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INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts are crawling, limping and stumbling badly into their bye week.

A competitive game through 3 quarters got out of hand really quickly in the final frame, with the Cowboys running away from the Colts, 54-19:

Here is what was learned from the Colts (4-8-1) losing another in primetime:

 

FIVE THINGS LEARNED

1. Strong Start Doesn’t Last: Entering Week 13, it was fair to have some questions about the type of product we’d see from the Colts on Sunday Night Football. It was a tremendous start, which has been much more of the norm under Jeff Saturday than it was with Frank Reich. The Colts got up 10-7 in Sunday’s first quarter, playing easily one of their best quarters of the season. While the Colts had some third-quarter moments with the game still intact, the end of half is where it was lost in my eyes. With the Colts down 14-13 and 1:19 left on the clock, they took over at their own 27-yard line, knowing they had that opportunity, plus the ball to start the third quarter. Well, five plays later, Matt Ryan was picked off by Malik Hooker. And the Cowboys cashed in on a 3rd-and-9 touchdown to Michael Gallup. That was a beyond brutal end to the half, in a part of the game good teams find a way to take advantage of. On the Saturday coaching front, you had a puzzling non-challenge by him in the third quarter when Isaiah Rodgers Sr. had a near pick, which could have gone either way. Yet, Saturday decided not to challenge what was a game-changing play in a one-possession game (the Cowboys ended the game on a 36-0 run after that). It was well worth the red flag throw for a team needing such a play to keep game pressure on into the 4th quarter. For how great Sunday’s start was, the rest of the game played out like a team crawling, limping and stumbling towards their bye week.

2. It’s Time To Sit Matt Ryan: When the Colts return from their bye week play in Minnesota a week from Sunday, there’s zero need to play Matt Ryan. Zero. And this thought isn’t a direct reflection to how Ryan played on Sunday. He was about how he’s looked all season—pretty poor—jittery in the pocket, lacking awareness with pressure, off with timing and velocity, yet able to hit on the very rare throw outside the numbers. This sort of ‘bench Ryan’ sentiment continues to rise with reasoning behind that includes some significant cap hits for 2023, if Ryan were to suffer an injury to close out this season. And that’s a big part of the rationale for benching Ryan for a second time this season (with the first time being an Owner driven move). But why not give Sam Ehlinger a few more chances to grow and see if there’s anything of note there with him? What’s the worst that could happen? The Colts continue to lose, and have an offense limited by its quarterback play? Also, on the quarterback depth chart front, the Colts did continue to play musical chairs with Sam Ehlinger on Sunday. They had Ehlinger as a healthy inactive against the Cowboys, dropping him to 3rd on the depth chart, bumping Nick Foles up to the backup spot behind Matt Ryan. This move came after Jeff Saturday said on Wednesday, he had not given any thought to moving Foles to the backup position. Honestly, I’d be surprised if the Colts go this route (although if they preach accountability…). But there’s little to gain by trotting out a 37-year-old, 15-year vet for the final 4 games of a season that has the Colts at 4-8-1. It’s time to bench Ryan for the rest of this season.

3. Alec Pierce Spark: In the month of November, Alec Pierce had 4 catches in 4 games for 51 yards (14 targets). Was he hitting a rookie wall? Or was that a lazy statement to make for a first-year player. Pierce had 4 catches on Sunday night, but it was a reminder of what the rookie can provide this team, and what has been desperately been missing. It was Pierce winning a 1-on-1 deep ball for 45 yards to ignite the opening-quarter touchdown drive. And then it was Pierce winning another 1-on-1 rep, this one thrown to his back shoulder for a 3rd quarter TD. Pierce is still very raw, and that’s fine. He’s a rookie. But his greatest strength is something the Colts have to try and tap into multiple times a game. Load up the protection, keep 9 guys in, and see what Pierce can do. Good things have happened quite often when targeting Pierce vertically this season. He’s a bright spot in a season filled with dark moments.

4. Draft Position Rising! As we pointed out last week, just some patience was needed to see the Colts draft position start to rise. With the Week 13 results, the Colts are up from 14th to 9th in the 2023 draft order. So the Colts got a lot of help from their fellow ‘bad’ teams on Sunday. And, again, what a sad reality this is that is how so many Colts fans (which I don’t blame at all) are viewing this close to the season. You have the 7-5 Titans who have lost 2 straight, but no one in the AFC South is in any position to put actual pressure on them down the stretch. They probably need just 1 more win to take the crown of the lowliest division in the AFC. Really, the Colts can only blame themselves for putting such a product on the field, and one that doesn’t have any hope at the most important position in sports. When you do that, fans are going to be locked into where the draft pick will fall. When the Colts return from their bye week, it’s quite possible they might have climbed up another spot or two.

5. Any Bye Week Changes? The latest bye week in the NFL is finally here for the Indianapolis. And I think everyone needs a breather from things right now. With 4 games to go returning from the bye week, and the playoff hopes beyond miniscule, I’m curious what/if any changes we see Jeff Saturday make. Saturday has adjusted the quarterback depth chart a couple of times, stuck with the youth on the offensive line and allowed for Gus Bradley to change up some personnel at the back end. While I can’t see Saturday being driven to do this, anytime a team has the record the Colts do and have a break at this point the season, the question about committing to more youth is certainly relevant. Should we see some more Jelani Woods (odd he didn’t play more earlier on Sunday after what he did last Monday) and Alec Pierce down the stretch? Is the Nick Cross rookie era over after he started the season opener? Obviously, we mentioned the Ryan benching idea above. It’s hard to gauge the motives behind these decisions when you’ve seen such wild variance in the decision making, or desires, of Jim Irsay, Chris Ballard and now Jeff Saturday. But it is something to watch for when the Colts return from their bye week with 4 games to go: at Vikings, Chargers, at Giants, Texans.

 

QUICK HITTERS

-Injury Report: The following Colts were INACTIVE on Sunday: OT-Braden Smith (illness), CB-Kenny Moore (ankle), QB-Sam Ehlinger, WR-Keke Coutee, DT-Chris Williams, DE-Khalid Kareem. These Colts got hurt on Sunday and did not return: No one.

Key Stat: In their last two meetings in Dallas, the Colts have lost to the Cowboys by a combined score of 89-19.

What’s Next: The Colts (4-8-1) will finally have their bye week, which is the latest in the NFL. Following their Week 14 bye, the Colts will have 4 games remaining: at Vikings, Chargers, at Giants, Texans.