Jags Loss Leaves Indianapolis Colts at a Crossroads

Indianapolis Colts QB Matt Ryan
Indianapolis Colts QB Matt Ryan
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 2 - I love a week with options. But in a week full of upsets, it's hard to overlook the Jacksonville Jaguars' curb-stomping of the Indianapolis Colts.

Putting together Any Given Sunday is an exercise in tracking the biggest upsets every week in the NFL, and Week 2 offered us a lot. Multiple 20-point comebacks and 90-second turnarounds give us the excitement factor, sure, but there are two ways to define "biggest upset." The first is by difference between the teams. In this case, that would be the Jets, who were led by 37-year-old Joe Flacco as six-point underdogs over the Cleveland Browns, or Cooper Rush's Cowboys overtaking the Cincinnati Bengals as seven-point underdogs. But who wants to re-hash the Bengals offensive line woes?

The second measurement is scale of the upset. While the point spreads are a little tighter, the size and margin of victory is sometimes so wide that it must be talked about. By that measure, the Jaguars' 24-0 victory over the Colts was the upset of the week.

Indianapolis was the favorite to win the AFC South after an offseason that saw them land a new quarterback in Matt Ryan and a former Defensive Player of the Year cornerback in Stephon Gilmore. With the rest of their division either taking steps backwards or in active rebuilds, the Colts were practically penciled in for a division title. Their coming-out party was expected to begin with two division matchups against the alleged AFC South bottom-feeders, including the team that knocked the Colts out of playoff contention in Week 18 last year.

So far, their coming-out party has turned into a hiding-out party.

The game against Jacksonville did not feature a team with a capable veteran quarterback looking for a change of scenery, nor did it feature a stout, disciplined defense that can carry the team on its own. Instead, we saw a quarterback who has clearly lost velocity on his passes and a defense that looked downright inexperienced.

Indianapolis is built to be a run-first team with an option to fall back on its passing attack when given the opportunity. That begins with Jonathan Taylor, who saw just nine carries on Sunday. Taylor was unable to penetrate a Jacksonville defense who fit the run extremely well, giving Taylor nowhere to go. On the day 42 of Taylor's 54 rushing yards came from two 21-yard runs on the same drive in the third quarter. Beyond that, Taylor finished his afternoon with seven carries for 12 yards, including three snuffed out for no gain.

The inability to run forced Indianapolis to lean on Ryan, whom the Colts brought in after Carson Wentz performed below expectations in his one-year rental. Ryan proceeded to have arguably the worst game of his career. According to Stathead's Player Game Stats Finder, this is the only game in Ryan's career with at least 25 pass attempts, a completion rate under 60%, fewer than 200 passing yards, and at least three interceptions. Factor in the five sacks taken and Ryan's inability to find the end zone and it gets that much uglier.

This wasn't just some Matty Ice meltdown. Credit to the Jacksonville defensive front, which consistently provided pressure for Ryan and got home five times. But Ryan just looked … old. Placement was a big issue for Ryan most of the afternoon. Balls finished behind receivers, then over-corrections forced Ryan to throw the ball out too far in front of them.

Not only was timing an issue, but velocity as well. Ryan's first interception of the game came on an arcing lollipop well off its mark to a tightly covered receiver. Rayshawn Jenkins covered a lot of ground to beat Ashton Dulin to the spot, but Jenkins only had time to get there because of how much loft Ryan put on a ball that barely eclipsed 30 yards of air travel.

On the defensive side of the ball, Indianapolis just looked inexperienced as a whole. The Colts secondary squandered opportunities, dropping what should have been two, perhaps three interceptions. The lack of pass rush allowed Trevor Lawrence to have his first-ever NFL game without a sack. The Colts defense was stuck arm-tackling for stretches, allowing short plays to turn into first downs and would-be stops to turn into touchdowns.

The biggest issue, though, seemed to be a simple lack of discipline on the defensive side of the ball. The Colts defense bit on a lot of fakes and play-action. On their first drive, the Jaguars ran a play-action screen to Dan Arnold. From the top-down view of the play, Jacksonville put themselves in a position where they have an easy touchdown if one or two simple blocks get made. The blocks don't manifest, but the opportunity was certainly there for the score.

In the second quarter, 10 of 11 Colts defenders bit on a fake pitch, creating a wide-open opportunity for Lawrence to make a strike. If Lawrence had led Marvin Jones on that fake pitch pass, Jones would have had one man to beat before he was off to the races.

Jacksonville arguably left points on the board in this game. The Jaguars definitely look improved given the influx of offensive talent, but they still lack an elite, top wide receiver. There were certainly opportunities where Lawrence could have made a connection if the talent around him had been a hair better. He still makes some mistakes as a young, developing quarterback, but man, can he throw a really pretty pass.

By the VOA

VOA OFF DEF ST TOT
IND -88.4% 20.3% -1.7% -110.4%
JAX 30.2% -76.3% 3.5% 110.0%

I can't stress enough how historically unprecedented this performance was for both teams involved. First, let's start with the Colts. Offensive performances this pitiful are hard to come by. There were just four games in 2021 that featured an offense with a -85.0% offensive DVOA or worse:

  • NO Week 2, -88.6% at Panthers
  • NYG Week 17, -89.4% at Bears
  • CAR Week 12, -92.6% at Dolphins
  • HOU Week 4, -122.8% at Bills

These kinds of performances are especially rare for Indianapolis. By DVOA standards, Sunday's outing for the Colts was their worst offensive outing since 1992. In 30 years, we have not seen the Indianapolis Colts perform this poorly on offense. It should be noted that this game has not yet been adjusted for opponent, but unless the Jaguars find a way to keep up this early pace, this number should remain relatively similar. As for the Jaguars, Jacksonville played their fourth-best game by DVOA in franchise history.

The Jaguars' -76.4% defensive DVOA also comes in as their fourth-best all-time, their best outing since 2006. No, the vaunted 2017 Sacksonville defense never had a game of this caliber by DVOA standards.

Indianapolis is now 0-8 in their last eight road games against Jacksonville (one of which was in London), losing each game by an average of 16 points.

Putting the Horse Out to Pasture

The most demoralizing part about this loss comes from the fact that so many members of the Colts harped on their Week 18 to loss to Jacksonville all offseason.

"No disrespect to Jacksonville, but I mean, they're the worst team in the league," said Colts owner Jim Irsay immediately after the game, according to NBC Sports. "You play well and hard for the first quarter or so, and they're looking to go to their locker room and clean it out."

Head coach Frank Reich called the loss "a scar" that stays with him and the team forever. DeForest Buckner told reporters, "We s**t the bed last year" as recently as July.

Irsay even believed that the factors that led to the loss "I've never seen anything like that in my life. You say, 'My God, there's something wrong here. It needs to be corrected.' I think that we feel like we did."

From ownership to the coaching staff down to the players, this loss stung. The bitter taste of defeat permeated throughout the entire Indianapolis Colts organization. The lessons from the loss served as the North Star for the team's offseason plans: find a quarterback to replace Wentz, address needs in the secondary, find an extra pass-rusher.

This game was supposed to be the response. Nine months of offseason moves, stewing and ruminating on this defeat, the Colts were expected to come out and seek retribution. The Houston tie put even more pressure on Indianapolis to make a statement.

A shutout loss of this magnitude, in this fashion, against this Jaguars team, certainly makes a statement.

The Colts are stuck in no man's land. Since Andrew Luck's surprise retirement, the Colts have had four one-year quarterback fill-ins. The moves came out of necessity for Indianapolis. The Colts boast a roster just barely good enough to stave off a full blow-up. With the faith this team had in Reich and general manager Chris Ballard, there was a belief that the team could get this done if they had a league-average quarterback.

That faith is waning. Four years into this experiment, the roster's talent is dwindling. The wide receiver room is made up of players who are either still developing or completely inexperienced. The offensive line, once a strength for the Colts, is now just Quenton Nelson and some warm bodies. Outside of a few players, most of the defensive personnel is making routine mistakes, aggressively biting on play-action and missing tackles. Ryan has seemingly bucked the recent trend of age-defying quarterback play, looking every bit of his 37 years through two games.

This is not the call for the Colts to blow it up, not this early. That tie to the Houston Texans may feel like a moral defeat, but it helps them escape the conversation surrounding 0-2 teams and their very unlikely path to a playoff berth. However, this loss may tell Irsay that the charade is up. The yearly routine of finding a veteran quarterback on the open market to lead this team has proven ineffective and clearly run its course.

The depth is depleted. Units that used to serve as strengths are now league-average at best and concerning question marks at worse. Pumping veterans and trade capital into this team is not enough to take them from middle-of-the-pack to playoff competitor. Yes, the Colts have been without their best defensive presence in Shaquille Leonard and played without their top wide receiver this week in Michael Pittman Jr. That does not explain away standing second-to-last in total DVOA and second-to-last in offensive DVOA two weeks into the season.

Indianapolis' schedule only gets harder from here, still needing to play two games against last year's division winner, the entire AFC West, and a now-semi-competitive NFC East. Either a significant 180-degree pivot needs to occur overnight, or Indianapolis will see sweeping changes come January.

Comments

23 comments, Last at 22 Sep 2022, 2:20pm

1 Colts vs Chiefs next Sunday…

Colts vs Chiefs next Sunday at 1:00pm. As a Colts fan, my only thought is "Let's get this over with."

I'm actually looking forward to the Jags/Chargers matchup later that day. I think we'll come out of that game with a better idea of just what kind of team Jacksonville has.

2 Announcing crew

I can't believe CBS is sending Jim Nantz and Tony Romo to Indy to watch the Chiefs smoke the Colts and sending Kevin Harlan and Trent Green to Miami for a matchup of 2-0 teams. What a waste.

3 That should really improve…

In reply to by Tutenkharnage

That should really improve the broadcast. Tony's comments are always on point. He might have quite a bit of fun analyzing the differences between Mahomes and Ryan.

9 GOOD

In reply to by Tutenkharnage

As a Miami fan I throughly approve of this. Harlan's the best in the business so the more games I get that he calls, the better

7 Taylor, Nelson, and Leonard…

Taylor, Nelson, and Leonard are legitimate top tier talents. Pittman also looks like he has a good NFL career ahead of him. Buckner is still an above average d-lineman. 

The Colts have decent talent at the top of the roster. The problem is that it quickly drops off a cliff. 

11 Just extended

Nelson and Leonard, so gonna be hard to move them. Taylor low value positron too.

I don't think they can afford to blow it up honestly. 

14 “Great players at low value…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

“Great players at low value positions” is the Colts’ structural problem in a nut shell. 
 

QB, LT, and pass rusher have been problems for several seasons (and off seasons) in a row now, and Ballard has failed to find solutions for any of them.

15 Yep

I've criticized them for it. They seem to be content at just wild card contending. Afraid to take a chance on a rookie (who doesn't need to be the best, cap savings can help with that, and they had of ton of that too).

18 Even worse than that, they…

Even worse than that, they have overpaid players at low value positions. It'd be one thing if Nelson or Leonard were signed to affordable contracts or something, but they're both the highest-paid players at their positions. Unless the rest of the market follows, they won't be tradeable assets anytime soon.

They should seriously trade Taylor this year. They need the resources more than they need him.

8 There's some major…

There's some major misevaluation of skills on some level of the Colts. I don't know as much about positions other than offensive line, but I assume it is true there too. But they sold all the fans that Matt Pryor had made the leap and they were confident in him to be their starting left tackle for the year. But he hasn't...he's still a leaner with slow feet...he's a big body that has versatility so he's great to have in the "bottom of the depth chart at multiple positions" role, but literally nothing about the way he moves says NFL starting left tackle. Raimann makes rookie mistakes but at least is really competing out there every snap he gets. I remember last year I said Pinter played just as well as Kelly when Kelly was out, but that was meant to question why Kelly made the pro bowl...not to suggest that they should both be on the field at the same time. They let their second best lineman (Glowinski) walk. It just doesn't make sense.

Going outside of oline, Blankenship wins the kicker competition again and then gets cut after week 1...Woods gets on the field but has no clue what is happening. They just aren't getting what they need out of practice or something, too much stuff just doesn't add up. I actually think the defense will be above average if Leonard comes back and is himself, but wow the offense is just an absolute trash fire and there's no one walking through that door who's going to help.

12 Fit the Run?

"Taylor was unable to penetrate a Jacksonville defense who fit the run extremely well"

I haven't heard "fit" used in this context before.   I take it that means they play the run extremely well?   Fit the mold of a team meant to stop the run?     Fight the run extremely well?

13 "Run fits" are a coaching…

In reply to by andrew

"Run fits" are a coaching/analysis term that as far as I understand basically means they filled each of the potential running lanes with a defensive body. So they're doing a good job of staying home, not overpursuing, etc. A bad run fit is basically the rushing equivalent of a blown coverage.

17 For as bad as the Colts are,…

For as bad as the Colts are, they have talent. I think the idea that they need to detonate and sell off whatever assets they have is exceedingly short sighted. In many ways, they are the perfect landing spot for a high drafted QB. 

I do like Frank Reich as a head coach, who really has done a great job guiding the team to competency and even above that with the revolving door at QB. But that musical chairs was eventually going to end with them hitting their butts on the pavement. 

I have mixed feelings about Ballard. When he took over, the Colts were in the exact opposite situation they are now; a team largely bereft of talent outside of the QB. Ballard had to do a quick rebuild on the fly that has mostly worked out. 

On the other hand, his team vision is pretty antiquated and of course the Wentz trade was an epic disaster. Again, I was ok with trading for Wentz but certainly not at the price the Eagles received. 

Still, it's easy to say fire them all when all you envision is an upgrade. But the Grigson Pagano brain trust serves as a clear warning. With respect to Reich and Ballard, you can absolutely do a lot worse.

Id be happy if they ate one awful season, drafted a proper QB, and let this group remain.

19 Mostly agree. Fire whoever…

Mostly agree. Fire whoever said that this oline group was NFL competitive outside of Nelson, take the headset away from Reich and let Brady call plays, try to make a move to bolster the oline and WR groups if possible. If you don't get into playoff contention let Ehlinger start a few games late in the season...they rostered him for a reason, if he keeps improving like this they might already have their future QB.

20 I highly doubt Ehlinger is…

I highly doubt Ehlinger is the long term solution. I think he has a long career ahead of him as a journeyman backup (which is actually a fantastic career financially and health-wise). 

Unfortunately, after the first 2 games, it doesn’t look like Ryan is even the short term answer. I mean, even combining these two Curtis Painter gems doesn’t get you to the -178 DYAR Ryan put up against the Jags. 

https://www.footballoutsiders.com/quick-reads/2011/week-7-quick-reads

https://www.footballoutsiders.com/quick-reads/2011/week-9-quick-reads

 

22 Contrarily, I actually think…

Contrarily, I actually think their best option is to start the decayed corpse of Matt Ryan for the entire year. If these last two weeks are really what he is, then it's the perfect player to start for a tank. 

Playing some unknown rookie would actually be more damaging potentially. What if he shows ol competence as a rookie and you get lulled into thinking you have something there that you don't. I can think of examples with the Browns from Charlie Fry to Derek Anderson who committed multiple seasons to players they really shouldn't have.

 

23 Bradley and the Colts

Gus Bradley is a pretty big step back from Matt Eberflus and so far the defense looks bad.  The offense might be competitive with all of their WR's healthy and a QB that is sharp but neither is the case right now.  Ryan might snap out of his funk and the WR's might get healthier but I don't see much chance of Gus Bradley suddenly aching at the level of Matt Eberflus so the best case for this team is probably a .500 season.

Save 10%
& Support Cale
Support Football Outsiders' independent media and . Use promo code CALE to save 10% on any FO+ membership and give half the cost of your membership to tip Cale.