The Indianapolis Colts got shellacked in the first half vs. the Rams on Sunday. Los Angeles dominated the time of possession for the opening two quarters, leaving Indianapolis without any chance of building momentum offensively. However, things changed drastically as the teams returned from halftime.
Led by some superb play calling by head coach Shane Steichen, the Colts began moving the football at will midway through the third quarter. After looking a 23-0 deficit directly in the eyes, rookie signal-caller Anthony Richardson evaded a collapsing pocket and connected with Mo Alie-Cox on a 35-yard touchdown.
Richardson and Zack Moss completed the ensuing two-point conversion to bring the game within two scores. And as you’d have it, the defense forced a turnover immediately, thanks to a timely Kenny Moore interception. As impressive as Matthew Stafford was in the opening half, Indy’s vicious front seven hobbled the veteran quarterback later in the game.
Colts Storm Back, But The Comeback Falls Short vs. The Rams
Following a missed Brett Maher field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Richardson and Co. stormed down the field for more points. With yet another long completion, this time to Alec Pierce, serving as the catalyst for the drive. A few snaps later, the first-year quarterback kept the ball and found his way into the end zone with his trademark 360° slam dunk celebration.
The Colts’ defense once again did its job and got the ball back over to Anthony Richardson with about six minutes remaining in the fourth. The tight end group made its presence felt on the drive as Kylen Granson and Drew Ogletree combined for multiple catches, including the potential game-tying touchdown to Ogletree. Indy easily converted the two-point conversion to knot things up at 23 apiece.
After the two teams traded the football back and forth in the final minutes, the score remained locked at 23, leading to everyone’s favorite part of the NFL: overtime. I trust you can feel the sarcasm brimming off the screen.
Alas, the rules are the rules. A mostly exhausted defensive unit was walked down the field by Stafford and the Rams. We can blame the coin toss or even Gus Bradley all we want. But, at the end of the day, the Colts couldn’t get a stop when they needed it most. The comeback fell short.
However, the good certainly outweighed the bad overall. Moral victories won’t show up in the record book, but they serve as building blocks for any locker room — especially one as young as the Colts. Now that a small recap is out of the way, let’s quickly highlight The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly from the heartbreaking loss on Sunday.
No. 1: Shane Steichen Was Cooking In The 2nd Half
Shane Steichen is a first-time head coach, and at times, you can tell. In the first half, Steichen was hesitant to open up the playbook. With multiple starting offensive linemen out of action and Richardson returning for the first time in two weeks, it made sense to ease the offense in.
But once halftime hit, Steichen got to work on adjusting. Richardson came out firing and really found his groove on the third-quarter touchdown drive. Whether it was trusting his 21-year-old quarterback to create with his legs or to find his receivers downfield, the Colts QB1 answered the bell.
It wasn’t all perfect, but it is important to remember that Steichen is a rookie, too. He has never led a franchise, but with Indy sitting at 2-2 and its two losses being easily winnable, the sky is truly the limit for The Shoe.
No. 2: The Colts Rally Around Anthony Richardson
This section isn’t meant as shade toward Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, or Matt Ryan — well, maybe it is — but Anthony Richardson brings an entirely different element to the quarterback position. Sure, he needs to improve accuracy, especially on shorter-timing routes to the sideline; that cannot be denied.
However, given the threat he is as a runner and his willingness to push the football downfield, it makes it easy for teammates to buy in. When looking around at the stacked AFC, it is littered with superstar play behind center. The Colts still need more talent around Richardson, but make no mistake, he is a budding superstar. He is the guy.
No. 3: The Defense Kept Indy In The Game
The defense got shredded for much of the first half, but the unit stepped up in the final quarter and a half. Kenny Moore bounced back from a rough start by intercepting Matthew Stafford midway through the third quarter. Dayo Odeyingbo recorded 1.5 sacks, with Zaire Franklin cleaning up that other half-sack and chipping in 12 tackles of his own.
Stafford got hit nine times on Sunday, with each one dealing significant damage to the veteran signal-caller. The secondary was able to disrupt passing lanes at times, logging seven breakups on the day. Sadly, the unit ran out of gas after spending most of the day on the field. There were some redeeming qualities from the Gus Bradley defense, but it wasn’t perfect…
No. 4: Gus Bradley Is Too Conservative, But It’s Not All His Fault
Long-time coordinator and former NFL head coach Gus Bradley is a polarizing figure in Indianapolis. While some in the fan base laud him for his “bend don’t break” defensive mentality, others question if he’s too passive when it comes to coverage downfield and deploying the blitz.
I know, I know. Bradley made his career as a zone coverage savant. He helped build the Legion of Boom unit in Seattle. I get it. But someone needs to tell him that Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor are not on this Colts roster.
I’m not asking Bradley to completely flip his lifelong philosophy, but some game situations require adapting. In the only possession of overtime — even with a tired defense — the coverage was too soft. A miscommunication on the game-winning touchdown was the final nail in the coffin.
General manager Chris Ballard tried to overhaul the cornerback room this offseason with players that fit the Bradley scheme better. JuJu Brents has shown flashes in limited time, but the team must add more to the position to truly get the most out of Bradley and his scheme.
No. 5: The Offense Could Still Use Jonathan Taylor
Zack Moss has played extremely well as the team’s RB1 in Jonathan Taylor’s absence. But with Taylor now eligible to return from the PUP list, it would behoove Indy to find a way to get the former All-Pro back on the field.
Moss can handle bell-cow duties; he has proven this. What if Taylor regains his form, and the two become a fearsome rushing attack together? Not to mention the added threat of Taylor in the passing game would be coveted by Anthony Richardson. The clock is once again ticking: Will JT suit up for the Colts or hold strong in his trade demand?
No. 6: Injuries Are Taking Their Toll
The Colts were able to get through the day without two starting offensive linemen, but this is not something that Steichen wants to see become a habit. Bernhard Raimann, Ryan Kelly, Quenton Nelson, and Braden Smith have all had some sort of ailment dating back to the offseason.
Hopefully, Raimann and Kelly will return next week, and the line can continue forming chemistry as a unit. Indy can occasionally overcome a porous line, but if Richardson is to stay healthy all season, he cannot be continually playing behind the eight ball.
On defense, Dallis Flowers left the contest with what looked to be a significant injury. In a cornerback room that’s already thin, things won’t get any easier without Flowers. Perhaps even more concerning is Shaquille Leonard. He is still a quality player but looks far removed from the difference-making linebacker Colts fans have grown accustomed to seeing.
No. 7: Self-Inflicted Errors Have Kept Colts From 4-0 Start
The youth of the roster showed up in Week 1, as the team fumbled away a double-digit lead to the Jaguars. Against the Rams, the inverse occurred. Indy got smacked in the mouth in the first half, with several mental errors like drops and penalties sputtering drives. There were also a few easy misses that Anthony Richardson needs to hit.
It was promising to see Richardson and his team rebound from a disastrous start. If nothing else, this Colts roster never gives up. But if they hadn’t started so poorly, it wouldn’t have required such an unlikely comeback to send the game to overtime. These issues come with being the youngest roster in the league.
The Colts finally have a true identity for the first time in years. Shane Steichen is the right person to craft an offense around Anthony Richardson, while the young quarterback is flexing elite potential as a runner and continued development as a passer.
The defense is better than the national media would ever care to admit. But Gus Bradley can get too cute with his playcalling at times. Plus, the cornerback room is still one of the worst in the NFL right now, which is difficult for any coordinator to overcome.
Yet, somehow, some way, the Colts find themselves in the thick of things in the AFC South. The entire division sits at 2-2 through the first month, with all four teams showing good things, bad things, and ugly things during the year.
Next up, Indy will host the Titans in an all-important divisional battle. Perhaps Week 5 is when everything comes together for The Shoe. They are closer than many expected.
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