The Colts somehow escaped Mile High Stadium with another notch in the win column. What did we learn from the Week Five game against the Broncos?
Neither team played well and many on social media inquired about Amazon’s return policy for Thursday Night Football games on Prime Video. Denver found multiple ways to throw the game away and the Colts escaped with a 12 – 9 overtime win. The outcome evened the team’s win-loss columns but left the prognosis for 2022 in limbo. Let’s dig in.
One: Colts Offense Is Boring And Predictable
A week after quarterback Matt Ryan spread the ball and fed a steady dose of passes to multiple tight ends and wide receivers, head coach Frank Reich regressed to his norm of running back-dominated plays. The gameplan was especially egregious, given that star Jonathan Taylor was inactive due to injury.
The opening drive for the Colts saw three scripted plays for Nyheim Hines: passes on first and second down, and an off-tackle run on third down – resulting in a three-and-out and a concussion for Hines, who would be ruled out for the remainder of the game.
How did the Colts adjust on offense? They didn’t, continuing to force-feed a steady dose of running backs Deon Jackson and the just-elevated-from-the-practice-squad Phillip Lindsay.
The Colts ran formations that kept blockers close to the pocket and telegraphed upcoming plays. The continual pattern of run off-tackle on first down, run off-tackle on second-and-long, pass on third-and-long was clearly predictable for the Broncos. Watching the Week Five offense brought back painful memories of Chuck Pagano fourth-quarter offenses.
This is INSANE: Baron Browning posted the highest single-game pressure rate (50%) and win rate (60%) EVER in the @PFF era (since 2006) against the Colts. Browning did that in his first ever career start at OLB. — Zac Stevens (@ZacStevensDNVR) October 8, 2022
The Colts offense continues to look anemic through the first half and into the third quarter of games, until the team has dug a multiple-score hole on the scoreboard. At some point, Reich has to remove the handcuffs from Ryan, allowing him to run an up-tempo, spread offense. Both of the Colts’ wins are the result of fourth-quarter comebacks engineered by Ryan. But for a missed field goal by now-released place kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, the Colts tie against the Houston Texans would have left the Ryan with a third, fourth-quarter come-from-behind victory.
As it is, the Colts’ stubbornness in force-feeding an ineffective ground game and running back-heavy screen and check-down passing game will continue to allow defenses to stymie Ryan and the offensive game plan.
#Colts offense was dead last coming into tonight and they will leave Denver with an even stronger grasp on it… This is absolutely unacceptable and heads have to role.. IMMEDIATELY! — The King Of Colts👑 (@ShaadMcGinnis) October 7, 2022
Two: Defense Continues To Keep The Colts In Games
The lone, consistent bright spot for the Colts so far has been the defense. Despite questions regarding defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s new scheme and a sharp decline from 2021 in generating turnovers, the defense found ways each week to keep the team in games.
While perhaps under the radar statistically, several Colts players, including Kwity Paye, Grover Stewart, and DeForest Buckner on the line and Stephon Gilmore, Rodney McLeod, and Rodney Thomas II in the backfield have found ways to keep opposing offenses out of the end zone. The run and goal-line defense have been particularly stout.
The offense has routinely put the defense in untenable positions with short fields due to turnovers.WeekOpponentOutcomeScoreTurnoversPoints Off TurnoversOne@ TexansTie (OT)20 – 20214Two@ JaguarsLoss0 – 2437ThreeChiefsWin20 – 1717FourTitansLoss17 – 24314Five@ BroncosWin (OT)12 – 923Total69 – 941145Per Game13.8 – 18.82.29
2022 Colts Offense Turnovers, Points Off Turnovers, and Game Outcomes
Aside from turnover-initiated drives, the Colts defense has held opponents to 49 points (9.8 points/game). Even given how anemic the Colts offense has been, averaging a mere 13.8 points/game, the defense has played well enough to yield victories if the offense would simply stop turning the ball over. Aside from the Week Two loss at Jacksonville, eliminating points off turnovers would have resulted in a victory and a Colts record of 4 – 1 (2 – 1 in the division).
Three: Colts Win Over The Broncos Was A Pyrrhic Victory
Week Five may have added a notch to the win column in the Colts record, but in many ways it was a pyrrhic victory.
First: including Hines, several key players left the game with injuries. Starting center Ryan Kelly left the game in the second quarter with a hip injury. Perhaps most concerning, surging pass-rushing specialist Kwity Paye suffered an ankle injury late in the fourth quarter.
Second: the win seemingly validated the viability of the 2022 Colts in the eyes of owner Jim Irsay and head coach Frank Reich, based on post-game comments. Instead of seeing the game for what it was – two bad teams in a primetime race to the bottom – Jim Irsay and Frank Reich have taken the “a win is a win” stance and potentially dooming the team to continued mediocrity.
"WE'RE FIRED UP AND EXCITED MAN!"#Colts owner @JimIrsay talked exclusively to @ACwishtv after an overtime win in Denver. "There is no such thing as an ugly win… this thing looks like a beauty to me!" #ForTheShoe pic.twitter.com/QLJOOrJTW1 — Angela Moryan (@SidelineStormer) October 7, 2022
The hallmark of good teams is their ability to dominate bad teams – something Reich’s teams have not been known for. Under Reich, the Colts have regressed to the epitome of mediocrity. Despite Irsay’s impassioned airport speech following the 2021 season-ending loss at Jacksonville, the Colts have completed the first quarter of the 2022 season showing no meaningful improvement.
The Colts are a gobsmackingly idiotic, Russell Wilson goal-line pass attempt away from a loss and a 1 – 3 – 1 record. With the Broncos leading 9 – 6 and the Colts out of timeouts and unable to stop the clock just outside the fourth-quarter two-minute warning, the Broncos likely needed to do nothing more than run the ball on fourth down and then kick a field goal to ice the game with a 12 – 6 lead.
Instead, Wilson attempted a pass, leading to a phenomenal end zone interception by cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Ryan subsequently drove the Colts on a game-tying field-goal drive, forcing overtime. Once again, in overtime, following a Colts field goal, the Broncos eschewed the opportunity to tie the game with a chip-shot field goal on fourth and two, attempting a touchdown pass to wide receiver Courtland Sutton that was knocked down (again) by Gilmore. On the play, Wilson missed wide-open receiver KJ Hamler across the middle, who would have walked into the end zone for a Broncos win.
Anyone evaluating the Colts in Week Five objectively would see this team for what it is: a mediocre, underachieving, uninspired, and uninspiring squad that simply isn’t working and apparently incapable of yielding the results Irsay has promised fans. Instead, the Broncos snatching defeat from the jaws of victory may take needed heat and impatience from Irsay toward the Reich and Ballard regime.
Four: Colts Offensive Line Is Proving Ballard Wrong
At the start of the season, Chris Ballard expressed confidence in the offensive line, saying “Yeah, but we feel good about their talent… We feel good about where we’re at and the depth. They’re young, but that’s not a bad thing.”
Unfortunately, Ballard’s bullishness appears misplaced. The line has routinely failed to create running lanes and has subjected Ryan to an unsustainable level of abuse from opponents’ pass rushers. The Colts have attempted several line changes in the first five weeks, first replacing backup-center-turned-starting-right-guard Danny Pinter with guard Will Fries in Week Four, and then completely reshuffling the line in Week Five, moving to a Bernhard Raimann-Quenton Nelson-Ryan Kelly-Braden Smith-Matt Pryor lineup.
The changes continue to resemble little more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Matt Pryor appears to be as inept at right tackle as he was at left tackle.
Smith and Kelly continue to underperform. (Even all-pro left guard Quenton Nelson got trucked at one point in Week Five.) The lack of depth entering 2022 necessitated the starters performing like the league’s highest-paid offensive line. Instead, the line may be one of the league’s worst, while also having little to no depth.
There is no way to sugar-coat it: Chris Ballard swung big – and missed – with the Colts offensive line.
Bradley Chubb vs. Matt Pryor pic.twitter.com/DlEPb3yf3o — Charlie Clifford (@cliffWISH8) October 7, 2022
Five: Colts Wide Receivers Are So Far Proving Ballard Right
Week Five takeaways end on a positive note: while Ballard badly missed on the offensive line, thus far, the young receivers have proved Ballard right for placing so much confidence in them. Ballard was widely panned for failing to add a veteran wide receiver in free agency. Instead, Ballard stuck to his guns regarding his philosophy of building and developing through the draft.
Through five weeks, the young wide receivers have delivered. Ryan appears to be developing a special rapport with rookie Alec Pierce. Micheal Pittman, Jr. continues to deliver as the Colts’ #1 wide receiver. Ashton Dulin and Michael Strachan have delivered in situational roles.
The young group has demonstrated that, when the Colts gameplan to use them, they are capable of delivering. Ryan is comfortable targeting any of his receivers when he has time to throw. Pierce, in particular, often looks like a man playing among boys, with a penchant for hauling in contested catches.
Credit where it is due: Ballard has built a stable of receivers with a potential for greatness.
Alec Pierce is HIM #Colts pic.twitter.com/KfLYNajGxC — Indy Source (@SourceIndiana) October 7, 2022
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