Brett Mock breaks down the biggest storylines from the Colts victory of division rival Houston.
The Colts are beginning to display a defensive trend. Since coordinator Larry Coyer was fired and replaced by former linebackers coach Mike Murphy, the Colts have gotten back to basics. Simple Cover-2 zone assignments have been complimented by more man-coverage from the cornerbacks, who have started to win their match-ups. The results speak volumes.
For the season, the Colts defense has averaged surrendering 27.4 points per game (29th in the league) and 140.9 rushing yards per game (28th in the league). Over the last two weeks -- not counting the short week Murphy had to prepare for the Baltimore Ravens -- Indianapolis has surrendered 14.5 points per game and 118.5 rushing yards per game (against two of the league's top running backs).
Don't misunderstand, this is obviously a small sample size and is therefore not statistically significant -- especially comparing performances over a 16-game stretch to performances over only two games. One could even argue that throwing out the Baltimore game is unfair and skews the numbers in Murphy's favor. Both arguments are accurate and legitimate.
What cannot be ignored, however, is that the Colts have performed significantly better defensively in recent weeks. This is without players like Drake Nevis, Jerraud Powers, and Philip Wheeler who had significant impacts on the defense earlier in the year. This is with a player like Jacob Lacey starting at cornerback, a player who was widely considered by Colts fans as entirely incapable of making a positive impact on a game -- in the last three games he has 25 tackles, 5 passes defensed, 1 interception, and 1 touchdown.
The Colts pass rush? Since Murphy stepped into the coordinator position, the Colts have generated 7 sacks and 11 quarterback hits -- including improved performances from players like defensive tackle Fili Moala and defensive end Jamaal Anderson. What was widely considered the worst defense in the league has now become opportunistic, more bend and less break. The results speak for themselves and have helped deliver a suffering franchise its first winning streak in 2011.
Offensively, the play of veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne was nothing short of heroic. In what may have been his last game in Lucas Oil Stadium, Wayne hauled in 8 passes for 106 yards and the game-winning touchdown. One of the only offensive images that will remain after the 2011 season for Indianapolis will be Wayne with his arms out-stretched in the end zone, with a crowd chanting "Reggie, Reggie, Reggie" loudly in the back-drop.
What's more, the throwback performance by Wayne occurred on a throwback two-minute drive. Interim quarterback Dan Orlovsky completed 5 passes, ran for two yards, and drew penalties from a frustrated Texans defense who was on its heels. There is no doubt that defensive end J.J. Watt's untimely penalties (illegal use of the hands and roughing the passer), along with a pass interference call on safety Glover Quin made it possible for the drive to succeed. Those calls can even be debated and used as an excuse for the Texans falling to an underdog opponent. The fact remains that Indianapolis had to execute to pull of the upset, and they did.
For the first time in 2011, even in the face of arguments surrounding what the Colts will do in the draft and free agency following the end of the season, fans had a moment to feel like they were rooting for the Colts of old. The crowd had an opportunity to celebrate, to cheer, and to discuss the kind of game and performance that made it so fun to follow the team for the past decade.
The franchise, the front office, the coaching staff, and the players needed a performance like that. In many regards, fans in Indianapolis will be able to process Week 17 with much clearer heads. If the team loses and is awarded the first overall pick, it won't be so bad. If the team wins a third straight game and goes 3-3 in the AFC South, there will be reason to have a lot of confidence in a 2012 revival -- no matter who leads the team to its renaissance.