Colts shutout Cowboys to stay in AFC playoff race

The Colts have asserted themselves as mobile, agile, hostile, certifiable, undeniable giant killers the last two weeks. Ending the Texans’ 9 game winning streak two weeks ago in Houston wasn’t good enough for Indianapolis. This week, they shut down and shut out a Dallas offense who had been playing lights out since acquiring Amari Cooper in a trade with the Oakland Raiders. As winners of their previous 5 games, there was reason to believe that Dallas would continue their hot streak against a Colts defense that historically has been poor against the Cowboys; However, this year’s Indianapolis Colts defense is not the same as in years past. This year, the Colts have quietly built a top 10 defense, and have shown that they’re no longer one trick ponies.

This game was statistically interesting in the beginning. Dallas controlled the clock for most of the first half, as they managed to keep the ball for over 19 minutes! Unfortunately for the Cowboys, time of possession is nothing if you don’t do anything with it. The opening drive went 10 plays for 45 yards, and took 5 minutes off of the clock, but the Indianapolis defense stepped up, as defensive tackle Denico Autry batted down a 48 yard Brett Maher field goal attempt. With both teams scrambling to recover the blocked kick, Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard fell on the loose football, and the Colts took possession at the Dallas 44 yard line. That block pretty much set the tone for the Cowboys day. Dallas had a few opportunities to keep this game close, but ran out of steam, or made costly mistakes in the red zone.

From the 44 yard line, Indy began their first offensive possession. The Colts chipped away at the Dallas defense, as Andrew Luck reeled off two quick passes to Nyhiem Hines and T.Y. Hilton to get a first down. From there, Marlon Mack took over the drive. Over the next 6 plays, Mack would run 5 times for 34 yards and a touchdown from a yard out. After seeing a drop off in yards over the last few weeks, Mack turned in a career high performance in this game, as he ended with 139 yards on 27 carries and 2 touchdowns.

Those were the big stories of the day. Mack runs wild, Dallas fizzles out on each of their drives, Indianapolis forces a shut out, and the Cowboys winning streak ends at 5 games. It was a great team win for the Colts, and much needed. As winners of 7 of their last 8 games, Indianapolis is now a feared playoff contender. They’re the kind of team that no one wants to face this time of year. Top 10 on offense and defense, killing winning streaks, and getting hot at just the right time, stirs up some memories of dark horse teams of the past. When I think of this team, I find them eerily reminiscent of the 2007 New York Giants who managed to sneak in to the NFC 6th seed at 9-7 and run the the table, all the way to a Super Bowl victory against the then undefeated New England Patriots. I find myself asking if Indy could make similar waves if they manage to break into that last AFC wildcard spot.

To get into the playoffs though, the Colts don’t control their own destiny. Indianapolis needs to keep winning. With 5-9 Giants team at home and a road trip to Tennessee to battle a Titans team that Indianapolis beat 38-10 in week 11, the schedule looks favorable. That being said, the Colts will also need either the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens to lose one of their final two games. With the Steelers facing the NFC’s top team (New Orleans Saints), and the Ravens facing the 11-3 Chargers next weekend, the odds look good for at least one of those teams to drop a game. If this happens, and Indy handles the Giants, the Colts would face a “win and you’re in” scenario in Tennessee week 17. Indy also has another interesting (less likely) playoff scenario. Should they win out, and should the Texans face a devastating collapse by dropping their final two games, Indianapolis would finish at 10-6 with the AFC South crown atop their heads.

Photo Credit:


Colts end Texans winning streak to stay alive in AFC playoff race

Going into this game, I didn’t feel very confident in Indianapolis. In fact, I picked Houston to win. After coming off of a rough shutout loss in Jacksonville last weekend, the offensive struggles continued for the first quarter of this week. The Colts stumbled out of the gate with four consecutive 3-and-outs, then an interception on the fifth series. This certainly didn’t leave Indy fans with much optimism, but luckily the Indianapolis defense did show up to keep the game interesting. Forcing several punts, and getting to quarterback Deshaun Watson 5 times was a huge difference maker on the way to Indianapolis’ victory.

The Colts forced two 3-and-outs to begin the game, before giving up the first touchdown of the day late in the first quarter (Alfred Blue 1yd rush). The 7-0 score would stand until 6:33 left in the second quarter, when Colts’ running back Marlon Mack punched it into the end zone from 4 yards out. The Mack touchdown was set up by a beautiful 60 yard strike from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton on the previous play. Hilton would go on to have a monster day with 9 receptions and 199 yards receiving. The next Texans series was again a 3-and-out, as the Indianapolis defense got the ball back into Andrew Luck’s hands in time for another Colts touchdown drive.

Indianapolis would start the next drive on their own 34 yard line, but quickly advance field position on a nice connection from Luck to Eric Ebron for 23 yards to the Houston 43. Two plays later, Luck would find wide receiver Zach Pascal for a big 28 yard chunk. After a one yard loss on a Nyhiem Hines stretch play, Luck connected with Ebron again, as the tight end extended into the end zone to put the Colts ahead. Ebron’s touchdown set a Colts franchise record for single season receiving touchdowns by a tight end with 12. The record was previously held by Dallas Clark. The Adam Vinatieri point after attempt, gave the Colts a 14-7 lead with just under 3 minutes left in the first half, but second quarter points party wasn’t done yet! After the Colts defense forced yet another punt, the Indy offense took control with 1:14 left in the half, which was just enough time to get in range for a 54 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal, and take a 17-7 lead into the halftime break.

Coming out after halftime, the Colts defense was a bit sluggish. Houston’s offense managed to orchestrate a 16 play, 75 yard scoring drive (Lamar Miller 1 yard rush), and close Indianapolis’ lead to just 3. The offensive mishaps from the first quarter would not return for the Colts though; as they would answer on a 12 yard passing touchdown from Luck to Pascal. This pushed the Indy lead back to 10 by a score of 24-14. That score stuck until late in the fourth quarter, as Deshaun Watson made a spectacular throw, finding an open DeAndre Hopkins in the back of the end zone for a Houston touchdown. With just 2:37 left to play and 2 timeouts, the Texans chose not to attempt an onside kick. Instead, they attempted to halt the Colts’ potent offense. On a 3rd and 1 after the two minute warning, Andrew Luck would pull out the hard count, and managed to get Texans’ linebacker Jedeveon Clowney to bite. This gave Indianapolis a first down, and allowed them to kneel and close out the win 24-21.

Final Thoughts: This was by all accounts a playoff game for Indianapolis. They absolutely needed this win to keep in contention for a wildcard spot, and rose to the occasion. At 7-6, they are tied with the Ravens, Dolphins, and Titans for the 6th seed. Indianapolis gets a two game home stand against the Cowboys (8-5) and the Giants (5-8), before traveling to Nashville for an AFC South showdown against the 7-6 Titans. Not an easy schedule for the Colts to get through, but not impossible either. Indianapolis’ road to the playoffs means winning out. I think to be a #6 seed, 10-6 will be the record to get to, and that still may not be enough. The Colts “one game at a time” and “obsession to finish” mantras need to resonate in the minds of Colts’ players now, more than ever, because one loss may put an end to the Colts 2018 campaign.

For Houston, they can’t let off the gas too much either. With their upcoming opponents having a combined record of 14-25, the Texans schedule seems favorable; However, playing the Jets in the Meadowlands and the Eagles in Philadelphia could produce a couple of hiccups for an indoor team forced to play in the elements. Then, a final test in week 17 against a Jaguars team that would love to spoil the end of their rival’s season is no gimme either. At 9-4, the Texans control their own playoff destiny. Win 2/3 and they’re in for sure. Win out, and they might find themselves with a first round bye.

Photo Credit Tim Warner/ Getty Images

Colts offense fails to score in defensive slugfest.

If you’re a fan of high flying offense and barn burning offensive numbers, you may have been pretty bored watching this game. Things started off pretty well for the Colts, as defensive tackle Denico Autry forced a Carlos Hyde fumble just three plays into the first quarter. The fumble was recovered by linebacker Anthony Walker. Autry’s name would come up quite a few times during the course of the game, as he managed a career day with 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. The turnover set up the Colts offense in great field position at the Jacksonville 42 yard line. Unfortunately, it was a short lived celebration. Three plays into the Colts’ first offensive series, Andrew Luck was forced out of the pocket and threw an errant pass in the direction of Eric Ebron, which resulted in an interception by Jaguars cornerback D.J. Hayden.

Those first two drives pretty much set the tone for the entire game. Turnovers, penalties, and punts plagued the offenses of both teams all day long. The first points almost came at the beginning of the second quarter. Kicker Adam Vinatieri had connected on a short 29 yard field goal, but on the play, the Jaguars were called for an unnecessary roughness penalty for roughing the holder. That put the Colts at the Jacksonville 5 yard line.

From the 5, Indy tried to muster enough offense to pierce the goal line, but were met by a blistering Jaguars defense in each of their four attempts, as the Jags ultimately forced a turnover on downs. That was as close as Indianapolis would come to points all day, as Jacksonville contained the ground game and forced Andrew Luck to throw over 50 passing attempts again this year. *Luck is winless in his career when he throws more than 50 passes in a game.

The only scoring that happened all game were two Josh Lambo field goals in the second and fourth quarters respectively. If not for two 4th down attempts inside the Jaguars 35 yard line, Indianapolis may have been able to pull this one out at the end. The decisions to trust in the offense twice, unfortunately resulted in failed attempts to get a touchdown and first down in each situation. Had the Colts been successful on field goal attempts in those situations, they were in position late in the fourth quarter to kick what would have been a game winner. You know what they say though, “hindsight is 20-20”. I applaud Frank Reich being aggressive near the end zone. He trusts his offense, and the goal line stop just as easily could have been a touchdown. As it ended up, the Colts lost this one 6-0, but are still in the thick of the AFC Wildcard race. Baltimore holds the 6 seed at 7-5, but Miami, Indianapolis, Denver, and Tennessee all sit at 6-6. With four games remaining in the 2018 regular season, here’s the remaining schedule for the Colts:

@Houston Texans Week 14

Vs Dallas Cowboys Week 15

Vs New York Giants Week 16

@ Tennessee Titans Week 17

Colts overcome three turnovers and 10 point deficit to win 5th straight.

What a roller coaster of a game! Let’s start at the end of the second quarter. With the Colts up 14-7, Ryan Tannehill connected with wide receiver Leonte Carroo on a 74 yard strike. Carroo wrestled the ball away from Colts’ cornerback Pierre Desir, and took it into the end zone to tie the game at 14. After the ensuing kickoff, Andrew Luck and the Colts’ offense assumed possession at the 25 yard line. One play later, Dolphins’ cornerback Xavien Howard fought off T.Y. Hilton on an under thrown Andrew Luck pass for an interception. The Colts defense would respond with a turnover of their own, as veteran safety Mike Mitchell knocked the ball free from the hands of Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki. One more play later, Xavien Howard was at it again, as he tracked down a pass that seemed destined to be another Eric Ebron touchdown catch. The Howard interception put the Dolphins on their own 6, and they would kneel to take the game into halftime.

The third quarter belonged to the Dolphins, as they put points on the scoreboard on their first two possessions of the second half (29 yard Jason Sanders field goal and 14 yard rushing TD by Kenyan Drake), and forced Indianapolis to a punt and a missed field goal on their third quarter possessions. Indianapolis finally found their groove in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 unanswered points to close out the game, Luck’s second end zone connection to Eric Ebron tied the game at 24, and Adam Vinatieri sealed the comeback with a 32 yard game winner as time expired.

Final thoughts:

This game was a lot closer than I anticipated. The Colts really struggled to get things going on offense in the first half. Three first half turnovers, and multiple penalties, kept the high flying offense grounded for much of the day. An excellent fourth quarter was the Colts key to victory. Two great defensive stops that forced the Dolphins to punt, set up good field position on two Indianapolis scoring drives. This was Andrew Luck’s 20th game winning drive and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Colts. Now at 6-5, and tied for the 6th seed in the AFC playoff race, Indianapolis can’t afford to let off the gas pedal. As for this week, a hard earned victory puts the win streak at 5, and the Colts will gear up for a road trip to Jacksonville next Sunday.

Photo Credit:

After 1-5 start, Colts are back from the dead with 4th straight win

Just 5 weeks ago, many Colts fans on the various Facebook comment sections and message boards were ready to call in the 2018 season. They had dropped 4 straight games (3 of which were one score games), and were 1-5, after a failed comeback attempt against the Jets. However, there is resilience in this team. That resilience, mixed with an easier second half schedule has become a dangerous combination over the course of the last month. Now, Indianapolis has won four games in a row, and are in the thick of the wildcard race. They have clawed back to second place in the AFC South standings as well, behind only the 7-3 Houston Texans (who they will play in week 14).

Keys to victory against Titans

Andrew Luck: It’s been really great to see Luck back on the field in any capacity this year, but he’s exceeding even the highest of expectations so far this season. He now has 7 straight games with at least 3 touchdown passes, and 33 straight performances with at least 1 touchdown pass. Tallying 29 touchdowns to 9 interceptions, Luck is on pace to eclipse his career best in touchdowns, and close to a pace that would break Peyton Manning’s franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (49). Currently Luck is throwing an average of 2.9 touchdowns per game, which puts him on pace for 46.4 to end the season.

Offensive Line: Have you ever seen a cleaner pocket than what we’ve witnessed over the past month? When’s the last time you saw an effective Colts running game before this year? This is all thanks to great draft picks and free agent acquisitions by GM Chris Ballard. Improving the o-line was one of his priorities this last offseason, and boy did he deliver! Last season the Colts gave up a league worst 56 sacks. This year big number 56 Quenton Nelson, seems to have changed the identity of this line all by himself, as he’s become the vocal leader of the line, and has shown incredible sportsmanship on the field. Always rushing over to pick up his teammates, always there to congratulate teammates on touchdowns. You couldn’t ask for a better 1st round pick. The line has miraculously turned it around this season and is just 1 sack behind the Saints for first place in that category.

Hungry Defense: The Colts have forced at least one turnover in every game this season. (Two forced against Tennessee) Matt Eberflus’ system has been welcomed with open arms this year, as I believe the transition to the 4-3 scheme has been seamless. The Colts are up to 26 sacks on the year, after only getting to 25 last year, and have forced 19 turnovers. They also have great young talent including Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore III, and Malik Hooker, which means we could see this type of energized defensive play for years to come.

Final Thoughts:

With the Texans writing the textbook on winning close games, and leading the AFC South at 7-3, it may be more realistic to see the Colts contending for a wildcard spot. The #6 seed is wide open, as the Bengals, Ravens, Dolphins and Titans are all tied with Indianapolis at 5-5. Over the next six weeks, the Colts play just one opponent with a winning record (Houston Texans week 14). Two of those games are against teams the Colts have already beaten once, so the remaining schedule is definitely worthy of some optimism. If they don’t manage to sneak into the playoffs however, Frank Reich and the Colts have proven many things to their doubters. Luck is back and playing at his best, Reich, albeit the backup option for Indianapolis, undoubtedly has the chops for being an NFL head coach, and there’s a lot of reason to believe that Indy will be one of the top teams in the league next year. Another offseason of solid free agency and draft picks, could ascend Indianapolis to heights not seen since the 2006-2007 season.

AFC South Standings

Houston: 7-3 W7

Indianapolis: 5-5 W4

Tennessee: 5-5 L1

Jacksonville: 5-5 L6

Photo Credit: South Bend Tribune

Ebron scores hat trick; Colts hold off Jaguars comeback attempt to win 29-26

It was a tale of two halves in Sunday’s contest between the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars. Andrew Luck had the hot hand early, as he marched the Colts down the field on the games’ opening drive, completing passes to four different receivers. On Luck’s fourth completion, he hooked up with a wide open Eric Ebron. Ebron was able to tip toe the sideline and leap towards the pylon for the games’ first score. (the first of three Eric Ebron touchdowns on the day).

After a punt by each team, the Jaguars offense settled in to a quick, five play drive. Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles found former Colts receiver Donte Moncrief for an 80 yards strike to tie up the game. Moncrief would finish with 3 receptions 98 yards and that touchdown.

The Colts would answer quickly on the next drive, as Luck hooked up with wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Mo Alie-Cox for gains of 35 and 27 yards respectively to set the Colts up near the end zone. This allowed for a two yard touchdown run on 3rd and goal by Eric Ebron. The ensuing Adam Vinatieri extra point put the game at 14-7.

A quick series by the Jaguars ended in a punt, and the Colts took an opportunity to extend their lead on their next possession. Running back Jordan Wilkins would make the most of his only carry of the day, as he gashed the Jacksonville defense on a 53 yards run. An excellent pancake block by rookie Quenton Nelson sprung Wilkins for the huge chunk play. Two Andrew Luck completions later, Eric Ebron would find himself wide open for yet another touchdown. Ebron now has 39 receptions, 9 receiving touchdowns, and 10 total touchdowns on the year. Having already eclipsed his career best touchdown numbers, Ebron sets his sights on his best statistical season since entering the league as a first round pick in 2014.

The Jaguars followed the third Eric Ebron touchdown with a touchdown run by second year running back Leonard Fournette. The Josh Lambo point after attempt would be blocked and nearly returned by linebacker Anthony Walker, but the would be two points for Indianapolis were unfortunately called back due to a low block. The Indianapolis offense however, would take the energy of that blocked kick, and filter it into even more points. The Colts capped their 10 play, 75 yard drive with a passing touchdown from Andrew Luck to Mo Alie-Cox. A Jacksonville penalty on the point after attempt allowed for the Colts to try a two-point conversion from the 1 yard line. The Colts offensive line paved the way for running back Marlon Mack, as he slid between left tackle Anthony Castonzo and Left Guard Quenton Nelson for the successful two-point conversion. This put the game at 29-13.

Jacksonville used all but five seconds of the remaining time to sneak in a Josh Lambo field goal, as he knocked a 28 yarder through the uprights. A quick kneel down by the Colts offense took the game into the half with a score of 29-16. The second half wasn’t nearly as spectacular for Indianapolis. Jacksonville made several adjustments, and shut out Indianapolis for the final two quarters as they attempted to mount a comeback. Indy’s possessions looked awful on paper, as two punts, an interception, and a missed field goal kept the game interesting for the rest of the afternoon. Jacksonville opened the second half with an exhausting 17 play touchdown drive that lasted 8 minutes and 35 seconds. Leonard Fournette would score his second touchdown of the day on a 1 yard reception.

So, right out of the gate the Colts lead shrunk to just 6 points after leading by as much as 16. The next Indianapolis drive was a quick three and out, and Jacksonville regained possession at their 39 yard line. This drive would end with one of the key plays of this game, as Jacksonville kicker Josh Lambo missed a 52 yard field goal wide left, as the Colts maintained a 6 point lead.

Four plays later, a tipped pass would result in an interception by the Jaguars’ Telvin Smith. Fortunately for the Colts, the Blake Bortles led offense wasn’t able to capitalize on the turnover, as they were forced to punt on the ensuing possession. The lead would shrink by 3 more points on the next Jacksonville possession however, as Josh Lambo keyed in from long distance, and knocked a 55 yarder through the uprights. The next Indianapolis possession made Colts fans cringe, as Adam Vinatieri would have a rare miss in clutch time. Vinatieri shanked a 52 yarder wide right, and set up the Jaguars offense in excellent field position to stage an upset.

By this point in the game, the Jaguars offense was riding a wave of momentum, and moving quickly into scoring position. Inside two minutes, Blake Bortles completed a pass to wide receiver Rashad Greene, and suddenly magic happened. Cornerback Kenny Moore III, who had himself quite the day with two pass deflections, was able to rip the ball out of Greene’s hands at the last moment. A play that was initially called a reception and down by contact, was reviewed and showed Greene losing possession just before his knee hit the turf. Safety Malik Hooker pounced on top of the ball, as the Indianapolis defense made a clutch, game saving turnover. A few kneel downs later, and the Colts survived for their 3rd straight victory 29-26.

Keys to victory:

Fast start: The Indianapolis offense was able to keep Jacksonville on their heels for the entire first half. Finding multiple broken coverages that led to big chunk plays, the Indy offense sprinted out to a 16 point lead at one point.

Offensive line: For the fourth consecutive week, Andrew Luck has not taken a sack. This has been a breath of fresh air for Colts fans who saw the Colts give up a league high 56 sacks last year. Indy currently ranks 2nd in sacks allowed (10), just behind the New Orleans Saints with 9. Clearly, the choice to pick left guard Quenton Nelson at #6 overall is paying dividends. Nelson is looking like he’ll be a perennial all-pro.

Clutch defense: Blake Bortles found a way to be pretty consistent against this Colts defense. His final stat line was 26/38, 320 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions. So, what’s one of the best ways to stop an effective passer? Force turnovers on the receivers. The Indianapolis defense clawed and scratched at the ball all day with no success, but their persistence payed off late, as wide receiver Rashad Greene lost control of the ball deep in Indianapolis territory and cornerback Kenny Moore III forced a turnover on the play of the game.

Things to work on:

Stay consistent for 4 quarters: A great first half was nearly just that, because the Colts offense was stymied in the second. Two punts, an interception, and a missed field goal in the second half gave Jacksonville a fighting chance. A win is a win, but if Indy hopes to keep the streak going and make a playoff push, they’ll need to have the, “obsession to finish” that head coach Frank Reich has preached since training camp.

Kicking game: I don’t know what’s up with Adam Vinatieri lately, but he doesn’t seem himself. A case of the yips? Injury? Old age? At any rate, he hasn’t been as clutchy as in years past. With the playoffs looming, and many teams competing for a wildcard spot, a missed kick could mean not playing playoff football in January.

Rookie Mistakes: Momentum is a very real thing in football. It energizes fans and players alike. So, when a rare blocked and returned extra point happens, you get pumped! However, when that same return is called back for an unnecessary low block, you scream at your television, because that penalty wiped out a 3 point swing on the scoreboard. If the Colts want to be a playoff team, they need to play smart in all three phases (offense, defense, and special teams).

Next week, another divisional opponent comes to Indianapolis. The Tennessee Titans are coming off an impressive dismantling of the New England Patriots 34-10. The Titans have the top ranked defense In points against (16.8), and rank in the top 10 in several other defensive categories. The good news for the Colts, is that the Titans offense ranks in the bottom 3 in most categories. This team is built a lot like the Jaguars, and will be another tough matchup for this Indianapolis team. Kickoff is scheduled for 1pm eastern time next Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Photo Credit : Getty Images

Colts on bye week after second win in a row

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