Colts vs. Chargers: Takeaways from Indianapolis' Loss to San Diego
It turned out poorly.
The Colts couldn't move the ball at all against a previously unimpressive San Diego defense, and the Chargers offense consistently converted third downs to extend drive.
It was a true team loss with each unit having its respective struggles in this one. The bulk of the blame has to go on the offense, however. San Diego's defense isn't good and has several key starters out with injuries, but the Colts only scored nine points.
With San Diego's offense controlling the clock and the Colts offense struggling to convert on third down, the Colts left San Diego with two losses. Why did the previously impressive Colts fall, 19-9, to the Chargers? That's what we'll look at in this week's takeaways.
The Colts' Offensive Philosophy Continues to Hold Them Back
It's not that the Colts shouldn't run the ball. They should.
It's not that this game is completely on the coaches. There was plenty of other things that went wrong in this one.
It's not that Hamilton's offense can't work. It can.
But it's not going to get the most out of Andrew Luck and this personnel. The Colts line up with a fullback or multiple tight ends far too often, taking T.Y. Hilton out of the game. Early in this game they were dead set on establishing the run, and set themselves up in third-down situations far too often, and couldn't convert. On those third downs, the Colts ran routes short of the first down several times.
The Colts scored just nine points against one of the league's worst defenses. That's completely unacceptable.
With it happening on national television, the national media is starting to take notice.
Trent Richardson Ran Well, but It Didn't Matter
The Colts' big-time trade target had his best game as a Colt on Monday, running for 40 yards on 10 carries with a key, tackle-breaking reception for a first down.
Of course, he also had a key breakdown in pass protection and an awful drop on a screen pass in the fourth quarter.
But overall, it was Richardson's most impressive game running the ball.
The problem is, it didn't matter. Richardson had a few nice runs, but with the passing game not clicking due to drops and poor situational play, it had no impact on the game. Unless a back is completely dominating a game, the offensive success is always going to rely on the passing game.
Inconsistent Hands Kill the Offense
Andrew Luck's stat line wasn't pretty after this game: 18-of-30 for 202 yards and an interception. But Luck didn't play poorly. Rather, it was poor pass protection and an awful showing by the Indianapolis receivers that doomed the Colts' passing game.
Every Colt who was targeted on Sunday had a critical drop, outside of Donald Brown and Stanley Havili.
Darrius Heyward-Bey mistimed a deep throw down the right sideline in the first half, losing what could have been a touchdown. Coby Fleener dropped a potential touchdown prior to halftime as well. Hilton and Reggie Wayne each had drops on third down, and Richardson dropped an easy screen pass late in the fourth quarter that led to a Colts' punt.
This is the second week in a row that drops have hurt the Colts offense, but this was the most impact they've had this season.
Darrius Heyward-Bey Continues to Be a Non-Factor
Once again, Heyward-Bey was a non-factor for Indianapolis.
Heyward-Bey caught one pass for 11 yards on just two targets. His other target was slightly overthrown by Luck down the right sideline, but Heyward-Bey should have been able to come up with the catch.
The thing about Heyward-Bey is that he simply can't get separation. Luck rarely targets him because he's rarely open. With Wayne and Hilton getting separation against corners and linebackers alike, Luck goes to them.
Heyward-Bey, however, rarely catches Luck's eye, or the ball. While Donnie Avery was frustrating last season, he at least provided a big play every once in a while.
Run Defense Still Is a Problem
The Colts' philosophy under Chuck Pagano is that a team needs to be able to stop the run and run the ball. They spent $140 million this offseason in order to do that, and then went out and traded for Richardson as well.
But on Monday, it was the defense's inability to stop, stall or even mildly slow down the Chargers' running game.
Overall, the Chargers ran for 147 yards and were able to pick up a 17-minute advantage in time of possession. Ryan Mathews was particularly effective, running for 102 yards on 22 carries, including a few tough runs in the fourth quarter as the Colts offense was kept off the field.
Greg Toler Has His Ups and Downs, Monday Night Was Just Downs
Greg Toler has had his moments this year, with a few nice pass breakups and a key interception against Oakland.
However, he's been insanely inconsistent, allowing a higher passer rating than any other Colts defensive back, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Against the Chargers, the Colts allowed rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen to catch nine passes for 107 yards and a touchdown, much of which came against Toler. Toler also committed two penalties on third down that extended drives for San Diego.
The defense was poor on third downs in general, but Toler was the scapegoat for at least four third-down conversions.
Special Teams Is a Mixed Bag
The Colts special teams was phenomenal in some aspects on Monday. Adam Vinatieri was 3-of-3 on field goals for the day, including two 50-plus-yarders. Vinatieri is aging, but he was just as clutch as ever on Monday.
But punter Pat McAfee was as bad as Vinatieri was good.
McAfee averaged just 40.6 yards per punt, and his punt late in the fourth quarter was absolutely horrendous. When the Colts absolutely needed a strong punt, McAfee's 35-yard dud allowed the Chargers to get into field-goal range and gain a two-score lead.
McAfee has had a mixed year, as has Vinatieri, but both were complete opposites Monday night.
Chuck Pagano's Game-Day Coaching Decisions Are Awful
We didn't know whether Chuck Pagano was a good game-day coach based on last year.
So far this year, it's been trending downward.
This was the most obvious negative for Pagano, and on national television to boot.
The two most egregious problems? Punting in situations that called for more aggression.
The first occurrence was with four minutes left in the third quarter. The Colts had a seven-point deficit and the defense had just allowed a six-minute scoring drive. On 4th-and-3, the Colts had the ball on the Chargers' 40-yard line. They chose to punt, and gained just 30 net yards. The Chargers then went on a nine-minute drive, taking up half of the remaining time in the game.
The second occurrence was with 3:29 left in the game. The Colts, still down seven, faced a 4th-and-2 on their own 17-yard line. Yes, it's not traditional with the ball deep in their own territory, but the Colts defense had been getting gashed all throughout the second half. The Colts needed to allow Andrew Luck to win the game, but Pagano chose to trust his defense. A San Diego field goal later, the Colts were 4-2.