The Indianapolis Colts (1-1) rebounded from their shaky opening-day performance to beat the Minnesota Vikings in their home opener, 23-20. It was a finish a bit too close for comfort for the Colts, who entered the 4th quarter with a 14-point lead. Conservative play calling that prevented the Colts offense from moving the ball until the last drive of the game kept a shaky, inconsistent defense on the field for too long.
On offense, Luck was dominant, using his arm and legs to carry the Colts offense. The Colts offensive line once again provided little protection to the rookie signal caller, but unlike a week ago, Luck was able to keep his legs moving and his eyes up-field to pick apart the Vikings defense. And perhaps that was the biggest difference between a week ago and today: the Bears field one of the best defenses, able to attack a QB with their front-4 while maintaining excellent back-end coverage. The Vikings? They were able to generate pressure today, but whereas a week ago Luck found tight windows in coverage, today he found gaping canyons.
The defense again put up the kind of incosistent performance Colts fans should come to expect from the unit. They have the ability to put together a good series or two, they will occasionally force a 3-and-out, but they lack the pass rush and dynamic secondary required to shut teams down for an entire game. These inconsistencies, combined with an embarrassingly conservative 2nd-half offensive game plan, conspired to allow the Vikings back into the game.
At the end of the day, it was a good win over a bad team, the kind of win you need to be able to pick up as you look to improve as a young team. The Colts face off against their rivals from Jacksonville next week, and, if they can win that game, will head into their BYE week with a respectable 2-1 record and the ability to get some key players back from injury.
Quick Thoughts, The Good
- While he may not have been perfect, Andrew Luck delivered the perfect response to his opening day performance. Luck was calm and poised under pressure, used his mobility to extend plays and pick up tough yards, and was accurate on his down field throws. And, proving that he's a quick learner, he put more zip on passes that, just a week ago, wound up as interceptions. The Vikings defense is a far cry from the Bears, but it was still a dominating performance from the Colts rookie QB.
- The Colts game winning drive was a thing of beauty. It was gut check time for Luck and the Colts offense, and they answered the bell and delivered the knock out blow.
- Donnie Avery had a good game. While many will remember the down field catches from Avery, his most important work came in the form of some tough 3rd-down conversions. Luck is still being hurried due to poor play from the offensive line, so his pass catchers are going to have to make the occasional tough catch. Avery was able to do that today, and was a big part of the Colts offensive success.
- Reggie Wayne's day wasn't as spectacular as his 9 catch outing against the Bears a week ago, but it was still impressive, nonetheless. His 30-yd touchdown at the end of the first half was a thing of beauty and shows that, while Wayne may have lost a step, his days as a down field weapon aren't over.
- Jerrell Freeman is quickly earning himself a permanent role on this defense. On the heels of a good day in Chicago which included his first half pick-6 of Jay Cutler, Freeman notched double-digit tackles and a sack-fumble of Christian Ponder.
- Jerraud Powers wasn't spectacular in coverage today, but he made up for it with a great tackling performance. Powers has been giving more of a pre-snap cushion than his counterpart, Vontae Davis, but he's used that cushion to keep the play in front of him, and he's made quick, sure tackles, preventing big games. The good news? Powers will continue to improve as he grows in the new defensive scheme.
- The defensive line wasn't great, especially against the run, but they were far more active and disruptive for 4 quarters than they were last week.
- Antoine Bethea had another good day in the Colts defensive backfield.
- Pat McAfee bailed the Colts out multiple times on Sunday with his deep, booming kicks. The Colts coverage teams regressed after a good showing in week 1, but if McAfee continues to perform as he did today, it will go a long way towards masking those issues.
Quick Thoughts, The Bad
- The Colts offensive line still isn't good. If you were curious, however, losing Samson Satele to injury DOES actually make it worse. Not only was the blocking worse after Satele's injury, but every shotgun snap after his exit was an adventure. McGlynn will likely improve with a week full of practice, should Satele's injury require that he miss significant time, but this is a blow an already-thin offensive line can't afford to absorb.
- The Colts defensive performance, over all, was inconsistent. Gashed on the run and by Harvin in the first half, and then again in the 4th quarter, they continue to remind you that, while they are capable of stringing together successful plays, they are a long way from helping the Colts contend for the playoffs.
- The Colts special teams coverages were reminiscent of the past decade. Grigson has said that fixing the special teams is a priority. And while it seemed as though his efforts had paid off after week 1, today's performance shows us that there's still some work to be done there.
- Bruce Arians called nearly 10 empty-backfield plays this afternoon. As I wrote earlier this week, with an OL as bad as the Colts, these plays are just daring opposing defenses to hit Luck. The worst part is, the Colts lead for much of today's game, so the number of aggressive formations were not only dangerous, but largely unnecessary.
- The replacement refs started off slow, missing an early face mask and blow to Luck's head, but finished strong, calling a decent game. More important than getting every call right, is getting every call 'consistent', and I think that, as the refs get more experience, they'll get close to that.
- Through 2 games, I'm not sure what the Colts offensive identity is. Are they a running team? A dynamic passing team? I'm not sure. More concerning: I don't think Arians knows, either.
Quick Thoughts, The Ugly
- I was going to leave this spot empty, after all, the Colts got their first win, what could possibly be ugly? The coaching. Gutless, play-to-not-lose play calling and coaching decisions were the predominant reasons the Colts saw their 14-point 4th-quarter lead evaporate. The Vikings attempted to give the game away multiple times, and each time, the Colts declined the invitation. Young teams have to learn how to win. The same can be said for young coaching staffs. The Colts won, so no harm, and hopefully they can use today as a learning experience moving forward.
Colts did not make any adjustments in the second half. After the field goal to start the second half, the Colts gain -2 yards on 15 plays. The call on Jared Allen was a joke. I hope Luck will stay healthy for at least half the season at this rate. The Viking have only one playmaker and could not stop him.
We had that same type of play calling when Peyton was here, often taking the gas off way to early to only see our lead diminish and then have to put together a good drive at the end of the game to keep it, that is one thing that I have always hated. Luckily then we had Peyton, no knock against Luck but he still as work to do to get to Peyton's level.
Also I would like to add Cory Redding to the Good column, the guy was outstanding from my view, making plays throughout the game.
You said it perfectly. The coaching was the only ugly thing about this win. I don't want to see our coaches going Patriots on anybody and running up the score, but you can't stop trying to score at the half.
My other observation was that the Vikings played perfectly into the hands of our defense in the first half. Their desire to grind it out with Peterson allowed our biggest weakness to go unexposed until the second half. And really, why is King still playing?
While I agree with many of your points, I think your general assessment of the defense is a bit harsh. I'm curious to see the passing chart for Ponder, it seemed to me that on multiple occasions he had time to throw but was unable to find anyone open down field, the bulk of his completions coming on dump offs. The coaches tape should reveal more, but I think the secondary actually did a very good job today, most of Harvin's yards came on short pass and run plays (great players will get their yards).
The Colts had 4 sacks and held the Vikings to 2 FGs through 3 and 1/2 quarters (the offense was doing nothing in the second half, but the defense maintained their lead until that fluky double tipped TD that opened the floodgates a bit). Take away that tipped TD and I'm not sure the Colts don't win this game 23 (or 27)-6 going away, that play definitely shifted the momentum. I also don't know that I agree with the sentence "gashed by the run." They were running at a good clip in the first quarter, but none of their plays were gashes exactly, more like death by 1,000 paper cuts that never actually led to any points (2 FGs). Holding AP to 60 yards on 16 carries (3.8 ypc average) is admirable in my book.
As to identity and play calling, Arians is working with a pretty bare cupboard right now, especially along the offensive line. When he runs the ball and it gets stuffed, it's conservative play calling that is playing not to lose; when he runs the ball and it works, it's protecting the lead and grinding out the win. The Colts ran it 30 times and threw it 31, that's a balance I personally like. The 45 passes and 13 runs last week was not what I want to see. People would be equally as pissed at Arians if he threw a bunch in the second half and it didn't work, or Luck took unnecessary hits, "Why is he throwing the ball with 3 starters out and a 2 TD lead?" would be the refrain. It's good if it works, bad if it doesn't. Always been that way.
That my 2 cents anyway.
@paulcareyjr Redding had a fantastic game.
@mattshedd Yes , Arians & Pagano thought it out and TRIED to stop scoring.
Luck was not making plays in the 2nd half, Luck was running for his life and missed several passes.He had some BAD throws just like last week. It wasn`t a given that those run plays would produce so poorly. One or two 1st downs and... or one tipped pass in the end zone.
@Colt_Following I think calling the defense inconsistent is fair. Minnesota isn't a good offense.
@Colt_Following Thing about the play call for me is that there seemed not to be as good of a mix of pass to run to keep the defense honest, running is not too bad, but when you are not getting yards on the run because so many are in the box lets hit them with a pass, preferably a deeper on.
I will say though everyone is trying to get used to this team, so we are all in a learning stage as to what will work, and what are our best options and this includes the coaches as well. Not truly disappointed in them at all, but I do expect them to continue getting better, and I bet they expect the same out of themselves as well.
I agree totally on the secondary stuff, we did a bend, kind of break, and then fix with tape job on Harvin though, I would have liked to see a couple of more ideas of stopping Harvin other than putting Justin King on him. I am thinking they went with King because he is also quick, fast and long, but his man skills are still lacking.
@Colt_Following I agree, esp. with your view of the conservative play calling. Was I a fan of it? Not particularly, but I understood it. They had a 2-TD lead, a shaky offensive line, a rookie QB who was running for his life, and a back-up center that made every shotgun snap an adventure. Combine all that with a pretty young and inexperienced receiving corps that is still building its chemistry with its QB, and I can see why Arians decided that maybe the "Let 'er rip!" mentality might not be the best approach.The best part was seeing Luck string together the winning drive with so little time left -- it was great game experience in a high-pressure situation, and a strong confidence builder for both him and the coaching staff's faith in him. We all know he's going to be good, but as he actually goes out and shows it on the field, Pagano & Arians will feel more confident in giving him some longer leash :)
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@Neven @Colt_Following Yeah, I was also critical of the play calling in the second half. Until I watched it again. In short, it wasn't bad play calling, just plays that didn't work. I think Arians will eventually have more faith in the team and give Andrew plays to check to when he sees nine in the box. A safe outlet pass may gain four yards, or it may break all the way.
@smonroe @Neven @Colt_Following I remain highly critical of Arians´ play.-calling during the second half. Vinny´s FG happened at the 7.06 mark of the 3rd quarter. From that moment onwards and until the 4.03 mark of the 4th quarter, the Colts had 4 possessions and not one 1st down.
It would be one thing if we were criticizing conservative play-calling designed to protect Luck, but this was not the case. Arians combined useless direct run plays up the gut, which have never been Brown´s strength given his attributes (and it´s certainly not behind this OL this is gonna change), with pass plays where there was nobody in the backfield and we went up to 5 wide.
There was no intelligence involved, no misdirection attempts, no delayed surprises. Just a straight up attempt to win the game through unimaginative runs by making the clock run out. The fact of the matter is, Arians and Pagano thought having 14 points more than the other team midway through the 3rd quarter was enough to consider the game won, and though Minnesota is seriously lacking and its discipline putrid, trusting this wildly inconsistent Colts defense to bring in a win after putting a leash on Luck reveals a stupid mindset I´m not impressed by at all.