INDIANAPOLIS – Crisis averted.
The Colts avoided a disastrous 0-4 start to the season by beating the Miami Dolphins 27-17 on Sunday afternoon.
What did we learn from the Colts winning their first game of the season?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Needed A Win, Got The Win: Someway, somehow, the Colts had to get a win in Week 4. It didn’t need to look the prettiest, just get to 1-3. That’s the reality when you are 0-3 and playing one of the worst teams in the AFC. Yes, Sunday’s matchup had plenty of pretty bad football, for both teams, but the Colts were the better team in Week 4. Now, what can this win do for Frank Reich’s team? Will it light a fire of momentum? Or was this just subpar teams squaring off and the Colts being slightly better than the Dolphins? On paper, the Colts have an interesting two-week stretch coming up. They’ve got a road Monday nighter in Baltimore, with a banged-up Ravens team and Lamar Jackson battling a back injury, up next. Then the Colts return home to take on the Texans. Could they get back to .500 after six weeks? When mapping out any road to getting back into the playoff conversation, this is a game the Colts had to have. The Colts had a players only meeting this past week, with DeForest Buckner, Darius Leonard and Al-Quadin Muhammad speaking in front of everyone. Well, it paid off. The Colts will have to play at a higher level to beat better teams. But they got this win, and the gifts of the AFC South came, too, with the Titans (2-2) losing to the Jets.
2. Defense Does Heavy Lifting When Needed: We will get to the opposing quarterback in a bit, but the Colts defense was pretty dominant through three quarters on Sunday. Entering this game, the biggest mismatch the Colts had to win was their defensive line against the Miami offensive line. Indy won that thoroughly on Sunday. Yes, the 4th quarter defense was woeful in trying to pad a multi-score lead. And the dream of having Jacoby Brissett as the opposing quarterback every week is a fairy tale. But this defense did what it needed to do. They dominated for long, long stretches, and that was really important with the offense a bit sluggish to open the game up. A hat tip goes to the young edge rushers of the Colts—Kemoko Turay had 2 sacks, Al-Quadin Muhammad had a huge pressure late that led to a fumble and Tyquan Lewis showed up with a tackle for loss. Those guys, especially Turay and Lewis, have been too quiet this year. They stepped up on Sunday. The Indy defense allowed 2.2 yards per carry, sacked Brissett 3 times and forced a big second-half fumble. Honestly, this should be the expectation for this Colts defense when facing one of the worst offenses in the NFL.
3. Colts Lean On Run Game: For a second straight week, the Colts had a productive run game do the heavy lifting offensively. Unlike last week though, the Colts stuck with this one and it paid off with some huge plays from Jonathan Taylor. With Taylor limited at practice this past week (slight knee problem), the second-year back had just 16 carries on Sunday, but it went for 103 yards and two huge runs that proved to be the difference. Frank Reich did a nice job dialing up a few more perimeter runs and tapped into a No. 28/No. 21 package that needs more usage moving forward, which found additional success. Another element of having a healthier Carson Wentz, and a productive run game, was the Colts dialed up some play-action that helped ice Sunday’s win. With the passing offense lacking some timing and consistency right now, the run game remains what the unit must lean on. That’s especially true when wanting to aid the pass protection. Remember, a huge reason why the Colts drafted Taylor was for his big plays. Ripping off a 38-yarder and 23-yard TD on Sunday were the types of plays that have been missing from this offense.
4. Carson Wentz Looks Healthier: The first takeaway from Sunday in regards to Wentz was how much healthier he looked based off last week. That opened up the playbook and allowed this offense to have more potency down the field. Sunday wasn’t perfect for Wentz, but he showed some signs of a quarterback able to make plays showing why the Colts coveted him this offseason. Some communication, reading and timing issues are still there for the passing offense. But Wentz also completed 75 percent of his passes on Sunday, with a yards per attempt number of 7.1. Those are strong numbers, along with not turning the ball over for yet another week. The best aspect of Wentz’s game through 4 weeks has been his ability to protect the football. Yet, Wentz still showed a willingness to get it vertical a bit more on Sunday. He took some chances down the field and it paid off—on a jump ball touchdown to Mo Alie-Cox and then a game-clinching toss to Jack Doyle. If Wentz can nail down some of the timing/short ball accuracy inconsistencies and maintain the other things he’s exceled with early on, the Colts will have a quarterback they can win with, and build around.
5. Special Teams The Difference: I don’t think either the Colts or Dolphins will love the special teams film breakdown of this one. If you want to boil the game down to one unit, the Miami special teams unit was probably the difference. Both teams had a muffed punt, so those two can cancel each other out. But a massive play in this one was a Dolphins offsides penalty late in the first half, on a 4th-and-3, when the Dolphins had forced an Indy punt attempt. Instead of getting the ball back leading 3-0 with less than 5 minutes to go in the 1st half, the Dolphins penalty kept the ball with Indy, and the Colts cashed that in after chunk plays by Mo Alie-Cox and Jonathan Taylor. Adding some insult to things, the Dolphins also had a kickoff go out of bounds in the 2nd half. With Roger Goodell in attendance, it wasn’t a pretty day of special teams, and it was very costly for the Dolphins.
-Injury Report: The team’s inactives were as followed: OT-Braden Smith (foot), DE-Kwity Paye (hamstring), CB-Rock Ya-Sin (ankle), S-Khari Willis (groin), QB-Jacob Eason, DT-Antwaun Woods.
-Key Stat: With Sunday’s win, Carson Wentz ended a drought of losing his last 7 starts.
–What’s Next: The Colts (1-3) will round out a three-game road swing in Week 5 by taking on the Baltimore Ravens (3-1) on Monday Night Football.