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INDIANAPOLIS – Could the Colts pass an unforeseen test of depth?

With their first major COVID situation of the season, the Colts (9-6) had to go up and down their roster to get a win.

What did we learn from the Colts beating the Arizona Cardinals (10-5), 22-16, on Saturday night?

 

FIVE THINGS LEARNED

1. Passing The Depth Test: I’m not going to lie, I had to look up several bios of players who dressed for the Colts on Saturday night. Each and every week, you hear Frank Reich preach that every player on the roster must prepare like a starter. Well, Saturday is a perfect example of why. And the Colts delivered. That’s a credit to Chris Ballard (who got a deserved game ball for this one) for finding a roster 1-to-53, and a 16-man practice squad, filled with guys ready to handle such a moment. That’s a credit to Frank Reich and his coaching staff for having players locked in if called upon, and embracing scramble mode on Saturday. And it’s a credit to the likes of Isaiah Rodgers, George Odum, Dezmon Patmon, E.J. Speed, Jahleel Addae, Danny Pinter, Chris Reed, Matt Pryor…and the list could go even deeper than that. When the NFL went to an 18-game season, Ballard’s depth mantra, especially along the offensive line, rose even more. It’s gone even higher with COVID looming. While the Colts and Cardinals both missed some really marquee names on Saturday, it was Indy’s depth getting hit even harder, with minimal prep time late in the week, too. This is a win where game balls go to so many different areas, with the scouting department and coaches being the building blocks of it all. “Next man up” is one of the most tired sports cliches in sports, but Saturday is why that phrase works, and the Colts showed that. Reich summed up it pretty well after: “one of the best teams wins I’ve ever been a part of.”

2. Finding A Way To Win Ugly: Down 3 offensive linemen to start the night, then a 4th early in the game, and also strong tight end blocker Jack Doyle. Having to insert safeties No. 4 and 5 on the depth chart against Kyler Murray. Without your Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Missing a couple of other important defensive depth pieces that would have played various roles against Murray and the Cardinals. That was the immense challenge facing the Colts on Saturday. This was going to be an ugly game for the Colts. But they were so darn pretty in the discipline department. That was the difference. The Colts again dominated the penalty battle (Arizona: 11 for 85, Indianapolis: 5 for 40), won the kicking battle (Arizona left 7 points out there in the placekicking game, the Colts left 3 points out there), and didn’t have an errant snap that led to a safety/subsequent field goal to end the first half. Yes, the Jonathan Taylor touchdown streak of 11 straight games came to an end. Yes, the Colts run of 15 consecutive games with a turnover forced ended on Saturday. That’s fine. As the COVID roster news trickled out on Saturday, this was all about finding a way to win. And the Colts, in the discipline department, first and foremost, dominated the Cardinals. The old quote of “victory favors the team who makes the fewer mistakes” has never been truer watching the Colts earn this Christmas victory.

3. Full Carson Wentz Experience: In case the national audience needed a reminder, they got to witness the ups and downs many Eagles fans lived with during the Carson Wentz era. With the Colts, Wentz has been far steadier. But the shakiness was there through three quarters on Saturday. When the Colts needed Wentz (18-of-28 for 225 yards and 2 touchdowns) to bounce back and deliver though he did that. The play of the night for Wentz was a 3rd-and-9 touchdown to Dezmon Patmon with 6:45 remaining, to push the lead to two scores for the first time all night. With the Cardinals rushing 3, Wentz knew that in order to find the elusive game-clinching touchdown, he was likely going to have to find something off script. Well, Wentz kept the play alive and Patmon, who had just 1 other NFL catch to his name in two years, did his part in straddling the back of the end zone and creating some separation. With Wentz taking a hit and seeing Patmon at the last second, the QB put the ball in a place where only his guy could make a play on it. Patmon did just that with his first ever NFL touchdown. There’s not 10 quarterbacks in the NFL who can make that play. If that play isn’t made, yet still keeping the margin at less than a touchdown, that could have turned the other way. Yes, Wentz struggled with many simple plays on Saturday. But resiliency is a trait that quarterbacks must have, and No. 2 had that on the game-sealing TD drive. While the last two weeks has shown plenty of turbulence with Wentz under center, he continues to protect the football at an extraordinarily high level, and did that on Saturday behind a patch-work offensive line.

4. On Verge Of Playoff Berth: In winning 8 of 10, the Colts are now on the verge of making the postseason. With Saturday’s win, the Colts are 9-6. If they beat the Raiders or Jaguars in the final two weeks of the season, that should be enough to clinch a postseason berth. The division remains a long shot with the Titans coming back to beat the 49ers on Thursday night, but Saturday’s result strengthens the Colts firm grasp on a Wild Card spot. In order to play meaningful football in January, wins like Saturday have to show up at some point in a season. Not every week has a team playing at full strength with the game flow evolving exactly how one would think. Saturday was weird. It was odd. It was ugly. But the end result has the Colts with playoff chances at around 98 percent. Even though Saturday’s game against an NFC opponent didn’t carry tons of playoff weight in the tiebreaker category the importance of it increased majorly when the COVID news grew louder and louder late in the week. With the Colts having that important conference record tiebreaker over so many Wild Card teams in the AFC, getting to 10 wins should be enough to punch that ticket to the dance. And in a wide-open AFC, who knows what will happen.

5. COVID Making An Impact: It took until Week 16, but the Colts have finally felt a COVID-hit to their season. On Saturday night, the Colts were without 7 starters/key reserves due to COVID (Quenton Nelson, Mark Glowinski, Zach Pascal, Kemoko Turay, Darius Leonard, Khari Willis Rock Ya-Sin). This week was a clear reminder of the situation that remains a hanging cloud over the Colts. With several prominent players unvaccinated, the Colts have an easier chance than other teams to have their players miss precious time (a positive test for an unvaccinated player means an absence of 10-to-14 days). It sucks this is part of an NFL season, but it’s life in our world right now. For the Colts, this was always a concern. And with the likes of Nelson, Leonard and Willis getting this news late in the week, their status for the Raiders game next Sunday is very much in jeopardy. That adds to the injuries we saw on Saturday to Eric Fisher (knee) and Jack Doyle (ankle). This sort of COVID, situation is why some people were hesitant to place the Colts as a playoff team during preseason predictions. They’ve avoided the hit for three months. But it hit them this week and will be something to watch closely next week and for however long their season goes.

 

QUICK HITTERS

-Injury Report: Jack Doyle left the game in the 1st quarter and did not return due to an ankle injuries. Eric Fisher left the game in 2nd quarter and did not return due to a knee injury. The team’s inactives were as followed: C-Ryan Kelly (personal), S-Andrew Sendejo (concussion), RB-Marlon Mack, WR-Mike Strachan.

-Key Stat: The Colts are now 9-0 this season in which Jonathan Taylor (27 carries for 108 yards) rushes for more than 100 yards.

What’s Next: The Colts (9-6) will have their season home finale next Sunday vs. the Raiders (7-7) at 1:00 PM.