Hey, Colts fans? Do you want to watch the weirdest game ever played? Hope you recorded this one then.
The Indianapolis Colts (6-5) traveled to Nashville to face off against the (4-7) Tennessee Titans in the 2nd AFC South battle between the two bitter rivals. The Colts won the prior Week 5 game vs the Titans 23-16 with Minshew coming into the contest midway through the 2nd quarter due to an injury to starting rookie QB Anthony Richardson. In the rematch, Minshew got the start with Richardson out for the season and the Titans previous starting QB Ryan Tannehill benched for fellow 2023 rookie Will Levis.
After a back-and-forth game filled with drama was tied 25-25 in regulation, the Titans won the coin toss and drove down the field for a field goal to take a 28-25 lead with 4:19 left in OT. However, the Colts got the ball back and scored a game-winning TD by Michael Pittman Jr. to walk off with the victory.
In our weekly recap, let’s break down the pure insanity of a game we all just witnessed on Sunday and what it means for the Colts going forward.
The Good From Colts-Titans
No. 1: Big WRs Make Big Plays For Colts
Michael Pittman Jr. is a Wide Receiver 1. No debate necessary.
Today the Colts’ top passing threat led the way with 11 catches, 105 yards, and the game-winning overtime TD. Constantly churning out 1st downs with yards after the catch. Fighting for the ball in the air against defenders. Demanding attention from defenses constantly. Michael Pittman Jr. wouldn’t be denied and should be paid handsomely this offseason. The Colts would be wise to be that team he signs with on the dotted line.
However, he wasn’t the only Colts wide receiver with a big day vs. Tennessee. Second-year WR Alec Pierce had a pretty quiet season prior to this game. Both Anthony Richardson and Gardner Minshew haven’t thrown many deep balls in 2023, which is Pierce’s bread and butter. He has led the league in go routes ran and total yards ran on his routes as the Colts’ deep threat.
For the 1st time in his career, Alec Pierce eclipsed 100 receiving yards in a game. He did so in just 3 catches. His first catch was a deep 36-yard TD catch on the Colts opening drive, and his last one was a gorgeous 55-yard deep shot in overtime to put the Colts in a goal-to-go situation.
Pierce could have had an even bigger night had 2 targets from Minshew connected: a too high and behind throw to the endzone for another potential TD, and a wide open 40-yard deep shot along the sideline that was high and out of bounds. Pierce’s deep threat has been constant this season, but the lack of volume has made his impact quieter on the stat sheet. Against the Titans we got a glimpse of what Pierce can do if given opportunities.
No. 2: Good Will Hunting
Will Levis didn’t look comfortable against the Colts. The defensive line was hunting for him in the pocket, with 6 sacks on the day. Two of those sacks resulted in a couple of awkward fumbles by Levis, one of which he later forced a fumble and recovered it himself on Colts S Julian Blackmon.
If you thought that play was wild and random… you haven’t seen anything yet.
The Colts had 5+ sacks for the 3rd straight game, the longest streak in the NFL this season. With 21 sacks in the last 4 games, the Colts pass rush moves to 42 on the year. With 5 games left, the Colts are in prime position to break their Indianapolis record of 46 sacks.
Even when they weren’t getting the sacks, the relentless 57% pressure forced Levis to make numerous bad throws and the coverage was solid to make some key breakups. Levis finished with just 16/33 passing (48.48%), for 224 yards and 1 TD.
No. 3: The Colts Special Teams Is Special
Speaking of crazy plays, the Colts’ special teams had itself a day. On back-to-back punt attempts, the Colts blocked Titans’ punter Ryan Stonehouse. The first one was recovered for a TD. The latter one was recovered and brought to the Titans’ 5-yard line. However on that 2nd blocked punt, Colts’ CB Tony Brown hit Stonehouse before he got the punt off and unfortunately led to Stonehouse leaving the game with an apparent leg injury.
While the Titans were able to get by with kicker Nick Folk handling punting duties for the first time since his college days, they were not as fortunate on replacing Stonehouse’s holding ability on kicking attempts. Former Titans’ starting QB Ryan Tannehill held for Folk, and on one Titans’ extra point the timing was off on the hold and led to Folk shanking the easy point wide left.
While the Titans were able to make a later field goal in overtime, in such a close game, every point counts, and the missed extra point led to the Colts and Titans going to overtime to begin with.
Meanwhile, Colts kicker Matt Gay made all 4 of his field goal attempts, including a long of 46 yards. Every kick mattered today, and Gay being perfect was crucial for the Colts.
The Bad From Colts-Titans
No. 1: Red Zone Offense Stagnates
The Colts were down 7-17 in the beginning of the 2nd quarter, thanks to two early Derrick Henry TDs and a short Folk FG. However, from that point on, the Colts dominated the game, stopping the run, pressuring Levis, and engineering drives down the field more consistently. But the Colts’ failures to score TDs in the red zone helped keep the game close and avoid truly putting the game away in regulation.
The Colts scored just 9 points on the 4 red zone trips in regulation. Three short Matt Gay field goals and a turnover wouldn’t have been enough to put away the game most nights had the Colts defense not been suffocating the Titans’ offense for most of the game after the early Titans lead. Had the Colts not scored a red zone TD in overtime, this would be in the “ugly” category.
No. 2: Minshew’s Mania of Inconsistencies
Minshew had yet another up and down day. On the one hand, Minshew was like Uncle Rico throwing over them mountains several times.
On the other hand, Minshew had his fair share of downright ugly plays. During the Colts’ red zone turnover, he tried to buy time and move frantically in the pocket to step up and find an open receiver. However, he didn’t see Denico Autry coming with the blindside sack. Autry was able to strip the ball out for a key turnover.
But that wasn’t the ugliest play for Minshew. That honor goes to his pick-2. Just after the Colts’ 1st blocked punt of the day was returned for a TD, Shane Steichen decided to go for 2 points to potentially push the Colts’ 22-17 lead to be up by a TD. However, on the play, Minshew threw off his back foot to avoid the rush, hit Zack Moss too high for a tipped ball, and then Titans’ safety Amani Hooker returned it 100 yards for a pick-2 to cut the Colts lead to 22-19.
Like I said before, there were crazy plays galore in this weird game. Can’t hate on Minshew too much as he did lead the game-winning drive and had some great plays earlier, too. But every dropback is a roll of the dice with Minshew — good and ugly — so we will split the middle.
The Ugly From Colts-Titans
No. 1: Colts RB Zack Moss Had A Bad Day
With Jonathan Taylor out for 3-5 weeks with a thumb injury, Zack Moss was once again tasked to lead the Colts’ RB room. Unlike other times with a high workload this season, Moss struggled to get going, earning only 51 yards on 19 carries (2.7 ypc). Moss did have some strong short-yardage runs to get 1st downs throughout the game, but his long was only 5 yards vs. the Titans, showing that he was still bottled up for only modest gains.
He did have some strong pass-blocking reps, but he also was a part of the costly pick-2 as well (albeit a bad pass by Minshew, too). After Moss gashed the Titans for 165 rushing yards in the last matchup, the performance in Tennessee left something to be desired. He will need to bounce back to his prior form to help balance out the Colts’ offensive attack in the next couple of weeks.
No. 2: Colts Run Defense Struggles…For Now
For the early portion of the game, the Titans’ rushing offense looked unstoppable. Derrick Henry was on his way to another career game once the Titans went up 17-7 in the 2nd quarter.
He had 10 carries for 5.9 ypc and 2 TDs on those 4 drives, as well as an 18-yard screen pass catch. From that point onward though, the Colts did a much better job slowing down Henry, holding him to just 20 yards on his 6 remaining carries. His final carry was 9 yards but caused a concussion after Henry went airborne and landed hard.
Tyjae Spears took over the lead back workload after being an effective change-of-pace back in Year 1. He had a solid day overall on the ground. The rookie back had 75 yards on 16 carries for a brisk 4.7 ypc.
Overall, the Colts gave up 188 rushing yards to the Titans’ offense. The Colts did have a high tackle for loss amount down the stretch (5), but for large parts of the game, the Titans’ rushing attack overwhelmed the Colts’ front. Outside zone plays in particular were used to great effect. The team clearly missed Grover Stewart’s impact in the run game over the last 6 games, as they lack a true nose tackle in his stead. With Stewart back from suspension next week, the hope is he will help the Colts’ run defense rebound to end the year.
The Colts improved to 7-5 with a 4-game winning streak. That keeps them in wildcard contention as the 6/7 seed (depending on who you ask) in the tight playoff race.
The Titans, meanwhile, dropped to 4-8. They are in line to pick 8th overall in the draft if the season ended today. But they are only a half game away from being tied for the 4th pick. Titans fans might try to excuse this loss due to mid-game injuries to Henry, Stonehouse, and star DT Jeffrey Simmons. However, it is worth noting the Colts had their fair share of injuries before and during the game as well.
The Colts have 4 games against AFC teams in the last 5 weeks, with 2 of them against AFC teams above .500 who are also in the playoff race: the 7-5 Steelers and 7-5 Texans. Right now there are 4 teams jostling for 3 wildcard spots and boast 7-5 records (3 of whom also are tied with 5-3 conference records), the aforementioned Colts, Steelers, and Texans along with the Browns. There are also 2 other teams sitting at 6-6 (potentially 3 depending on 5-6 Bengals vs. 8-3 Jags on Monday Night Football) in the hunt for a postseason berth.
With such a tight race, the Colts have to win as many games as possible to secure a playoff spot. A 10-7 record by no means guarantees entry in this conference. If Indy wins at least 4 of the next 5 games, the playoffs are very likely. With at least a win against either the Steelers or Texans, it’s even probable.
- This is a 1st time head coach leading the team
- Without their starting QB nearly the entire season
- 2 cornerbacks injured for most of the season (another suspended for an entire year and cut late in the offseason)
- Constant shifts on the OL lineup (including another Braden Smith injury on the 1st drive vs. Titans)
- A suspended star DT
- A starting RB missing half the season with 2 different injuries and a contract holdout
- Missing their most dynamic TE for the entire year thus far
- Cut a team captain and former All-Pro LB midseason
- Have half of the enormous 2023 Colts’ rookie class injured
And the Colts are STILL in the driver’s seat for a playoff berth in an insanely competitive conference?! Shane Steichen’s Coach of the Year candidacy is looking strong heading into Week 14.
Up Next For The Colts:
A quick, 2-hour trip along I-74 to Cincinnati to take on the Joe Burrow-less Bengals.
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