INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts continue to be bullied and outcoached by their division rivals in Nashville.
Sunday made it 5 straight Colts (3-3-1) losses to the Titans (4-2) as costly Matt Ryan turnovers doomed the Colts for yet another game this season.
Here is what was learned from the Colts losing 19-10 on Sunday, and getting swept for the second year in a row:
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Bullied, Outcoached: The Colts have now been swept by the Titans for a second straight season. And this is a Titans team who traded away their star wideout (A.J. Brown) this offseason and have already lost their Pro Bowl left tackle (Taylor Lewan) and edge rusher (Harold Landry) to season-ending injuries. Yet, despite that, Mike Vrabel’s Titans continue to bully and outcoach their division foes up I-65. That was evident again on Sunday. The Titans defense kept everything in front of them on Sunday, with Matt Ryan completing one ball of more than 14 yards all afternoon (in 44 pass attempts). Offensively, with a banged-up offensive line, the Titans schemed up just enough for Derrick Henry to give that steady 4-yard per carry production, coupled with some huge third-down conversions. And then on special teams, usually a strength of the Colts, the visitors looked anemic at times. While we are on the toughness/coaching aspect of things, you can’t forget about the acquiring of key personnel in pointing out the difference between the Colts and Titans right now. You think not lowballing Denico Autry in free agency would have been a wise move for the Colts? How about entertaining reasonable off-season moves for veteran skill guys in Robert Woods or Austin Hooper? That trio made big-time plays in sending the Colts back home without a division win for their 5th time in the last 6 AFC South games.
2. Turnover Machine At Quarterback: That’s it. The Colts have a turnover machine at quarterback. Sure, Matt Ryan has played 15 years in this league and put together a darn impressive career. But, at the age of 37, in his first year starting with the Colts, he’s been a turnover machine, leading the NFL in fumbles and interceptions through 7 weeks. Ryan tossed another two picks on Sunday, both halting Indy drives in Tennessee territory, and leading to 10 Titans points. One was returned for a touchdown, on what appeared to be some miscommunication between him and Parris Campbell. The second interception looked reminiscent of Ryan in the Denver game—making an ill-advised decision, or something you’d expect from a rookie QB and not a 15-year vet. In recent weeks, you are starting to notice more and more in the lack of velocity department from Ryan. He finished Sunday with a yards per attempt of 5.5. That’s terrible, especially against a defense that entered Sunday dead last in the NFL against the pass (allowing 7.94 yards per play). Has Ryan delivered in the fourth quarter for this team in 2022? Definitely. But the Colts have needed that from him due to his own mistakes, putting his team in awful comeback situations. Again, nothing seen from Ryan this season should have the Colts thinking ‘no need to search for the future at quarterback this offseason.’ Honestly, questions about Ryan in the short-term should be bubbling, if these turnovers don’t subside.
3. Mediocre Trend Is Evident: As the NFL approaches the mid-way point of the season, trends for any football team are starting to become apparent. For the Colts, offensive line questions are still there, with an inability to handle stunts again rearing their ugly head on Sunday. With questions in protection certainly playing a part, the Colts have zero vertical passing game, unless it’s targeting Alec Pierce in a 1-on-1 situation outside the numbers, something that wasn’t tapped into on Sunday. Defensively, signs of a solid unit have been there. But it is a group desperately looking for someone in the takeaway department. Overall, now 7 games into this season, the Colts have largely been a boring, mediocre football team. Sluggish starts are the norm. Their last halftime lead was Christmas (9 straight games). Positives individually for the Colts right now: Grover Stewart, DeForest Buckner, a linebacker core sans Shaquille Leonard, a possession-minded wideout in Parris Campbell, those impressive rookie moments from Alec Pierce. What is missing from that list though is so many of the highest paid Colts, starting with their quarterback and immensely invested offensive line. Exiting last week’s most impressive win of the season, the question was, can the Colts repeat it, do it away from home? Nope. Instead, the answer was exactly what we’ve seen for the majority of this season—one of the worst offenses in the NFL, plagued by a turnover-prone quarterback, not finding enough takeaways, needing frequent gifts to stay around .500.
4. Next Scapegoat At Punter? Will the Colts be replacing a specialist for a second time this season after Matt Haack’s pitiful punting performance on Sunday? Will Haack join the likes of Rodrigo Blankenship, Danny Pinter and Nick Cross as various Colts scapegoats this season? Again, Sunday was really poor by Haack and the entire special teams unit. Typically a constant for the Colts, that third phase of the game was costly. Bigger question though, how does Jim Irsay view his franchise ahead of a trade deadline in 9 days? Will there be some selling? Will the saving grace of the AFC South will keep them clinging to playoff hopes for weeks to come. Is that how Irsay will judge his franchise right now? Or will it be with more of a critical eye as an 8th straight year of not winning the AFC South became a lot realer on Sunday? Even if the Colts end this season hovering around that 8-9 win mark, Irsay is going to have to take a long look in the mirror on if the partnership of Frank Reich and Chris Ballard deserve to see this organization through a critical quarterback hunt, without clear direction.
5. No Clout In The AFC South: It’s jarring to think about how the Colts are now viewed in the AFC South. A franchise that won 16 straight divisional games less than a decade ago, has now won 1 of their past 6 AFC South contests. They have been down by at least two scores in 6 straight divisional games. The Colts will now be on a more than 3-year drought from their last lead in the AFC South. It’s become an annual Halloween trend for the Colts to be pleading for help from others in the AFC South to get back into the divisional race. And Sunday’s loss has the Colts at a 20 percent chance to make the playoffs (according to football outsiders). Again, this is the AFC South, a division that entered Week 7 with its division leader ranking 25th in point differential this season. The Titans beat the Colts on Sunday by two scores, despite not scoring an offensive touchdown. That’s hard to do. Roger Goodell was in attendance on Sunday and had to be thinking, ‘Wait, one of these AFC South teams is really going to earn the right to host a playoff game in January?’ Jim Irsay has been very public about the division, and what the Titans have done to the Colts as of late. Irsay was silent exiting Nashville on Sunday, which is about as quiet as his team has been in a division they used to own.
-Injury Report: The following Colts were INACTIVE on Sunday: LB-Shaquille Leonard (nose, back), DE-Kwity Paye (ankle), QB-Nick Foles, C-Wesley French, DT-Eric Johnson. These Colts got hurt on Sunday and did not return: LB-JoJo Domann (pectoral muscle).
–Key Stat: In his return from missing two games, Jonathan Taylor had 10 carries for 58 yards (5.8 YPC).
–What’s Next: The Colts (3-3-1) are back at home to close out the month of October. They’ll have their first of four NFC East games this season when the Commanders (3-5) visit. Carson Wentz is on injured reserve and will not play against his former team.
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