INDIANAPOLIS – Due to an ugly, ugly start on Sunday, the Colts (2-2) needed something resembling a historic comeback.
And they almost completed it, before an overtime breakdown led to yet another home loss.
What did we learn from the Colts losing to the Rams (2-2), 29-23 in OT?
1. Defense Can’t Deliver In OvertimeSource:Getty
Defense Can’t Deliver In Overtime: Let’s focus on overtime here, although no one should forget about the E.J. Speed late-hit penalty on the game’s opening drive which turned a 0-point first series for the Rams into another opportunity, which Matthew Stafford isn’t (and didn’t) going to squander. Now, onto OT. That was a brutal drive for the Colts defense. It was a pretty seamless drive for the Rams, with their lone 3rd down coming on the TD to Puka Nacua. Of all people, how is Nacua that open on the biggest play of the drive? What a breakdown by the Colts, with obvious miscommunication between Kenny Moore and JuJu Brents won who was responsible for who. The Colts had absolutely zero answer for Nacua all afternoon long (Nacua had 9 catches for 163 yards). The drive summarized the bulk of the game for the Indy defense, which could not keep the Rams away from effective offensive balance, and didn’t dial up enough pressure to force a hobbled Stafford off his spot. The pass rush was far, far too quiet, especially on that final TD drive. It was a brutal way to end this comeback attempt, especially because more is expected out of the Colts defense. With how the Colts are built, the defensive unit performing at a high-to-acceptable level needs to be a weekly non-starter. And it’s not like the Rams have been some explosive, extremely balanced offense this season. Again, the Colts defense didn’t sniff any execution of a plan to take away Nacua, who went over 100 yards by the mid-way point of the third quarter. With DeForest Buckner (groin/back) limited to a very scaled down, mainly 3rd down, role on Sunday, the Colts were shredded early on defense (which forced the massive comeback) and that’s certainly not something we’ve said in 2023. Poor tackling/pursuit angles were too abundant early on. Uncharacteristically, the Colts gave up a ton of chunk plays, both on the ground and through the air, which helped the Rams build their big lead. Given how the Colts have played this season, the defense playing as poorly as it did on Sunday is easily the biggest disappointing from Week 4.
2. Anthony Richardson Starts, Finishes GameSource:Getty
Again, Anthony Richardson just back playing again is the most important aspect to this game. And his return came after injury, something he will have to endure throughout his NFL career. It took until Week 4, but this was the first NFL game Richardson started, and finished. And Richardson was also exposed to some huge moments, which you can’t come close to scripting in practice. Richardson had his ups and downs on Sunday. He was 11-of-25 (44 percent) for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns, while running the ball 10 times for 56 yards. He had some costly high misses and a big ball security fumble, but this passing day from Richardson is more of what we thought would be there (inefficient, yet big plays sprinkled in). One area we’ve seen in both first halves from Richardson at home this season is an inability to get Michael Pittman Jr. and/or Alec Pierce involved. The two combined for 1 target, 0 catches in Sunday’s first half. The Colts can’t live with their outside wideouts offering so little in an entire half. But then as the Colts started to comeback it was Richardson creating out of the pocket with his arm and his legs to spur things. The rookie delivered with an 8-point drive to send the game into overtime. You cannot overstate how valuable it is for Richardson to be part of moments like Sunday, let alone executing such a game-tying, must-have, drives in the 4th quarter. It’s exactly why you play the rookie and expose him into situations that will define his career. From a playing style standpoint, Richardson did slide on the first play of the game, which brought quite the cheer from those at Lucas Oil Stadium. The designed runs were a huge part of the game plan early on, so clearly there will not be any hesitancy from Shane Steichen with that in regards to Richardson post-injury. Sunday was much more of what we thought Richardson would show as a rookie, but the 4th quarter moments have to have fans encouraged of a guy not being a deer in headlights with the game-pressure boiling.
3. Offensive Line Depth Fails TestSource:Getty
Offensive Line Depth Fails Test: Easily one of the biggest Colts questions entering this season was what would happen when their very inexperienced offensive line depth was inevitably tested. That happened on Sunday with a rookie needed at left tackle (Blake Freeland) in place of Bernhard Raimann (concussion) and a former undrafted free agent making his second NFL start needed at center (Wesley French) in place of Ryan Kelly (concussion). And the results were what you expected. Anthony Richardson was under duress a lot on Sunday, and the run game struggled early on as the Colts tried to establish any rhythm on offense. The plan to help Freeland, in particular, was head scratching. The rookie was left on an island far too often and it was costly. Yes, Aaron Donald is going to feast, as he did on Sunday, but leaving Freeland alone on an edge he hasn’t practiced at too often this offseason was asking for issues. Sunday was a reminder of just how darn indispensable Raimann is, with no experience behind him at all. We will see if the concussion protocols for Raimann and Kelly (who had a setback in his on Thursday) lead to testing this question for another week. While the Rams, who played without their starting left tackle, kept an immobile Stafford upright enough, the Colts depth in the trenches did not hold up.
4. So Much For 1st PlaceSource:Getty
So Much For 1st Place: Well, sole possession of first in the AFC South didn’t last long for the Colts. After a near 4-year wait to get back atop the AFC South, the Colts now exit Week 4 in a four-way tie with the rest of the division, with all 4 teams at 2-2. What a day it was for the AFC South with the other 3 teams in the division all winning (Jaguars over Falcons, Texans over Steelers, Titans over Bengals), and winning by a combined score of 80-16! On the horizon for the Colts are two big AFC South games (vs. Titans, at Jaguars). Jacksonville did win on Sunday in London (23-7 over the Falcons) and they will stay over there to take on the Bills next week, before returning to Florida to take on the Colts in Week 6. That game will obviously have massive implications for the Colts and their AFC South chances. Yes, pre-season expectations for the Colts were not high. But this division offers hope (it’s the only one without a team above .500 through 4 weeks). So that’s where the disappointment falls for Sunday. The Colts started this game looking like the team coming off a short week, traveling cross country. They had some awful self-inflicted mistakes early on leading to the necessary 23-point comeback attempt, which is putting way too much pressure on the 4th quarter and overtime. And that set the entire tone for a very unlikely comeback. The Colts have now lost 7 straight home games, and have not won inside of Lucas Oil Stadium since October 16, 2022.
5. Jonathan Taylor Return This Week?Source:Getty
Jonathan Taylor Return This Week? Well, with Week 4 complete, we now welcome back the Jonathan Taylor drama. The Colts can start the 21-day window on Taylor this week, meaning he’s eligible to practice on Wednesday and even play next Sunday vs. the Titans. But as we’ve learned with this Taylor story, good luck predicting something. It remains to be seen where Taylor is at rehab/workload/football shape wise, given he has missed more than 50 straight Colts practices. Does Taylor play next Sunday or does this story carrying deeper into October? As far as Sunday’s rushing effort, the struggles early on kept the offense one dimensional, which contributed to a scoreless opening half. Moss had just 10 yards on 5 carries in the first half. And the workload/playing time for Moss continues to be at a level which is very hard to sustain. I don’t think we needed this reminder, but if we did after 4 weeks, it’s that this team needs more explosive playmakers, and that’s exactly what Taylor has shown to be in his career. Period.
6. QUICK HITTERSSource:Getty
-Injury Report: The following Colts were inactive on Sunday: LT-Bernhard Raimann (concussion), C-Ryan Kelly (concussion), CB-Darrell Baker Jr., DE-Isaiah Land, TE-Will Mallory, LB-Cameron McGrone. The following players got injured and did not return: CB-Dallis Flowers (ankle).
–Key Stat: This marks the first back-to-back overtime contests for the Colts since the 2003 season.
-What’s Next: The Colts (2-2) are back at home next week, welcoming the Titans (2-2) to Lucas Oil Stadium for a 1:00 kick. It’ll be back-to-back divisional games for the Colts (vs. Titans, at Jaguars).