Three Thoughts: Colts' game plan no match for Philly's comeback speed
At Oregon, Chip Kelly's teams had a reputation for falling asleep in the first halves of games, only to roar back to life in the final 30 minutes of their games. That's transferred to the NFL in Kelly's case, as the Eagles became the first team in NFL history to start their season 2-0 despite trailing each of their games by 14 or more points. They beat the Colts 30-27 on Monday night by way of a last-second field goal from Cody Parkey despite finding themselves down 20-6 halfway through the third quarter. This came after a season opener where the Eagles spotted the Jaguars 17 points in the first half, only to storm back with 34 unanswered points to get the win. It may not be great for the blood pressure of the Philly faithful, but it works. It's worked so far this season just as it did in 2013, Kelly's first NFL season, when the Eagles took the NFC East.
"When you're up on a good team, you'd better stay up," the Colts' Andrew Luck said after the game.
True, and Indianapolis is now 0-2, looking up from the bottom of the AFC South after posting 11-5 records in each of Luck's first two seasons. It would have helped had offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton taken the game plan out of the mud, but he went with an old-school playbook that saw Luck throwing for just 172 yards and running from the Eagles' blitzes far too frequently despite fewer receivers and extra protection on a high percentage of plays. When you play ball control, especially when you do so against a team that can explode for points at any time, you'd best be perfect in doing so, and the Colts weren't nearly perfect enough.
Here are three things to take away from the game.
1. One should never overvalue running backs.
This one's pretty simple. Last season, Colts general manager Ryan Grigson traded his team's 2014 first-round pick to the Browns for running back Trent Richardson, and it's a move that has been an absolute disaster. Not only has Richardson been tremendously inconsistent and ineffective, but the Colts are in a position where they feel the need to keep trotting Richardson out there to try and validate the deal. Richardson had decent numbers in this game because the Eagles' run defense was susceptible to Indy's unbalanced lines and cutback schemes, but his 79 yards on 21 carries won't make up for the fumble with 4:25 left in the third quarter that gave the Eagles a great deal of momentum. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans recovered that fumble at the Indy 26-yard line, and six plays later, Darren Sproles ran for a 19-yard touchdown.
Mr. Sproles, grabbed from the Saints for the paltry price of a fifth-round pick in March, has proven to be a true-value player in ways that Richardson simply can't. Pairing Sproles with LeSean McCoy in Kelly's offense presents opposing defenses with some impossible situations, and the Colts rarely had an answer for the waterbug. Sproles racked up a career-high 157 yards receiving on seven catches, adding 26 rushing yards on four attempts. He's become an epicenter of an offensive system that was already complex and explosive, and his ability to get free in space provides exponential big-play ability in comparison to Richardson's plodding style.
2. Where did Nick Foles' deep ball go?
There could be one point of concern as the Eagles go through this season, though. In 2013, quarterback Nick Foles was one of the best deep-ball throwers in the NFL, completing 25 of 55 passes over 20 yards in the air for 803 yards, 14 touchdowns and just one interception. Foles threw for two deep touchdowns against Jacksonville's sub-par secondary in the season opener, but he did so on just three completions in nine attempts, and his radar was frequently off on those plays. Against the Colts, Foles rarely threw it deep, and when he did, the results were not necessarily great. There was the pick thrown to Colts cornerback Greg Toler at the end of the first half, and the pass interference call on cornerback Vontae Davis that took the ball from the Indy 36 to the Indy 1-yard line, but other than a couple of mid-length completions to tight end Zach Ertz, Foles did a lot more dinking and dunking. One reason Foles may have more of an issue in this regard through the 2014 season is that his receivers don't fight for contested catches well. That's one thing that DeSean Jackson, who Kelly was quick to boot in the offseason, had a knack for doing.
Could this be much ado about nothing? After all, the Eagles are undefeated. We shall see. But in this era of football, a team that can't throw deep consistently will be exposed as such ... and generally at the worst possible time.
3. The Eagles were aided in their comeback by the officials.
The Eagles outplayed the Colts in the second half, and that was enough, as Indy's offense simply ran out of gas. But there was one call, and one no-call, that unfairly impacted the Colts. When Luck threw an interception to Malcolm Jenkins with 5:15 left in the game, cornerback Brandon Boykin was clearly holding receiver T.Y. Hilton in the slot. This was a very interesting no-call, considering that the hold was obvious and this is supposed to be a point of emphasis this season. Then, two plays later, Colts safety Laron Landry was called for a horse-collar tackle on running back LeSean McCoy when Landry clearly grabbed McCoy by his jersey to pull him down -- which is a legal tactic. That took the ball from the Indy 28 to the Indy 43, and while it didn't have anything to do with the amazing 51-yard screen play from Foles to Sproles two plays after that, or Foles' six-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin that tied the game, it didn't help, and there's little doubt that the Colts will receive a note of apology from the league very soon.