INDIANAPOLIS – That is a kick in the you know what.
On Sunday afternoon, the Colts (3-4) lost a brutal one to the Cleveland Browns (4-2) with questions abound, including towards the officiating.
What did we learn from the Colts losing 39-38 to the Browns?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Rough Whistle/Rough EndingSource:Getty
Rough Whistle/Rough Ending: Did the Colts get a rough whistle on Sunday’s final drive by the Browns? Yes. Did they also have plenty of chance to not let a third-string quarterback who joined the team earlier this month, and wasn’t even the starter on Sunday afternoon, drive 80 yards on them? Yes. The Colts had chances on Sunday, and we will point out several of them below, but obviously the focus immediately goes to the final Cleveland drive. Did Colts cornerback Darrell Baker Jr. get beat by Amari Cooper leading to an illegal contact penalty on a 3rd-and-4 there, erasing a game-sealing fumble by E.J. Speed? That call, to me, was probably the right one, although it could have gone either way. The defensive pass interference though on the next play was on an uncatchable ball, and that flag should have been picked up, even if Baker had a handful of white jersey. Some of this is life when you commit to a youth movement at cornerback, as you saw why Baker Jr. got benched already this year. Again, the Colts got a poor whistle late. But, unlike the Browns, the Colts couldn’t end the game before that, allowing P.J. Walker and the Browns to drive some 60 yards into the red zone, with Cleveland wideout Elijah Moore converting a 3rd-and-10 and a wide-open Donovan Peoples-Jones to push deeper into Indy territory a few plays later. As we saw last year in home losses to the Eagles and Commanders, the Colts defense again had a chance to slam the door shut. And they couldn’t do it, against a third-string quarterback, with no help from the officiating crew either. It doesn’t have to be ‘the refs cheated the Colts’ or ‘the Colts totally blew it.’ Both can be true, and that was the case here.
2. Myles Garrett Dominates; Gardner Minshew SloppySource:Getty
Myles Garrett Dominates; Gardner Minshew Sloppy: For the second time this season, the Colts saw a first ballot Hall of Famer come into Lucas Oil Stadium and show why he is exactly that. Like Aaron Donald in Week Four, Myles Garrett played like a future Canton resident on Sunday. With two strip sacks, one against each Colts offensive tackle, a leap over the line of scrimmage for a blocked field goal, Garrett was an absolute terror against the Colts. Garrett’s turnovers led directly to 17 Browns points, and took 3 points off the board for the Colts. Honestly, the Colts had some really nice moments offensively on Sunday, against a historically good Cleveland defense. Shifting to Gardner Minshew and the Colts offense, No. 10 has to do a better job with ball security in the pocket. Unlike last week, his third-quarter interception on Sunday was more of not even seeing Browns cornerback Denzel Ward, who came out of his zone to make the INT in front of Michael Pittman Jr. Sunday’s turnover-filled day for Minshew was not as throwing/interception focused as it was last week in Jacksonville. Still, this isn’t the norm for Minshew’s career. And that’s why it is so maddening. You have 7 turnovers from Minshew (3 fumbles, 4 interceptions) the last two weeks leading to 37 points from their opponents. This Colts offense isn’t anywhere near as explosive enough to overcome that. To be fair though, the Colts offense had some promising moments on Sunday. Jonathan Taylor looked like his old self, igniting both the run and the pass game (21 touches for 120 yards). Michael Pittman Jr. had one of the biggest plays of his career on a 75-yard catch and run touchdown, which looked like the eventual game-winner for a few minutes. In a way, it’s a shame the Colts let Garrett put up one of the greatest games of his career because it overshadowed an offensive effort that had a lot of good.
3. Life Is Hard Without GroverSource:Getty
Life Is Hard Without Grover: Life without Grover Stewart ain’t going to be easy for the Colts. And the Colts felt that on the game’s opening drive Sunday, and then again on the Kareem Hunt 1-yard touchdown on 4th-and-Goal. Facing a 3rd-and-2 on the game’s first series, the Browns handed it off to Jerome Ford and he went untouchced right up the middle for a 69-yard touchdown. The play was so indicative of the domino effect felt by not having Stewart. You had both Cleveland guards easily seal defensive tackles DeForst Buckner and Taven Bryan (who was getting blown off the ball early on Sunday) and the Browns get their center to the second level to take care of Zaire Franklin. The ease at which this was done wouldn’t be the case if Stewart was in the lineup. And then on the final play of the game, after 3 straight incompletions from the 1-yard line, the Browns loaded it up and punched it in right at the middle of the Colts defense. In total, the Browns established the run early, despite rather inept Cleveland quarterback play. With young defensive tackle Eric Johnson getting hurt late, the Colts are scrambling even more with zero obvious replacement for Stewart, who is out for another 5 games.
4. Shane Steichen Costs ColtsSource:Getty
Shane Steichen Costs Colts: Entering Sunday, Shane Steichen has handled the intense game/clock management responsibilities that comes with being an NFL head coach pretty well. But Sunday was a disastrous effort by Steichen to end the first half, costing the Colts anywhere from 3-to-10 points, depending on how you view the situation. The first decision came on a play call to pass on a 2nd-and-15 from the Indy 6-yard line with 1:50 to play in the first half. Instead of running the ball to force Cleveland to burn a timeout, Steichen called a pass play, which exposed the Colts offensive line into a potential sack, holding penalty in the end zone or even stopping the clock with an incompletion. The result was Myles Garrett doing Myles Garrett things beating a brief chip from Drew Ogletree with rookie Blake Freeland getting roasted by one of the NFL’s best player. Then on the next drive, the Colts ran it on the first two plays, leading to a 3rd-and-13 from the Indy 17-yard line with 1:30 left in the first half and the Browns without any timeouts. Instead of a run call to burn a guaranteed 40 seconds, Steichen called another pass, with that screen pass falling incomplete. And Cleveland took advantage by getting into field goal range, with 12 seconds left, an amount of time they wouldn’t have had if the Colts had ran it on the 3rd-and-long. This was a brutal sequence, falling all on the poor game/clock management by the first-year head coach. So much focus will understandably be on the game’s final drive. This part of the game should not be forgotten because it involves direct decisions by the Colts head coach/play caller. Again, this hasn’t been an issue for Steichen this season, and he certainly brings great qualities to the Colts. But what happened on Sunday was a back-breaking sequence and can’t become the norm.
5. Wild Card Chances Take BlowSource:Getty
Wild Card Chances Take Blow: Whereas last week was a monumental October game for divisional purposes, this one was pretty close for that in terms of a potential Wild Card watch. This Colts (3-4) loss comes to the team right above them in the AFC standings (Browns were the final playoff team, in 7th place, entering the day) meaning it’s another loss of a potentially very important tiebreaker late in the year. The Colts now sit 11th in the AFC standings, and this loss is an early nail into the (starting to fade) divisional hopes. In the last two weeks, the Colts have had chances to prove themselves against teams better than them in the AFC, and creep closer to ‘contender’ category. Instead, they’ve been more of a playoff ‘pretender’ as the mid-way point of the season approaches. The schedule still offers plenty of weekly opportunity to feast on a bunch of mediocre, at best, opponents on the horizon. But these two losses the last two weeks, given the divisional and Wild Card implications can’t be overstated.
6. QUICK HITTERSSource:Getty
–Injury Report: The following Colts were inactive on Sunday: RT-Braden Smith (hip), TE-Kylen Granson (concussion), OG-Ike Boettger, CB-Ameer Speed, DE-Isaiah Land. The following players got injured and did not return: CB-JuJu Brents (quad), WR-Isaiah McKenzie (concussion, cleared to return), DT-Eric Johnson (undisclosed)
–Key Stat: Browns kicker Dustin Hopkins made field goals on Sunday from 54, 54 and 58 yards.
–What’s Next: The Colts (3-4) will stay at home for another Sunday in Week 8. It’ll be the Saints (3-4) coming off a Thursday night loss to the Jaguars coming to Lucas Oil for a 1:00 PM kickoff.