

Take a knee. Take a knee! Kickoff returns were a joke this week (and they have been much of the season). David Reed refused to take a knee on several occasions, getting buried well behind the 20-yard line on multiple occasions (and trust me, thanks to the Rams' score-a-palooza, there were plenty of kickoff return opportunities). One of the loudest cheers from the crowd came when Reed finally conceded a touchback.

Five turnovers. Most of these came in garbage time (let's define garbage time as "after the first quarter"), but the Colts turned it over five times. One led to a touchdown; three others were interceptions near the goal line.

And it could've been worse. Don't forget that St. Louis fumbled in the red zone early in the game. That drive should've produced points.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 9 vs. Texans

Did that just happen? Seriously. The Colts had no business winning this game. They were outclassed in every possible statistical category. They couldn't protect The Franchise. No one could catch a friggin' football. Andrew Luck completed 3 of 12 passes for 56 yards and zero third down conversions in the first half. The Colts couldn't even manage to get a turnover (and the one they did get got inexplicably taken away). Yet, they stayed the course and somehow managed to turn things around in the second half.

Not so special teams. Ick. The Colts were terrible here, especially in the first half. The Texans blocked an Adam Vinatieri field goal. Pat McAfee mishandled a punt, scrambled around, and then made an astoundingly good punt. The Colts were subsequently flagged for having an ineligible man downfield. On the re-kick, McAfee got absolutely rocked, firing off an ineffective punt of 29 yards. They also picked up a false start before McAfee's final punt of the game.

And then you have the Texans, who somehow had an even worse day. Kicker Randy Bullock missed three field goals, including a 55-yarder at the end that had absolutely no shot (it was Vanderjagtian in its complete and utter futility). On the Texans' final return of the day, a holding penalty negated a decent return, pushing them back to the 33-yard line.

I should also mention a couple positive moments: Sergio Brown made a nice play to down a punt inside the five. McAfee, who was holder on the blocked kick, chased down the returner, showing again that he does more than just punt and tweet like a maniac. Other than the blocked FG, Vinatieri was solid and reliable. T.Y. Hilton had a nice punt return (34 yards) that led to the Colts' first score of the game. Even David Reed had a good kickoff return.

Missing Reggie. Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels repeated this storyline about 80,000 times, approximately 3,000 fewer times than they mentioned how much we all should love Case Keenum. Despite the snark, you could definitely tell Andrew Luck was uncomfortable without No. 87 out there. Actually, the whole offense was uncomfortable without Wayne. Guys were in the wrong spots, they couldn't catch anything, and Luck was off target. There was no rhythm and the Colts looked clueless.

Case Keenum. I enjoyed watching Keenum play against the Chiefs last week. I would've enjoyed watching him this week if he'd played against any other team in the league. The kid's got some swagger. He makes plays and moves well in (and out) of the pocket. He's fearless, hard to sack, and has a knack for finding open receivers. Reminded me a bit of Russell Wilson out there, to be honest. He's yet to win an NFL game, however. Right now, I think the Texans ride him and see if he can get them some wins. They're certainly a much more exciting team with him out there, and if you're going to lose--which the Texans already were--you may as well lose in exciting fashion.

Should someone cover Andre Johnson? Johnson had a gigantic game against the Colts, catching 9 passes for 229 yards and 3 TDs. He did most of his damage in the first half, getting open for two long touchdowns and adding a third late in the half. The way the Colts played, you would've thought they'd missed Johnson on the scouting report. On one play, Vontae Davis bit on an out and up; Johnson ran free. On another play, Antoine Bethea had him deep and seemed to lose track of the ball. On another TD, Davis had perfect coverage but mistimed his jump in the end zone.

Key divisional win. The Colts needed this one to keep a little cushion against second-place Tennessee and stop the Texans from jumping back into the divisional race. While Houston dominated the first half, the Colts came alive in the second to steal a road divisional game.

TY times three. T.Y. Hilton went off in the second half, catching three touchdown passes. He finished with 7 grabs for 121 yards. Luck targeted Hilton 12 times. What I like about him is that each of his TD catches came in a different way. His first was a nice corner route where he beat his man and made a nice catch. On the second one--his game-changing 58-yard score--Hilton outran the coverage and got deep. On the third TD, he slid out on a little route to the flat, made a guy miss, and then got into the end zone.

Fleener's grab. A very, very big play was Coby Fleener's catch on a two-point conversion. Without that catch, the Colts only lead by a point. In that case, Bullock's inevitable missed field goal at the end would've missed for the win instead of the tie. But seriously, Fleener made a fantastic grab with two defenders on him. He got up and snatched it out of the air. He finished the game with 3 receptions for 64 yards.

#GRIFFNATION still a developing nation. I love Griff Whalen. I think he can be great, but he was hardly that in his first extended play of the season. Luck targeted him 9 times; Whalen finished with 3 catches, including a couple drops. That said, he came up with a major-league-huge grab on 3rd and 10 on what ended up being the game-winning drive. Luck also missed a wide-open Griff on a wheel route in the second half.

DHB MIA. If Darrius Heyward-Bey hopes to "replace" Reggie Wayne, he'd better start catching the ball. Collinsworth pointed out that DHB's skills and speed mean absolutely nothing if he has stone hands. He did draw a pass interference penalty that led to a field goal. So there's that.

Just the Texans bein' the Texans. I hate to say it (actually I don't), but this was a typical Texans game. This franchise wants to step into the big leagues, but each time Houston gets the chance, it falls flat on its face. Good teams don't blow 21-3 halftime leads. Then again, I never said the Texans were a good team. While Keenum never pulled a Sage Rosenfels in this game, he didn't have to--Randy Bullock did that for him.

Yes, let's report nothing about Gary Kubiak. Again. Like everyone, I was concerned about what happened to Gary Kubiak. It was a strange circumstance and a shock to everyone. Still, Sunday Night Football couldn't let the story go even though there was nothing to report. It went something like this:

"Let's check in with Michele Tafoya. What do you know?"

"I don't know anything guys, but here's that video again of Gary Kubiak collapsing just in case you didn't see it during one of my previous seven non-updates. To repeat information you've already heard, Kubiak collapsed at halftime and went to an area hospital as a precautionary measure. To reiterate one more time, the Texans PR staff knows nothing. Hence, I know nothing and am telling you that I know nothing."

"Thanks for the update, Michele. Our thoughts and prayers with Gary Kubiak..."

I just wish that, when people had nothing to report, they'd just report nothing. This isn't to say you don't mention what happened to Kubiak or reference it during the game, you absolutely have to. But to go back to the sideline reporter who knows nothing and act like it's an "update" is just stupid.

The fake spike. I did like Keenum's decision to forgo the spike near the end of the half and loft it up for Andre Johnson instead. It was a heady, canny play and paid off big time.

Richardson effective at points. The numbers weren't huge (and I'm starting to suspect they never will be, but maybe, just maybe this will work out). Still, he had a couple decent (and that's it: decent) runs and a huge catch that set up TY Hilton's third and final (game-winning) touchdown. I'd like to see the Colts work Richardson into the passing game a little more to get him some open field to work with. He's also usually pretty good in blitz pickups, although this wasn't his best game on that end.

First half possessions. Let's look at this:

Colts: Blocked FG, punt, punt, punt, punt, FG, end of half.

Texans: Touchdown, turnover on downs, touchdown, punt, missed FG, punt, touchdown.

Second half possessions. And...

Colts: FG, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt.

Texans: FG, missed FG, punt, punt, missed FG/end of game.

Going for it. I thought it was a mistake when Kubiak decided against a relatively easy field goal in favor of going for it on fourth and one on the Texans' second drive. The Texans should've gone for the points...but then again, maybe they didn't have confidence in their kicker (even though this was way before Bullock missed those field goals).

24-6. Third quarter. Think about it. The Colts trailed 21-3 at halftime and 24-6 late in the third quarter. Even after TY Hilton scored to make it 24-12, a comeback felt unlikely because the Colts struggled to find rhythm on offense. Then, after a stop and a quick strike to Hilton, we suddenly had a ballgame.

Luck under fire. The Texans hit Luck 11 times and finished with 4 sacks. Indy had no answers in the first half for that pass rush. They finally went to a max protect scheme at times that gave No. 12 more protection.

Last offensive "drive." Some people may think the Colts went conservative at the end of the game. Let's face it, they were deep in their own territory and had avoided turnovers despite a couple close calls. They made the Texans burn two timeouts. On the third down play, they gave the ball to Donald Brown and ran off another 40 seconds. If they'd thrown an incompletion on that play, Keenum & Co. would've had 40 more seconds to get closer for a game-tying FG. Besides, it's clear the coaching staff...

...Put it in the defense's hands. The Colts defense was much better in the second half. They went to some more aggressive schemes and tried to put more pressure on Keenum. It worked. The Texans managed only 3 points in the second half after lighting up the Colts in quarters one and two. They mostly limited the big plays and harassed the young quarterback.

Active Angerer. Pat Angerer nearly came up with a game-sealing interception, but it wasn't to be. Angerer also made a great tackle on Keenum in which the Colts outsmarted the Texans. Keenum ran several effective bootlegs off the team's stretch run game. On a key second and 8, Keenum faked a handoff, Robert Mathis crashed down from the outside, and Angerer went straight for Keenum, stopping him for a 3-yard loss. The resulting third and 11 play fell incomplete, and the Texans had to punt. Angerer led the team with 12 tackles.

The fumble that wasn't. I still can't get over the reversal on the fumbled kickoff return. Is it possible that LaVon Brazill touched the ball while he was out of bounds? It's absolutely possible, even probable. Did I see any indisputable video evidence that warranted a reversal? Absolutely not. I saw a few instances of "maybe the ball hit his foot" or "maybe the ball hit his hand while he was out of bounds." I never saw anything that said, "Yep. He touched it. That should be Houston's ball." I'm obviously a Colts sympathizer, but I try to be fair. I didn't see anything on that replay that warranted a reversal. It should've stood as called (for what it's worth, Collinsworth said he thought the referee would confirm the ruling).

Revenge of the Challenge. The Colts got a measure of revenge when Andre Johnson's catch was overturned on review in the fourth quarter. The Colts challenged that one (it happened right in front of their sideline). I really didn't see much and figured it would stand as called. Instead, the referee said Johnson didn't have control of the ball on the ground. Again, I didn't see much on the replay to warrant the reversal. All in all, it's a wash...with both calls hurting each team equally. The Texans scored a touchdown off the fumble reversal; the Colts scored a touchdown after the pass was ruled incomplete.

Luck's second half. Let's end this on a good Andrew Luck often does. After a terrible first half, Luck lit up the Texans in the second half, going 15-28 for 215 yards and 3 TDs while coming up with big play after big play (a 17-yard pass on third and 10 to Griff Whalen was a standout play). He finished 18-40 for 271 yards.