INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts won a massive football game on Sunday in a way they are not built to.
It’s why the Colts (3-2-1) should leave Sunday feeling the best they have after a win all season long.
Here is what was learned from the Colts winning their first divisional game in 5 tries, in a 34-27 victory over the Jaguars:
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. The Call, The Throw, The Catch: So often this season, the best/most effective Colts offensive play has been Matt Ryan throwing a go ball in the direction of Alec Pierce. Well, with the Colts hovering around that dangerous 50-yard field goal territory, trailing by one point late in Sunday’s critical divisional tilt, Frank Reich wanted no part of trying to milk the clock anymore. He wanted to take a shot. And that meant trusting his 15-year QB to not take a sack, trusting his random offensive line to hold up one more time in protection and believing in his rookie wideout to make a play in the air. Check. Check. Check. On a 3rd-and-13 with the game clock at 27 seconds, Ryan hung in there to take a hit, and still deliver an on-target ball to the rookie. Then Pierce climbed the ladder for the 34-yard game-winning touchdown. Down 27-26, the Colts decided not to settle for the three-point try. It took some ‘you know what’ for Reich to make that call. This game winning drive wasn’t needed because of turnover mistakes by Ryan that forced the Colts into a situation, as we’ve seen earlier this year. It has been far from perfect with Ryan this season, but the Colts now feel they have a legit chance in the 4th quarter of these games. And that feeling wasn’t there last year.
2. Offensive Line Shuffle Continues, Works: The Colts made another offensive line change on Sunday, and then shuffled things again in the first half. To start Sunday’s game, the Colts swapped the right-side from last Thursday night, forming this 5-man group: LT-Bernhard Raimann, LG-Quenton Nelson, C-Ryan Kelly, RG-Matt Pryor (played RT against Denver), RT-Braden Smith (played RG against Denver). On the third series of the game though, the rookie Raimann was benched for veteran Dennis Kelly. The Colts stuck with Kelly at left tackle for the rest of the game. Frank Reich left the Raimann/Kelly decision up to position coach Chris Strausser once the game got underway. And, shockingly, the Colts didn’t allow a sack in 58 pass attempts. Frank Reich accurately called it a ‘special’ performance by the pass protection. That’s especially true with the Colts having just 49 rushing yards on 15 carries on Sunday. There’s no denying that the Colts found better protection success on Sunday, with the quicker tempo definitely aiding things.
3. Colts Ignite Passing Offense With Quicker Tempo: In trying to help the offensive line, and find some semblance of offensive rhythm, the Colts used a lot of tempo from the start of the game. That tempo gave the Colts an early jolt, with 5 of 6 first-half drives reaching Jacksonville territory. With Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines both sidelined on Sunday, the Colts were going to have to look elsewhere for the offensive game plan. Well, how about Matt Ryan tossing a career-high 37 passes in Sunday’s first half? Or Ryan completing 42-of-58 balls, the most completions in Colts franchise history. With the early tempo being the catalyst, the Colts scored their most points since Christmas. Could the Colts win a game relying on its passing offense? That was a major question entering this season. On this Sunday, they answered that with a historically, methodical, passing performance. It was led by Michael Pittman (13 catches for 174 yards) and supported by the likes of Deon Jackson (10 catches for 79 yards), Parris Campbell (7 catches for 57 yards, 1 touchdown), Alec Pierce (3 catches 49 yards, 1 touchdown), Kylen Granson (4 catches for 38 yards), Jelani Woods (2 catches for 27 yards, 1 touchdown). A few weeks back, the Colts marked this game with the Jaguars as one to employ some quicker rhythm. And it was massive in the Colts finally ending their 7-game drought of scoring 20 points or less. Entering Sunday, I thought the presence of Pittman and Pierce playing in this Jaguars matchup after they missed the last one would be the difference. That was certainly true.
4. Division Hope Alive: Facing a 5th straight double-digit deficit to an AFC South team in Sunday’s first half, the Colts avoided another ugly divisional result in this comeback victory. With that, the Colts have split the season series with the Jaguars and earned their first divisional win of the season. It was a must, given the loss to the Jaguars last month, and with a road game against the Titans waiting next week. On Sunday, the Colts finally put together their most complementary moments of the season, especially offensively. Yes, Sunday’s run defense was abysmal (7.4 yards per carry allowed) and Brandon Facyson’s role in the nickel package needs to go to Isaiah Rodgers Sr. Again, relying on this sole offensive game plan isn’t a recipe to survive the rest of the season. But the Colts finally had a performance where it didn’t take the opponent to gift them gobs and gobs of chances for a win. The Colts should exit this one with the most tangible evidence they’ve had this year in some flashes of a team capable of winning this division.
5. Keep An Eye On Sam Ehlinger: Do you look at the new backup quarterback move as one eye towards the future? With whispers early last week about a Sam Ehlinger promotion, that came to fruition on Sunday as the Colts had their second-year QB as the backup to Matt Ryan, moving Nick Foles into a healthy inactive role as QB3. The move certainly had heavy influence and support from the Owner. Ehlinger did not play on Sunday, with the Colts electing not to use the athletic QB in any short-yardage situation. With Ehlinger as the backup, the Colts do have a reserve QB more capable to make plays with his legs than a guy like Foles. But it’s also that the Colts are now one play away from the 23-year-old Ehlinger going into the game in a huge situation. Again, this decision certainly included some input from the top of the organization, thus it bears watching if Ryan starts to really struggle or the season tailspins. That might sound weird to say after a win, but this decision was made for a reason that far exceeds a decision by Frank Reich.
-Injury Report: The following Colts were INACTIVE on Sunday: RB-Nyheim Hines (concussion), RB-Jonathan Taylor (concussion), DE-Kwity Paye (ankle), QB-Nick Foles, C-Wesley French, DT-Eric Johnson. These Colts got hurt on Sunday and did not return: WR-Keke Coutee (concussion), RB-Deon Jackson (quad).
–Key Stat: Matt Ryan finished Sunday going 42-of-58 for 389 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was the most completions in Colts franchise history and the most passing attempts for Ryan since 2013.
–What’s Next: The Colts (3-2-1) will have their 5th AFC South game in the first 7 weeks of the season next Sunday. It’s a trip to Nashville to take on the Titans (3-2) at 1:00 PM. The Titans will be coming off a bye week.
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