Monday, September 29, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 4 vs. Titans

Quick summary:

After a breather last week against FCS Jacksonville, the Colts get a visit from MAC opponent Tennessee. Early mistakes help Indy surge to a quick lead. A stupid turnover is stupid but has no impact on the game as the Colts score 41 points. That doesn't make it any less stupid.

Four score encore. Andrew Luck carved up the Titans, throwing for 393 yards and four touchdowns. A similar performance last week against the Jaguars earned Luck AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Will we see a repeat?

Hot start! Hot start! I've heard a lot of talk about the start Andrew Luck is off to. Before we think about how he's going to break Peyton Manning's single-season touchdown record, keep in mind he threw eight of his 13 touchdowns in back-to-back games against the hapless Jaguars and Titans.

#GRIFFNATION, Part I. Griff Whalen had a solid recovery on an onside kick, thanks to a "block" from "Jack of All Trades" Doyle. It was a great kick, of course, from Pat McAfee.

#GRIFFNATION, Part II. Griffer had a couple of nice punt returns again this week...but they didn't count because of penalties. One of these days, he'll have a long return and it will actually count. Maybe.

Ageless Reggie Wayne. In my Colts preview post, I wrote of Reggie Wayne: I won't believe (he's back) until he goes off for about eight catches and 100+ yards. Seven catches, 119 yards, touchdown. He's back.

Ahmad Bradshaw: Red Zone Secret Agent. Bradshaw has been the go-to guy in the red zone. I was going to make a joke about how people might want to cover him inside the 20...but it wouldn't be relevant given that this week's TD came from a sick move and a broken tackle.

Ground pound. The Mistake finished with 47 yards on 20 carries...a meaty 2.4 average. His longest run was 10 yards and he did have a touchdown. The Colts keep sending him "into the garbage" at the line of scrimmage and expecting he'll get out of it. He won't.

Richardson in the passing game. Richardson had a drop on a poorly thrown ball from Luck. Other than that, though, he did some nice work out of the backfield, catching four passes for 54 yards. I hate it when people say they need to get a certain player out in space (I think about "Pigs in Spaaaaaaace" every time), but Indy needs to give Richardson a couple chances on screens and swing passes. He's show he can be effective there.

T.Y. triumphant. T.Y. Hilton had six catches for 105 yards. He was really, really good in the first half. The Colts moved him around and he hurt the Titans on all kinds of routes.

I love it when M. Adams does well. Mike Adams had two interceptions against the Titans. Both were kind of "right place, right time," but they still count. He wears number custom Colts jersey is number 7. Nine minus two equals seven, you know? Coincidence? Oh, yeah, totally that.

Maybe he should get mugged every single time? Coby Fleener, left completely by himself last week when dropping a pass, made a nice TD catch this week after getting absolutely mugged. He stuck with the play, though, and made a nice catch.

Four TDs, four different guys. Dwayne Allen, Reggie Wayne, Coby Fleener, and Ahmad Bradshaw were all recipients of TD passes this week for the Colts.

One of the greats. How good is Reggie Wayne? How about a third down catch that he went up and got? Or a sideline back shoulder throw in which he caught the ball, spun, and got into the end zone? Or there's this: he's seventh on the NFL's career receptions list and 10th in career receiving yards. He's caught three or more passes in 75 straight NFL record.

The interception. What did Andrew Luck see there? Who was he trying to get the ball to? Those are answers only No. 12 knows. As soon as he threw the ball, he knew it was a mistake and sprinted downfield to make the tackle. Still, the bonehead play opened the door--just slightly--for the Titans. You can't make those kinds of mistakes against anyone.

Turnover battle. The Colts keyed on a pair of early turnovers to take control of the game. While the Titans did draw within 20-10, the game wasn't close.

Gutsy call. The Chuck Pagano Colts aren't known for rolling the dice or doing anything particularly risky. Indy flipped the script with an onside kick after their first touchdown. They caught the Titans sleeping, and it was a beautiful thing. Even if it hadn't paid off, I would've appreciated it.

Robert Mathis' suspension is over! Not that it matters.

Monday fallout. Speaking of players who won't be with the Colts, Da'Rick Rogers was dismissed from the team after a drinking and driving arrest. Then we learned LaRon Landry earned a four-game suspension for violating the league's PED policy. Great job, guys. Dismissing Rogers? He had zero impact on the team, but his size and speed kept him on the roster, so it's not a big loss if the Colts stay healthy at wide receiver. I've criticized Landry, but you never like to see a starting player miss four games.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 3 vs. Jaguars

Quick summary:

The Colts get a breather against FCS foe Jacksonville in a game that emphasizes their strengths and reveals few of their flaws. The most exciting part of the game is the debut of Jaguars rookie QB Blake Bortles, who threw three touchdowns, including one to Greg Toler.

People have to pay to see this. Poor, poor Jacksonville fans. The stadium added pools to give the place a unique feel, but the team is horrible. The first half was lifeless ineptitude on offense and defense. The Colts scored points on their first six possessions. They put 20 points on the board before the Jags even got a first down.

He's pretty Lucking good. Luck was pretty much flawless in this game, getting plenty of time in the pocket for the most part and hitting his receivers on the mark in most cases. He threw four touchdown passes (and really should've thrown five), one each to Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks, Coby Fleener, and Dwayne Allen.

Improved pass rush. Listen, it's really hard to tell if the pass rush was really that effective since the Colts were playing AAA-affiliate-caliber Jacksonville. Still, they finished with four sacks and put consistent heat on the Jags' hapless offensive line by bringing pressure with different looks and personnel.

That time Reggie Wayne intercepted a pass intended for him. One of my favorite moments of the game was when a Jacksonville defender sat back in coverage and licked his chops for an interception only to be let down when Wayne stepped in front of him and made the catch. Then the Jacksonville players started whining to referees about a push off or some nonsense like that. It was fun.

Some turnovers. Vontae Davis and Greg Toler both had interceptions. D'Qwell Jackson forced a fumble and Darius Butler recovered it. Again, it's kind of like taking candy from a baby when it comes to the Jaguars, but it was still good to see the Colts force the issue and win the turnover battle.

Why is Stephen A. Smith talking to Richard Sherman in a Gorton's fisherman outfit? These commercials made zero sense and played about a billion times.

Money. Adam Vinatieri, Mr. Reliable. Good from 48, 43, and 25 yards.

Ground it out. For the second straight week, the Colts' ground attack was productive. Neither Trent Richardson nor Ahmad Bradshaw lit up the stat sheet, but they were able to break some good runs. Richardson's 27-yard scamper was particularly notable. The Colts averaged five yards per attempt.

But it's not all good. Richardson couldn't punch it in after two consecutive carries from the 1-yard line. The Colts brought this guy in to steamroll defenders in situations like this. No dice.

Hasselbeck! It's a good sign when you see the veteran backup enter the game. It means the Colts are rolling along.

Fleenered! How open was Coby Fleener? Waaaaay open. How did he drop the pass? The world may never know.

Hilton active. Five catches for 80 yards this week for T.Y. Hilton. He left the game with an ankle injury that we're hoping isn't severe. After a middling start to the year, it was great to see him make a few plays.

Gus Bradley's Red Flag of Discontent. The Jaguars head coach threw a challenge flag with under two minutes left in the first half. It was stupid. However, in the "old days," throwing a red flag would've nullified the ability for the play to be reviewed. The NFL changed the rule, though, taking a useless timeout from the Jaguars as recompense for Bradley's stupidity. If the Jaguars hadn't had a timeout at that point in the game, they would've been penalized...but the play still would've been reviewed. This rule change--which protects boneheaded coaches who do boneheaded things--was changed thanks to Jim Schwartz's Thanksgiving Anti-Miracle.

Ageless Reggie Wayne. Four catches, 62 yards. Nothing flashy or spectacular for No. 87, but a solid performance nonetheless.

Donte Moncrief. Moncrief saw more playing time this week because of an injury to Hilton and the fact that the Colts were destroying the opposition. He had four catches for 55 yards and one rush for seven yards. I think the Colts have to get him on the field more, as he's shown explosion and elusiveness after the catch.

Probably should've held them to three points. Blake Bortles' first career NFL touchdown pass had little to do with him, actually. Receiver Allen Hurns broke through tackles from Darius Butler and Mike Adams (no relation). I haven't seen tackling that bad since I played defensive end at Northeastern High School.

Probably should've held them to ten points. Bortles used the fake spike to lull the Colts defense into "don't even try" mode. This one was waaaaaay too easy.

Toler's big play. It wasn't a pressure situation or particularly necessary, but Greg Toler showed his ballhawk tendencies by picking off a Bortles pass and taking it all the way to the house.

The future? Jacksonville wasn't going to make the playoffs (or even be competitive, apparently) with Chad Henne under center. It's the easiest coaching/personnel move to make after an 0-3 start: let Bortles play. The fans will pay to see him, he'll get to develop with no pressure, and you'll get a full account of what he can do.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 2 vs. Eagles

Quick summary:

Colts unleash power running game and roll over Eagles in the first half. A key fumble in the second half helps fuel a Philly comeback, and Mr. Clutch Andrew Luck can't lead Indy to victory.

Bad calls and no-calls by the officials did not lose this game. The Colts lost this game when Trent Richardson fumbled the ball in the third quarter. The play changed the entire landscape of the game, allowing the Eagles to quickly tie things up. I know, I know...the Colts retook the lead later and still had their chances, but the fumble signaled the complete transfer of momentum from Indy to Philly.

That running game. Man, I didn't think the Stanford ground-em-out playbook would work in the NFL. The Colts had great success with it, using three tight end sets and unbalanced lines to smashmouth their way down the field. I never saw that coming. The Mistake had 21 carries for 79 yards and The Guy Who Should Start had 13 carries for 70 yards. For the most part, Indy ran at will. You know, until it counted.

The most valuable tight end? Coby Fleener? God, no. Dwayne Allen? A respectable answer. The real answer is Jack "Harry" Doyle, who caught a touchdown pass and provided some excellent blocking in the running game. I'm betting he wasn't on the scouting report breakdown for the Colts.

I'll take things that are missing for 200, Alex. The answer: It's what gives opposing quarterbacks so much time to throw. The question: What is the pass rush? My goodness, I knew the Colts would miss Robert Mathis, but I thought they'd generate a pass rush on occasion even if by accident.

Darren Effing Sproles. Little dude can ball, that's for sure. It feels like he'd be a first ballot Hall of Famer if he got to play against the Colts every week. It doesn't matter if he plays for the Chargers, Saints, or Eagles--Sproles is a bona fide Colts killer.

Adventures in playcalling, part one. It's curious that when the Colts need to play it safe and a field goal would do, they come out on 3rd and 9 and try to pass. The play ended up in an interception (and, maybe, it could've been pass interference), but why not swing it out to Ahmad Bradshaw or just hand him the ball? You know Vinatieri's going to nail that field goal, giving the Colts a two-score lead.

Adventures in playcalling, part two. On the Colts' final drive, Richardson picks up six yards with a decent run on first down. On 2nd and 4, the Colts run it again for a loss. This would've been a great down for a play-action pass or a nice, safe throw to Reggie Wayne. So, yeah, I complain in one situation because they passed when I thought they should've run, and then suggest they should've passed here instead of running. We're talking about two completely different game situations and two completely different parts of the field.

Maybe roll him out? The Eagles loaded up the middle and put a lot of pressure on the interior of the offensive line. Gruden talked often about how the rush was getting Luck off his "mark" in the pocket. Why not roll out Luck out on a handful of passes so the "mark" changes?

Robert Mathis tweeted during the game. It was kind of surreal to see tweets from Mathis show up on my timeline. Unfortunately, nothing No. 98 wanted to happen actually transpired. For example:

Still, it was a good effort and I'm glad he's supporting the team.

#GRIFFNATION! Griff Whalen will break a big punt return one of these days. It'll just take a flag-free performance by the rest of the special teams unit.

From the "At least we don't have to hear it anymore" department. "Andrew Luck hasn't lost back-to-back games in his pro career." Silver linings, people. Silver linings.

More than Toler-able. That interception at the end of the first half by Greg Toler was absolutely incredible.

Secondary concerns? The unit played pretty well for the most part. There were a few illegal contact flags and a huge one on Vontae Davis that set up a key Eagles score. I feel for these guys because they're out there covering receivers as long as they can because there's absolutely no pass rush whatsoever.

Horse collar call was horse s***. I don't know if the Colts would've stopped Philadelphia on 3rd and 6, but I do know they should've had the chance to try. The man I called LaWorthless last week made a great play. His reward? Automatic first down for Philadelphia.

Not time to panic. The Colts will pick themselves up. If there's anything we've seen from Chuck Pagano's team, it's resiliency. The team has lots of issues, though (shaky interior offensive line, no pass rush, safety play, to name a few).

How do you spell relief? J-A-G-U-A-R-S.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 1 vs. Broncos

Quick summary:

Colts show signature lackluster start before deciding it's actually time to play football. A furious comeback ensues, but such comebacks do not dwell in the House of Elway.

Another bad start. What do the Colts have to do to get motivated to play well in the first and second quarters? Should the scoreboard say "Away Team 50, Home Team 0" when they run out of the tunnel for home games? The absolutely awful starts are nothing new and neither are the comebacks. Andrew Luck's ability to rally the team is pretty cool until you consider that he has to do it every freaking game.

That said, at least they showed some moxie. They could've cashed it in early on this one, given up, and watched the Broncos roll to a 40-3 win or something like that. Instead, the team caught a few breaks in the second half and put in a superior effort on offense and defense. Even though they start about as well as my old 2003 Pontiac Grand Am, at least the Colts refuse to give up.

The running backs. Not much production in the ground game, though a lot of that is due to the "let's fall behind immediately and make it interesting in the end" strategy the Colts insist on perpetuating. Some fans will say Ahmad Bradshaw was fantastic and Trent Richardson was crap. Hate to break it to you, but neither back was particularly wonderful in the ground game. Both showed some flashes in the passing game, though, with Bradshaw hauling in 5 passes for 70 yards. Richardson had 3 catches for 31 yards.

So many weapons! Andrew Luck has so many weapons! Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen (who had a really nice game and a big TD grab), Donte Moncrief, GRIFFNATION, Ahmad Bradshaw, Trent Richardson!* But what good is a loaded gun when your hands are tied and it's lying on the ground? Or the defense is coming up the middle to kill you?

With the offensive line, it's like everyone is Hawkeye (cheap shot, I know)

Cornering it. I thought the corners played well. Sure, Greg Toler got flagged a few times, but the Colts corners showed some aggressiveness. That's about the only way to really slow down an offense like Denver's. The unit had a chance at a couple of interceptions early in the game. They've got to capitalize on those chances. Vontae Davis and Darius Butler were solid as well.

LaWorthless. I think I could've scrapped with Julius Thomas and provided better coverage than LaRon Landry, even if that meant tackling him before the ball was thrown and picking up an illegal contact penalty. It's like Landry looked across the line of scrimmage, realized Thomas was already having a good day, and then said, "Sure, go ahead. Have a touchdown. It's on me."

The QB sneak. I think this was a case of Andrew Luck trying to pull a fast one on the defense, but it was pretty clear the Broncos were stacking up the middle to combat the sneak on fourth and goal. I was shocked Luck didn't check out of it. The whistle was also a bit quick on the "handoff" to Ahmad Bradshaw, but based on the doomed nature of the play, it's probably for the best.

GRIFFNATION's punt return. You know the one I'm talking about. The one where Griff Whalen was clearly down twice and yet managed to return a punt for a touchdown. Imagine, if you will, a world in which scoring plays weren't automatically reviewed and John Fox had already used his challenges. Imagine this, and then smile at what could've been.

Reggie's back. In my preview post on the Colts' season, I said I'd have to see Reggie catch eight balls for 100+ yards before declaring him back. Nine catches for 98 yards is close enough for me. He had a scary moment after slipping awkwardly on the turf but appeared to be all right. Great to see No. 87 back.

Interior decorating. Inside line play was pretty rough for most of the night. I think most of us expected that. Luck still has that tendency to hold onto the ball a little too long sometimes, which certainly doesn't help. The makeshift trio of AQ Shipley, Jack Mewhort, and Hugh Thornton didn't do much to allay fears about the line play.

Solid bookends. On the plus side, Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus held down the edges fairly well. Castonzo had a tough assignment against DeMarcus Ware but did a good job overall. After a brutal preseason, Cherilus settled down and protected Luck well.

So many blown opportunities. Missed interceptions, dropped passes, an oh-so-close fumble recovery, missed tackles, and poor red zone efficiency made it extremely hard for the Colts to hang around. They managed to make it interesting, but some killer screw-ups--particularly the failure to recover the fumble and the inability to tackle Montee Ball in a critical first-and-goal situation--really hurt. The fumble came on what ended up being the game-winning drive. If the Colts recover it, things work out differently. Even then, if they could've held Denver to a field goal on that drive, they only need three points to tie things up at the end of the game.

The! It was fun to see the Colts recover an onside kick at a critical moment. It wasn't so much fun watching the drive end in an interception after a pass bounced off of Coby Fleener's hands.

We got Fleenered! Targeted 8 times, Fleener caught 3 passes. His most memorable catches...were drops. He couldn't haul one in on the first drive, resulting in a botched field goal attempt that ended up becoming a punt. He couldn't make a tough grab on a touchdown pass; Al and Cris think he mistimed the jump. And, of course, he was good for that deflection interception, which was really, really awesome.

Peyton couldn't close. After Luck's second interception, the Broncos could've pretty much closed the door. Instead, they went three and out. I was really surprised Manning didn't pick up a first down. When Denver got the ball back after the Colts scored a touchdown, Denver went three and out again. Really couldn't believe it. I've seen No. 18 stick the knife in the other team plenty of times in similar situations.

Where's the pass rush? Aside from a couple of plays we'll call "flukes" based on the general lack of a pass rush, I don't know what the Colts will do. Things were going to be tough without Robert Mathis for 4 games. Now they'll be tough for the whole season, since Mathis tore his Achilles.

*T.Y. Hilton was not included in this lineup, as there was no evidence that he showed up in this game.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

10 questions (and one easy answer) about the Colts

Will Andrew Luck lift himself to elite standards? The quarterback position has been secure for more than a decade in Indianapolis (minus featuring Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky), due mostly to a certain No. 18 who now wears orange. The rift that divided Colts fans after Peyton Manning's departure has never fully healed and probably never will. Still, there's a lot to love about "the next guy," who's entering his third season under center for Indy. Andrew Luck is known for his clutch play and late-game heroics. Will he elevate his play to be "The Guy" and bring more consistency to complement his winning ways?

How much will they miss Robert Mathis? A lot. You can't replace a guy like Mathis. No matter how great Bjoern "I bring in da good stuff, coach" Werner has looked in camp and the preseason, Werner isn't Mathis. That's not the second-year player's fault, though. Simply put, no one is Robert Mathis. If the Colts can survive a four-game stretch without their premier defensive player, they'll set themselves up for a good year.

Is the secondary a primary strength? Vontae Davis got a huge contract. Greg Toler--when healthy--has shown flashes. Darius Butler is solid at the nickel. Man-to-man/press coverage should be a strength of this group. It's the back end that scares most fans. LaRon Landry delivers huge hits but commands a big salary. He's not a great cover guy. The second safety spot, anchored for years by Antoine Bethea, remains a huge question mark. It looks like veteran Mike Adams will get the start, and while he's got a terrific last name, it's hard to know what we'll get. Delano Howell, who filled in admirably last season, may not even see the field this year.

Can the offensive line keep defenders off Luck's back? This is the question. We're entering the third season of this being the question. Luck is adept at running and will make plays with his legs, but I'd prefer not to see him running for his life yet again this season. After a decade-plus of solid protection for Manning, the Colts can't get things figured out on the line. Injuries certainly play a role here, but some questionable decisions--like the big contract for Samson Satele and the team's stubborn delay in rectifying that situation--also contribute to chaos along the line. A young group will be responsible for keeping Luck's jersey clean. Will they be able to do it?

Will anyone in the AFC South challenge the Colts? It seems Indy is a lock to win the division, based on what I keep hearing. The Texans have great defensive talent but lack a top-caliber quarterback and underachieved last year. The Jacksonville Jaguars are biding their time until Blake Bortles becomes the everyday starter. The Tennessee Titans simply haven't been any fun since Jeff Fisher left. I can't predict if the Colts will run the table in the division but they're certainly capable of it.

Will Reggie be Reggie? From all indications, it seems like Reggie Wayne is back. I won't believe it until he goes off for about eight catches and 100+ yards. I certainly hope No. 87 is back in top form. The Colts looked lost without him last year until the lights came on for T.Y. Hilton. I hear analysts say Reggie's a "fringe" hall of famer. While I don't agree with that sentiment--I think he's worthy of the yellow jacket--a strong comeback would give his team a boost and help cement his legacy as one of the greats.

Will Colts fans ever get over Peyton? No doubt about it, it stings to see Peyton in orange. We're doing this for the third season, if you can believe it. He's still all over the place in commercials and NFL promos...and each time I see that orange jersey, it just feels wrong. I've made my peace with his departure, but many fans haven't. The Colts traded a jammed salary cap for youth. There's no way the team would've been able to keep Peyton and field a championship-caliber team. At the time of his release, it wasn't really clear if he'd regain his form even though everyone knew he'd do everything he could to come back. I think Colts fans took last year's Super Bowl implosion harder than Broncos fans. That's how much we love Peyton.

Will the defense finally dominate? The Colts were embarrassed by Kansas City before a miraculous comeback and were subsequently beaten to a pulp by New England. They showed flashes last year of being an elite defense...or at least a top 10 one. This needs to be the year everything comes together. There are no more excuses about new schemes or players who are unfamiliar with each other. Chuck Pagano is a defensive-minded coach. Let's see some pride from the unit.

Will Richardson prove his worth? You can't write about the Colts without mentioning Trent Richardson. The target of a major trade last season, Richardson is in the crosshairs. His blitz pickups are pretty good. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can...well...he's supposed to be able to run the football. It would be great to see him elevate his game. Let's face it, a strong running game (or at least the threat of it) would make life a lot easier for everyone on the team.

How can the Colts slow down the Broncos' offense? Amphetamines.