Colts lost to Texans because of things that hurt them all year; not a 4th-down play

While a polarizing fourth-down play has dominated discussions, the real problems for the Indianapolis Colts were things they struggled with all season.

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts
Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

How did Tyler Goodson drop the ball? Was it Gardner Minshew’s fault for not throwing a better pass? Why wouldn’t Shane Steichen just lean on Jonathan Taylor in the biggest moment of the season? Those are the kind of questions that everyone has been asking since the Indianapolis Colts lost the Week 18 game to the Houston Texans, and a playoff trip, on a failed fourth-down attempt from Houston’s 15-yard line.

While the play was certainly polarizing, and was the ultimate deciding moment of the game, it’s not the reason Indianapolis lost the game and missed out on a trip to the playoffs. As brutal as it was watching the ball hit the ground on what should’ve been a first down, the reality of why the Colts lost the game is even harder to stomach.

Indianapolis lost to Houston because of the same reasons Indy lost its other games this season: the offense was terrible on third downs and the defense couldn’t stop the pass.

Colts third-down struggles and pass defense cost them a trip to the playoffs

Indianapolis’ offense had a significant turnaround this season. They finished the year averaging 23.3 points and 215.6 yards a game. However, for as productive as the offense has been, the unit has been abysmal on third downs. The Colts converted on just 35.34% of third downs this season— 25th in the league.

That struggled didn’t just rear its head on Saturday, it jumped up and down, making everyone aware of its presence. Indianapolis was 1-of-11 on third down against the Texans. The lone conversion came on Indy’s final drive in the fourth quarter when Jonathan Taylor willed his way pass the sticks. Regardless of the other things that the Colts did well, it’s really hard to win a game when you aren’t converting third downs.

It’s also hard to win a game when you can’t stop the pass and that’s something Indy hasn’t been able to consistently do all season. Saturday night was no different. Rookie quarterback CJ Stroud completed 20-of-26 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Nico Collins, who was pretty much Houston’s only wide receiver option, caught nine passes for 195 yards and a touchdown.

In the fourth quarter, with the game tied, Stroud walked the Indianapolis defense down the field to set up the go-ahead touchdown. The unfortunate part is that it wasn’t even surprising.

It’s often said that in big moments, teams should rely on what they do the best. That’s an argument that people have been making when discussing Indy’s play call on the failed fourth-down play. The other side of that statement is that your weaknesses will also be what’s exploited, and ultimately fails, in the biggest moments. That’s what happened to the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. They struggled in the same ways they struggled all season and it cost them a trip to the playoffs.