Indianapolis Colts: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 2
While the result ends with a win for Indianapolis, the game didn't offer up any answers, unless you were looking for more confirmation on things that were already common knowledge.
Andrew Luck is really good, Reggie Wayne has plenty left and the brand-new secondary has a lot of potential. Meanwhile, the pass rush is a concern for the Colts, as is the offensive line and defensive depth.
Those are the key storylines after Week 1, and they're the same storylines that filled the interwebs a week ago as the Colts prepared for their regular-season opener. They're the same storylines that were passed around a month ago as Indianapolis lost their preseason opener to Buffalo. Unless something drastically changes, those all will be true for the foreseeable future.
But with the Colts having a game of real football under their belts and a new opponent coming to town next Sunday, there are a few different things to note about Week 2.
After one week, the AFC South has seen one surprise win: the Titans over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tennessee held the Steelers to just seven offensive points and less than 200 total yards. Rob Bironas kicked three field goals in the second half to secure the win.
The Texans were nearly upset by the San Diego Chargers, but pulled off the win behind a strong second half by Matt Schaub. Houston scored 24 unanswered points and won the game on second-year kicker Randy Bullock's 41-yard field goal.
Jacksonville was thoroughly unimpressive in a 28-2 loss to Kansas City, the first 28-2 game in NFL history. The Jaguars didn't cross into Kansas City territory until late in garbage time and are serious contenders for the first pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Every team in the division has questions and vulnerabilities. The division title will likely come down to Houston and Indianapolis, and while the Texans are the favorites, nothing changed in Week 1 that will keep the Colts from having a legitimate shot at the crown.
|Player||Position||Injury||Status for Week 2|
Officially, there may be more players on the injury report, but these are the ones who either missed Sunday's game or came out during the game (Allen).
The injury to Dwayne Allen was a key part of the Colts' struggles during the middle of the game against the Raiders. After Allen was injured, the Colts sputtered on two straight drives before Luck put together the game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. With Coby Fleener's struggles and the Colts' desires to run the ball, Allen's presence on the field is critical.
Almost as critical is the health of the inside linebackers. Indianapolis had just three healthy inside linebackers on Sunday and were forced to start Kelvin Sheppard (the third option) next to Jerrell Freeman. Both Sheppard and Freeman had poor games, especially the former, who finished with the league's worst overall Pro Football Focus grade (subscription required) for inside linebackers.
What Must Improve
The easy answers here are the culprits that we've zeroed in on for the last month: pass rush and offensive line play (namely center and right guard).
But there are a few other, more subtle areas that need improvement as the Colts prepare to face the Miami Dolphins.
First, Andrew Luck needs to hold onto the ball less.
Luck was phenomenal against the Raiders, and was the Colts' best player. He looks ready to have a monster season in all facets of the game. But while the offensive line is sub-par at best, Luck can't help the defense by holding onto the ball too long either.
Oakland sacked Luck four times on Sunday, and three of those were directly responsible for killing drives. Two were the fault of Luck, not the offensive line.
Take this play in the second quarter, for example. The Colts were attempting to extend their one-touchdown lead with a two-minute drive, but were stalled after Luck took a sack on 2nd-and-8.
Luck's had a couple seconds in the pocket at this point and has an open man in the flat (Coby Fleener). With pressure coming up the middle, he needs to get rid of the ball to his safety valve, but instead tries to sidestep the pressure and gets tripped up.
He's been fantastic at avoiding the rush and extending plays so far in his career, but sometimes, a simple dump-off is available, and preferred.
Second, the defense has to be able to contain quarterbacks better.
Mobile quarterbacks are becoming more popular in the NFL, not less. While Terrelle Pryor is more dynamic than 90 percent of the quarterbacks that the Colts will face, even pocket passers like Ryan Tannehill have the ability to get out of the pocket and pick up first downs on the ground.
On Sunday, the Colts defensive line failed to contain Pryor, giving him wide-open lanes to take off far too often and allowing Pryor to use his strongest asset (his legs) to dissect the Colts defense.
This third-down conversion was a perfect example.
Ricky Jean Francois gets sucked inside on the play, giving Pryor with enough space to set up a few tattoo parlors, much less run for the first down.
Poor jokes aside, the Colts simply have to contain quarterbacks better, especially given the league trend toward mobile quarterbacks.
Finally, the offensive game plan has to involve more Andrew Luck and more T.Y. Hilton. Luck was involved in just 34 plays on Sunday, the fourth-lowest for quarterbacks in Week 1. The Colts handed the ball off on 11 plays in the second half, but only were successful on two of them, resulting in far too many wasted plays.
The Colts were trying to impose their will in the second half, but with just a slight lead and a poor offensive line, that's not a recipe for success. It's absolutely necessary to stay aggressive and build large leads with this team, and that didn't happen against the Raiders.
The other side of the equation is T.Y. Hilton, the Colts' big-play specialist and most-promising wide receiver. Hilton saw the field just 26 times on 57 potential plays, the lowest snap count he's had since Week 2 last season.
Hilton caught just three passes for 20 yards, and Indianapolis Star beat writer Stephen Holder speculated that the team may be keeping his snap count low in order to protect the diminutive wide receiver from a physical beating.
Hilton has yet to have injury issues in his career, and while the Raiders weren't the Colts' most difficult opponent, the team doesn't have the talent to be able to hold their biggest playmakers out of the game. With Miami up next (whom Hilton torched for six catches, 102 yards and a touchdown last season), Pep Hamilton needs to get Hilton onto the field more often.
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