With Andrew Luck and Little Help, Colts Left to Contemplate Not Only What Went Wrong, But What’s Next
The Indianapolis Colts are now left wondering what went wrong.
Despite a disappointing start to the season, the team still had a chance to control their own destiny at 6-6 and make the playoffs thanks to the woeful AFC South entering Sunday’s game.
This time, with starting quarterback Andrew Luck, at home, and facing dreadful Houston Texans starter Brock Osweiler, the Colts clearly had the upper hand.
Or so you would’ve thought.
Instead, the Colts were soundly beat in all facets of the game: offense, defense, and on special teams–not to mention coaching, as Colts fans saw the same problems that we’ve seen for the past 5 years–eventually falling 22-17 in a loss that barring a Christmas miracle will effectively end all playoff hopes in Indianapolis.
As their franchise quarterback, Luck simply needs more help. For all of the talk about avoiding “Star Wars” and becoming a more well-rounded team with a tough defense (unlike the Peyton Manning offensive ‘star-driven’ years), the Colts are quickly becoming a less talented sequel.
Don’t get me wrong though, Luck’s not getting a free pass either. In a must win game on Sunday, Luck just wasn’t good enough. He was at best below average, when the Colts needed him to be at least good in order to actually win.
Following a masterful performance against the New York Jets a week prior, Luck simply wasn’t sharp and held onto the football for far too long at times.
The Colts quarterback completed 24 of 45 passes (53.3%) of his throws for 276 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and a passer rating of just 68.4.
As the highest paid player in NFL history, the Colts needed a big performance from their best player in a must-win game and simply didn’t get it.
That being said, the Colts offense has devolved into a “2-Trick Pony Show” with Luck and T.Y. Hilton, as the rest of the team’s offensive weapons have left a lot to be desired when it has seemed to matter the most.
Look no further than on Sunday.
With 6:11 left in the 1st quarter, starting tight end Dwayne Allen slipped on his route, resulting in Luck’s first interception of the afternoon. It’s not necessarily fair to blame Allen for an unlucky play, but at the same time, Luck’s teammates have to help pick him up too at times.
Colts 2015 first round pick Phillip Dorsett had 3 noticeable drops during the afternoon and was targeted 8 times by Luck, yet only ended up with 3 receptions for 19 total receiving yards–playing in extended minutes in the absence of Donte Moncrief (hamstring) who was forced to leave the game.
His biggest contribution of the game came with 4:02 left in the 3rd quarter when he drew a 28-yard pass interference call that set the Colts up at the Texans 5-yard line. Other than that, Dorsett was largely invisible.
That being said, Luck held onto the football for far too long at times, which was well apparent on his 2nd interception with 14:11 left in the 3rd quarter, when he was walloped by the Texans Jadeveon Clowney–who was pushed upfield but able to take out Luck from behind because of the quarterback’s double clutch and indecisiveness in the pocket.
On further review, I used a stop watch on this play, and Luck had the football for 7.72 seconds (give or take), which seems like an eternity in today’s NFL throwing out of the pocket. That’s on Luck, not on the offensive line.
However, while Luck was guilty of holding on way too long to the football at times during Sunday’s loss, some of that is also on the receivers for simply not getting enough separation and ultimately open in their routes. Aside from Hilton, it seems like the rest of the Colts receivers struggled getting consistently open which causes Luck to hold onto the football–looking for an open man that’s never there.
As great as Hilton can be at times too, the New England Patriots have shown that double teaming him with a cornerback and safety help over-the-top can effectively take him out of the game at times, which means other receivers have to step up with the extra coverage rolled Hilton’s way.
Additionally, it doesn’t appear as though offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski necessarily does Luck or the offensive line any favors by dialing up plays that call for long pass routes instead of quick slants or crossing routes.
Speaking of offensive line, the unit once again struggled. While a majority of the team’s individual parts seem to be at least above average with Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, and rookie Ryan Kelly (left-to-center), the right side of the Colts offensive line has been an abomination all season and caused the unit’s struggles collectively.
Specifically, per Pro Football Focus, rookie Joe Haeg allowed three hits and four hurries at starting right guard on Sunday, while veteran starting right tackle Joe Reitz surrendered two sacks and four hurries–receiving poor grades of 34.7 and 44.1 overall in the process respectively.
The Colts have talked about protecting their franchise player first and foremost, but 5 years later, the Colts are tied for allowing the 2nd most sacks with 40 total sacks and the 2nd most QB hits with 109 total QB hits. As a result, Luck is still one of the most pressured passers in the league.
For comparison’s sake, the Colts allowed 41 total sacks during Luck’s rookie year in 2012 and 116 total QB hits, and that was with starting the likes of career backups (journeyman) Winston Justice and Mike McGlynn.
Defensively, however, the Colts may be even more depressing.
The defense is ranked 25th–allowing 25.6 total avg. ppg and 29th–allowing 377.8 total avg. ypg following Sunday’s loss respectively.
Outside of starting cornerback Vontae Davis, 2nd-year safety Clayton Geathers (who was hurt), and young defensive lineman Henry Anderson (if he can regain his rookie form), there simply isn’t much above average level talent on this side of the football–although veteran nickelback Darius Butler deserves a shoutout as well, who’s played well both covering the slot and at safety all season long.
However, the majority of the unit is aging and slow with their best seasons clearly behind them. Simply put, the unit desperately needs an infusion of young impactful talent that has been long overdue.
The defense entered into Sunday’s game knowing well in advance that with an abysmal Osweiler behind center that they were going to get a heavy dose of Texans running back Lamar Miller, yet still couldn’t stop the run.
As a result, Miller ran for 107 rushing yards on 21 carries (5.1 ypc avg), as well as a rushing touchdown. Per Pro Football Focus, he amassed 70 of those rushing yards before contact, meaning that he was untouched by Colts defenders for 70 yards on the afternoon–with his longest run being 20 yards.
Not that it’s the end all be, but the Texans thus controlled the time of possession clock 36:05 to 23:55, effectively keeping Luck and the Colts offense off the field.
What about special teams?
While placekicker Adam Vinatieri has always been the model for consistency for the Colts, he missed a 55 yard field goal with 55 seconds left in the first half that set the Texans up nicely with field position for their own late first half field goal.
He wasn’t alone on the afternoon though, as with 9:57 left in the 2nd quarter, punter Pat McAfee masterfully pinned a punt inside the 5-yard line only to have the Colts special teams unit unable to corral it before it crossed the plane of the end zone–squandering a perfect opportunity for field position.
It’s at least the 3rd time that such a play has happened this season for the Colts special teams coverage unit–unfortunately for McAfee.
Lastly, the coaching for the Colts was questionable to say the least late in the game as well:
- With 3:36 in the 3rd quarter and on 3rd and goal at the Houston 3-yard line, the Colts offensive play call asked tight end Dwayne Allen to block the Texans Jadeveon Clowney one-on-one in pass protection. Allen came up on the losing end, as Clowney soundly beat him only to strip-sack Luck for a fumble, which Houston recovered.
- With 3:56 left in the 4th quarter and the Colts desperate for a defensive stop, the Colts defense got called for having 12 players on the field. [The penalty was following a defensive holding call on outside linebacker Erik Walden meaning there was a stoppage of play prior].
- With 4th and 1 and the season on the line with 1:24 left in the 4th quarter, the Colts called a failed screen pass to backup running back Robert Turbin. Not only have the Colts been notoriously ineffective at running screens this season, but is that really the play to dial up when the offense needs just 1 yard to move the chains with everything at stake?
In short, to sound up the Colts overall performance this past Sunday.
And now their playoff hopes are realistically shot because of it.
Leaving the Colts to wonder what went wrong for the remainder of another lost season and what could possibly be in store for next year.