Final Report Card on Colts offense and an NFL Playoffs primer

Colts RB Jonathan Taylor (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Colts RB Jonathan Taylor (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

As the Indianapolis Colts’ Offensive Class of 2020 “graduates” to the playoffs,  the fourth quarter of the Colts’ regular season gives key indicators of their destiny.  But it’s a maddening mix.

First off, a belated Happy New Year! I am sorry to see the old year, 2020, leave us…said no one ever. As everyone on offense on this playoff team is excited to be getting their report card, let’s get to it.

Running Backs

The Colts went 3-1 in the fourth quarter of the regular season, and the fiasco of the season’s very first game was redeemed in the very last game by a rookie running back who revealed his three-fold potential: Instincts, speed and strength.

The galloping ghost of Marlon Mack was put to rest by the Colts’ rising new star, Jonathan Taylor, who ran like a horse on fire in the final regular game. Taylor has legit speed, and combined with his bull-like strength and ferocity, he is a legit star.

I laughed out loud at the defensive players that got knocked down like bowling pins when Taylor ran almost straight on to them. Who wants to wrestle a rhino?

Granted, it was against the worst team in the league, and Taylor did not have such open pastures against the Pittsburgh Steelers just the week before. But what more can you ask to see before the playoffs than the record-setting performance of the Colts run game? Nyheim Hines is terrific and his streakiness has less to do with any inconsistency from Hines, and more to do with what the opposing defense offers the Colts’ play calling.

Running Backs Q4 Grade – A+; Full Regular Season – A-

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 13: Offensive guard Quenton Nelson #56 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates in the end zone with running back Jonathan Taylor #28 after he ran for a 3-yard touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders in the second half of their game at Allegiant Stadium on December 13, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Colts defeated the Raiders 44-27. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

Offensive Line

Give full credit for success in the running game to the offensive line and the tight ends, who give Taylor and Nyheim Hines the little cracks they needed to shoot the gap.

The O-line also coped well with injuries, although in the final game, it was obvious Rivers was under unusual duress. The “New Guy”, Jared Veldheer, was lagging in little bits like a poor streaming connection, and took a horrible facemask penalty near the Jaguars’ goal line. But this grade is for the last four games, and only in the Steelers game did the O-line struggle against the best pass rush in the league.

Offensive Line Q4 Grade – A; Full Regular Season – A

Tight Ends

Where did Mo go? TE Mo Alie-Cox was Mr. Fix-it for third downs the first half of the season, and then he became the forgotten man. Is he hurting? Mo, Jack Doyle and Trey Burton are fantastic at blocking, but their part in the passing game has shrunk notably, and the reason why is a mystery to me.

Rivers needs his Mr. Big and Tall tight end to recreate the winningest QB-TE duo in NFL history that he formed with future Hall of Famer TE Antonio Gates.

Tight Ends Q4 Grade – B-; Full Regular Season – A-

Mo Alie-Cox #81 of the Indianapolis Colts catches a pass against the Minnesota Vikings at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 20, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Mo Alie-Cox #81 of the Indianapolis Colts catches a pass against the Minnesota Vikings at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 20, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Wide Receivers

Quick, who’s the Colts’ No. 2 wide receiver? … Did you pause a moment before answering?  I was high on Michael Pittman, but I think his name was only mentioned twice against Jacksonville last week. And in that game, there were balls bouncing off hands and helmets, and WRs turning the wrong way.

Young men, you have to get to where the ball’s going to be thrown. Don’t split off — because the ball’s already in the air. TY Hilton returned to form this quarter, and none too soon. But Michael Pittman has to find another gear. He’s had 16 games to earn the quarterback’s and the coaches’ trust. Time’s up. They need the Big Unit, and that’s you.

Wide Receivers Q4 Grade – B; Full Regular Season – A-


Last Sunday, Philip Rivers was under pressure and threw off his back foot, and I closed my eyes. I was familiar with that mistake. One interception is manageable. Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rogers throw INTs and overcome them. But there were passes batted down and passes behind receivers, more than usual, because Rivers was under pressure. Let’s hope the coaches set up for the long throws more, with more dink and dunk, screens and running backs in the flat.

Rivers, however, has been terrific throughout the second half, and the stats bear this out. Some want to blame him for all five losses but not credit him with 11 wins.11 interceptions isn’t great but it’s nine fewer than his season before. It’s also fewer this season than the work of Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Jared Goff, Matt Ryan, et al.

Facts in Evidence

In the NFL this season, for total yards passing, on a run-first team, Rivers still ranks 10th in the league, and fifth in the AFC.

Within that NFL list of the 10 most prolific passers, old man Rivers ranks:

  • Third in pass completion %
  • Tied for sixth in Fewest Interceptions  (45% fewer than last season)
  • Tied for sixth in passes of 40+ yards
  • Passer rating of 97, up from last season’s 88.5.

“But are the Colts really a run-first team?” 

A: Among the Top 10 Passing Teams, the Colts rank:

  • 3rd in fewest passes attempted.
  • 3rd in most running plays (behind Cousins’ Vikings and Herbert’s Chargers)

Quarterback Q4 Grade – A; Full Regular Season – A-

Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the Indianapolis Colts against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 13, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images /