INDIANAPOLIS – Despite not punting for an entire game, the Colts will once again be playing from behind to start a season.
Favored by a touchdown in Week 1, Frank Reich’s team could not take advantage of an early lead, and saw the Jaguars seize on that opportunity with a 27-20 win over Indianapolis.
What was learned from Colts (0-1) dropping their season opener for a 7th straight season?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Another Brutal Season-Opening Loss: The years change, the staffs change, the quarterbacks change—yet the Colts continue to suffer brutal Week 1 losses. Sunday was the worst of the now 7 in a row season-opening defeats. Favored by 7.5, the Colts missed an early opportunity to take firm control and that was all Jacksonville needed to not only hang around, but play from ahead in the final minutes. Despite the Colts outgaining Jacksonville 445-241, the Colts were poor situationally (4-of-12 on third down and 2-of-5 in the red zone, with a missed field goal) and that proved costly. There’s blame that falls in much more expected areas, but even your most trustworthy parts of the team let you down, with the running backs producing 76 yards on 20 carries (against a depleted Jacksonville run defense) and T.Y. Hilton admittedly dropping two balls on the game’s final drive, with the Colts down 7 points. We know it’s a long season, and a Week 1 loss isn’t some crushing blow to playoff chances. But it means the Colts are again playing from behind this season, especially with an early divisional loss in a game that was supposed to be one of the easiest of the year for Indianapolis. Against one of the poorer roster the Colts will face all season, they were too often outcoached and outexecuted in a place that continues to give them nightmares.
2. New Year, Same Pass Defense: Readers and listeners know full well the issues that are there with the Colts pass defense. Even with the personnel changes this season, the scheme remains the same and that’s a problem in trying to limit opposing quarterbacks. Gardner Minshew was once again in a near flawless rhythm—going 19-of-20 (95 percent) for 173 yards and 3 touchdowns. Overall, the Colts defense struggled on Sunday, and not just in the passing department. They didn’t force a turnover and Jacksonville mainly controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the game. Going back to the pass defense though, the Colts play a very vanilla, mostly zone, scheme, which allows opposing QBs to get into early rhythms. That was the case with Minshew on Sunday, with another historic performance coming against the Indy D. The thought entering 2020 was the Colts would be able to alter timing more with play in the defensive trenches, but that wasn’t there enough in Week 1. Back in the secondary, Xavier Rhodes had a bad pass interference penalty and a blown coverage that led to the Jaguars game-winning touchdown. It was a performance we saw far too often last season, and this one came with the Colts fully healthy in their defense.
3. Philip Rivers Shows You Everything: Sunday’s Philip Rivers is exactly what the Colts should have known they were getting in their new quarterback. For much of the loss on Sunday, Rivers was masterful with his accuracy, leading a quicker rhythm approach, and keeping the Colts away from punting all afternoon long. But Rivers threw two costly interceptions, and quarterbacked a unit that failed too many times situationally. The first INT (one that Frank Reich took blame for positioning a formation wrong) gave Jacksonville early life during a first half that the Colts controlled for long stretches. Rivers’ 2nd INT came with the Colts trailing in the final quarter and was reminiscent of plays you saw from him last year with the Chargers. In Sunday’s opener, Rivers was 36-of-46 (78 percent) for 363 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. There was a lot to like from Rivers today, seriously, but you are going to have to live with these ‘huh’ throws he inevitably tosses, especially when you can’t maintain a lead. Of course, not playing from behind, would be huge to keep Rivers from needing the hero ball moment. Following the game, Rivers was adamant that he missed an early opportunity on the second drive of the game that could have put the Colts ahead 14-0 and in a position to control the remainder of the game.
4. Don’t Forget About The Kicker: Such a calm and consistent afternoon for Rodrigo Blankenship took an ugly turn in the 3rd quarter on Sunday. That was when the rookie kicker doinked one off the left upright (from the right hash) from 30 yards out. Instead of pushing the lead to 20-14 behind a chip shot field goal, the Colts again left easy points on the field. We talked last week when the Colts decided to go with Blankenship over Chase McLaughlin that the team was making a riskier call on a kicker that might have a higher ceiling, but more often missed shorter kicks in camp (when the media was watching). The Colts knew that, yet still made the decision to not take the kicker with NFL experience. Blankenship made both of his extra points on Sunday, two field goals (from 25 and 37 yards), but this short miss again has the Colts questioning what they have at placekicker. This position continues to leave everyone uneasy.
5. Marlon Mack Done For The Season? Man, what a horrible break for Marlon Mack, if he indeed tore his Achilles in Sunday’s first half (which is what NFL Network’s Tom Peliserro first reported on Sunday). Frank Reich confirmed an Achilles injury for Mack, with the severity coming tomorrow after an MRI. After making a catch midway through the second quarter and turning up field, Mack immediately went down and grabbed the lower part of his right leg. He hobbled off the field and was eventually carted off. Originally, the Colts said Mack was out for the rest of the game due to an ankle injury. But if Mack’s Achilles is indeed torn, he will be done for the year. Obviously, this is an immense loss for the Colts. Yes, the team has notable depth at running back, but there’s a reason why the Colts have a 1-7 record in games Mack has missed. Along with Nyheim Hines, Jonathan Taylor and Jordan Wilkins will be relied on quite a lot to carry more of the early down role for the Colts. Obviously, Taylor (who finished Sunday with 10 touches for 89 yards) is likely to take over as the lead back. For Mack, what a crushing blow to suffer such a significant injury in a contract year. This will certainly impact the market for Mack as he hits free agency, at the age of 25, next spring.
-Injury Report: The Colts had the following players inactive on Sunday: S-Julian Blackmon (knee), QB-Jacob Eason, WR-Dezmon Patmon, DT-Eli Anoku, TE-Noah Togiai. Running back Marlon Mack (Achilles) left the game midway through the second quarter and did not return.
–Key Stat: The Colts have now lost 7 straight season openers and have still not won in Jacksonville since the 2014 season.
–What’s Next: The Colts (0-1) will hold their home opener, in front of a maximum of 2,500 fans, next Sunday at 1:00 PM against the Minnesota Vikings (0-1), who lost their opener to the Packers. The Colts won’t play another AFC South game again until Week 10.