INDIANAPOLIS – Not even a turnover filled day by the Titans could lead to the Colts stealing another one in Nashville
Carson Wentz gutted it out in Week 3, but the Colts still couldn’t do enough to beat the Titans, falling 25-16.
What did we learn from the Colts losing their first divisional matchup of the season?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Forced Turnovers Doesn’t Lead To Victory: Entering Sunday, the Colts had won 27 of their last 28 games when winning the turnover margin by at least three. They lost on Sunday, despite forcing 3 turnovers and committing none. That shows you how poor the rest of the game was for Frank Reich’s team. The inability to, again, finish off drives, soft coverage at critical moments along with no consistent pass rush (2 quarterback hits for the entire game) and some costly penalties by captains and veterans had the Colts losing this game by two scores, even though they had a turnover margin that gives teams a better than 90 percent chance at winning NFL games. To have a chance entering this one, you needed some gifts. The Titans did their part, but the Colts could not cash in enough, and now are fighting up a steep, steep mountain. We all knew the start of this season would be difficult for the Colts. But to have held a lead on the scoreboard for just 6 out of 180 minutes is pretty unexplainable. This one on Sunday was so massive in potentially shifting how things look for the Colts moving forward. Instead, the Colts are 0-3 for the first time since Curtis Painter led them in 2011.
2. Goal-To-Go Issues Again: The Colts were 0-for-2 on Sunday in their goal-to-go situations, with the Titans 2-for-2. Despite the Colts having their most effective run game of the season, along with a gimpy and limited quarterback, they passed the ball on 5 of those 6 goal-to-go plays. All 5 went incomplete. Typically, Frank Reich is a guy that sticks with the run more than other play callers. But he went away from it too quickly on Sunday, particularly when Carson Wentz was obviously limited and unable to move in the pocket like he normally can. The Colts aren’t a team that creates enough big plays right now, so relying on longer drives and finishing them off inside the 10 is the recipe for them. But that last part has not has not been there this season. Reich dialed some nice things up in short-yardage and in the open field on Sunday, but the lack of execution in goal-to-go situations showed up again. When you see Wentz miss on an open Michael Pittman for a touchdown in the third quarter, it was a reminder of what the Colts had at QB on Sunday. Committing to more of a ground game in these situations was needed.
3. Gimpy Carson Wentz Guts It Out: Chalk another one up for the toughness of Carson Wentz. Despite Wentz being “70-80 percent” in the eyes of Frank Reich, the Colts elected to play No. 2 on Sunday, and risk further injury, with the QB getting hit 10 more times on Sunday. Reich said he never thought about resting Wentz on Sunday, even with his physical issues and limited practice time this week. Once the head coach got the official word from the doctors on Sunday morning, Wentz was starting, with Brett Hundley and Jacob Eason dressed, but never getting into the game. At this point, the chatter among fans is growing about wanting Wentz to miss some game action, in order for the Colts to retain their No. 1 overall pick next April. That’s the reality of where the Colts and Wentz’s health are at. From the opening drive on Sunday, you could tell Wentz was really limited. It showed. He completed just 51 percent of his passes (19-of-37) with a limited vertical passing game contributing to a poor yards per attempt number of 5.2. Pass catchers had three drops on Sunday, which didn’t aid a gimpy Wentz. The Colts should have sat Wentz on Sunday. Exposing him to another day of double-digit hits and having him operate an offense that was handcuffed play-calling wise is quite the indictment for Eason. Would the Colts have won on Sunday with Eason or Hundley under center? No. But they would have saved their hobbled, and oft-injured, QB from another day filled with hits.
4. Injuries Piling Up: With 7 playoff teams now and the gift that is the AFC South, the Colts and playoff hopes are going to be there deep into the season. But where this margin for error continues to dwindle comes from the record (0-3), level of play (again, 2 minutes of leading in 180 minutes of action this season) and on the injury report. On Sunday, the Colts saw these guys leave the game and not return: LG-Quenton Nelson (ankle), DE-Kwity Paye (hamstring), CB-Rock Ya-Sin (ankle) and S-Khari Willis (groin). While the return of RT-Braden Smith (foot, thumb) shouldn’t be much longer, and WR-T.Y. Hilton (neck) isn’t expected to be done for the season, this is a reeling football team that is not seeing their depth step up. On Sunday, a team that prides itself on communication and being smart had costly penalties and errors during several critical situations. While the Titans overcame the loss of injured stars in Bud DuPree, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, the Colts could not handle their own injuries.
5. AFC South Hopes Fading Fast: For a Week 3 game, Sunday was beyond massive for the Colts in wanting to try and end their AFC South drought, which dates back to 2014. The loss has the Colts down two games in the division standings, plus the early head-to-head tiebreaker (Titans are 2-1, Colts are 0-3), with the Titans having the @Jaguars and @Jets the next two weeks, while the Colts are going to Miami and Baltimore. Frank Reich is encountering a situation he’s never had in his head-coaching career. Accountability for this start begins at the top. Major contract extensions were given to Chris Ballard and Reich before the start of the year and their football team has not sniffed playing at a level that should be expected. Reich says he has ‘full confidence’ the Colts will turn this around. But expecting the Colts to rattle off 9 of 10 like they did in 2018 to earn the final Wild Card spot would be foolish. Not with the quarterback injured and the issues we’ve seen offensively and defensively through three games.
-Injury Report: Rookie DE-Kwity Paye (hamstring) left Sunday’s game in the first quarter and did not return. LG-Quenton Nelson (ankle) got hurt in the second quarter and did not return. CB-Rock Ya-Sin (ankle) left the game in the 4th quarter and did not return. S-Khari Willis (groin) also left and did not return. The team’s inactives were as followed: OT-Braden Smith (foot), RB-Marlon Mack, WR-Mike Strachan, CB-BoPete Keyes, DT-Taylor Stallworth, DL-Isaac Rochell, OL-Will Fries.
-Key Stat: Sunday marked the first time in the history of the Indianapolis Colts (moved to Indy in 1984) that they lost by two scores despite winning the turnover margin by at least 3.
–What’s Next: The Colts (0-2) will stay on the road in Week 4, taking on the Jacoby Brissett-led Dolphins (1-1) next Sunday in Miami.