Monday, December 2, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 13 vs. Titans

Division within reach. Barring an epic collapse, the Colts will win the AFC South. They have a three-game lead over the Titans and hold the tiebreaker. Essentially, the Colts would have to lose their last four games and the Titans would have to sweep their last four for the Colts to miss out on a division title.

Vintage "Money." Adam Vinatieri nailed five field goals for the Colts (with a long of 49 yards). On a day when the offense stalled repeatedly, the Colts needed Vinatieri to come through, and he did. He's having a fantastic season.

The turnover battle. The Colts forced four turnovers: three interceptions and a fumble (all from Ryan Fitzpatrick). Cassius Vaughn--relegated to third cornerback after a couple rough starts in place of Greg Toler--picked off two passes. Indy turned the ball over early in the game after a pass from Andrew Luck went off T.Y. Hilton's hands and bounced into the hands of a waiting Titans defender. The Colts defense forced a punt.

Thank you, Jerrell Freeman. The linebacker was all over the place Sunday, finishing with nine tackles and asked to cover Chris Johnson when Tennessee split their running back out wide a few times. He saved his best play for last, picking off a Fitzpatrick pass as the Titans tried to rally for a touchdown and two-point conversion to send the game to OT. Freeman also recovered a fumble after a sack by Robert Mathis.

Why is Darrius Heyward-Bey a professional football player for the Indianapolis Colts? Hey, it worked last week with David Reed. DHB drew a couple pass interference penalties and caught a pass for 23 yards. Those were his good things. He also got buried for an 11-yard loss on an ill-advised running play, was whistled for offensive pass interference (in his defense, the call was iffy), and--in glorious DHB style--dropped a pass that killed a potential touchdown drive. Sigh.

Donald Brown gets the start. Honestly, he should've started last week on the heels of his great second half against this same Tennessee team. He didn't do much until the last drive, finishing with a relatively unimpressive 14 carries for 54 yards and a TD. The key is when the bulk of those yards came--Brown had 46 yards on the game-clinching drive.

Luck uses his legs. His offensive line can't protect him. His receivers can't get open, and when they do, they drop passes. Luck showed that extra dimension he can bring to the offense when he scrambled for 32 yards on the last drive. He was the team's second-leading rusher, scrambling five times for 42 yards.

Still can't Protect the Franchise. The Colts offensive line is abysmal. Luck got dropped five times; there was an occasion or two in which he held onto the ball too long, but most of this goes on the offensive line. What does this tell us? Despite opening the checkbook and making big moves, the Colts and GM Ryan Grigson failed in their primary mission to protect Andrew Luck. Swapping out Mike McGlynn for Jeff Linkenbach didn't make a noticeable difference.

Richardson demoted. It just hasn't worked out. The Colts made a splash by pulling the trigger on the Richardson trade, and I don't think the "jury is still out" on this one. The Colts have gotten about as much from this former first-round pick as they could've gotten out of a guy from the scout team at the cost of next year's first-round pick. It's expensive mediocrity, even though I'd really like to see him prove me wrong. Earlier, it looked like Donald Brown was being successful because the Colts ran him in certain situations (and with more spread formations). Lately, though, Brown has hit the hole hard in the power formations and found success.

Time to unleash Da'Rick Rogers. Since the Colts are getting nothing from DHB, it's time to give Da'Rick Rogers more playing time. Even though DHB "knows the offense," it doesn't matter because he's not a reliable target. Rogers may suck; I have no idea. But the truth is that he can't hurt the team anymore than DHB. And maybe, just maybe, he'll find himself in the right place and catch the football.

Goal line stand. The Colts stiffened when the Titans tried to get the ball into the endzone from the two. They stuffed Tennessee three times before a little gimmick/misdirection pass resulted in a touchdown. By the way, when you watch that play at regular speed, it kind of looks like Chris Johnson dropped the ball and "didn't complete the catch." It looks a lot different on the replay.

Robert Mathis: Master of the Sack-Fumble. Robert Mathis is having a season for the ages. The Colts pass rush didn't do much Sunday, but Mathis forced a sack-fumble after getting around the edge and knocking the ball away from Fitzpatrick. The Colts ended up salvaging a field goal from the drive.

Your free gift: three points! As time wound down in the first half, the Titans' Moise Fokou (a former Colt) decided to level Stanley Havili. If he'd kept his cool, the half would've ended because T.Y. Hilton caught a pass in bounds and the Colts were out of timeouts. Instead, the idiotic penalty put the Colts in prime position for a field goal.

Return change. With David Reed gone, the Colts turned the return game over to Chris Rainey, who handled both kickoffs and punts. He wasn't measurably more effective than Reed on kickoffs. Rainey filled in on punts for T.Y. Hilton and turned in a nice return for 18 yards. On the flip side, he also muffed a punt return. Thankfully, special teams standout Sergio Brown was there to recover and advance. Brown has quietly had a fantastic season in the third phase of the game.

Ain'tcha ever comin' back, ain'tcha? What's the deal with Greg Toler? The Colts haven't put him on injured reserve and he's been "trending in the right direction" for approximately forever now. The secondary hasn't been the same since Toler's been out. I hope he returns to the lineup soon, because I could think of a few positions that could use that roster spot.