Another 4 touchdown day by Andrew Luck spoiled by turnovers and drops

At some point GM Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich have to realize they need to surround their franchise quarterback with quality players. Surprisingly, tight end Eric Ebron has been Andrew Luck’s most consistent target. After being released by the Lion’s in the offseason because of sub-par production and many drops, he’s quickly become the Colts most reliable receiver. With 30 receptions, 326 yards, and 6 touchdowns Ebron has been one of the few bright spots in the Colts offense.

With over $50 million in cap room, many wonder what Ballard’s long term plan is for Indianapolis, and why the Colts are so hesitant to make a splash in the form of a trade or big free agent signing. With injuries piling up, and receivers dropping passes left and right, the now 1-5 Colts have to be feeling some aggravation. With wide receiver Dez Bryant still a free agent, the Steelers reportedly interested in a trade of Le’Veon Bell, and recent news of the Raiders shopping wide receiver Amari Cooper, an assortment of options are certainly out there for Indianapolis, they just have to be willing to deal.

Indianapolis was competitive at times in today’s game, even holding the lead 13-10 in the first quarter (albeit for just 8 minutes or so). However, they found themselves down 30-13 just a few minutes into the second half, and couldn’t do enough to overcome the Jets big lead.

Cutting the Jets lead down to 6 points in the 4th, the Colts couldn’t get out of their own way as they saw the Jets score just enough to keep them at bay. A late Indianapolis touchdown would bring the score to 42-34, but a failed onside kick would allow the Jets to kneel down and bring the game to an end.

A few of the big things Indianapolis is struggling with right now are the following:

Turnovers: With 3 interceptions on the day (two due to drops), Andrew Luck and the Colts offense can’t seem to find rhythm. Adding in a Robert Turbin fumble brought the turnover total to 4 on the day. You can’t win the game, if you can’t control and protect the ball. Indianapolis’ wide receivers added another 6 drops this week, and have the coaching staff and fans missing the consistency of T.Y. Hilton even more.

Time of possession: Echoing my last point, you can’t win if you don’t have the ball. The Colts are averaging less than 25 minutes with the ball and failed to eclipse 23 on Sunday. While 34 offensive points is impressive with the amount of time used, the 4 offensive turnovers gave the Jets short areas to work with, and allowed them too many opportunities to extend their lead.

Injuries: We get it…its the NFL and injuries are inevitable. However, there’s a difference between having a cold and having the plague. This Indianapolis team unfortunately has the latter. With stars like pro bowlers Jack Doyle, Matt Slauson, and T.Y. Hilton on the sideline, the “next man up” mantra is starting to sound like a broken record. It’s already difficult to win in the NFL, but when you’re working with 2nd and 3rd stringers instead of the regular starters, it makes it that much harder.

Preview for next week:

The Colts’ next contest will be a home game against Buffalo next Sunday. Buffalo may be without starting quarterback Josh Allen, as he injured his elbow late in the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans. The Colts will look to get more key players back next week. T.Y. Hilton has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, and Jack Doyle hasn’t been active since Indianapolis’ win against the Redskins in week 2. Stay tuned for a game preview later this week to highlight the Indianapolis vs Buffalo matchup.

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Week 6 preview: Colts (1-4) @ Jets (2-3)

With their fourth away contest in the first six games, Indianapolis will travel to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. Awaiting them will be a young Jets team coming off a big, 34-16 win against the Denver Broncos in week 5. This Jets team, led by rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, is a bit of a mystery. After destroying the Detroit Lions in week 1 by a score of 48-17, the Jets had been on a 3 game slide before their win against Denver.

Sam Darnold has just been so-so since taking the reins in week 1. His first career game started off great. Completing 76% of his passes and throwing 2 touchdowns in his debut, he seemed to be making a smooth transition to the NFL. Now having completed just 55.7% of his passes on the season, those stellar week 1 numbers have heavily declined. Darnold ranks 33rd among eligible quarterbacks in completion percentage, 21st in passing yards (1,066), and is tied for 20th in passing touchdowns with 7.

Where the Jets are succeeding however, is on the ground. New York has two of the top twenty running backs in Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell. Crowell, coming off a career high 219 rushing yards (15 carries) on Sunday, finds himself ranked 3rd in the NFL in yards (390), 2nd in yards per attempt (6.8), and tied for 2nd in touchdowns with 5. Powell adds another 264 yards (18th) on 59 carries, as a right hook in the Jets 1-2 punch.

The keys to success for Indianapolis, will be as follows:

1) Make the rookie throw: Taking away the running game, and forcing the Jets to be one-dimensional will be critical for a Colts defense who has given up 534 yards on the ground. With Sam Darnold’s passing stats not especially spectacular (7:6 TD/INT ratio), forcing him to throw is the Colts best chance at stopping this Jets offense. Hopefully, after a 10 day break between games, the Colts can return several starters. A brutal barrage of injuries has set them back for the past two games. With all of those injuries, Indianapolis only managed to get one quarterback pressure on Tom Brady in their week 5 game against the New England Patriots. After a few weeks of heartbreaking 4th quarter and overtime losses, the Colts are desperately searching for some good fortune.

2) Don’t drop the ball: Watching the Colts fall behind 24-3 in the first half of last week’s game was rough. Watching wide receiver Zach Pascal drop and deflect a pass that led to an interception on a potential game tying drive, was gut wrenching. Andrew Luck can’t be expected to catch his own passes, and this injury ridden Colts receiving core is dropping a lot of passes. Conservatively counting, the Colts have dropped over a dozen passes in the last two games. A few of those being first downs, while others were dropped in the end zone. Cleaning up the drops is a necessity any week, but especially now, due to Indianapolis being at the bottom of the AFC South and quickly falling out of playoff contention.

3) Control time of possession: Colts rank 30th in time of possession with an average of 27 minutes and 12 seconds, and over the last 3 games its hovered around 25 minutes. Less time with the ball, means less opportunities to put points on the board. What I think we would all like to see is a nice methodical approach, and long lasting drives that end in touchdowns.

4) Continued pass protection: Indianapolis has only given up 10 sacks this year, despite the carousel on the offensive line. Andrew Luck will see his fifth different offensive line this season on Sunday. Rookie guards, Quenton Nelson (6th overall pick) and Braden Smith (37th overall) have performed even better than anticipated and pass protection is excellent so far this year. Luck has had a clean pocket to pass from for most of the season. Solid run blocking however, has been hard to find. Indianapolis ranks 29th in average rushing yards per game (74.4), 27th in yards per attempt (3.7), and tied for 28th in rushing touchdowns with a single Nyheim Hines score. With the return of left tackle Anthony Castonzo and running back Marlon Mack this week, the Colts will hopefully have a boost in their rushing attack.

5) Rush the ball effectively: See point number 4. The Colts can’t seem to get out of their own way when it comes to running the ball. Sometimes it seems as if they’re being stuffed on every attempt, while other times they’ll be breaking off good chunks of yardage, but fumbles or holding penalties negate the good plays. The Colts need to find away to get pressure off of Luck so he won’t have to throw 50+ passes a game, and the easiest way to do that is finding a way tote the rock.

Overall, I think this game will be a grind, but as long as the defense can contain the run, I have Indianapolis squeaking out a win late.

I’m calling this one 23-20 Indianapolis.

Photo Credit: Colts.com

The good, the bad, and the ugly of Colts loss to Patriots

Falling to 1-4, the heavily injured Colts just couldn’t keep pace with Tom Brady. Starting the game off, New England marched down the field with a 12 play, 75 yard drive that lasted just over six minutes. This drive, capped by 3rd and Goal pass from Brady to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, would set the tone for the rest of the game. With 9 players missing to start the game, and several more injured throughout Thursday’s contest, the Colts were scraping the bottom of the depth chart by the end of the night.

The Patriots never trailed in this game. Tom Brady would score four total touchdowns (3 passing 1 rushing), including his 500th passing touchdown of his career. Aside from 2 tipped passes that led to interceptions, Brady played flawlessly. Taking advantage of Colts turnovers, and picking the secondary apart for most of the night, Brady was classic Brady, and that was unfortunate for Indianapolis, as the end of the game favored New England 38-24.

The Good: Andrew Luck is possibly playing his best football of his career. Completing 78 of 123 pass attempts (An NFL record for passes in a five day stretch), Luck has been incredibly efficient. He has thrown for over 800 yards and has a 7:2 touchdown to interception ratio in the last two games. What’s crazy, is that Colts receivers have dropped over a dozen catchable balls in the two game stretch. If he and the receivers can get on the page going forward, this could be a career year for Luck and the Indianapolis offense.

The Bad: As good as Luck is playing, he can’t do everything. The lack of a running game, and injuries piling up, have the Colts forcing Andrew Luck to pick up the slack and put the team on his surgically repaired shoulder. Although the Colts did manage to rush for 4.0 yards per carry on Thursday, the 24-3 deficit in the first half kept them from consistently running the ball. Luck knows passing this much is not sustainable, and head coach Frank Reich echoes those thoughts. Drops that lead to turnovers and drops that could’ve been touchdowns have plagued Indianapolis since the beginning of the season as well. The Colts have dropped over a dozen passes the last two games, and with the depleted receiving core, it doesn’t look to get better.

The Ugly: I’ll say it louder for those in the back…INJURIES! Missing the likes of T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle and Marlon Mack is tough. Then you add in all the defensive absences, and you have a big problem. Injuries to Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore II, Nate Hairston and Quincy Wilson have the Colts looking very deep in their depth chart. The Colts preach next man up, and expect all members of the team to perform as if they were starting, but you’ve got to admit that the lack of primary players played a huge difference in Thursday’s matchup. Only 44 players were dressed for Thursday’s game due to the amount of player who are banged up.

Looking Ahead:

Indianapolis’ next test will be in the Meadowlands, as they travel to New York to face the Jets. This will be the Colts 4th away game in 6 weeks. Indy has a 10 day gap in action, so hopefully the extra time to prepare will allow them to get healthy. The Jets are the first of three, 1-3 teams that the Colts will face before the bye. Indy faces rookie quarterbacks over the next two weeks, and will travel to Oakland to face the now Khalil Mack-less Raiders in week 8. They have a good opportunity to go streaking, and put some check marks in the win column before a week 9 bye week. Perhaps they can pull it around and reach 4-4?

Picture Credit Jim Davis/ Boston Globe

Inactive list for the Colts grows to 9

Both cornerback Nate Hairston and standout rookie linebacker Darius Leonard have been listed as OUT for Thursday Night Football. This leaves Indianapolis extremely vulnerable. Already missing other stars, such as wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Jack Doyle, Indianapolis has become a shell of what they were just a few days ago. The Colts are only able to dress 44 players tonight due to the barrage of injuries (46 are allowed).

Good news however, left tackle Anthony Castonzo will make is season debut, after missing the first four weeks with a hamstring issue. The Colts will need all the help they can get, as they go into Foxboro as 10.5 point underdogs.

Colts hobble into Thursday as 7 players declared out

With fans still trying to cope with the questionable call that led to an Indianapolis loss on Sunday, another game has quickly arrived. Tomorrow evening, the Colts will face the New England Patriots. Well…most of the Colts. With a lengthy list of injuries, Indianapolis’ biggest obstacle on Thursday will be keeping their players healthy. Multiple positions have been spread thin due to injuries, not to mention the unfortunate loss of tackle Denzelle Good, who will miss an undisclosed amount of time while coping with the death of his brother.

Those missing time with injury are as follows:

T.Y. Hilton (chest/hamstring)- Hilton is Indianapolis’ leading receiver with 294 yards. Normally a picture of health, this will be only the third game Hilton has missed in his 7 year career. Wide receivers Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers are expected to split Hilton’s would be snaps. Running back Nyhiem Hines may find more time in the slot, to give more receiving options to Andrew Luck. He’ll look to build on Sunday’s team leading 9 reception, 2 touchdown performance.

Marlon Mack (hamstring)-Mack has only played in one game this season, but it was a good one. Playing in the Colts’ lone victory against the Redskins, Mack tallied 10 carries for 34 yards and a single reception for 2 yards. While the numbers aren’t impressive, his big play ability from last year has been, and will be missed.

Jack Doyle (hip)- Indianapolis’ leader in receptions from a year ago has had a rough start to 2018. After fumbling away the ball on a potential game winning drive in week one, Doyle had a very average outing against Washington where his injury occurred. Putting up just 9 receptions for 80 yards this year, Doyle’s production has been severely missed.

Quincy Wilson (concussion)-The injury bug has plagued this young cornerback his whole career. In just his second season, nagging injuries have limited Wilson to just 9 games (out of a possible 21). In two games played this season, he has tallied just one tackle.

Kenny Moore II (concussion)-Moore has logged an interception, 1 pass deflection and 14 tackles this season. Starting all 4 games for the Colts this year, Moore will be missed in a group of inexperienced group of corners that will try to slow down the likes of Patriots receivers Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman (who makes his return from a four week suspension this week).

Hassan Ridgeway (calf)-A preseason stud who hasn’t stayed healthy, Ridgeway just hasn’t been lucky so far this season. After tallying 4 sacks in the first two weeks of the preseason, Ridgeway’s only regular season action came during substitution work in a week 2 win over the Washington Redskins. Ridgeway hasn’t logged anything on the stat sheet yet this season, but when healthy, he can be a valuable rotational player on the defensive line (3 sacks in 2017).

Other Colts who are questionable:

Anthony Castonzo

Darius Leonard

Ryan Kelly

Nate Hairston

Clayton Geathers

Adam Vinatieri

All questionable players participated in limited practice on Wednesday.

Colts 1-3; Quarterly review

The first quarter of the 2018 season is over. A somber tone has set in amongst the Colts fan base. Some fans are already calling it in, and are optimistic for next year, while others still cling onto small shreds of hope and pride. Sunday was a heartbreaker. After battling back from an 18 point deficit, the Colts could only watch, as Houston Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn nailed a 37 yarder to win in overtime. Now Indianapolis finds themselves at 1-3, and last place in the AFC South. Weeks 1-4 weren’t pretty, but there are pieces to build on moving forward.

1) Andrew Luck’s shoulder is healthy, and this past Sunday was proof. 40 completions on 64 attempts for 464 yards (all career highs) 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions against Houston. He played as well as you could as for, against a solid defensive team in the Houston Texans. Yes, there were some early miscues, but overall, this was classic Andrew Luck, and let’s hope he’s here to stay.

2) Nyheim Hines is stepping up as a quality receiving back. Whether it’s snaps from the slot, or coming out of the backfield, Hines has shown that he belongs in this Indianapolis offense. At 22 receptions after four weeks, the rookie is on pace to catch 88 passes this year. That production will likely taper off, as I don’t see Luck throwing 62 passes again anytime soon; However, it’s good to see Luck has found another reliable target.

3) It’s not just Darius Leonard making noise on the defense. While the rookie did perform admirably on Sunday, several others joined in what was a festival of sacks on Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson. Indianapolis sacked Watson 7 times with 8 Colts registering at least 0.5 sacks on the day. They also registered 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and 11 quarterback hits. Indianapolis also recorded 2 pass deflections and an interception by cornerback Pierre Desir.

My grade for this quarter is D+. While there are plenty of positive takeaways, the Colts need to finish their work. 17 sacks in 4 weeks is great, a 9:3 TD to INT ratio for Luck is great, but it means nothing if they don’t register W’s.

The Colts do however have something to work with. They have a foundation, a ton of young talent, and a bunch of cap space to make waves in the off-season or potentially before the trade deadline. With whispers of trade interest in Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell have being heard, as well as, the need for wide receiver help, the Colts look like a potential landing spot for big acquisitions. While Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard has long been focused on building the team through the draft, you have to wonder if he’ll want to spend at least some of the Colts’ hard earned nest egg. Names like Bell and Dez Bryant have been tossed around, but plenty of big names are set to be on the free agent market in 2019. Names like Green Bay wide receiver Randall Cobb, Detroit wide receiver Golden Tate, Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and Houston outside linebacker Jedeveon Clowney are all set to be unrestricted free agents. It’s hard to predict what Ballard will do, but it’s fun to think about the possibilities.

Colts sit at 1-3 as they prepare to face Patriots on Thursday night

This past Sunday, head coach Frank Reich may have made the best, bad decision in the history of Colts football. Facing a 4th and 4 on their own 43 yard line in OT, Frank Reich chose to gamble. He chose to put the game in his best player’s hands, but unfortunately Luck (and Chester Rogers) couldn’t deliver. Three plays later, the Houston Texans would take the victory on a Ka’imi Fairbairn 37 yard field goal.

Sometimes though, it’s what you learn in losses that make you a better, more resilient team. By taking that shot, and putting his confidence in the offense to go make a play, Frank Reich now has everyone on the same page. This head coach doesn’t want to dwell on the what if’s, he wants it black and white. Win or lose, no grey areas. He wants his team to be aggressive. He wants his team to have, “an obsession to finish”.

With the Colts now at 1-3, it’s left many fans disgruntled. Critical turnovers, some key injuries, and costly penalties have shown that missing a couple of the little things are what can turn a spotless record into one that’s sub par. In week one, it was a Jack Doyle fumble, in week 3 it was penalties and poor execution in the red zone, and week 4 it was 14 points given up off of turnovers.

Now the Colts will go to Foxboro, and kick off week 5 action Thursday against the New England Patriots. This will be their toughest test so far. It won’t be tough for the obvious reasons of New England playing at home, or because Tom Brady is under center for the Pats. The game will be tough because there’s an urgency to win, and a stigma that says the Colts can’t/won’t win this game. The media says they won’t, the fans say they won’t, the casinos say they won’t, and history says they won’t. The Colts haven’t beaten the Patriots this decade, as New England has gone 7-0 in their matchups since 2010. Andrew Luck, who entered the league in 2012, is 0-5 in those matchups.

Maybe it’s time for a Colts win. At 2-2, New England isn’t exactly playing their best football. They still have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but something seems a bit off. Aside from their week 4 win over the Miami Dolphins, they look out of sync. Taking losses to Detroit and Jacksonville, they’ve shown that they have weaknesses, and that they aren’t the super heroes they have been in the past.

If Indianapolis can play its best game of the season, they just might have a shot at taking out the Patriots and beginning a string of victories. After Thursday, they’ll have two games against rookie quarterbacks (Sam Darnold-Jets and Josh Allen-Bills), and then head to Oakland to play a Raiders team that seems to lack an identity since trading away Khalil Mack. Those 3 teams only have 3 wins collectively (3-9 overall). This could put Indianapolis in a more reasonable spot when they hit the bye in week 9.

Before the “easy” games though, the Colts have an opportunity to stick it to Josh McDaniels who left them at the alter during the off-season coaching search. Who better to help them, than the former Eagles offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, who beat them in the Super Bowl in February? They also have the opportunity to make this a rivalry again, because let’s be honest…there has been nothing resembling competitiveness in this series for almost a decade.

This week, I’m predicting more of the same in this series. Indianapolis came out of the Texans game really banged up. On Monday, they had 8 players who didn’t practice, and several more on a limited practice. That may seem natural for a Monday any other week, but knowing that they play Thursday night is cause for concern. It’s not rotational players getting injured either, it’s the starters. Notable injuries on the Did Not Practice list are as follows:

Wide Receiver-T.Y. Hilton (chest/hamstring)

Tight End-Jack Doyle (hip)

Linebacker-Darius Leonard (ankle)

Center-Ryan Kelly (hand)

Cornerback-Nate Hairston (ankle)

Defensive Tackle-Hassan Ridgeway (calf)

Cornerback-Quincy Wilson (concussion)

Cornerback-Kenny Moore (concussion)

With these big names here, and several others, such as left tackle Anthony Castonzo (hamstring) practicing on a limited basis, the Colts are in trouble if they can’t find a magic healing elixir by Thursday.

IND: 20 NE: 38

Photo credit: USA Today Sports