INDIANAPOLIS – Leave it to the new-found trustworthy Colts defense for Indianapolis’ first road win in 363 days.
Behind another stingy defensive performance, the Colts beat the Chicago Bears, 19-11, to close out the first quarter of the season.
What was learned from the Colts (3-1) winning their third straight game?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. In Control All Afternoon: The score was never more than one or two possessions in the Colts’ favor, but they methodically controlled the previously undefeated Chicago Bears throughout this one. For the third straight game, the Colts defense was outstanding. It started up front with DeForest Buckner setting the tone, but contributions were felt from Anthony Walker (11 tackles in place of an injured Darius Leonard), Justin Houston (another sack) and in the secondary, with Julian Blackmon (an interception, to go along with two more passes defensed) deserving mention. The Bears finished Sunday with 28 rushing yards on 16 carries (1.8 yards per carry), which is the fewest for the franchise since 2009. The Colts were dominant up front in totally eliminating that part of the Bears offense, which is something a new starting QB would love to lean on, and something the Colts really focused on this week. Tougher offensive tests will certainly come, but the Colts are earning top grades against offenses they’ve never stifled like this under Matt Eberflus. The defense only had 1 sack, but didn’t have to rely on a ton of playmaking in the sack/turnover department to get off the field, which might be more impressive than the previous two weeks. They just routinely forced punts with sound tackling and disciplined play.
2. Third-Down Strides: Steps in the right direction did come from the Colts offense in regards to third-down efficiency. The Colts finished Sunday 8-of-19 (40.2 percent) on third down, after entering Week Four as the league’s worst third-down offense (converting 30.3 percent). Now, things were not all pretty for the offense, with the O-line having some issues and Philip Rivers uncharacteristically missing a couple of wide-open guys. But it was important for this unit to sustain drives better, which helped the Colts control field position—putting a clearly struggling Chicago offense into some terrible situations. Rivers wasn’t great on Sunday (16-of-29 for 190 yards, 1 TD) and nowhere near as efficient as he’s been, but the offense did stay away from the killer mistake that could have given Chicago hope.
3. Game Ball To Julian Blackmon: You have to remind yourself that rookie Julian Blackmon is just 10 months removed from tearing his ACL. Blackmon once again looked like he fully belongs on an NFL playing field. Blackmon had 3 passes defensed on Sunday, including an interception that ended any fading hope Chicago had in the 4th quarter. The three passes defensed came in a variety of ways—one via a huge hit, another off a timely breakup and then the INT off a drop. Arguably Blackmon’s greatest asset entering the league was his instincts. They’ve been on full display since making his debut in Week 2. You see no fear or hesitancy from Blackmon—and we are talking about a rookie, coming off a torn ACL, who has been thrust into starting duty. As Frank Reich said afterwards, this is the most confident he’s been in his defense and that’s because of guys like Blackmon showing up and producing.
4. Offensive Line Yet To Be Elite: Four games into the season, and we have yet to see a truly elite offensive line performance for the Colts. It’s mainly been some misses in the run game. Frank Reich acknowledged after the game the Colts run game needs to improve. Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins combined to have 107 rushing yards on 35 carries (3.06 YPC). Chicago struggled against the run coming into Week Four, but still had 8 stuffs (negative or no gain runs). The pass protection was a little shakier on Sunday, but that part has mostly been really solid early on. Yes, the Colts ended a 6-game road losing streak on Sunday but winning away from home in January is going to take better play from this offensive line.
5. Solid Position After 1st Quarter: The greedy ones will lament what happened in the season opener, but 3-1 is just fine for the Indianapolis Colts after the first quarter of the season. Yes, the Colts have played the easiest schedule in the NFL. Still, a 3-1 start to the year has them in good positioning for where they need to be at right now. What you have to like about the Colts is how they’ve shown multiple weeks of playmaking from a defense that hardly found that in recent seasons, let alone in consecutive weeks. That’s promising, with better offenses waiting later this season. The special teams has been terrific in many areas. And the offense could use some cleaning up in the trenches and situationally. We knew the Colts needed to take advantage of this softer part of their schedule. So far, so good. The Colts are 3-1 for the first time since the 2013 season.
–Injury Report: The Colts had the following players inactive on Sunday: CB-T.J. Carrie (hamstring), QB-Jacob Eason, WR-Dezmon Patmon, DT-Eli Anoku, DE-Ron’Dell Carter, TE-Noah Togiai. Linebacker Darius Leonard (groin) got hurt late in the second quarter and did not return. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin got hut late in the 4th quarter and did not return. Frank Reich didn’t have an update on Ya-Sin after the win.
–Key Stat: The Colts are allowing 14 points per game, that’s the second-best mark for the team since 2005 (allowed just less than 14 points per game in the first quarter of the 2013 season).
–What’s Next: The Colts (3-1) are back on the road in Week Five, taking on the Browns (3-1) next Sunday at 4:25. The Browns are 3-1 for the first time since 1991.