The Colts took on the Houston Texans in their season opener today. From being down 20-3 in the fourth quarter to storming back and missing a game-winning field goal, this game certainly came with high and lows. What did the team learn?
In Unbridled: A History Of Colts Mind-Blowing Meltdowns In Week One, Indy Intercept chronicled how slow starts, defensive collapses and a lack of killer instinct has plagued the Colts. For much of Sunday, this held true. Once again, the team found themselves in familiar territory and on the brink of starting 0-5 under Frank Reich and 1-10 since 2012. In a way only the Colts can fashion, they managed to end with a tie, perhaps almost fitting for a truly underwhelming game. Let’s take a look at how they got there.
The Colts Are Still Starting Slow
There was a sense from the national media and the players that the Colts absolutely had to come out firing on all cylinders. The team ended tumultuously in Jacksonville last season and that was fresh in the minds of many. However, old habits die hard and it seemed that they picked up right where they left off. Out the gates, the offensive line was loosing in the trenches and did not do a great job at clearing running lanes, making all of the yards gained by Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines hard fought.
Tack on some misfires like a dropped Alec Pierce touchdown and more bad offensive line play, and the Colts were doing themselves no favors. Things only got worse when quarterback Matt Ryan threw an ill-advised pass leading to an interception. If this was the new look offense, the concern is legitimate.
The Colts Need A Veteran Wide Receiver
Speaking of new look offense, it was a tough day at the office for wide receivers not named Michael Pittman, Jr.. Pittman had nine receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown. However, no other receiver on the roster had over 50 yards. Ashton Dulin, who dropped a critical touchdown, only had 46 yards. Parris Campbell and Mike Strachan were both held under 40 yards. Alec Pierce, the young receiver with the most potential, recorded no receptions or receiving yards. That’s simply not sustainable.
As mentioned in Episode One of the Indy Intercept Podcast, the Colts wide receiver room is a liability and will be until proven otherwise. Nothing seen today says the team is serious about providing plausible weapons for their quarterback. The team must look elsewhere for production. In just game one, that’s a tough pill to swallow.
Colts Defense Is A Mixed Bag
Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley’s Defense is still an enigma. Texans Quarterback Davis Mills was 23 of 37 for 240 yards and two touchdowns, Brandin Cooks had 82 receiving yards, and recently joined tight end O.J. Howard scored two touchdowns. Texans Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton got the best of his former team’s unit for much of the game, exposing weaknesses in the middle of the field and how ineffective the linebackers would be at covering tight ends without Shaquille Leonard. However, when it mattered, the defensive came to the rescue with critical plays down the stretch.
Linebacker E.J. Speed had an important strip sack that allowed defensive end Deforest Buckner to recover a fumble. Also, defensive end Kwity Paye took over the game as the team played into overtime. He provided two sacks in three plays that eventually allowed the Colts to start with decent field position on the next drive and potentially win with just a field goal.
The Colts Need A New Kicker
At the very mention of a field goal, the team should be concerned. Truthfully, they had to know that kicker Rodrigo Blankenship was going to struggle. Kicker Jake Verity was brought in during training camp as competition for Blankenship and even that was not going as well as expected. Blankenship narrowly won the right to the starting job ,with Verity eventually declining throughout camp to the point where the team had no choice but to lean towards Blankenship’s perceived consistency.
The kicker’s questionable efforts were on full display yesterday as he struggled mightily. Blankenship, who is also covering kickoff duties for injured punter Rigoberto Sanchez, sailed two kicks out of bounds lending extra yards to the Texans. To add insult to injury, Blankenship missed a 42 yard field goal in overtime that would have won the game for the Colts. Head Coach Frank Reich refused to give in to any questions about Blankenship saying, ”I can’t even begin to think (about that). In my mind, he’s our kicker.”
Perhaps Reich, or even Ballard, is not thinking about it, but at the very least, the team should do its due diligence in re-evaluating the position. In the last two seasons, Blankenship is 1 of 4 on field goals of 50 yards or more and 43 of 51 on field-goal attempts (84.3%) in his career.
This Colts Team Is Resilient
Hidden in the wild chaos of the tie game is the fact that the Colts proved they can get to the promise land if they can get out of their own way. The team came roaring back in the fourth quarter with 17 unanswered points. This was a great sight to see after Matt Ryan was one for six on pass attempts in the third quarter and multiple fumbled snaps with center Ryan Kelly.
The team’s fourth quarter defense (that was ranked 29th in 2021) stiffened and allowed zero points in crunch time. After giving up 20 points in the first three quarters, they managed to stop the play action plays on first downs that plagued them and disrupted the good protection Davis Mills was receiving. Amazingly, Mills had zero completed fourth quarter passes and the Texans offense as a whole only had 12 yards.
The Colts have to feel oddly unsatisfied with the result of the game. Arguably, there are more questions than answers. If they’re going to fix it, it’ll need to happen quick as they taken on a familiar foe in the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week Two.
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