The Indianapolis Colts opened the 2023 NFL regular season with a crushing defeat at the hands of their divisional foes, the Jacksonville Jaguars. After a promising start to the contest, including an exhilarating scoop and score by DeForest Buckner, the young team fell apart down the stretch.
While the loss extends a winless Week 1 drought dating back to 2013, there were plenty of positives to come away with. From Anthony Richardson’s poise to the defense’s nose for the football, the Colts have a few things trending in the right direction.
But it’s not all perfect. Shane Steichen’s squad still has some learning to do when it comes to executing in crunch time. And it is worth mentioning that the ground game was abysmal in the absence of star running back Jonathan Taylor.
Let’s assess the good, the bad, and the ugly from the Week 1 opener vs. the Jaguars.
No. 1: Anthony Richardson Is The Real Deal
Anthony Richardson looked the part in his regular-season debut for the Indianapolis Colts. He remained composed throughout the day, even while facing constant pressure due to lackluster play from the offensive line.
Richardson completed 24 of his 37 pass attempts for 223 yards, one touchdown, and an ugly interception in the fourth quarter. He also chipped in 10 carries for 40 yards on the ground, including a two-yard scurry for six points in the second quarter.
Unfortunately, that final rushing attempt resulted in an injury to the young signal-caller. Richardson was able to get up and walk off under his own power, but this will be something to monitor as injury reports come out early in the week.
Still, it is hard to deny how promising this debut was from Richardson. The No. 4 overall pick rarely looked overwhelmed, and even with a few inexcusable misses, the arrow is undoubtedly trending upward for the first-year player.
Richardson is not quite there yet, but Colts fans should sleep peacefully knowing that the answer at quarterback is finally on the roster.
No. 2: Shane Steichen Knows What He Is Doing
Following in the same breath is the play calling from Sunday. Sure, it became a bit too stale and conservative once the Colts seized a second-half lead. Such is life with a rookie quarterback behind center.
As the season grows older, and Anthony Richardson does as well, expect Shane Steichen to open up the playbook more. Richardson has a remarkable deep ball but didn’t get a chance to show it off vs. the Jaguars. But fear not — it was by design.
Steichen is smart and cerebral. He will adjust to Richardson’s ebbs and flows in Year 1. Give it some time; the Colts’ head coach is a rookie, too, in his own right. The good news is that this pairing has all the makings of success.
No. 3: Zaire Franklin Is Ready To Take The Leap For The Colts
One player that jumped off the screen nearly every snap Sunday was Zaire Franklin. The former seventh-rounder stepped into the starting role vacated by Bobby Okereke this offseason and did not miss a beat.
Franklin accounted for 18 total tackles (via ESPN), including one pass defended and an all-important forced fumble in the heads-up play that resulted in a touchdown for the Colts’ defense. Franklin single-handedly kept Indy in the game.
Shaq Leonard’s past health issues leave uncertainty around the linebacker position, but if Franklin keeps this level of play up, it will go a long way to soothing those fears.
No. 4: Shaq Leonard Looked Like Shaq Leonard
Speaking of Shaq Leonard, the former All-Pro finally looked like the Shaq Leonard we all know and love. He was flying around the gridiron with reckless abandon, and his eight tackles ranked behind only Franklin for the Colts’ defense.
Leonard dealt with a myriad of injuries over the past couple of years. Concussions and back issues put his future into jeopardy, with the 28-year-old even shutting down rumors that retirement was on the table this offseason.
Thankfully, the Football Gods have shown mercy on Leonard, giving him a clean bill of health to open the 2023 regular season. Here’s to hoping the sixth-year veteran steers clear of the injury bug; the Colts are an infinitely better team when Leonard is 100 percent.
No. 5: Inexperience In The Colts Cornerback Room Is Apparent
Calvin Ridley had his way with the Colts secondary in Sunday’s season opener. Evan Engram and Zay Jones made their marks as well. While we could chalk this up as Trevor Lawrence being Trevor Lawrence, the defensive backs didn’t make life hard on T-Law very often.
Granted, there were a few catches that required perfect ball placement from Lawrence—fair enough. But by and large, the receivers had every bit of 5-10 yards worth of separation each reception.
Now, part of that is due to Gus Bradley’s scheme. He allows a cushion to opposing wideouts in an effort to keep the roof on top of the defense. But that conservative nature often comes at a cost.
Darrell Baker Jr. and Tony Brown had decent afternoons, while Kenny Moore played well when lined up in the slot. But the bad snaps were especially bad. Consistency is a tough task to achieve when the cornerback room is as young as Indy’s is, but the hope is that Bradley can develop the talent on the fly.
He better figure it out sooner or later. Otherwise, the Colts will allow the most passing yards in the NFL in 2023.
No. 6: The Offensive Line Is Still An Issue
The offensive line failed to get a consistent push against the Jaguars defensive front. Several times, running plays were dead before the handoff even occurred. Other times, Anthony Richardson got swarmed by defenders immediately following the snap.
The subpar play from the group is nothing new. After seemingly figuring out the offensive line issue a few seasons ago, general manager Chris Ballard is right back to square one. Right guard specifically needs an upgrade — and it needs one now.
There are a few veterans still available that are worth kicking the tires on. However, it is unlikely that any one veteran could come in and completely shift the effectiveness of the line. But hey! We will never know if Ballard never tries.
No. 7: The Colts Need Jonathan Taylor
Although the offensive line deserves its fair share of blame, missing Jonathan Taylor showed up in multiple ways vs. the Jaguars. Deon Jackson is not an efficient runner, and his miscues on Sunday were drive-killers. Evan Hull left early due to a knee injury, while Zack Moss missed the contest altogether as he is still healing from a broken arm.
Similar to the offensive line, veterans are available that present instant upgrades. Kareem Hunt is the first to come to mind, as the two parties have been linked throughout the offseason, including a private workout before the regular season started.
Taylor will be eligible to return from the PUP list in Week 5, but if the Colts wait until then, the season very well could be lost by October. Signing Hunt would help in the short term and provide insurance in the event that Taylor refuses to play in 2023.
No matter how it happens, Anthony Richardson needs more support from the offensive line and the ground game. The Colts cannot make the same mistakes they made with Andrew Luck.
More From The Blue Stable:
*Cover Photo Credit: AP Photo/Darron Cummings