INDIANAPOLIS – For the first time this season, the Colts had full control of a game in the fourth quarter.
As expected, Indianapolis dominated Houston at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, beating the Texans, 31-3.
What did we learn from the Colts (2-4) returning home for first divisional win of the season?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Big Plays Allow Colts To Take Care Of Business: The Colts did what double-digit favorites need to do in the NFL. Sunday’s game will be remembered for the huge plays the Colts found (a 51-yard touchdown to Parris Campbell, a 52-yard deep ball to T.Y. Hilton and an 83-yard run by Jonathan Taylor). Defensively, a hobbled Darius Leonard still found the football, as he forced a pair of turnovers. Sunday was the most individual playmaking we’ve seen from the Colts this season. Truer games of projecting the Colts as a potential playoff team will come later in the season. But at this point—entering Sunday at 1-4—this team needs wins. And they need to string them together, by beating rookie quarterbacks and taking care of mediocre (or bad) teams. That’s what Frank Reich’s team accomplished on Sunday. As we pointed out in the days leading up to the Colts returning from a 3-game road trip, Indianapolis has a chance to gain some ground on Tennessee (3-2) in the coming weeks, with the two meeting in a massive, massive Halloween matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium to end October. For the Colts to put serious pressure though on the Titans, they need to handle games in which they are heavy favorites, as was the case on Sunday. Squandering games against a basement dweller like Jacksonville in past years have been costly to the Colts. Any chance for this season to get back on track meant the Colts need to walk away from games like Sunday with a ‘W.’ On a short week, coming off a crushing loss, the Colts did that in Week Six, with their first fourth quarter on cruise control this season.
2. Carson Wentz Dials It Up Vertically: Improved health and more practice time has certainly contributed to the Carson Wentz we saw on Sunday. Frank Reich opened up the playbook even more against the Texans. And Wentz helped the offense cash in on some very big plays, even with a very quiet run game early on. While Wentz delivered the ball nicely on some first-half chunks, being able to dial up play-action and stand in a clean pocket definitely helped the Colts get vertical. Sustaining drives of 10 plays, and capping those drives with 7 points, is difficult in the NFL. Plays like what we saw on Sunday need to be there to try and push this offense further, particularly with the red zone struggles that have been there this season. Wentz is still fighting getting rid of the ball, by throwing the ball away, thus avoiding sacks/unnecessary hits. Him reaching a balance with that and trying to hit on big plays will be a battle all season long. In recent weeks, Wentz is giving the Colts more and more of a threat down the field and that’s a must. He completed just 11 passes on Sunday, yet the Colts still had 223 passing yards, and a very impressive 11.2 yards per pass attempt. And Wentz still has just 1 interception on the season through 6 starts.
3. The Ghost Is Back (For Good?): Whenever T.Y. Hilton enters the stadium for a Colts/Texans matchup, The Ghost knows that camera will fill find him. On Sunday, Hilton rocked a ‘Michael Jordan 45 jersey’ pointing out the return MJ had back in the day. Hilton’s presence might feel like Michael Jordan to the Texans. And Hilton added to his ownership of the Texans on Sunday, catching the first pass of the game from Carson Wentz and then delivering with a beautiful deep ball connection of 52 yards later in the first half. Seeing Hilton run down that huge play in stride was No. 13 again showing his knack for tracking such passes. This wideout group (and team) needed a jolt. Hilton did get banged up late in the fourth quarter as he reached for his right leg after making a catch. He was ruled out with a quad injury—which is an injury he’s had before—joining a few other lower-body injuries for the Colts, which is probably the only true negative on Sunday. It remains to be seen if Hilton can still be a consistent No. 1 receiver. But Sunday’s season debut was Hilton showing that he can still give this offense something that the unit really needs, especially if Parris Campbell is going to miss time (see more below). Also, Frank Reich said after the 31-3 win that it was Hilton feeling the need to speak to the team on Saturday morning, offering up a inspirational speech. For several reasons, Hilton showed this week/and on Sunday why he’s the most accomplished player on this football team.
4. Defense Accomplishes Job: Anytime you hold an NFL opponent to 3 points in a game, it’s an extremely strong day. Now, what the Colts showed on Sunday doesn’t change my opinion of where this defense must inevitably prove itself at a later date. The Texans are the Dolphins on offense, and maybe worse. But Matt Eberflus’ bunch had some of its most playmaking of the season, forcing three turnovers, sacking Davis Mills a couple of times and helping the Colts control field position all afternoon long. Sunday might have been the best duo performance from Darius Leonard and Bobby Okereke this season. The Colts have to get more consistent play from those two, and Sunday was a nice step in that direction. One thing to note, you won’t find many nose tackles piling up 7 tackles in a game, but Grover Stewart did that on Sunday. What the defense did against the Texans is keeping Houston very quiet on the scoreboard before the Indy offense opened the game up in the third quarter. That allowed the Colts to put away a bad opponent, who is playing a third-round rookie with little game experience.
5. Key Personnel Concerns: Let’s get into a few personnel concerns facing the Colts right now. Parris Campbell is hurt again. And it came in a game where Campbell got behind the Texans defense to haul in a 51-yard pass from Carson Wentz. But a foot injury suffered by Campbell later in the first half forced him to miss the rest of the game. And now we are once again here with the third-year wideout injured. Campbell has played in just 14 of 48 games in his career. He can’t say healthy, which is a shame on many levels, especially when you see what he did on Sunday. We’ll see how another injury will impact Campbell’s availability, which is something the Colts can’t rely on. On the non-injury front, but still in the ‘worry’ category is the play of Xavier Rhodes and Eric Fisher. The Texans found a good amount of success early on throwing in the direction of Rhodes. That’s been a theme as of late. Was the 2020 Rhodes the outlier with where he’s now at, reaching the age of 31? This is more of a concern if Rock Ya-Sin did aggravate an ankle injury on Sunday (Ya-Sin left the game in the second half with an ankle injury). Fisher had a couple of false starts, playing at home, on Sunday. This has to be a byproduct of getting beat off the snap for a strip/sack last week vs. Baltimore. The Texans don’t have vaunted pass rushers, yet Fisher still wasn’t at the level the Colts need him. Seeing more dynamic rushers is going to change to close out this month. Fisher and Rhodes play two important positions for the Colts to overlook their shakiness early on.
-Injury Report: Parris Campbell left the game in the first half with a foot injury and did not return. T.Y. Hilton left the game in the 4th quarter with a quad injury. Rock Ya-Sin left the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. The team’s inactives were as followed: OT-Braden Smith (foot), RB-Jordan Wilkins (illness), DE-Kemoko Turay (groin), S-Andrew Sendejo (concussion), K-Rodrigo Blankenship (hip), QB-Jacob Eason, DT-Khalil Davis.
-Key Stat: Jonathan Taylor’s 83-yard run in Sunday’s third quarter is the longest in Colts franchise history.
–What’s Next: The Colts (2-4) are back on the road and in primetime in Week 7. They will take on the 49ers (2-3) at 8:20 PM on Sunday Night Football.