INDIANAPOLIS – As their first true January test of the season came, the Colts (5-3) wilted over the course of 60 minutes.
Costly turnovers and offensive struggles defined the 24-10 loss to the Ravens (6-2), in a game that Indianapolis led at halftime.
What was learned from the Colts dropping their first home game of the year?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. First January Test Failed: Even Frank Reich acknowledged after Sunday’s game that the opportunity was there for the Colts on Sunday to prove themselves on a bigger scale. Over the course of 60 minutes, the Colts still looked like a team capable of making the playoffs, but not having the ability to do much after that. Sunday’s story really boiled down to the turnover battle. It was Frank Reich’s biggest key to the game and something he stressed a whole lot last week. The Colts lost the battle 2-1, with the Ravens outscoring Indianapolis 14-0 off those turnovers. Whether the Colts want to admit it or not, they are not a complete enough football team to survive that stat going against them as much it did on Sunday. Up 10-7 at halftime on Sunday, the Colts played so much better than that score indicated. The Colts didn’t win these games in the second half of last year and it ultimately led to them going from the top of the AFC South to out of the playoffs. Well, more January type challenges will await here in 2020, with another on Thursday. Win, and it’s a big step forward to being a playoff team and still be in the middle of an AFC South race. Lose, and you will close out the month with the Packers and Titans, needing to turn things around quick to still be a Wild Card team. Sunday’s test still shows the Colts are on the outside looking in as a team capable of winning away from home in January.
2. Philip Rivers, Offense, Struggles: We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, anyone expecting routine high-level play from Philip Rivers at this point of his career, with this offensive personnel, is foolish. While Rivers is an upgrade of what the Colts had last year at QB, he’s still nowhere near the type of quarterback you need to win games against playoff-caliber teams, with the support around him lacking. Sunday was easily the most inaccurate Rivers has been at home this season (26-of-44 for 227 yards, 1 interception). He led an offense that was a terrible 2-of-12 on third down, and tossed an interception on an admitted poorly thrown ball (no matter the debate on if it was an INT or not). With his top two wideouts out, and his veteran tight end leaving in the first half, Rivers looked below average. The Ravens played more Cover 2 than they had most of the season and that kept the Colts passing game right in front of them (longest play of the day for the Colts was 21 yards). The Colts didn’t have a ton of chances to make plays vertically on Sunday, but Rivers missed on too many of them. A stagnate rushing offense had more moments on Sunday, but not enough to sustain scoring drives. When the Colts signed Rivers, they believed they could create an environment around him where he would just need to manage things and out chess-match defenses. That atmosphere isn’t here and that’s where you see Rivers getting exposed. Halfway through 2020, Rivers has largely looked like a middle of the pack QB in the NFL and shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.
3. Costly Jonathan Taylor Fumble: It might have been the best carry of Jonathan Taylor’s career…until the end. Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters did a wonderful job jarring the ball loose from Taylor’s grasp for a huge strip late in Sunday’s first quarter. Ravens safety Chuck Clark picked up the fumble and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown. The fumble was so costly. Not only did it totally stymie a Colts offense that was poised to go up two scores, but it gave the Ravens points, something they desperately needed with a Baltimore offense producing nothing in the first half. This was such the play of the game. While Frank Reich said there was no discussion amongst the coaching staff to ‘bench’ Taylor after the fumble (his first in the NFL after some ball security issues in college), the carry count the rest of the way would tell a different story. After 5 carries in the first quarter (for more than 5 yards per carry), Taylor didn’t have another carry after the fumble until the 6-minute mark of the 4th quarter, and that came with Jordan Wilkins (11 carries for 39 yards) getting looked at by the athletic training staff. It was Taylor’s only carry of the game after the fumble. For a second straight week, the Colts have pretty much benched their 2nd round draft pick. He’s going to still be heavily involved in this offense, but he has to start giving the team more of a consistent and reliable producer or else this rookie season will be a definite disappointment.
4. Defense Wears Down: It has to be noted how outstanding the Colts defense was in Sunday’s first half. They were disciplined, yet playmaking, and did everything you could ask for in the first 30 minutes of play. Darius Leonard (13 solo tackles) was all over the field and the defensive line whipped Baltimore’s front. But things changed a bit in the second half. Certainly, the defense doesn’t deserve a major chunk for Sunday’s loss, but let’s not absolve this group for its play after halftime. Baltimore got going with some tempo to start the 3rd quarter, which totally flipped field position. As the Ravens and Colts traded turnovers in the third, the Indy defense slowly started to break down. Baltimore put together 3 straight drives, all with at least 4 first downs, with the Colts unable to get off the field, and no thanks to an Indy offense running 4 plays the entire third quarter. Yes, the defense gave the Colts a chance on Sunday and did a really sound job against such a potent rushing attack. But it was nowhere near the dominant, 60-minute performances we saw so often early in the season. Lamar Jackson, a guy who has hovered around 50 percent passing over the last month and a half, was a perfect 10-of-10 in the second half. That can’t happen. The reality of what this schedule brings to close out the season is that those sustained defensive efforts over 60 minutes won’t be as easy. The Colts saw that on Sunday.
5. Short-Week Madness Begins: Every NFL team faces it and for the Colts it’s about as physical of back-to-back games as you can get. After banging pads with the Ravens on Sunday, the Colts are now off to Nashville to take on the Titans this Thursday night. It goes without saying what is at stake with the Colts (5-3) and Titans (6-2) meeting for the first time this year (the return matchup will be November 29th). With the offensive struggles we saw from the Colts on Sunday, their personnel might be challenged again on Thursday. Jack Doyle left Sunday’s loss with a concussion, and while that’s obviously never good, the chances of him passing through the protocol to play on Thursday seems slim. Will T.Y. Hilton (groin), who was inactive after being listed as doubtful, get a chance to test out his soft tissue at a Colts practice this week, or will the team stick to walk-throughs? The Titans have their own injury questions, but they also are playing at home, have a 1-game lead in the standings and have the better divisional record.
-Injury Report: The Colts had the following players inactive on Sunday: WR-T.Y. Hilton (groin), QB-Jacob Eason, WR-Dezmon Patmon, DE-Ron’Dell Carter, DE-Ben Banogu, TE-Noah Togiai, S-Tavon Wilson. TE-Jack Doyle left the game in the second quarter with a concussion and did not return.
–Key Stat: In the career of T.Y. Hilton, the Colts are now 1-10 all-time in games that he does not play.
–What’s Next: The Colts (5-3) have a short week coming up, taking on the Titans (6-2) in Nashville.
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