On a wet Sunday afternoon, I perched myself in the nosebleeds of M&T Bank Stadium. With a bird’s eye view, I saw the Ravens’ flock of fans go from cheering delight to upset anguish.
What caused this disturbance in Baltimore? The Colts returned to their original city and won a nail-biting Overtime game 22-19. Once Matt Gay kicked his NFL record 4th 50-yard FG in one game, the Ravens faithful got the flock out of there with their 1st loss of the season, and their hearts heavy.
There were many reasons for the Colts upset win, one which practically no national media member predicted. Some have some truth to them, others not as much.
- The Colts got lucky.
- There’s a reason a lucky horseshoe is the Colts logo.
2. The Colts got away with a blown DPI call towards the end of the game.
- So did the Ravens.
3. The Ravens were dealing with major injuries.
- Absolutely true, the Ravens were down 9 starters in this game. The Colts were also down 5 starters, including their starting QB, their best Offensive weapon in All-Pro RB Jonathan Taylor, & their starting C. The Injured players could have turned the game in either favor, but it’s undeniable both teams weren’t at full strength.
4. The Field conditions helped the Colts.
- A tropical storm went through Baltimore late Friday-Saturday, but by the time the game happened, it was just occasional drizzles. The field was wetter than normal, but the Ravens have converted their field recently and have a strong drainage system. The Colts are a predominantly indoor team that didn’t let the field conditions that both teams were playing on impact their ball security as much as the Ravens did. The Colts also specialize in taking the ball away from other teams, aggressively going for the ball during tackles, and being top 10 in turnovers forced in 4 of the last 5 years.
The fact is, the Colts went into a hostile environment on the road against an injured but still very talented Ravens team (who I would say are one of the deeper rosters in the NFL) and won a close victory. The Ravens shouldn’t feel any shame in losing to the Colts, who have been very underrated so far this season and could surprise more teams than the Ravens in 2023.
Here are the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly from the game:
No. 1: The Colts Defense is Opportunistic
The Colts might not be a blitz-heavy scheme on defense like their Ravens opponents, but don’t confuse it for a lack of aggression. The Colts were able to force 3 fumbles. Rookie CB Julius Brents and Indy local forced one off of a high-effort chase down tackle on Kenyan Drake. Taven Bryan & Samson Ebukam forced 2 others on sacks versus Lamar Jackson. The Colts got Lamar 4 times in the backfield and had reliable pressure on the Ravens QB.
Zaire Franklin deserves special recognition. The LB had yet another great performance, building off of his sensational 2022 season. He had 15 tackles, 11 solos, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, and 1 QB hit. He is now at 45 tackles in 3 games, leading the NFL. At his current pace, he will record 255 tackles by season’s end. The record is 192 by Foyesade Oluokun in 2021.
No. 2: Gay is Clutch
When Colts GM Chris Ballard gave Matt Gay the biggest contract for a Kicker in NFL history this offseason, some were a bit ticked. A 4 year, $22.5m deal ($5.625 per year) seemed too rich for a kicker. However, after the Colts kicking woes post-Vinatieri, bringing in a proven veteran Kicker like Gay was thought to be the difference between winning and losing some close games.
This week he certainly validated that thought. His aforementioned 4 50-yard FGs were one of the deciding factors in the Colts victory. Had he missed even 1, the Colts would have either lost or tied the Ravens. A truly standout game that should earn him a Special Teams Player of the Week Award.
Having the peace of mind of a reliable kicker with great range is something the Colts fans haven’t had in years. Now with Gay, we can feel more at ease.
No. 3: Zack Moss, Best AFC South RB So Far In 2023
Zack Moss might have missed Week 1, but he is leading the AFC South in rushing yards despite that absence.
Top 5 AFC South Runners Weeks 1-3 of 2023:
- Zack Moss: 210 Rush yards on 48 carries = 4.4ypc
- Travis Ettiene: 205 Rush yards on 49 carries = 4.2ypc
- Derrick Henry: 163 Rush yards on 51 carries = 3.2ypc
- Dameon Pierce: 100 Rush yards on 40 carries = 2.5ypc
- Anthony Richardson: 75 Rush yards on 13 carries = 5.8ypc
During a down season so far for the Division’s leading rushers, Moss is standing at the top so far in spite of his 1 game absence. His career game versus the Ravens saw him gain 145 yards on 32 touches & a TD, being the consistent engine of the Offense for the day.
No. 4: Minshew Manages Mania
When a backup QB gets a start, there is often trepidation about how he will fare. Minshew however is no ordinary backup QB. With a swagger on and off the field, a confident play style familiar with the system, and a veteran presence, he represents one of the best backup plans in the NFL at the QB spot. The mania that is associated with him is not completely unwarranted.
Minshew wasn’t a star QB by any means against the battered but deep Ravens Defense. Despite the occasional rough pass, he was efficient and protected the football when hit. He threw some really nice throws for the big play, including a spectacular grab by Michael Pittman Jr. & a TD over the shoulder to Zach Moss. He stayed calm and collected, and helped earn the Colts a win. He did what a backup QB is supposed to do: don’t lose the game.
While I would push back on talk of a QB controversy, it’s clear Minshew is a potential starting caliber QB in the NFL or high-end backup QB. With the Colts and Anthony Richardson returning it is the latter. But make no mistake, Minshew is a valued member of the Colts and has served to provide both insurance and mentorship to Richardson. Both are needed and could make him sought after in either the trade market midseason or as a free agent after the season. Colts could have a tough time keeping him in Indy either way.
No. 5: Kyle Hamilton’s Blitzes Make Noise
The Ravens used their 2nd-year Safety as a true weapon versus the Colts. The Notre Dame alum ensured his old state’s fans didn’t forget about him.
From the stands, I watched with sorry when I saw Hamilton line up in the box. Whether it was tackling runners, sniffing out receivers, and especially as a blitzer, Hamilton took over plays throughout the game. Missing Colts Center Ryan Kelly might have helped with the blitz IDs, as his backup Wesley French struggled in that regard. Colts also need to talk to their RBs on blocking, as they were the last line of defense for Minshew and were unprepared for Hamilton’s onslaught.
No. 6: Missing Tight Ends
The Colts really missed a playmaking impact from their TEs today. Granson and Ogletree combined for just 20 yards on 3 catches and at times struggled as blockers. They did not have a great game thanks to the Ravens talented interior defenders in coverage.
Perhaps a healthy Will Mallory or Jelani Woods would have made an impact. Perhaps not with how the Ravens Defense was smothering the middle zones and matching up well in man. But the TEs need to add more in either the run blocking or as receivers for the Colts to step up as an Offense.
No. 7: Let Lamar Fly
The Colts heading into the game were the best defense in the NFL in stopping the run at 2.5ypc allowed. However, they struggled to contain Lamar Jackson & the Ravens on the ground, surrendering 186 yards and 2 TDs on 37 carries (5ypc). Lamar himself led the charge with both TDs and 101 yards on 14 carries, a 7.2 ypc average. While the Colts Defense caused havoc in pressure plus turnovers and the secondary looked much improved, Lamar’s pressure evasion and added rushing threat hurt the Colts on the ground all day.
The balance between pressure generation and gap discipline versus mobile QBs is a tough balance. Blitzes can be really fortuitous or disastrous. Lamar provides a really challenging threat for teams on the ground and air. While the Colts run defense needs to bounce back, the Colts Offense has to be encouraged to see firsthand the impact a mobile dual-threat QB has at increasing a team’s chances for victory. Lamar Jackson is a blueprint for Anthony Richardson’s career trajectory and usage. Once Richardson is healthy, we could see him having a 200-passing and 100-rushing-yard game in the near future too.
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