The Indianapolis Colts continued their up-and-down season on Sunday, defeating the Houston Texans 25-3 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts have alternated wins and losses since the bye, and this game was no exception after losing to the Cincinnati Bengals last week. The win preserved the Colts' undefeated record under Chuck Pagano after a loss.
There was a difference in the pattern this week, however: The Colts were actually able to get out to a strong start. The Colts showed signs of life on offense early on Sunday, getting out to a 20-3 first-half lead thanks to efficient offensive play and a terrible showing by Houston quarterback Case Keenum.
It was a much-needed game for the Colts, who have alternated close wins and blowout losses since the break, but their work isn't done. With Cincinnati and the New England Patriots both losing on Sunday, the Colts' playoff seeding is up in the air. Should the Colts win their next two games and the Patriots/Bengals both lose a game, the Colts would end up as the No. 2 seed for the AFC.
No matter what happens, Indianapolis will host at least one playoff game and has two weeks (at least) before that happens. This week, the Colts travel to Kansas City to take on the 11-3 Chiefs.
It is one of the Colts' most difficult challenges, but at the same time, fans shouldn't be worried about either of the next two games. With a playoff spot locked up, the Colts should use this time to experiment and build chemistry between the Luck and the young receivers. What else is going on this week? Find out in this week's "What You Need to Know."
|AFC South Standings|
|Team||Wins||Losses||Point Diff.||AFC Standing|
Houston reached a new low on Sunday when they rolled over and quit against the Colts, something that Texans fans have gotten used to this season, sadly.
The Texans are 2-12 with the loss, and continue to hold onto the first spot in the draft, where the rudder-less franchise seemingly must look for a quarterback. The front office quit on Matt Schaub weeks ago, and Case Keenum has been terrible, as showcased this past Sunday.
Jacksonville added to its loss total on Sunday, losing 27-20 to the Buffalo Bills. The Jaguars had a chance to tie the game late, but QB Chad Henne was picked off in the end zone, a reminder that as much of an improvement as Henne was this year over Blaine Gabbert, he's still not the answer, or anything remotely resembling one, at quarterback.
The Tennessee Titans also picked up a loss on Sunday, falling to the Arizona Cardinals 37-34 in overtime. The Titans needed a huge comeback to get into overtime, scoring 17 points in the final 3:12 of regulation. But Ryan Fitzpatrick threw an interception on the opening drive of overtime and the Cardinals needed just a field goal to win the game.
|Week 16 Injury Report|
|Ricky Jean Francois||DT||Foot||Out|
|Pat Angerer||LB||Knee||Out (IR)|
|Chuck Pagano and Colts.com|
Donald Brown was the biggest loss for Indianapolis this past week, suffering a stinger early in the first half. While Brown isn't a great back, the difference between he and Trent Richardson is staggering. Should the Colts be forced to feed Richardson for any length of time, the running game, and offense, will stall, as it did Sunday.
Paired with that injury was an early concussion for Joe Reitz, who Chuck Pagano says is "going through protocol," per the Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell.
On the positive side of things, the Colts could get FB Stanley Havili, WR LaVon Brazill and, most importantly, CB Greg Toler back this week. Toler has been out since Week 8 with a groin injury and his presence is missed in the Indianapolis secondary.
Pat Angerer was placed on injured reserve this week, with Pagano citing knee problems that have plagued the linebacker all season. Angerer will have surgery and spend the coming weeks preparing for next season, which could be anywhere with his contract with Indianapolis coming to an end.
What Needs to Improve
While a myriad of issues could go in this space, this week we will focus on a young and inexperienced group for Indianapolis: the wide receivers.
The talent isn't going to magically improve anytime soon, but the chemistry and timing of the receivers' relationship with Luck can, and must, for the offense to be dangerous in January.
One thing that should help in this regard is the return of Griff Whalen to the lineup. Whalen is not an above-average receiver, and his lack of speed greatly hurts his ability to be a consistent threat and can throw off the timing of the Colts offense.
Take this throw from Andrew Luck, for example.
Whalen has a step on the defender, but Luck's throw is long. You can't help but speculate that Whalen's lack of speed compared to the rest of the wide receiving corp played a part here.
T.Y. Hilton, Da'Rick Rogers, Brazill and Darrius Heyward-Bey all have good speed, and the difference between them and Whalen is staggering. With this being Luck's first throw to Whalen in this game, you can see a difference.
But, Whalen would come back with a great example of timing with Luck on his 14-yard touchdown reception.
Luck makes the read pre-snap, identifying the blitz by linebacker Darryl Sharpton (blue) and the coverage by D.J. Swearinger on Colts TE Coby Fleener (red). With that in mind, Luck knows that Kareem Jackson will be on an island against Griff Whalen on the right side (tan).
Whalen's post route takes him right to the space Swearinger vacates, so all that's needed is a solid route and quick throw from Luck.
Luck makes the throw just as Whalen makes his break, as he should. Whalen's slight fake to the outside gets Jackson to bite, and the touchdown is on.
It's a play that is reminiscent of the Peyton Manning offenses in Indianapolis, which executed similar timing patterns and combinations on countless occasions.
In contrast, you have Da'Rick Rogers' route on Luck's interception.
Unlike Whalen, Rogers doesn't fake outside, his break is rounded and he slows after the change of direction, all of which lead to the cornerback jumping the route and making the interception.
On both plays, Luck makes an accurate throw to a spot as the receiver makes the break. One receiver makes a good cut and is at that spot, the other does not.
It's those kinds of plays that the Colts have to eradicate going into the playoffs. They have some potential at the receiver position, but with their inexperience and lack of polish, consistency is hard to be found. With two weeks to work on that consistency and timing, perhaps they can still be dangerous come January.