INDIANAPOLIS – One week after their best home win in years, the Colts got smoked by the Titans in a game that will have far greater ramifications for 2020 playoff chances.
It looked like a shootout early, but the Titans rode Derrick Henry to a rout of the Colts, 45-26, inside of Lucas Oil Stadium.
What was learned from the Colts (7-4) splitting the season series against the Titans (8-3)?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Whipped At Home: Was this game really 14-14 at one point? The makings of a shootout on Sunday saw the Colts quickly run out of ammo, with the Titans riding the workhorse that is Derrick Henry (27 carries for 178 yards and 3 touchdowns) to an easy second half victory. From the start on Sunday, the Titans just whipped a banged-up Colts defensive front, as Henry often went untouched 5 and 6 yards past the line of scrimmage. Simply, the Titans played bully ball with the Colts, leaning on their strength all afternoon long. As the deficit built, and the Colts offense struggled to sustain drives, the obvious passing situations caught up to Frank Reich’s team. We’ll get into some of the personnel issues below, but let’s remember the Colts still entered Sunday’s kickoff favored. Was it going to be more difficult to earn such an important victory minus some key members? Without question. But that doesn’t excuse losing by 3 scores in your own building, allowing the Titans running backs to average more than 8 yards per carry in the first half, doing it in the most important game of the season and seeing your opponent score the most points on the road for their franchise in a dozen years.
2. Anthony Castonzo Injury Watch: Honestly, the biggest worry exiting Sunday should be the heath of Anthony Castonzo. The indispensable left tackle went down holding his right knee on a Jacoby Brissett touchdown in the first quarter and did not return. We know full well the issues this offense has had with Castonzo sidelined in the past. And we saw them again on Sunday. After two touchdown drives chewing up 150 net yards to start the game, Castonzo went to the locker room and never returned. What followed was 7 straight empty possessions. Given the nature of the play Castonzo was hurt on and him immediately going to the locker room, seeing the reliable left tackle miss some time would not be a surprise. Frank Reich said after that he doesn’t think Castonzo’s knee injury is ‘worst case scenario. The Colts are 2-11 in games without Castonzo and Sunday was another example of Chris Ballard’s biggest offseason mistake—not addressing backup tackle in a more serious manner.
3. Depth Getting Tested And Tested: We will acknowledge the very challenging personnel situation the Colts were in on Sunday (down 5 notable starters). We also know the Titans were missing some key guys. But we’ll concentrate on the Colts status moving forward. Denico Autry (COVID list) and Jonathan Taylor (COVID list) should be back this week. DeForest Buckner’s (COVID) absence should only be one more game, at the most. Ryan Kelly (neck) and Bobby Okereke (ankle) don’t appear to be long-term issues. On Sunday, the Colts depth up front, on both sides of the ball, got exposed—the Titans averaged 5.1 yards per carry and the Colts averaged just 2.7. Given how much Chris Ballard preaches trench depth, he could not have been happy at all with what he saw. The reality is teams around the NFL are dealing with various health/personnel situations right now. Welcome to 2020 and 12 weeks into a season. The Colts had theirs this time last year, too, and couldn’t overcome them. The depth of the roster must contribute at a higher level than we saw on Sunday, if January football is still going to happen. Ballard was very frustrated with himself last year for not providing the coaching staff with enough depth. If this team goes 2-3 down the stretch and somehow misses the postseason, it would not be a ringing endorsement on the roster depth in Year 4 of this building.
4. Rock Ya-Sin Gets Benched: It’s certainly been an up and down second NFL season for Rock Ya-Sin. But Sunday was his worst moment. Ya-Sin had two critical penalties and was in man coverage on the A.J. Brown 69-yard touchdown in the first quarter. After Ya-Sin’s second penalty, the Colts benched him for a couple of series. Outside cornerback depth was a question for the Colts in 2020. But the lack of truly potent passing attacks has helped them mask that concern. Ya-Sin’s panicky nature with his technique leads to way too much grabbing and teams are taking notice. They are targeting Ya-Sin in coverage and you know that’ll continue with Deshaun Watson, Derek Carr and Ben Roethlisberger waiting in the next month. It’s not what you want looking forward, but the Colts have to explore the idea of playing T.J. Carrie more in their 3-corner package (along with Kenny Moore and Xavier Rhodes).
5. Margin For Error Shrinking: Entering Sunday, we addressed just how vitally important this game was for the Colts trying to win their first AFC South title since 2014. A win would have given the Colts nearly a 90 percent chance at capturing the division crown. A loss though now has them at less than 20 percent to win the AFC South and back in the position of needing help from the Titans, in order to get that home game to start the playoffs. With 5 games remaining in the regular season, the Colts will now need to likely make up 2 games over the Titans for the division. The teams have split the head-to-head tiebreaker, but the Titans now have the lead in the next tiebreaker, which is divisional record (Titans are 3-1, Colts are 1-2). While the Titans don’t have a real easy slate to finish (Browns, at Jaguars, Lions, at Packers, at Texans) the Colts are going to need plenty of help (at Texans, at Raiders, Texans, Steelers, Jaguars). So, for now, the Colts throw their hat into the crowded Wild Card mix, and the tiebreakers aren’t ideal over there either. A win over the Raiders in two weeks will be really needed though. The Colts currently have the final spot in the playoffs (No. 7) and they have a slightly better than 50/50 chance to make the postseason (per FiveThirtyEight). Again, Sunday’s loss wasn’t as indicative of what a Colts team is capable of in January, but it puts them into a position where they cannot afford another hiccup or two if they want to play meaningful football in the New Year.
–Injury Report: The Colts had the following players inactive on Sunday: C-Ryan Kelly (neck), LB-Bobby Okereke (ankle), TE-Noah Togiai, CB-Isaiah Rodgers (knee), QB-Jacob Eason, WR-Dezmon Patmon, DE-Ben Banogu. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo (knee) left in the second quarter and did not return. Safety Khari Willis (back, quad) left the game in the 4th quarter and did not return.
–Key Stat: The 35 points allowed in Sunday’s first half by the Colts was the most at home in franchise history.
–What’s Next: The Colts (7-4) are on the road the next two weeks, with a trip to Houston (4-7) first up. They’ll kick at 1:00 PM next Sunday.