Monday, January 19, 2015

Colts Observations, AFC Championship vs. Evil

Quick summary:

Sometimes, sequels just suck.

Ick. The Colts may be able to beat Jacksonville and Tennessee. They may push around the Bengals and take advantage of an injured Peyton Manning and the Broncos. They can't beat New England, pure and simple. Even when it was 14-7, it felt like 45-7.

Any bright spots here? Um...well, D'Qwell Jackson's interception surprised me. The Colts stopped a probable scoring drive and turned it into a 93-yard touchdown drive of their own. Note how difficult it was for the Colts to score seven points and how easy it was for the Patriots to score 45.

Vanderjagtian miss. This one time, the Colts drove the ball past the 50-yard line and tried a field goal. Adam Vinatieri's kick wasn't even close. It was embarrassingly off the mark. Would it have mattered? Heck, yeah! The Colts would've lost 45-10.

Three-and-out...and a turnover. The Colts stopped New England's first drive, forcing a three-and-out. It ultimately didn't matter because Josh Cribbs tried to catch the resulting punt with his face. It didn't work out. The Patriots wasted no time, going 26 yards in six plays to score their first touchdown of the game.

So this is the kind of day it's gonna be. Boom Herron couldn't make an over-the-shoulder catch on a good throw from Luck that would've gained a lot of yards. The Colts ended up trying a 51-yard field goal that wasn't even close. On the Patriots' next drive, Tom Brady guns a pass to Shane Vereen, who makes a miraculous catch in front of Jerrell Freeman. The Patriots capitalized with a touchdown to push their lead to 14-0.

Blount Force Trauma. Thirty carries, 148 yards, three touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount feasted on the Colts, again.

Deflated balls? The NFL is investigating whether New England used deflated balls during the game. This would be a rules violation and would surprise absolutely no one if it's true. What many people don't realize is that improperly inflated balls make running backs impossible to tackle. It's physics. (cough, cough) Anyway, in all seriousness, it goes to show the Patriots will do anything to get a competitive edge even when they know they're gonna kick your butt on the field.

The Bearded One. A guy named Peyton ran into some trouble with a guy named Belichick. He eventually got over the hump. Here's hoping No. 12 will one day learn how to defeat Hoodie and his minions.

Along those lines... The Colts losses to New England during the Manning-Dungy Era didn't feel completely hopeless like the losses during the Luck-Pagano Era. True, the Patriots had little trouble with Indy, but the games weren't 38-point blowouts. Those games felt like a play or two could've swung the game. This game didn't feel that way.

Roughing the passer? I enjoyed Andrew Luck's reaction to the "roughing the passer" on Jerrell Freeman, who hit Brady between the numbers. Mike Carey called it a "clear penalty." Of course, Luck got belted later in the game, but that wasn't a "clear penalty."

Glimmer of hope. I thought the Colts weathered the storm when they forced New England to kick a field goal at the end of the half. I was kidding myself, of course. The Patriots reeled off 21 points in the decisive, disastrous third quarter.

Keep it in perspective. On the other hand, think of where the Colts were three seasons ago. They'd just gone 2-14 and said goodbye to their franchise quarterback. Expectations were low, and they made it to the playoffs. The next year, they hosted and won a playoff game before falling short in the divisional round. This year, they made it to the AFC Championship Game, notching a road win in the process. It's true that the resulting title game was nearly impossible to watch. It's true that the game will stick in fans' and players' minds. It's equally true that the Colts have earned some critical postseason experience that will serve them well in the years to come.

Highest-paid QB in the league? The Colts are supposedly pounding out the framework for a mega contract that will keep Luck in Indianapolis. The deal would make him the richest QB in the league. You know what I don't like about it? A contract like that threatens to keep the Colts where they've been since drafting Peyton--a team with too much money committed to one position. That said, it's a good idea to lock Luck into a long-term deal.

What's next for Reggie Wayne? Reggie went from integral part of the offense to token depth chart guy very quickly. The last few games were quiet for him, aside from that awesome catch against the Titans. I'd like to see him get healthy and come back for one more year, but I'm not sure everyone agrees.

Under duress. Luck wasn't sacked once Sunday, but he was under pressure throughout the game. As usual, New England offered different looks and harassed him with the pass rush. Receivers couldn't find much space--and when they did, Luck wasn't on target. He completed just 36% of his passes.

Where do they go? Are the Colts "almost there" or simply a decent team with a good quarterback? I think they need to add a premier pass rusher and more playmakers on the defensive line. The Patriots won't be the Patriots forever, but Indy has to build a team that can compete with them. Strong safety is a position in need of a serious upgrade. I think the linebacking corps needs some playmakers. Offensively, they need consistency on the offensive line and a solid "change of pace" running back with a burst of speed.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Colts Observations, Divisional Round vs. Broncos

Quick summary:

A legend fades. An upstart tastes his destiny. That's not overdramatic at all.

Did you think they would win? I thought the Colts had a shot, but I didn't expect them to dominate the Broncos like that. I thought we'd see a high-scoring game with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck trying to one-up each other until time ran out. That's not what happened.

Stellar defense. Where has this been all season? This is the same unit that surrendered six touchdown passes to Ben Roethlisberger, got torched by Tom Brady, and got embarrassed by Tony Romo. They were physical in the secondary--their strength--and also showed some semblance of a pass rush. True, they only had two sacks, but they harassed Manning all day and made a key play early.

Jonathan Newsome. Did anyone think this kid would lead the Colts in sacks during the regular season? I didn't think so. His Robert Mathisian sack-fumble at the start of the second quarter shifted momentum in the Colts' favor. The Colts capitalized with a touchdown and never looked back. Well, at least, not very far.

The offensive line. If I had five game balls to give out, they'd go to these guys. Where did this come from? Denver has two premier pass rushers who combined for 24 sacks during the regular season. Yet Andrew Luck, who spent most of the season getting the slobber knocked out of him and telling defenders they "made a nice hit," ended up with a clean jersey this week. And what about the Colts' last true offensive possession? Thirteen plays, 54 yards, and 8:14 of time off the clock. The result was a field goal and an 11-point lead. You don't hold the ball for eight-plus minutes without the O-line doing its job. So let's hear it for Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, Khaled Holmes (yes, that KHALED HOLMES), Lance Louis (yes, that LANCE LOUIS) and Joe Reitz (yes, that JOE REITZ).

T.Y. Hilton. The numbers don't jump off the stat sheet: four catches, 72 yards. What they don't tell you is how thoroughly T.Y. Hilton dominated Aquib Talib throughout the game. It doesn't factor in another key drop by Hilton on what should've been another huge play. He's turned into one of the best in the league, and it's fun to watch.

Da Boom. He touched the ball 31 times this week. No fumbles, no drops, no drama. Okay, a little drama with that left shoulder, which appeared to be a little tender on the first series and seemed to be aggravated during the touchdown run. Herron was solid, not spectacular, and I love how the Colts have used him in the playoffs. Hat tip to "I'm Zurlon from the Planet Tipton," too. They worked themselves into a solid RB duo.

Where's the Trentspiration? About to be cut by the Colts, methinks. We all waited for Richardson to show something, and some of us (cough, cough) were reluctant to give up on him. It's clear he didn't work out, given how effective the Herron-Tipton combo has been in the playoffs. I mean, Herron-Tipton isn't the greatest RB combo ever, but they're just productive enough, something you can't say about The Mistake.

LaWorthless. I don't like LaRon Landry. I suspect no one likes LaRon Landry except for himself in the mirror. He had two memorable LaWorthless moments: letting Julius Thomas beat him for a deep pass that set up the Broncos' first touchdown and missing a tackle on C.J. Anderson that left me shaking my head. Landry's supposed to be "the enforcer" safety in the run game, so he has to make that play. Cory Redding also let Anderson shake out of the tackle, while Bjoern Werner was kind of in the area but not really a factor. You know, just Bjoern bein' Bjoern. In the end, it didn't matter, but it gave the Broncos a much-needed spark. Other than those two keys plays that killed his own team, Landry had a decent game.

They won despite a ton of mistakes. The Colts had ten penalties for 67 yards, including a roughing the passer flag that led to Denver's only touchdown. They had false starts and offside penalties as well. Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal, which is always notable if a little picky on my part. I'd throw a couple of turnovers in there as well, but I'm not too down on those.

The interceptions. One did lead to a Broncos field goal before the half, but I didn't have any problems with these throws, really. My only hesitation would be that you have one of the best punters in the game and should use him. Pat McAfee's usually good for 45-52 yards on a punt and could've more significantly changed field position.

Two great throws. Luck was on target for most of the game, but my two favorite throws were the BB he sent to Hakeem Nicks while scrambling and the big throw to Coby Fleener that set up the Nicks touchdown. The first one was a great example of Luck (to use the cliche) extending the play while the second was a perfectly thrown ball in a tight window on third and 16. He got it between the linebacker and the safety--they don't come much better than that.

End of an era. Manning clearly faded late in the season. He wasn't hitting the deep ball that he usually throws so well. He was clearly hurt and clearly upset that he lost and wasn't at his best. As a Colts fan, I've been on the other side of those news conferences, where a neatly dressed Manning stands there and answers the same questions a million times and tells everyone he just wasn't good enough that game. Will he come back? I don't know...but I do know that I want a different ending for him.

Ageless Reggie Wayne has, lamentably, aged. Two great figures of the Indianapolis Colts Golden Era are now in their golden years, and it's no fun. Reggie Wayne didn't catch a single pass this week--not a single one. He gave us some nice edge blocking, but he wasn't a major factor in the passing game. Combined with Peyton's tough luck, it put a sad capstone on a wonderful era.

Onto Foxborough! It's the place where Colts playoff teams go to die. Will young Andrew Luck and his ragtag band of rebels shock Emperor Hoodie and Darth Brady?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Colts Observations: Wild Card Round vs. Bengals

Quick summary:

Like kicking a baby tiger.

Was it ever in doubt? Well, okay, it was after Boom Herron fumbled at the end of the first half, giving the Bengals the chance to make a miracle 57-yard field goal to pull within three points. Other than that, though, the game wasn't very close.

Luck's big heave. You know the one I'm talking about. It's the play that broke the game open and gave the Colts the cushion they needed to win. I'm still not quite sure how he did it, but I'm glad he found Donte Moncrief.

Boom service. I thought we'd see a good deal of Boom Herron, but I didn't expect the all-around "Boom-centric" offense we ended up seeing. The Colts used Herron a ton this week. He ended up with 22 touches: 12 carries for 56 yards and 10 catches for 85 yards. He was very effective.

D'oh! But Boom's big weakness also came to the forefront. He lost a fumble at a key moment in the game, giving the Bengals a faint heartbeat. He also fumbled later in the game, although the Colts recovered that one. Until it stops, people are going to talk about it.

At least there were no Andrew Luck turnovers. To be honest, I kept waiting for it--that moment in the game where No. 12 holds onto the ball too long and gets sacked or decides to chuck the ball down the middle of the field while in the grasp of a defender. It never came. Luck didn't turn the ball over one single time.

Drop it like it's Hilton? My goodness, how many big plays did T.Y. Hilton leave out there on the field? The Colts could've crushed the Bengals and gone on cruise control for the rest of the game if No. 13 had been able to snag a few of those precious passes. He wasn't the only one with a drop, though. Coby Fleener got in on the action, too (of course). On the plus side, Hilton finished with 100+ receiving yards.

"I am Zurlon from the planet Tipton." With Trent Richardson out this week with a sprained ego, the Colts turned to backup Zurlon Tipton to spell Herron/secure the ball. Tipton ran 11 times for 40 yards. I liked what I saw.

Touchdown! Oh...wait. Nothing worse out there as a fan than the "oh, there's a flag on the play" moments. It happened after Luck hit Fleener for a touchdown...and the replay showed Moncrief leveled his man from behind.

Vinny's still got it. Even though he broke his consecutive field goal streak last week, Adam Vinatieri started a new one, connecting on four field goals to make sure the Colts didn't completely squander their numerous scoring opportunities.

Does Bjoern Werner still play for this team? Yeah, I saw him get leveled by an offensive lineman. He's still out there. Zero tackles, people. Zero tackles.

Is that Jerrell or Jor-El? Jerrell Freeman was all over the place this week. He was credited with 15 tackles (seven solo) and 1.5 sacks. He also slammed the door shut with a sack-strip late in the fourth quarter.

A statistic that surprised me. Erik Walden finished with only two tackles. He seemed to be around the ball a ton this week, and I could've sworn he had more than two tackles.

Does Andy Dalton hate Gio Bernard? I ask only because he floated another pass out into the flat so Vontae Davis could tee off on him. I'm sure Bernard is thankful he didn't get belted as hard as he did before.

Tight ends aplenty. The Colts went with a lot of two tight end and three tight end sets this week. They didn't have a huge influence on the passing game (7 catches, 57 yards combined for Fleener, Dwayne Allen, and Jack Doyle), but their presence was definitely felt.

Off to Denver. The Colts get to go to Denver next week to play Peyton Manning and the Broncos. I can't wait to see how many times people feel it's necessary to point out that Manning used to play for the Colts.