Locked in a tight battle for three quarters, the Colts finally pulled away in the fourth, scoring 21 unanswered points to take a victory in Oakland, 42-28. The Raiders and Colts traded blows for much of the game, but Indianapolis put together a game tying drive in the beginning of the 4th and never looked back. The 12 play, 75 yard drive lasted 5 minutes 14 seconds, as Marlon Mack capped the drive with a touchdown run on 3rd and Goal (his first of two touchdowns on the day).
The next Raiders drive was a three and out, which allowed Indianapolis to build on their offensive momentum. The Colts would take full advantage of this, as Andrew Luck and Jack Doyle were telepathic on this drive. Luck went 4-4 on the drive, completing all of his passes to Doyle (14, 11, 17, and 10 yard completions), the last of which was a touchdown.
The next Oakland possession would last just one play, as AFC Defensive Rookie of the year candidate, Darius Leonard, punched the ball out of the hands of running back Doug Martin. The Colts recovered the ball on Oakland’s 27 yard line, which set up Andrew Luck and the offense for another quick touchdown drive. Marlon Mack would score a one yard touchdown on the fifth play of the drive. Mack finished his day with 25 carries 149 all-purpose yards, and two rushing touchdowns (all career highs). This was the second week in a row that Indianapolis was able to reach over 220 rushing yards as a team, as they averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
With the improvements in the running game and offensive line, Luck was able to pass for another three touchdowns (23 on the year) and zero interceptions. Luck has also taken zero sacks for the past three weeks, behind a suddenly solid offensive line. The offense is looking stout at the right time. With the bye this week, and a slough of divisional games on the horizon, the Colts will need all the fireworks in the second half of the season, if they hope to make a playoff push.
At 3-5, Indianapolis is very much alive in the AFC South race. With Houston leading the division at 5-3 and the Titans and Jaguars at 3-4 and 3-5 respectfully, no one is really pulling away in the division. The Colts also have a favorable schedule ahead. Of the teams that they have left, (Jaguars, Titans, Dolphins, Texans, Cowboys, and Giants) only one (Texans) has a winning record. Excluding the Texans, the rest of the teams listed have a combined record of 10-20. Also, the Colts have an added benefit of playing 5 of their remaining 8 games in front of a home crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium (Including 3 home games in a row). Finally out of the first half gauntlet of 5 away games in 8 weeks, things look a bit brighter for Indianapolis moving forward.
The second quarter of the season is much improved from the first. Especially on the offensive side of the ball. There’s a list of high points to hit on, so I’ll go ahead and mark them down:
Andrew Luck: The front runner for comeback player of the year has to be Luck. Currently second in the NFL in touchdown passes, (23) Luck has proven that his shoulder injury is a thing of the past. He’s also showing more maturity and intelligence. Luck is protecting his body, and avoiding costly turnovers. Whether it’s throwing it away or stepping out of bounds instead of lowering his shoulder, he’s definitely playing more calculated football, and coaches and fans alike have taken notice.
Offensive Line: As mentioned earlier, Andrew Luck hasn’t taken a sack in three games. Quenton Nelson has just become the NFL’s first Guard to be named offensive rookie of the month, and is proving extremely worthy of being drafted at #6 overall. Braden Smith, the Colts other rookie guard, has made a successful transition to right tackle, and is doing a great job sealing the edge from pass rushers. After seeing 5 separate offensive lines in the beginning 5 weeks of the season, Indianapolis has finally found a lineup that works for both the passing and the run game.
Marlon Mack: It’s been awhile since the Colts had a back-to-back 100 yard rusher. Eleven long years in fact! Andrew Luck was still in high school the last time Indianapolis had a back-to-back 100 yard rusher, and the Colts were one season removed from their Super Bowl victory against the Chicago Bears. Mack struggled to stay healthy earlier this season, but has made the most of his starts. In just four games this season, Mack has 381 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns, and another 56 yards receiving and a touchdown catch. The Colts are 3-1 when Mack plays and 0-4 when he doesn’t, proving that an effective rusher is extremely important for success on the offensive side of the ball.
Darius Leonard: Leonard is a bona fide beast. He leads the NFL in tackles with 88, is tied for a team leading four sacks, has two pass deflections, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. He’s already collected the award for Defensive Player of the Month in September, and has his sights set on Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Indianapolis has been searching for elite defensive players since Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were terrorizing NFL offenses. I think Leonard will be a key face of the Colts franchise for years to come.
Adam Vinatieri: Not every team can say they helped a player break an NFL scoring record. Vinatieri did just that this past Sunday, as he broke Morton Anderson’s all time NFL scoring record. 2550 points, has made Adam Vinatieri an obvious choice for an eventual spot in Canton. When the Hall of Fame comes knocking, this GOAT will undoubtedly answer.
Overall, I give the second quarter of the season a C+. Big improvements in the rushing game, and the offense as a whole were very noticeable. Going forward, I’d like to see the Colts tighten up in the secondary. Derek Carr found plenty of holes in the Colts defensive backfield, on his way to 17 straight completions at one point in the game. Some of this can be attributed to injuries to Malik Hooker and other members of the secondary, but 17 completions in a row is too much at any level. Depth at Corner and Safety has been lacking for years in Indianapolis, and unfortunately it’s been more of the same this year. Perhaps that will be an area of emphasis during the offseason? The Colts will have plenty of cap space to work with, and a deep free agency pool to tap into. Once the time comes, it will be interesting to see what direction GM Chris Ballard and the Colts front office goes.
Photo Credit: Indianapolis Star