Monday, October 27, 2014

Colts Observations: Week 8 vs. Steelers

Quick summary:

The Colts simply refuse to stop Ben Roethlisberger and a suddenly resurgent Steelers offense. The day was perhaps summed up best with the phrase "intentional grounding on your butt."

So, what happened? No one knows. The Colts had a few injuries on defense, but that can't explain away surrendering 500+ yards to Big Ben. We saw blown assignments in coverage and absolutely no pass rush whatsoever.

Vontae Davis hurt. Okay, injuries contributed to the problems. The Colts lost their big-money corner early in the game, leaving Darius Butler out there to cover guys. Butler's an excellent nickelback, but he missed the last couple games with injury. He didn't have the chance to get his "game legs" back before being thrown into a tough situation.

Cory Redding, Art Jones, Rick Jean Francois, Erik Walden banged up. These players all missed snaps because of injuries during the game. There may have been others that I'm forgetting. I attribute the injuries to a complete shellacking by Pittsburgh's offensive line. Walden didn't return to the game.

Will someone cover Heath Miller? As I write this, Miller is wide open 30 yards downfield with no defender in sight. Stat line: seven catches, 112 yards, and a touchdown.

Will someone cover T.Y. Hilton? T.Y. wasn't quite as wide open as Miller, but he found plenty of room in the secondary. Stat line: six catches, 155 yards, and a touchdown.

Xbox numbers. Roethlisberger was 40-49 for 522 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions. Back in my Online Dynasty heyday on NCAA Football (Xbox 360), I routinely had games like that with Purdue.

DHB. It was, of course, Darrius Heyward-Bey who (surprise!) caught a pass and then got up because nobody touched him. He then fumbled the football while trying for extra yardage, surprising absolutely no one. It couldn't have been anyone else, could it?

"Butler clearly had his hand wrapped around the receiver's arm" on a pass interference call late in the game. Except the replay looked like the receiver shoved him out of the way. Look, I get the NFL and its new contact rules. Would it have made any difference in the game? Probably not. Plus, let's face it--the Colts didn't exactly make their own luck during this game.

Huge, huge, huge, play. Or at least it should've been. After the Colts let the Steelers march down the field yet again, Andy Studebaker stripped the ball and recovered the fumble. It was a huge play! A monumental shift in momentum! The Colts were only eight points down! And then...

Intentional grounding on your butt. Look, there's nothing Andrew Luck could do here. He tripped, he fell at the edge of the endzone, and he was trying to avoid the inevitable safety. You can't fault him for trying to avoid it. The play just typified the "snake bit" nature of this week's game: you get a huge change in momentum, and then you squander it. The play turned an eight-point deficit into a 17-point lead thanks to the safety and the inability of the Colts defense to stop anyone. And I do have to ask: would Luck have tripped over A.Q. Shipley? I kid, I kid.

At least they came back. The Colts could've folded after staring down a 35-10 deficit. They hung in there, even though it was futile in the end.

"I haven't heard of half of these guys and the ones I have heard of are way past their prime." This references the Steelers receiving corps.

Unleash Moncrief. Some fans have been calling for Donte Moncrief to get more playing time. He had a big game while logging significant playing time for Indy, finishing with seven catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. The Colts have to find more playing time for this guy. Hakeem Nicks started in place of Reggie Wayne, but Nicks was basically a non-factor.

#GRIFFNATION! Griff Whalen had two catches for 23 yards in garbage time. As a kick returner, he was also really busy because Pittsburgh wouldn't stop scoring. His best return was 31 yards.

The Nantz Robo-Commentator is stuck and needs to be rebooted. Jim Nantz latched onto the T.Y. Hilton-Antonio Brown youth football story like a Mississippi leg hound in the first half. I think they rebooted the system at halftime.

Ahmad Bradshaw. With Trent Richardson active but not playing (whatever), Bradshaw carried the load for Indy. Well, okay, he didn't have to run much since the Colts dug themselves a huge hole. He contributed a rushing touchdown and caught seven passes for 52 yards.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 7 vs. Bengals

Quick summary:

The Colts play defense like they're on Heisman difficulty and the Bengals are on the Freshman setting. Indy overcomes a pair of turnovers en route to a rare shutout.

Dominant D. After years of watching the effective but reactive "Tampa Two" defense, it's a lot of fun to see the Colts show a bunch of different looks and bring pressure from all angles. Thanks to solid cover guys in the secondary, they can afford to bring the heat.

Four sacks. Andy Dalton doesn't get sacked often, but the Colts registered four sacks on the afternoon. Bjoern Werner, Cory Redding, Ricky Jean Francois, and Zach Kerr all notched sacks for Indy.

Two-headed monster. Trent Richardson had his best game as a Colt, rushing 14 times for 77 yards and catching 4 passes for 41 yards. Ahmad Bradshaw carried 10 times for 52 yards and caught 3 passes for 36 yards and a touchdown. As a tandem, they were extremely effective...and you have to like what you saw. Both also...

...contributed fumbles. Bradshaw fumbled in the red zone. Richardson lost the ball during a bad exchange with Luck. Both turnovers allowed the Bengals to hang around. Despite the Colts' dominant performance, Indy only led 10-0 at halftime. Since the defense was fantastic, it didn't ultimately didn't matter, but the Colts have got to stop turning the ball over.

So Erik Walden got ejected. I couldn't see much on the replay, but I guess Walden shoved an official. My guess is he was trying to push Cincy's Jermaine Gresham away and may have made contact with the official instead. Seemed pretty sketchy overall. I'm sure we'll get some clarification later.

Why is Reggie Wayne still in the game? Reggie got pounded on a high throw over the middle. Then another hit blasted his shoulder into the turf. Another hit late in the game had him land hard on his elbow. I know Reggie wanted to keep his "three catch" streak alive, but there was no reason for him to be in the game late, especially after he dropped a couple of passes (never happens) and caught another with his chest (never happens). The Colts say he wrenched his elbow a little bit but would be okay. Let's hope so.

Giovanni Bernard's greatest hits. The Bengals running back got pounded on back-to-back plays. I'm surprised his head was still attached afterward. I mean...he really got rocked. The Colts weren't shy about bringing the big hits.

Does Hakeem Nicks still play for the Colts? Remember when bringing this guy in was a big deal? He's nowhere. Either he doesn't fit the offense well, nobody likes him, or his skills have diminished.

506-135. That's Indy's offensive output compared to Cincinnati's. It might as well have been the score. It wasn't nearly as close as the real 27-0 score indicated (or the relatively close 10-0 score at halftime).

You might wanna cover T.Y. Hilton. He had kind of a big game last week. He followed up by catching another 7 passes for 107 against the Bengals. And let me tell you, T.Y. was wide open on a lot of these passes.

That Dwayne Allen... Dude, that guy's awesome. That fingertip catch-and-run? Absolutely beautiful. There really wasn't much space there for the throw, but Allen caught it and rumbled to the endzone.

Role reversal. Coby Fleener made a jaw-dropping catch, reaching behind himself to secure the ball. Not long after that, Reggie Wayne dropped a ball thrown right to him. I had joked after the Fleener catch that the tight end would drop the next one right to him. I was only partially right.

Vinny. Adam Vinatieri is 14-of-14 this season, including 4-4 from 40-50+ yards. He's still got it.

GRIFFNATION! Griff Whalen did a fantastic job of fielding punts and calling fair catches! In fact, they were some of the best fair catch calls I've ever seen!

Andy Dalton. The man whose hair matches his jersey put together a performance that mirrored the first game of Madden I ever played on its hardest difficulty setting. Except, to his credit, he threw fewer interceptions.

"I missed LaRon Landry." The preceding phrase was never uttered by any Colts fan this week.

Bonus note:

"509 you taste so good." It's not a chicken parm sandwich, but TD pass No. 509 tasted just as good for Peyton Manning. Congrats, 18!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 6 vs. Texans

Quick summary:

The Colts surge out to a quick lead, and this one looks like a rout. But Houston stars Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, and (especially) J.J. Watt have other ideas, launching a fierce comeback and forcing the Colts defense to come up with two late turnovers to seal the victory.

Great start. The Colts got out of the gate quickly, building a 24-0 lead before the Texans even knew what hit them. Luck passed for more than 200 yards in the first quarter alone, tossing touchdown passes to Ahmad Bradshaw and Coby Fleener along the way. Trent Richardson added a touchdown run.

T.Y. triumphant. What a game from Hilton. He caught nine passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. He fell just a yard short of the franchise's all-time receiving mark. Hilton narrowly missed out on a touchdown early in the game after a review showed a Texans defender touched him while trying to avoid contact. In short, he was a much-needed spark plug for the team.

Can we let a call hold just out of spite? I thought Hilton was touched before the replay. I just didn't see how Kareem Jackson could have possibly avoided him. Still, I wanted the call to stand out of spite simply because it was a bonehead move to try to avoid the receiver.

Battle of the Civil War generals. CBS poked some fun at the facial hair of Luck and Ryan Fitzpatrick, dubbing this game the "Beard Bowl." I didn't really think that was funny. However, I got a chuckle out of it when I thought about Luck and Fitzpatrick as Civil War generals. I am easily amused.

Can I get a Watt-Watt? You know, sometimes people talk so much about a player that you don't think they can possibly live up to the hype. That wasn't the case with J.J. Watt. He was all over the place last night. And, as evidenced by the fumble recovery for a touchdown, the dude can flat-out move.

Snap snafu. That fumble, by the way, came after a fumble by Luck, who wasn't expecting the snap so early from Jon Harrison. It looked like Luck was checking on the play clock before calling for the snap. Some observers noted that this was Luck's fault and not Harrison's. However, given that Harrison made three snap-related mistakes last week, does the rookie really deserve the benefit of the doubt?

Ground and pound. For the Colts, 35 carries for 93 yards. They averaged 2.7 yards per carry. It was one of those games where the running game did just enough to make the Texans think about it. Neither Richardson nor Bradshaw found much room to run for most of the night.

Bradshaw's catch. When the Colts needed a boost once the Texans closed the gap to 10 points, Indy faced a third and 10 situation in the second quarter. Luck found Bradshaw for a 17-yard play that picked up the first down. I can't tell you how critical this play was at that precise moment. Momentum had clearly swung to Houston, and a punt would've been a killer here. The Colts ended up getting a field goal from a drive that lasted more than eight minutes.

Fun with clock management, part 1. Andrew Luck called a timeout just before time expired in the first quarter. It looked like the play clock and game clock were lined up, and the quarter could've expired without a delay of game penalty. Maybe Luck just didn't want the Colts' phenomenal first quarter to end? At this stage in the game, the timeout didn't really matter...but the Colts didn't want to risk losing yards for a penalty. Indy ended up scoring a touchdown on the very next play. It all seemed a little befuddling at the time.

Fun with clock management, part 2. At least the previous one made sense when given some context. The end of the first half was a different story. The Colts stopped Houston on third down with about 40 seconds left. They had a timeout remaining, and could've forced a punt and tried their luck at getting a field goal. They had a 13-point lead at the time, so it looked like they'd decided to let the clock run out. That's fine. Then Indy called a timeout with three seconds left. I have no idea why this happened.

Did they get "Rosenfelds'd" or "Mathis'd?" This one's up for debate. With the chance to lead his team on a game-winning drive, Fitzpatrick coughed up the ball. Since there was no helicopter spin, he didn't get "Rosenfels'd." Bjoern Werner tomahawked the ball out of Fitzpatrick's hand for a sack-strip, which is Mathisian. Thus, I'd say the Texans got "Mathis'd" instead of "Rosenfels'd."

For the memories, here's a great recap of the infamous Sage Rosenfels helicopter, which is my favorite "Google fills it in for you" search ever:

Mike Carey was terrible. I don't trust anything that guy says about officiating.

Third down success. Indy was 8-16 on third down in this game, and held the Texans to 1-8.

Consistent pressure. Again, it's hard to say if the pass rush is improving or if Houston's offensive line was up to the task. The Colts harassed Ryan Fitzpatrick all night, finishing with five sacks on the evening. Ricky Jean Francois, D'Qwell Jackson, Erik Walden, Bjoern Werner, and Jonathon Newsome all recorded sacks for the Colts. Even though he was only credited with one tackle and didn't register a sack, Cory Redding was excellent last night.

Did they realize there was an NFL game at their home stadium? The Texans certainly charged back, but it's seldom that you spot a team 24 points and manage to win. The Colts won this game in the first quarter (and nearly lost it in the other three), and it looked like they were going to score 90 points. Busted coverage, poor defense, a special teams disaster (I saw a coach mouth "f*** me" after that onside recovery) and offensive ineptitude all made for an awful first quarter.

The onside kick. How alone was Pat McAfee? There was no one close to the middle of the field, and Indy's punter took advantage, making another perfect kick and doing the dirty work himself by recovering the ball. The Colts cashed in with a quick TD.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 5 vs. Ravens

Quick summary:

The Colts dominate the Baltimore Ravens in almost every facet of the game but have to make a stop on a fourth down play to seal the win. The reason? Turnovers and terrible red zone offense.

Defense first. The game ball goes to the Indianapolis Colts defense. They were repeatedly put in terrible situations thanks to offensive ineptitude, but they came out strong and Baltimore couldn't do much against them. They were rock solid in pass coverage, forced turnovers, and pressured Joe Flacco. They made critical plays at critical times, such as Sergio Brown's sack on fourth and short, and Vontae Davis' interception--a play that set up the Colts' first touchdown. The D held Baltimore to 1 of 11 in third down situations.

Another 300+ yard game for Luck. Luck didn't have the best game of his career. Far from it, in fact. He made plays when the team needed him to, such as the TD pass to Dwayne Allen and a critical 13-yard TD run. He was terrific on the team's final drive. But...

Stop with the bonehead plays, already! Andrew Luck is athletic. Andrew Luck throws a nice ball. Andrew Luck is mobile. Andrew Luck can run. Andrew Luck can also make astonishingly stupid decisions that result in critical turnovers. His second interception of the day was awful. Throw the ball away, scramble, or take the sack. A field goal in that situation isn't the worst thing in the world. And considering last week's awful interception against in the Tennessee game--the one that came right before halftime--and you just wonder what in the world he's thinking sometimes.

Center of attention. So the Colts turned to A.Q. Shipley after injuries forced projected starter Khaled Holmes and backup center Jon Harrison to miss time. The offensive line was playing well. It's still not a collection of "road graders" who'll trample you over in the run game, but pass protection has been solid. The Colts then decided to start Harrison this week over Shipley in a situation one can only describe as "weird." Harrison, a rookie, was okay-ish in the position. The times he did make mistakes were noticeable: he snapped the ball early on a third and short, forcing Luck to try to make a play even though no one else was blocking because the snap count was wrong; he snapped the ball over Luck's head on one occasion; and then appeared not to know the snap count on another play, when the rest of the offensive line fired off the line and Luck never got the snap.

Did anyone miss LaRon Landry? I didn't think so. Sergio Brown had a solid game, and he doesn't have roid rage.

I bring in da good stuff, coach! It seemed like Bjoern Werner was everywhere against the Ravens. He disrupted several plays, rushed the passer, and finished with a pair of sacks. It was the most active I've seen him so far for the Colts, who have struggled (understating it) to rush the passer in the absence of Robert Mathis. On one sack, Werner bullrushed the offensive lineman, bowled him over, and then sacked Joe Flacco. I thought it was a pretty impressive showing.

GRIFFNATION! What's wrong with Griff Whalen? He's been a reliable punt returner but made two major mistakes this week. In one case, he let a punt go and it ended up backing the Colts way up. Not cool. In another case, he fielded a punt near the 10 yard line without calling for a fair catch. He ended up fumbling the ball, giving the Ravens a key turnover at a critical moment of the game. Later, he took a kickoff from nine yards deep in the end zone and barely made it past the 15. Griff's my guy, but he's on the roster because he's got good hands and makes good decisions. Neither was on display this week.

Fourth and uh oh. On their first drive, the Colts decided to go for it on fourth and one. Ahmad Bradshaw got stuffed, and the Colts turned the ball over on downs. In retrospect, the decision to forgo a field goal actually worked out, since the Ravens fumbled the ball on their first offensive play, giving the Colts another chance on offense. They eventually settled for a field goal after the turnover.

Ageless Reggie Wayne. Seven catches, 77 yards. He also got flagged for offensive pass interference and holding. Sometimes you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, right? Wayne also got shoved in the back on what I'm pretty sure wasn't a case of "incidental contact" on a third down play in the end zone. Speaking of which, let's talk about...

Crappy officiating. This was not one of the better officiated games in the league this week. Most of my observations are Colts-centric, as I am a Colts fan and look favorably on the team. However, the Reggie Wayne missed call was a bad one. Greg Toler ended up with a pass interference penalty on a play in which he had solid coverage. Vontae Davis was also flagged for PI on a play that should've ended in an interception by Darius Butler. How the officials can call the Wayne call "incidental contact" (he got pushed in the back!) but flag Toler and Davis is beyond me. I also thought Ahmad Bradshaw made the first down on the fourth and one call, and felt the spot was a bad one.

The lion's share goes to Bradshaw. While Trent Richardson got the start, Bradshaw was the guy the team leaned on. He carried 15 times and was even in for short yardage situations. It seemed clear to me this week that the coaching staff wanted to get Bradshaw more touches. Bradshaw carried 15 times to Richardson's nine. Both averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry (Bradshaw 4.5, Richardson 4.1). The Colts ran for 117 yards as a team even though their play selection tilted heavily in favor of the passing game. But then...

The unthinkable. The Colts marched down the field, putting together a game-clinching drive that started from their own 16 and moved deep into Baltimore territory. All they had to do was keep running the ball, force Baltimore to use its timeouts, and then kick a field goal. Bradshaw--reliable Bradshaw, mind you!--fumbled, giving the Ravens new life.

The tight ends. Dwayne had four catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. Still, you can't help but feel the Colts need to give him more touches. Fleener had only one catch for 30 yards. Fleener also, to my utter surprise, had some solid blocks in pass protection and the running game.

Time of possession. The Colts held the edge, 38:43 to 21:17. The thing about time of possession is that it doesn't matter if you fail to score points. Had the Colts taken better care of the ball, they would've won this one comfortably. We may have even seen some Hasselbeck late in the game.