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.