If you thought Week 1 could not get any worse, you were in for a rude awakening.
Even if you thought Week 18 of the 2021 season was rock bottom, that was not the case.
The Indianapolis Colts, who talked all offseason about how the loss to end the season last year left a “scar” that would stick with them, fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars once again. Only this time, the score was 24-0, the third time the Colts have been shutout since 2003. Coincidentally, or maybe not, all three shutouts have come by the hands of the Jaguars.
The Colts looked uninspired on Sunday at TIAA Bank Field. They did not look like a team trying to get revenge on what happened to end the year last season. Instead, they looked outmatched, both on the field and on the sidelines.
To make matters worse, the Colts have looked this way in their last four games. Dating back to last season, the Colts have not looked like a competent team since they beat the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas Day. In their last three games, a team with a league-high seven Pro Bowlers in 2021 has been embarrassed by the Jaguars, punched in the mouth by the Houston Texans, and dominated by the Jaguars again.
While the players have a big part to play in this – and we will get to them later – the disastrous start to the season falls on the shoulders of general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich. The architect of this team and the man in charge of leading the group have failed to put a winning product on the field.
Let’s start with Ballard, whose stubbornness this offseason has proven to be foolish. Questions surrounded the wide receiver group, as the Colts did not have a proven threat outside of Michael Pittman Jr. Losing T.Y. Hilton – out of choice, as he is still a free agent – and Zach Pascal, Ballard elected to only add second-round rookie Alec Pierce to the mix.
“We like the group that we have,” Ballard repeated throughout the offseason and training camp. “We feel really good about them.”
Sunday proved how wrong that was. With Pittman out due to a quad injury, and Pierce unable to clear concussion protocol, the Colts’ wide receiver group was put to the test. For a franchise that has the likes of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and eventually Hilton in their Ring of Honor, it was an embarrassing performance.
Dezmon Patmon, who only had two catches for 24 yards, dropped a crucial third-down grab over the middle. Mike Strachan, who had one catch for 23 yards, had an illegal shift penalty during the Colts’ two-minute drive that resulted in a ten-second runoff. Parris Campbell, who was supposed to be the Colts WR2 this season, registered 0 catches for 0 yards, but he did have an offensive pass interference penalty.
It was an abysmal showing from a group that desperately lacks in talent. They could not get any separation from the Jaguars down the field, leaving Matt Ryan with nowhere to throw the football all afternoon. The Colts, and Ballard in particular, simply chose to not do what it takes to bring in adequate talent.
The same can be said about the left tackle position. Ballard praised Matt Pryor all offseason, saying they had confidence he could protect Ryan’s blindside. But Pryor has been a turnstile through the first two games, consistently getting beat by speed rushers and letting them get right to Ryan. Pryor has split snaps with rookie Bernhard Raimann, who only played left tackle for two seasons in college and is still learning the position.
And it is not just Pryor. Outside of Quenton Nelson, the Colts’ offensive line has been a mess. The Colts gave up five sacks and 11 QB hits to the Jags. Jonathan Taylor, as great as he is, was limited to just 54 yards on nine carries and only had four yards on five carries at halftime.
Ballard’s core philosophy is that you win games up front. He has gone on the record to say he is “obsessed” with the o-line and d-line. The Colts have invested big money into their offensive line, with the group accounting for a league-high $42.2 million of the team’s cap space. Right now, it looks like a gigantic waste of money.
Now let’s move on to Reich, who is just as much at fault as Ballard in the mess going on at W 56th Street. In five years as the Colts’ head coach, this is the fourth time the Colts have gotten off to a slow start. The only year the Colts did not get off to a slow start under Reich was after Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement.
And yet, we hear the same coach speak that we have heard for years.
“Obviously, a very poor showing in every way. We've got to learn from it and move on,” Reich said after the game. “We'll take our medicine for the pathetic performance today, coaches and players. We'll see how things stack up.”
The Colts have not looked ready to play in a game since that day in Arizona. Reich can preach all he wants about the intensity in practice, but it has not translated to the games. The Colts look a step behind on all sides of the ball.
“I just feel it's a lack of we got out-coached and we got out-played.” Reich admitted.
Reich has said an iteration of this phrase after every game since the loss in Jacksonville to end last season. Three games in a row that the Colts have been out-coached and out-played. Three games against the Jaguars, Texans, and Jaguars again. Franchises that picked in the top-five of the NFL Draft in April, and may be picking there again next April.
Simply put, it’s not good enough. These things cannot be happening to a team that is in their sixth year under Ballard and fifth year under Reich. These things cannot happen when the Colts had seven Pro-Bowlers a year ago and added three more players with Pro Bowls on their resumes.
Ryan, who now has four interceptions and five fumbles through just two games, feels like he has no support on offense outside of Taylor and Pittman. Yannick Ngakoue and Stephon Gilmore, the two major acquisitions the Colts made this offseason, have been mostly invisible through two weeks. DeForest Buckner and Kenny Moore II, who are both banged up, have not lived up to their Pro Bowl value. And Shaquille Leonard still has not made his 2022 debut.
“I think I've been around long enough to know that as pathetic as that was today, where that is and where we need to be, the distance is not that far,” Reich explained. “It's not that far because we've got the guys, the players, and coaches to do it.”
But the reality is, the Colts are far away. Not a single group on the field yesterday showed they are close. The Colts were utterly dominated by the Jaguars in every facet. The gap between those two teams felt like an ocean, and with the Kansas City Chiefs coming to Indianapolis next Sunday, you can probably guess what that gap will look like.
The abysmal start to the Colts’ season falls on everyone, from top to bottom. Ballard and the front office, Reich and the coaching staff, and a roster full of talented players have all underachieved in a major way. Until they prove they can get things back on the right track, it is hard to see this team going anywhere at this juncture.
Colts owner Jim Irsay is one of the more patient owners in the NFL. He has never made a coaching change mid-season and has publicly backed Ballard and Reich. But he is also a man that is desperate to see his Colts return to perennial contenders.
“It’s (time) to go and get that next Lombardi Trophy,” Irsay said in training camp. “This is the time to set up another generation of greatness… It’s about greatness with the Horseshoe and continuing to show that eras don’t last forever, but great organizations do. It’s up to us to go get that next world championship and create this new era.”
Can the Colts still turn the season around? Sure, it is only Week 2, and any team can win in the NFL on any given Sunday. But the Colts have a lot of work ahead to do that.
And if they can’t? Well, Irsay may just be looking for a new duo to lead the Horseshoe back to greatness.
Want more Colts content? Check out the latest episode of A Colts Podcast below as Brandon Moses and Andrew Moore recap the Colts' loss to the Jaguars and the rest of Week 2!
Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMooreNFL.