The Indianapolis Colts, fresh off a well-deserved bye week, welcomed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday. After a dominant first quarter, Indy let its foot off the gas, eventually leading to a valiant comeback attempt by Baker Mayfield and Co. But fret not, the Colts held on for a 27-20 victory. A win is a win.
Now, not everything was perfect this holiday weekend, but once again, there was far more good than bad. In our weekly recap, let’s pinpoint why the Colts were able to seize victory, while also highlighting where the team must improve to continue its push for a postseason berth.
No. 1: The Offensive Line Is Back
Even without veteran Ryan Kelly in the middle, the Colts offensive line had quite the showing against an impressive Buccaneers front seven. They took care of their quarterback, as Gardner Minshew was to blame for the two sacks surrendered (more on him in a bit).
In the ground game, the boys up front created consistent running lanes and regularly won at the line of scrimmage. The Colts kept superstar defensive tackle Vita Vea off the stat sheet entirely, showing just how dominant the Indianapolis offensive line was on the day.
No. 2: The Colts Have A… Pass Rush?
Seemingly since Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney hung up their cleats, the Colts have been searching for a steady pass-rushing unit year in and year out. Although the names on the current incarnation of the Indy defense don’t jump off the paper, they absolutely jump off the screen when watching.
Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo both found their way to Baker Mayfield on Sunday. Tyquan Lewis, Isaiah Land, and Adetomiwa Adebawore all threw their hat in the ring as well. But Samson Ebukam, a savvy free-agent signing this past offseason, was the best of the bunch against Tampa Bay.
Ebukam registered two sacks, two quarterback hits, and a tackle for loss. Simply put, he was in the offensive backfield as much as Baker Mayfield was in Week 12. With such a young secondary, the added juice from the team’s pass rushers is a welcomed addition.
No. 3: The Two-Headed Attack Of Jonathan Taylor And Zack Moss Is Lethal
If the Colts hope to earn a wildcard berth in 2023, the ability to run the football and dominate the line of scrimmage is crucial to their efforts. Thankfully for Indy, Jonathan Taylor looks like the prime version of himself, while Zack Moss keeps impressing any time the ball finds him. Sure, it would be nice to see JT assume more of a bell-cow role, but it’s never a bad idea to preserve his legs.
The Colts got away from using Taylor in the second and third quarters, causing the ire of many — myself included. But once the fourth quarter came around, the former Wisconsin Badger let it rip. His 15 carries resulted in 91 yards on the ground with two trips to the end zone to start the touchdown scoring and cap the scoring.
One thing is certain: nobody will want to defend this vaunted rushing attack come January. That isn’t to guarantee that Indy will make the playoffs, nor is it a guarantee that they’ll win a game if they do, but I doubt any team would be eager to play the red-hot Colts’ running game. Imagine what it would look like with a 6-foot-4, 250-pound quarterback…
No. 4: Colts Must Pay Michael Pittman Jr.
The discourse around Michael Pittman Jr. can be nauseating at times. Is he a WR1? Is he a WR2? My answer, as always, is… who cares? He’s a great football player, and all he does is rack up production — year after year — even with uncertainty behind center. Pittman Jr. is on pace to set a new career high in yardage in 2023.
For the Colts, MPJ presents the most reliable option in the passing game. He is a massive target for his quarterback, and any time the team needs a big completion, you can bet Pittman Jr. will have his hand in it. Even if it’s simply taking attention away from teammates like Josh Downs and Alec Pierce.
All the hoopla about his status in the league and where he ranks on wide receiver lists is pointless conjecture. He has earned whatever payday the Colts send his way. Anthony Richardson can unlock another level for Pittman Jr. next season. He shouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
No. 5: Shane Steichen Is Him
Now, don’t get me wrong. Shane Steichen didn’t call a perfect game on Sunday, but he showed up when it mattered. And that is more than we can say about any of the past few head coaches in Indianapolis. Sure, going away from Jonathan Taylor was an odd choice, and one of those attempts on fourth down was ill-advised at best. But that’s where the questionable calls end.
The team was unable to convert on third downs consistently (2-of-11), but thanks to the belief Steichen has in his unit, they went for it on fourth down on four separate occasions, converting three of them. Two of those fourth-down conversions led directly to touchdowns, too.
If the game plan ever frustrates you, just try to remember that Steichen is a rookie, too. He’s never been a head coach in the NFL and is still getting his feet under him as the unquestioned voice in the locker room. The results thus far have been promising, and that’s with a backup quarterback. Wait until Steichen can open the playbook entirely with Richardson at his disposal.
No. 6: The Colts Secondary Is Improving, But It Still Has A Ways To Go
Jaylon Jones played relatively well against the Buccaneers, but there were times when Mike Evans or Chris Godwin got the better of him. Such is life for a seventh-round rookie. It’s no reason to start sounding the alarm. Jones profiles as a long-term starter once he irons out some of the rough patches in his game.
Alternatively, Darrell Baker Jr. had a few nice plays on the day, while Ronnie Harrison Jr. intercepted Baker Mayfield late in the first quarter. Still, it would be wise for the Colts to bring in another high-upside player for the cornerback room, as JuJu Brents is still an uncertainty to this point due to injuries.
The safety room made its mark, with Julian Blackmon breaking up two passes downfield and Rodney Thomas II and Nick Cross even sticking their nose in a few plays. All in all, the results are promising from such a young unit, but Sunday still showed how much room they have for improvement.
No. 7: Gardner Minshew Is A Liability When Asked To Do Too Much
Credit to Gardner Minshew for stepping in after the season-ending injury to Anthony Richardson. He came to Indianapolis for that exact reason. To this point, he’s done enough to win more games than he’s lost. But let’s call a spade a spade — Minshew almost cost the Colts the game this past weekend.
When the reads are quick and decisive, Minshew does well getting the ball out and in a place where only his receivers can catch it. However, any time the first read isn’t open, or he is forced to survey the field for longer than a couple of seconds, things get messy — and fast.
The journeyman signal-caller is prone to happy feet when he feels pressure coming, leading to inaccurate throws and poor decisions. Minshew threw one interception against the Buccaneers, and frankly, there should have been at least two more if Tampa Bay could catch passes that hit them in the chest.
The Colts will need steadier play from their quarterback to truly go on a playoff run. The schedule lines up well for Indy to win 10 games, but that will all boil down to Minshew. Can he take care of the football? If so, playing on Wildcard Weekend is realistic. If his bad habits surface more, things could get ugly in Naptown.
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