Colts vs. 49ers: Takeaways from Indianapolis' 27-7 Win over San Francisco
The Colts were long shots prior to kickoff, as Vegas Insider had San Francisco as the 10.5-point favorite. Only Jacksonville was a bigger underdog, but the Colts managed to shut down what was thought to be an explosive 49er offense with stifling secondary play and an effective four-man pass rush.
Offensively, the team continued to run with its ground-and-pound offense. Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown both had successful days running the ball, finishing with 120 combined yards on 22 carries—an average of 5.45 yards per carry.
When the offensive line plays like it did today alongside a dominant defense, the Colts are incredibly difficult to beat.
The Colts still have philosophical questions to resolve, but this was a fantastic win for a team reeling after a second-half collapse last week.
Andrew Luck Continues to Protect the Ball
The biggest detraction from Andrew Luck's rookie season was his high turnover rate. Luck threw 18 interceptions and lost five fumbles—the second-most turnovers of any quarterback in 2012 (only Mark Sanchez had more turnovers).
Through three weeks in 2013, however, Luck has turned the ball over just once (an interception against Miami in Week 2).
Luck hasn't been nearly as explosive in Pep Hamilton's offense as he was in 2012, but he certainly has been taking care of the ball better. He's still been phenomenal at avoiding pass-rushers and making seemingly dead plays come alive too.
The one area of concern for Luck is his reading of the field. Something has been off so far this season, as he has missed open receivers at times and appears to struggle going through his progressions.
Nevertheless, Luck has played well overall and his 92.72 passer rating is over 15 points higher than that of his rookie year.
Makeshift Offensive Line May Actually Be Able to Block
The 49ers were supposed to be able to stop the run—especially against the Colts' beaten-up line, which already looked weak against the run before starters Donald Thomas and Samson Satele got hurt.
However, the Colts came out and dominated the 49ers at the line of scrimmage. This was particularly evident in the second half, when they ran for 114 yards on 24 carries.
The Colts bled much of the clock by running the ball in the second half and finished the game with an advantage of nearly 13 minutes in time of possession.
With the defense playing so well, the ground-and-pound strategy paid big dividends.
Anthony Castonzo Is Rounding out Very Well
Coming off of an injury in Week 1, Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo was inconsistent against Oakland to start the season. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he allowed five hurries, a hit and a sack of Andrew Luck.
Since then, Castonzo has been a stud on the left side. He shut down the right side of the Dolphins' line in Week 2 and made 49ers superstar pass-rusher Aldon Smith invisible in the Colts' upset win.
The pass protecting is most important, but it's worth noting that Castonzo has also been a dominant run-blocker. CBS Sports' Jim Nantz and Phil Simms called his name multiple times on Sunday, as Donald Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw racked up big runs running off of the left side.
Castonzo moves really well in space and has been fantastic when he's gotten out ahead of runners.
Reggie Wayne Is Still the Go-to Guy
The Colts have tried to give Andrew Luck young, explosive targets in his young career. Even with Dwayne Allen injured, the Colts have Darrius Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener on the field for Luck to target.
But even with those players playing well at times, Reggie Wayne continues to be the team's most dependable receiver.
He led the Colts with 63 receiving yards on Sunday, including two critical catches for 44 yards on the team's second touchdown drive that put Indianapolis up by two scores.
Wayne is the consummate professional and Luck will continue to lock on to him when it's time for a critical third-down conversion.
The Colts' Secondary Blankets San Francisco's Depleted Receiving Corps
Who would have predicted that that the Colts would give Colin Kaepernick his most difficult test of the season?
The 49ers could not get any separation against the Colts' secondary, which finally lived up to its potential and suffocated the 49ers' receivers. Vontae Davis outshone Greg Toler, but both were very good. Darius Butler was phenomenal as well, breaking up a couple of passes and not giving up an inch physically.
They made it nearly impossible for Kaepernick to find an open target.
Delano Howell Impresses in Place of LaRon Landry
LaRon Landry has been a strong addition so far in the season, leading the Colts with 26 total tackles. Unfortunately, his injury history bit him again this week and he was out with an ankle injury against the 49ers on Sunday.
In his stead, second-year safety Delano Howell started. He played extremely well—just as he did in the preseason.
Howell played both the run and pass well, staying disciplined while delivering punishment over the middle. His highlight was an earth-shattering hit on Anquan Boldin, forcing an incompletion over the middle.
Antoine Bethea played well in his own right, but Howell may be a potential long-term replacement for the veteran, taking what was supposed to be John Boyett's place in the team's plans for 2014 and beyond.
Jerrell Freeman Shines
The Colts' diamond-in-the-rough find in 2012, Jerrell Freeman had a very good game after a rough start to the season. The ex-CFLer struggled to sift through traffic in the first two weeks of the season and had similar issues to start this game.
As the game progressed, however, Freeman's name was called more often.
He finished the game with a team-leading eight tackles and shut down San Francisco's tight ends and running backs in the passing game.
His biggest impact was arguably spying on Colin Kaepernick. One of the Colts' keys to the game was pressuring the quarterback without sending big blitzes. By doing that, they could afford to keep a spy on Kaepernick, which was often Freeman.
Freeman registered a sack and forced fumble, which clinched the victory for Indianapolis and kept Kaepernick in check.
Can This Style Sustain Success?
This was the first game in which the Colts looked like the team that Chuck Pagano wants to build: stifling on defense and dominating on the ground.
Outside of the defensive struggles against the run in the first half (I'm looking at you, Erik Walden), this game went completely according to plan.
The question is, can the Colts sustain that style?
Running the ball and chewing the clock is a boring offensive style, but it's effective when two things happen. First, the defense has to play really well—like it did on Sunday. Second, the offensive line has to block well—like it did on Sunday.
If the defense struggles, the offense has to be able to put up points quickly, which it couldn't do against Miami last week.
It's hard to imagine the defense continuing to play this way, especially against teams that have more offensive weapons—Anquan Boldin is the 49ers' only real weapon in the passing game.
With Pep Hamilton and Chuck Pagano insisting on this offensive style, the defense simply has to play well. If it can do that, the Colts will be division contenders at worst. If it can't, this will be a maddening, inconsistent season for the Colts.