The Indianapolis Colts got into the victory column on Sunday against the Houston Texans. The team stormed out to a double-digit lead, and unlike last weekend vs. the Jaguars, the young Colts kept their foot on the gas to the end.
Colts vs. Texans Recap (Week 2)
As exciting as the contest was, another injury to rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson put a cloud over the day. After two rushing touchdowns and some nice passes to move the offense downfield, Richardson exited the battle early, leaving backup Gardner Minshew to guide the ship. Thankfully for the Colts, Minshew came out clicking on all cylinders.
From one of the best backup signal-callers to an improving offensive line to the iffy cornerback room in Indy… let’s dive into the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Colts-Texans showdown.
No. 1: Gardner Minshew Is An Elite Backup QB
Don’t misconstrue this point — I am not calling Gardner Minshew an elite quarterback in the NFL. However, it is fair to use the term ‘elite’ when Minshew’s ability as a backup gets brought up. Few in the league can step in the way he did on Sunday, and even fewer can command the respect of their teammates the way the mullet-rocking 27-year-old can.
The hope is that Anthony Richardson will remain healthy and take every snap behind center for the next 15 weeks. But given how his career has begun, it might be shortsighted to assume 100 percent health throughout. That is where Minshew comes in.
Now, I know what you are saying. It was the Texans, Hunter. Let’s not overreact to the Texans. And your point is well received. Minshew performing this well against a porous Houston defense is not the same as leading a full-on playoff charge. Although I believe the backup quarterback can handle spot starting, hopefully, we won’t talk about him again for the rest of the regular season.
No. 2: Zaire Franklin May Lead The NFL In Tackles
The Colts committed to Zaire Franklin last offseason with a new contract while letting Bobby Okereke walk via free agency in the most recent offseason. That looks to be a brilliant decision through two weeks, as Franklin is on pace for more than 200 tackles in 2023.
He followed up a 17-tackle performance vs. the Jags with 13 more against the Texans. Every time I looked at the TV screen on Sunday, No. 44 was jumping off it. Franklin is exceptional at reading and reacting, serving as the heartbeat of the defense, even with the return of Shaquille Leonard to the linebacking corps.
High tackle numbers aren’t enough to make a player elite; often, that is subjective to the scheme a team runs. Gus Bradley allows for several tackling opportunities — it’s true — but it still falls at Franklin’s feet to be in the right position and finish these tackles. He has impressed nonetheless.
The Running Game Gets Much-Needed Boost
No. 3: Zack Moss; The Offensive Line
These two go in tandem, as one cannot succeed without the other. On Sunday, Zack Moss made his 2023 debut with an outstanding showing, approaching 100 yards on 18 carries, including a touchdown scurry in the second quarter.
Moss’ effectiveness highlights how much better of a pure runner he is than Deon Jackson. It is also clear that the offensive line had an easier time creating running lanes against Houston. So, both sides of the coin deserve credit.
Aside from the run game, the Colts O-line finally kept their quarterback clean. Richardson’s aforementioned injury was a product of him being out in space and taking a shot — not because the line failed. Rather, the group did not surrender a single sack on the afternoon in pass protection.
Indy must prove this momentum will carry over in games against tougher competition. But as of this writing, the offensive line, as a whole, is certainly trending upward.
No. 4: The Front 7 Is Fearsome
The Colts made rookie C.J. Stroud uncomfortable every time he took the field. The team secured six sacks on the day, and multiple times Stroud’s ability to roll out and throw the ball away saved several more sacks from going on the docket.
Perhaps the coolest part of the defensive outburst was how many different Colts put their name in the box score. Each sack was performed by a different Indy defender, meaning Stroud never knew where the pressure would come from on any given snap.
Keeping the young signal-caller off schedule allowed the Colts to take a commanding lead early. Even if the defense lost some energy a bit in the second half, all in all, it was a positive sign for the Shoe. One way to protect a weak cornerback room is by collapsing the pocket… but more on that later.
No. 5: Anthony Richardson Exits The Game Early… Again
Colts fans have gotten Andrew Luck flashbacks watching Anthony Richardson. The two guys possess otherworldly physical traits while creating special plays with their absurd arm talent and are never shy to put their bodies on the line to gain extra yardage. It is an exhilarating way to play quarterback, but that last point sticks out the most today.
Richardson exited the Jaguars game early after a couple of lower body injuries added up. Head coach Shane Steichen said his QB1 could have returned to the Jacksonville game and that he was merely left on the sideline as a precaution. This past Sunday, Richardson was forced out of the game by team doctors (after flagging his own concussion).
The injury came on his second touchdown run of the day, as Richardson seemingly let up as he crossed the goal line, not expecting the hit that eventually knocked him out of the game. While this second injury can be chalked up as fluky, it still brings up anxiety as far as Colts fans are concerned.
One generational talent at quarterback struggled to stay on the field for much of his stint in Indianapolis. To avoid the same result with Richardson, he must do a better job taking care of himself — even if it costs some exciting plays. Nothing is more important than availability.
No. 6: The Cornerback Room Will Take The Colts Completely Out Of Games
Breakout off-season star Darrell Baker Jr. has not performed well in the regular season. Wide receivers are having their way with the undrafted free agent out of Georgia Southern. Even worse, the Colts’ most recent second-round pick, JuJu Brents, has dealt with injuries since the franchise selected him back in April.
Dallis Flowers, another undrafted free agent, is not cutting it as a starter for the unit. He lacks the size and strength to hold up on the boundary. Unfortunately, the options behind Flowers leave Gus Bradley with no real recourse for improvement.
Jaylon Jones, a Day 3 pick, looks like a legitimate starter in the long-term, but the first-year player is raw and still adjusting to NFL game speed. Tony Brown is fine. Kenny Moore II is still holding down the nickelback role. But the talent in this cornerback room is arguably the worst in the league.
And there is no one else to blame but the man who put this roster together — general manager Chris Ballard. As great as Ballard is at drafting, his track record with early-round defensive backs is underwhelming. Quincy Wilson, anyone?
It is no surprise that cornerback is the weakest spot on the roster. Drafting multiple young prospects should have been a remedy, but the most highly-coveted pick is struggling to remain healthy. Until Brents realizes his sky-high potential, opponents will not respect the Colts’ passing defense. It’s that simple.
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