With just four days rest and a plane trip to Tennessee, the Colts were eager for some redemption after what happened against St. Louis. Their bounce back, or atonement, as Andrew Luck referred to it this week, came in the form of a 30-27 win that reasserted them as the top dogs in the AFC South.
Tell me if you’ve heard this storyline before: The Colts suffered through a miserable first two quarters followed by a second half that was every bit as impressive as the first was hideous.
Indianapolis got a sack from Cory Redding right out of the gate, the type of play that looked like a statement, a tone setter. It did not, however, set the tone for the game. Tennessee backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick completed a quick 10-yard pass on the next play, and then – on just the third play of the game – Indy’s defense had to call a time out.
They looked flustered and a little lost. Naturally, that drive ended in a Tennessee touchdown – a 30-yard run by the rejuvenated Chris Johnson.
The Colts, as they often do in the first quarter, answered with a three and out. On third down, Griff Whalen dropped an open look while Anthony Castonzo was called for an illegal formation penalty.
Unlike last week, the Colts’ punt coverage did a nice job and held the returner to four yards. Nevertheless, the Titans picked up where they left off, with Fitzpatrick running the no huddle and a sprinkling of Chris Johnson, who finished the drive with a 7-yard score.
Luck and the Colts worked their way to the Titans’ 30-yard line, despite a drop by Darrius Heyward-Bey and a false start on RG Mike McGlynn. They would settle for a 48-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal and a 14-3 hole.
The Colts defense appeared to seize the momentum with a three and out, but the offense failed to capitalize, setting up a strange, penalty ridden march by the Titans offense, an 11 play, 69-yard drive in which Tennessee averaged a mere 3.3 yards per play of their own volition but gained 41 yards on three straight Colts penalties.
1st and 10 at the Titans 41: roughing the passer penalty on Robert Mathis for a helmet-to-helmet hit. There was a small amount of helmet contact, but the call was iffy. No big deal, this is the least penalized team in the league, right?
1st and 10 at the Colts 45: A great one-yard stop by DT Aubrayo Franklin was negated by an unnecessary roughness on CB Cassius Vaughn. This one looked like it could have been called on both players as they fought each other to the ground.
1st and 10 at the Colts 29 now: unnecessary roughness on OLB Erik Walden for ripping a guy’s helmet off and head butting the helmetless player while they argued. Walden was fortunate not to be ejected from the game.
Tennessee had to settle for a field goal, but only after the officials picked up a flag on what would’ve been the fourth foul on the drive (Jerrell Freeman came close to hitting Fitzpatrick out of bounds)
There they were again, down big in the second quarter, 17-3, while broadcaster Mike Mayock was breaking records for using the phrase “across his face.” The same old story about slow starts was in full force. Then, just before the half, the offense began to click, thanks in part to pass interference call against Jason McCourty, who was “covering” T.Y. Hilton (he was Hilton’s new backpack for a moment).
Indy would end the half by kicking a field goal, to turn what looked like a blowout into a two score game at 17-6.
The Colts got the ball to start the third quarter and efficiently, methodically marched 74 yards (Yes, David Reed returned the kick to the 26) for a touchdown. Andrew Luck was 5/5 for 42 yards, kicking it off with a 16-yard play action pass to Coby Fleener. Donald Brown ran it in from 6 yards out to make the score 17-13 Titans. Suddenly, we had a game.
As the offense found their rhythm, two things were happening simultaneously (three if you count Pep Hamilton’s hoodie, that thing was legit). First, Coby Fleener was quietly on his way to a career game (8 catches on 10 targets for 107 yards), gaining Andrew Luck’s trust in difficult situations, and taking some pressure off T.Y. Hilton in the process.
Second, the Colts coaches began riding the hot hand, so to speak, in the running game. So many times since the Trent Richardson trade, Pagano has sent Donald Brown in, watched him gain 7 yards or so, and then sent him back to the sideline. This time Brown, who was outgaining his talented teammate on the ground, stayed in and rewarded his coaches’ newfound faith in him with yardage and scores. 14 carries, 80 yards, 5.7 ypc, and 2 touchdowns to be exact.
After Brown’s scoring run, the Colts forced a fumble on the kick return, which was recovered by rookie running back Boom Herron. A quick 9-yard pass to Stanley Havili later, and the Colts were on the Tennessee 11-yard line, seemingly seconds after their last score.
On second down, Andrew Luck faked a handoff and immediately saw an unblocked defender to his right. He had just enough space to sell a monster pump fake, sending the Tennessee player airborne and tucking the ball before the guy ever landed. He looked as though he may be considering a slide but elected for evasive maneuvers to get around hard-hitting safety Michael Griffin for the go ahead score.
The Colts had gone from being down 17-6 to leading 20-17 before the Titans offense ever took the field in the third quarter. When Fitzpatrick and the Tennessee offense finally did take the field, a sack by Erik Walden (and subsequent ridiculous-looking dance) helped force a three and out.
The Colts would tack on another field goal; Vinatieri’s sixth from 50+ this year (surprisingly not the most of his career as he hit 7 from that far last season).
Tennessee answered back with a 38-yarder, closing the gap to 23-20. Ricky Jean Francois had a great stop against Johnson for a 2 yard loss on the drive, and Darius Butler managed another trademark shoestring tackle after Titans WR Kendall Wright to set up a third down.
Both offenses stalled out for a while until the Colts finally struck again. With 7:41 left in the game and a tenuous three point lead, Indy came out in the good old power run formation. It looked like another late game, running-into-a-brick-wall three and out in the making.
This time, however, the coaches called on Brown to help them close out the game. It was nothing against Richardson, just going with the player who was having a better night. With Tennessee stacking the box, Brown sliced his way through some tight spaces, gaining 43 yards and a second touchdown while Fleener picked up a crucial first down that led the Titans to begin using up their timeouts.
Tennessee raced 80 yards in 1:07 to pull to within a field goal again at 30-27. Pat Angerer, who once again led the team in tackles with 9, recovered the Titans’ onside kick attempt, effectively ending the game.
With 1:54 left and the Titans out of timeouts, it was time to line up in the best formation in football and do some kneel-downs.
From reeling to kneeling, Indianapolis will take home a three point win and a three game lead in the division. The Colts own the second half, and, at least for now, they once again rule the AFC South. 30-27 feels great, especially after the Dud Game on Sunday, and 7-3 feels even better. Ten days from now, they’ll take on Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals.
A few quick notes, in no particular order:
- Indy scored 20 unanswered points through second and third quarters.
- Luck was 12/21 (57%) in the first half and 11/15 (73%) in the second.
- Fleener’s 8 catch, 107 yard performance was a career high. He truly looked like a 6-6, athletic tight end, caught 80% of his targets despite absorbing thunderous hits over the middle, and he continues to assert himself as another reliable option for Luck.
- I wonder what David Reed showed in practice (he didn’t have a bad tame this time around) to warrant his being on the active roster over Da’Rick Rogers. My guess: familiarity. Da’Rick’s playing time is coming.
- The Colts often appeared to have a run formation and a pass formation, but they passed enough out of their power set to keep things rolling along nicely.
- DHB has caught 22 of 46 targets this season, a 48% catch rate. Time is running out, but he can still salvage this season by simply being reliable. Maybe he can do what T.Y. did over the offseason and sleep with a football in his hands.
- Is Pep a better coordinator when he wears a hoodie?
- Chris Johnson had 13 carries for 80 yards in the first half and 4 carries for 6 yards in the second. That’s a heck of a halftime adjustment, right there.
- Robert Mathis was shut out on the road again. Look for him to increase his sack total next week in Phoenix.
- There were 9 penalties in this game, 5 by the Colts.
- In second half, the Colts ran and stopped the run (while passing exceptionally well). Chuck and Pep are surely happy right now.
- Donald Brown made a move in the fourth quarter that looked like 1994 Barry Sanders (I know, he was more talented, but that step-back-and-go in traffic by Brown was vintage Barry).
- Seriously, Mike Mayock, while he made perfect sense, said some version of "across his/the face" enough times for a very short-lived drinking game.
- If ever a turnaround or comeback remains even a remote numerical possibility, don’t write this team off.
Seemed like every game Peyton's first drive was a 3 and out. I'm sure this wasn't the game plan (thank you Coby Fleener) but it did seem to give him a chance to see what the defense was showing and make his own little mental adjustments to it.
Also, I don't think Donald "upgraded to 5-7 yard" Brown would be a great starter. You need a bulk mass of muscle as first down back when they have the box loaded to push for the hard yards. Then Donnie comes in and knocks it out of the park with his elusiveness and speed. I also think he looks like a Goddamn genius compared to TRich because he is a veteran. He knows when to juke and when to just run at the hole as fast as you can. He definitely is a keeper as the third back behind Vick Ballard and TRich. Kinda like the Giants did when they had Bradshaw, Jacobs, and Ward.
2013 Donald Brown = 2006 Rob Morris
1st round pick (will the announcers PLEASE stop saying number one pick! It seems like every game on TV has about seven number one picks! You people are morons! #1 > #32, even though they are both first rounders!) who has been okay, but not special, was put on the shelf by the team but kept plugging away, didn't get down, didn't call the realtor to sell his house, and is now a key contributor, actually earning praise from fans and media.
We know how 2006 turned out....
Of course that could mean 2013 Trent Richardson = 2006 Gilbert Gardiner...? Naah, I can't quite go that far.
Most telling stat, Luck was 23/36 while throwing completions to EIGHT different receivers. There were some notable drops by Whalen, Saunders and DHB. All three were hit in the hands. Will forgive Whalen and Saunder's drops due to combination of hot route balls and nerves explained by relative inexperience. After all Fleener had his struggles.
DHB, though still exhibits poor catching fundamentals. I hope he comes around. But it may to much to expect DHB to over come years of inferior coaching and development combined with his own sloppy technique.
Overall a pretty good game. I was a little disappointed that they didn't go deep more often, but that's as much because Luck and TY are on my fantasy team as anything else.
I wonder though, Can the Colts beat a team with a really dominant DL? If I remember correctly the Seahawks were missing some players and we all know the 49ers Dline was not at its best that day. Luck seems to be able to pick apart even the best secondaries, but the whole offense falls apart in the face of a great front seven. I guess we will see how the Colts do against the Chiefs and the next game against the Texans.
Donald Brown. He's been coming along, looking better for a couple years now. He's harder to tackle, he hit's the hole with a fierceness. He wasn't "this back" over night: in my eyes, he's developed. I really hope the Colts resign him.
What I really wanted to do, though, is make this all about TRich. Haha!
Does anybody have any optimism that he could "learn" the game better, or develop into a more productive player as Donald Brown has? He sucked last night, as ever, but he broke off a few impressive runs, and caught some passes too. Just like DB's first 2 years, we have to settle for glimpses of the good stuff.
I may have been one of the few people to think Rogers wouldn't be active for the game. With his lack of familiarity, the short week, and the allergy this coaching staff has to taking risks, it was a long shot.
But I agree Marcus, his days are coming... and I can't wait!
Man when you string these together, it's impressive. Enjoy!
This team is making me go crazy. As long as we don't get behind by more than 21 points before the 2nd half, we pretty much always have a shot. Not just that, but we always seem to win whenever that happens.
I thought Pep actually called a pretty great game tonight, and the 2nd half was his best play-calling by far so far this year. It helped that the coaches didn't feel they had to justify the Richardson trade by running him into a brick wall over and over, too, and that Brown kept earning more and more carries. I think many of us here at CA have been waiting for Brown to be 'the man' (outside of 2011) for a while, and tonight, he might've done it. What an excellent game from him, minus I believe only one bad play in pass protection. He showed patience, burst, and vision throughout the game, breaking tackles and plowing through tiny holes to daylight, like on his 2nd touchdown run. I sincerely hope we re-sign him after this offseason. I think he could still be had for pretty cheap, but I'm concerned Grigson will be all-in with TRich after spending so much for him (and Vick Ballard will still be in the mix, too). But I'm convinced we NEED a speed back like Brown to be able to be the fastball to TRich's/Ballard's change up.
Beyond that, glad to see Fleener really stepping up tonight, too. I thought he was gonna take that one sideline pass to the house before I saw the safety fly in. He showed his wheels on that play, and has really become a solid possession TE, too. As long as either Hilton or Fleener (and in the future, Allen) can have 100+ yards in any given game, I think we'll be okay.
One more thing: Andrew Luck's amazing pump-fake TD GIF
Did you see the Fleener postgame on field interview?
The reporter said "the Colts got off to a slow start, what was the game plan?" and Fleener said with a straight face "yes, that was our game plan." and then when the reporter looked confused he cracked up. Those weren't the exact words but something close to it. Pretty funny guy!
Well, I hope if he ever DOES call the realtor to sell his house, he calls me :)I'm with you on the "number one pick" thing btw
@thellamajockey DHB puts both hands out with his palms up like a little kid trying to catch a ball (or me playing backyard football 15 years ago -- also prone to drops, lol). Loved seeing Luck spread the ball around and find people to make up for the struggles of his #1 and #2 WRs.
@hankster I think it'll be a tall order to beat someone with a truly dominant DL that's healthy and clicking on all cylinders. We haven't had a Colts team that could do that since Tarik Glenn and Jake Scott wore the horseshoe.
@naptown_ninja I think most of what we've seen is him hitting openings slowly, being tentative, or not seeing the hole at all (lots of jokes about this on twitter). Those are all mental things. Unless he's just truly become slow, I think it's something he can fix. Then again, you may have noticed I'm an optimist.
@naptown_ninja TRich caught the ball pretty well. Although I would honestly rather see Brown being thrown the ball due to his speed.
@naptown_ninja I always thought the problem with Brown was the way we used him, not his talent. We're finally using him for what he is: a fast, change of pace back.
As far as Richardson, I still have high hopes. When he's in, he just doesn't get the creases. In my less-than-trained football opinion, the reason Brown is doing better than Richardson is because he's smaller and quicker, and out line stinks, so any holes are quite small and close quickly. If the line ever gets to the point where they can hold a solid block, I really feel Richardson will come alive.
@DougEngland Yeah, I was trying to see exactly what meant by that, doing a little announcing in my head, and on the replays I came up with "made a move to the inside." Maybe it could have been "faked outside then went inside," which is pretty self explanatory....
Of course that was after seventeen shots of Diet Coke (once for each time he said it) so I was pretty wired by then.
@bradicus18I wish you could have too. It was a fun one. They never looked as bad in the first as they had in the last three games. I actually felt confident they could pull it out, especially down by only 11 at the half (not that I didn't expect them to already have a comfortable lead).
Plus, you had to miss Pep Hamilton rocking an evil dark side hoodie:
@buymymonkey I liked the part where Eisen says "sort of a butt fumble situation" hahaahhaha
@TheGreatMisdirect I REALLY liked the flea-flicker call that didn't work out. There were a handful of innovative calls that I thought were well timed and decently executed. Reminded me a bit of the DHB "throwback" TD pass against Denver--you think you know what's going on and then a pretty simple trick is executed well. And Luck's pump-fake TD run -- was that by design, or just improv genius?.
@TheGreatMisdirect In the bigger picture, these comebacks are more sad than exciting.
I have the utmost confidence in Luck, but zero confidence in this team, including the coaches. The "crapshoot" theory will surely be put to the test this January.
@buymymonkey Damn, missed it. Need to find it online. It's great to have somebody (in addition to McAfee) who goes off script--not, like, ripping off helmets and head-butting guys off-script, or shooting guys off-script, or I am the greatest of all time off-script, but a little playful sarcasm is always appreciated.
@MarcusDugan Well, good luck with that. Has the Indy area market bounced back yet? Things are kind of screaming here in Seattle and burbs. New houses going up, apartments by the thousand, even new condos for the first time in 5+ years.
Okay, back to football.
@MarcusDugan @thellamajockey You're right about DHB, great visual description too. Even worse than Donnie Avery, DHB comes out of his breaks and begins looking back for the ball with hands down around his sides. Then he attempts to jerk the hands up to make the catch. Not a recipe for "soft hands". The best receivers make a seamless transition from the route running to the catch phase of the reception. During the last phase they are looking back at the QB with their palms and fingers vertical to the flight of the ball and with their visual focus passing through the "Ten Ring" for maximum concentration. The best literally "paint the target" with their hands and fingers. Good receivers to me resemble a movie director working out the camera composition for a shot. They make the silly looking virtual frame with their thumb and index fingers as they move around pretending they are the camera view finder.
@glwilliams4 @naptown_ninja Brown was looking good as a the primary back while Richardson was on the bench. The Line rots, I agree. I disagree that DB's change-of-paceness was the key to his success, though. I just think DB has turned his rookie weaknesses of seeing and hitting the crease into veteran strengths. I'm hoping Richardson can do the same thing with practice and good coaching
Two things stand out to me with DB (not to be confused with DHB).
1. Vision: I honestly don't recall whether he had vision like this in previous years or not. He was just always a frustration. Now, his vision is elite. If there is running room, he finds it. And with his quick burst, he can dart through the crease before it closes. That seems to be the defining delta between TRich and Donald. Trent's vision (or decision making) isn't up to the speed of the NFL (yet, hopefully) and he starts to cut into a small crease a moment too late many times. Then, instead of slashing through a late attempt at an arm tackle, he is running into the body of the defender and just trying to push the pile (which he is quite good at, he rarely falls backwards. Not quite near Edgerrin-esque, but positive. With Edge, if you handed him the ball, it seemed as though he could get his entire body horizontal while still on his feet and get us four yards. Miss that guy (ok, I'll move on, I'm in danger of major digression.)
2. POWER: the thing that has surprised me most about Donald is his ability to carry tacklers and break tackles. He (if I remember correctly) would go down easily in the past on first contact. I could be wrong, but he just seems like a beast fighting for his life (and really, he is in a contract year) and he is fighting hard. I really hope we sign him again.
I'd actually prefer we be able to keep all the backs (Ballard, Brown, Rich, Bradshaw) but most think that isn't a possibility. Who knows, with the run game emphasis. Imagine two or more of them on the field together if all 4 are healthy. That'd be an interesting run offense.
Yes, it drives us crazy. I'm beginning to get the feeling that two main things lead to this.
1. Preparation: in the last three games (the only ones I've been paying attention to in this particular regard) the Colts played 'inferior' teams that they were supposed to beat. All three games, the opponent came out playing a game counter to their identity. Then, once we have some 'film' on them from the first half, we make adjustments and beat them in the 2nd half. (Obviously didn't win all 3, but I'll explain) The Texans are a running team and came out throwing every pass deep to Johnson. We adjusted phenomenally at the half and turned the game around. The rams came out throwing it to Austin,something they weren't expected to do. How much had you heard about Zac Stacey leading up to the game. They were going to feed that monster all day. Yup, he basically did nothing. We actually adjusted well at the half, but were in too big of a hole. And the large deficit led to too many risks by both QBs, leading to three red zone TOs. Put those on the board, eliminate one of the two flukey plays and we live out the script for a comeback win. The joke was just too big though. The Titans came out in the no-huddle, with Fitz slinging it all over the field. Only once that opened running lanes did they feed Johnson. We adjusted to that gameplan at the half, shutting them down.
In a weird and twisted way, the success they have against us (coupled with the Colts 3-and-outs) works to our advantage come the half. It is unlikely that the team with a successful gameplan will make major halftime adjustments. What do you always hear coaches say headed into the locker room with a decent lead? "We will keep doing what we are doing. It all comes down to execution" false. It isn't all execution. While against human nature to 'fix' something that isn't broken, you must anticipate your opponents' upcoming adjustments. Make some yourself and continue success. If you stand pat and your opponent adjusts, they are likely to win the second half, and probably the game. The Colts have honestly been masterful at the adjustments, especially in adjusting to unforeseen game plans. In the games that we started fast (Broncos, 49ers, is there even another one?), the team played to their identity hecause they were good enough in that area to beat you. They weren't the inferior team, and didn't have to fool you with gameplan. They could beat you straight up with execution and talent. We are vulnerable to weaker opponents who start a game in a manner counter to their identity. Keep an eye on this and see if we improve in this area. It would give us an advantage in the playoffs, where there aren't inferior teams. Unless, however, we show enough of a trend in this (seems obvious to me) that other teams pick it up and good/great teams use it to their advantage. Right now, a Belicheck gameplan is terrifying because they'd do this, and then be smart enough to have an entirely new plan after the half.
2: the offense is still searching deep for its identity. It'll take a while and our 3 game cushion helps with being ale to work that out. Look for small improvements and adjustments each week. From gameplan to play calling to personnel and execution and adjustments. They showed some growth last night against a good defense. Small steps forward will put us in a good place come playoff time.
Maddening? Even more yes.
Fun? Of course.
I'd suggest lowering expectations (as a fan) for the remaining games. Losing the starting talent we have this year really does make this team more like last years and less like the team we started this year with. Keep this in mind, Bob Lamey (I think it was him) said this before the game: the titans have 3 players on IR this year (they obviously lost their most important player in Locker, but they have still lost only 3 for the year. The colts have lost 15 to IR. I do not know how that stacks up against the league, but that is a big number and included HALF of our offense. That's rough.
Keep your chin up and just enjoy the ride. This is an over achieving flawed team. Dream about a future when we have a healthy lineup and a rejuvenated Wayne back on the field.
@Bobman1 It's been a solid spring and summer here. We have a big dry erase board for sales activity in our office. Filled it up from March through August. Things are starting to slow down for fall and the holidays now. Nobody wants to move this time of year. It's freezing and there's that whole kids in school thing :)
It's nice to see things picking back up again.
@DISPLACED_COLTS_FANI think Brown has played like his 2011 self. He didn't get much credit for it at the time because the team was sucking. He had begun to assert himself as a starter with a huge game in 2010, then was benched inexplicably for a hobbling Joe Addai. Then in 2011, despite everything else crumbling, he had a damn fine year (I still think if Peyton were healthy that year, it would have been one of our best seasons, passing records breaking everywhere).
I do think Brown, like Addai did, struggles mightily when he's banged up, which would be the major risk of giving him 20 carries a game. Now, if only we could ever see something like this again:
Edgerrin was amazing. It's jawdropping to watch how easy it was for him, churning through traffic, spinning, hopping, bulldozing someone, then firing up the afterburners in the open field. It wasn't even hard for him.
I do not think it is the Colts strategy. They just prep for tendencies before the game and adjust to the game at halftime. That we did so well in the big games shows that prepping for our opponent's strengths works quite well when they actually come out and play to their strength.
It also exposes a vulnerability in that they don't prepare well for the "surprise scenarios" from the perspective of the opponents game plan.
I do not think it is a bait and switch. I don't think they want to give up the lead big and early.
@DISPLACED_COLTS_FAN Soo it at a strategy then? Get them to tip their hand and attack it? Seems pretty high risk to me. Plus It suggests that no one on the Coaching staff has heard of game theory, which seems unlikely.
I hear you exactly on the mindset of "what can be, what could've been" I'm totally on board. The only thing is that the reality is that the team dinky is not the team that played the first few weeks. They are capable of big things. Big achievements will just be over achieving, that's all.
Re: the Hawks. I agree. But they aren't an inferior team and we weren't in a big hole at the half and we had momentum going in, making adjustments on their part natural.
The theory really only holds water when looking at inferior teams who came out playing a completely different gameplan than their tendencies would suggest.
@DISPLACED_COLTS_FAN The thing is, though, the opposition HAS been changing their approach at half. Seattle comes to mind – Lynch was having his way running the ball in the first half. I don't know/have the stats, but iirc he barely touched the ball in the 2H. Same w/CJ last night.
I do like your thinking re: the offense looking for its identity and using the remainder of the schedule to make adjustments and "find" it. Let's just hope they continue to win while doing so. The AFC is so bad, we have a shot at a first round bye ... and as long as that's in my head, I'll have a hard time lowering expectations.
What can I say? I'll admit it - like most long time Colts fans, I've been spoiled.