INDIANAPOLIS – Not pretty, at times rather ugly, but the Colts got what they have to have right now—a win.
The Colts built a 17-0 lead on Sunday against the Jaguars and then held on from there, winning by the score of 23-17.
What did we learn from the Colts (5-5) getting back to .500 for the first time all season?
1. Colts Blitz, Rely On Pass Rush To Finish: Fittingly, it was the Colts pass rush that capped this one. Whenever the Colts seemed to dial up extra pressure on Sunday, it got to rookie Trevor Lawrence. When they relied on 4 (or less) to try and get to Lawrence, that’s when the Jaguars found some success. The cap of it all on Sunday was a trio of Colts defensive linemen finishing it. The game-winning strip and recovery started with DeForest Buckner getting the initial hit on Lawrence, who was scrambling into Indy territory with less than a minute remaining. Rookie Dayo Odeyingbo was collapsing from the other side and got his right hand in there for the strip. And then Kemoko Turay jumped on the loose ball to seal the victory. The play included some tremendous effort by all parties, not letting Lawrence escape through a gap that he had found success in at various points on Sunday. When we talk this team lacking a killer instinct, it’s plays like these that haven’t happened enough. Without it on Sunday though, it might have been a playoff crippling loss. Instead, it’s a win the Colts had to have. And if Kwity Paye (3 QB hits, 1st NFL sack) and Odeyingbo can expand on what we saw Sunday, the Colts could finally make some noise against the NFL’s upper echelon teams. The Colts lack a killer instinct. A far too quiet pass rush is a major reason why. But the group made noise on Sunday (3 sacks and 10 quarterback hits), with no play as big as the Odeyingbo strip and Turay recovery.
2. Roughest Offensive Stretch Of The Season: One week after the Indy offensive line was as good as its been all season, the reverse of that occurred on Sunday. Following two scoring drives in the opening quarter, the Colts had 9 drives the rest of the game (excluding the kneel down), punting on 7 of those and kicking 2 field goals on the others. It was the Jaguars controlling the trenches and Carson Wentz having one of his rougher days of the season. Wentz finished Sunday going 22-of-34 (64.7 percent) for 180 yards (5.3 yards per pass attempt). About the only positive was the Colts offense not turning the ball over. While some will point to what Jacksonville did last week in holding Buffalo to 6 points, let’s also not forget the Jaguars entered Sunday 26th in points allowed per game (26.1 PPG allowed, Colts scored 16 on offense) and 31st in passing yards per play allowed (7.98 YPA allowed, Colts had 5.3). For an offense that was as healthy as its been all year, this was a disappointing outing. An important field goal drive late (hello, Michael Pittman) did help to avoid the disaster, but it was this unit that didn’t put this game away much earlier than it should have.
3. Special Teams Spark: This game had the look of a blowout in the first quarter. Part of that reason came from the Colts special teams dialing up its biggest play of the game. It started with the special teams captain Zaire Franklin getting free and laying out for a perfectly timed blocked punt. Fellow linebacker E.J. Speed—who has earned more playing time recently on defense thanks to what he’s done on special teams—jumped on the blocked punt. Speed then showed off his offensive background (he played quarterback and wide receiver early in his college career) by not being denied on the 12-yard TD return. Frank Reich said afterwards that special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone was really confident the Colts would get a block this week. He was right. Anytime you return a blocked kick for a touchdown, it’s monumental in swinging the win percentage of a game. Looking back on it after Sunday’s 60 minutes of action unfolded, isn’t that the truth? Toss in Jacksonville missing an extra point and field goal on Sunday, and the Colts being perfect in those areas, and Indianapolis winning special teams was a massive difference in earning this win.
4. Taylor Starts Hot, Cools Off: Early on, it looked like Jonathan Taylor was going to challenge his 253-yard season finale from last year against Jacksonville. But that definitely didn’t happen. Taylor had 93 yards on 10 carries at the end of Sunday’s first quarter. He had just 23 yards on 11 carries the rest of the way. We got into some of this above, but I put most of this on the Jacksonville front for controlling things in those final three quarters. Eric Fisher had another rough outing and the Colts struggled with some very untimely penalties up front. With Taylor, you feel like the Colts have a player that teams really fear. And you saw why early in Sunday’s outing, but you also saw what can happen when you take away the Colts’ biggest strength. This team struggles to finish games, and the inability to produce with Taylor late on Sunday was a major reason why Jacksonville had a chance to win this one late.
5. The Real Fun Now Begins: The Colts will enter the back half of November at .500 for the first time this season. They did what they needed to do at home—sweep double-digit underdogs in the Jets and Jaguars. Now, the real fun begins over the final 7 weeks. The Colts will face quarterbacks Josh Allen and Tom Brady the next two weeks. And then will see 3 potential playoff teams in the Patriots, at Cardinals, and Raiders in Weeks 15-17. For a team that has lost 8 straight games against playoff teams, what an opportunity to beat such competition and the need to do it at least three times. A 5-2 finish, thus going 10-7 on the season, is still what the Colts need to strive for. And then you see how things shake out at the end of the season. In starting 5-5 this year, the Colts have beat the following quarterbacks: Jacoby Brissett, Davis Mills, Jimmy Garoppolo, Mike White/Josh Johnson and Trevor Lawrence. In order to push above .500, the opposing QBs needed to be beaten are an unquestioned step up in competition, and something this team hasn’t done in quite some time. You have a seat at the table. Now, how long will you stay there?
-Injury Report: Frank Reich reported no injuries after the win. The team’s inactives were as followed: CB-Xavier Rhodes (calf), RB-Marlon Mack, DE-Ben Banogu, OT-Julie’n Davenport, OL-Will Fries, WR-Mike Strachan.
-Key Stat: Jonathan Taylor now has had 100 yards from scrimmage and a rushing TD in 7 straight games. It’s the third longest streak in NFL history.
–What’s Next: The Colts (5-5) are now back on the road in Week 11, following a three-game stint at Lucas Oil Stadium. They will take on the Bills (6-3) next Sunday at 1:00 PM.