You cannot fault the Indianapolis Colts for trying to turn their season around.
Over the last month, the Colts have been searching for answers. It started with the benching of Matt Ryan for Sam Ehlinger at quarterback. After that came the firing of Marcus Brady as offensive coordinator. The next week saw three huge changes as head coach Frank Reich was fired, interim head coach Jeff Saturday stepped in, and Ryan was inserted back into the starting lineup.
The changes looked like they had finally worked as the Colts ended a three-game losing streak with a win over the Las Vegas Raiders. The team looked energized, Ryan was efficient, and the Colts were back in the win column.
But as was stated after the game, it was against the lowly Raiders, who have been one of the worst teams in the NFL all season. The real test would come this weekend against the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the best teams in the NFC. Predictably, the Colts ended up falling short.
The Colts, who held a 13-3 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, could not capitalize on their opportunities and gave away the victory, 17-16. Whether it was self-inflicted errors or a failure to execute, the Colts could not deliver the knockout punch. Instead, Indy suffered death by a thousand cuts as the Eagles slowly came back and squeaked out the win.
“We had everything in front of us,” Saturday said after the game. “We didn't execute enough to get the win. Disappointing loss, obviously. Just too many mistakes. I mean, too many penalties, too many negative plays. You know, missing kicks. You just can't play a team that good and give them that many opportunities. We just left them in the game. And ultimately (they) made one more play than we did.”
If you watched the game on Sunday, you probably told yourself that you had seen this movie before. That is because it played out how most games have for the Colts this season.
The Colts’ defense kept Indy in the game, as has been the case most of the year. The Eagles came into the game averaging 27.3 points per game, never scoring less than 20 all season. The Colts held them to 17, making things difficult for quarterback Jalen Hurts and forcing two turnovers on the afternoon.
But the Colts’ offense was stagnant for most of the day. After scoring a touchdown on the opening drive for the first time in 13 games, dating back to last December against the Arizona Cardinals, the Colts could only muster nine points the rest of the way. The Colts finished with only 99 yards on the ground, with 84 coming from Jonathan Taylor, against a defense allowing 124.8 rushing yards per game.
The offensive line struggles returned on Sunday as well. Multiple penalties by rookie Bernhard Raimann and second-year player Will Fries stalled Colts’ drives or negated positive plays. On top of not being able to open holes for Taylor throughout the game, the Colts allowed Ryan to be sacked four times. The Colts have now allowed 40 sacks through 11 games.
However, what did the Colts in were the crucial mistakes they made when they had a chance to put the game away. The Colts had numerous chances to seal the victory in the second half and failed to do so each time.
With the Colts up 13-3 in the third quarter, the Colts’ defense stopped the Eagles on fourth down at midfield. The Colts’ offense could only manage 23 yards on eight plays, leading to a missed 50-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin. The Eagles would respond with a touchdown to make it 13-10.
On their ensuing possession, the Colts were driving to about midfield and had gotten both Michael Pittman Jr. and Taylor going on the drive. At this time, Taylor fumbled the ball in the middle of a pile after he had already picked up enough yardage for a first down. Luckily for the Colts’ offense, the defense came through, forcing an Eagles fumble just three plays later.
This was the moment the Colts needed to finish the game. Indy was blessed to get the ball back after the fumble, and a 31-yard strike from Ryan to Parris Campbell set the Colts up at the five-yard line. What followed was a run for no gain, an incomplete pass, and a 14-yard sack of Ryan on third down. The Colts settled for a field goal, the Eagles drove down the field for a touchdown, and the game was over.
“That's a tough one to swallow,” Ryan admitted. “You know, make no mistake, they're a good football team. They've been playing very well all year. I thought we had a good idea of what we needed to do in order to win. We did a lot of really good things. We made too many mistakes along the way. And, yeah, that one feels like, you know, we let it get away.”
“We certainly should have had more touchdowns,” Ryan Kelly explained. “We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times in the red zone. You look at that. A lot of should’ve, would’ve, could’ves right? But the NFL is not like that. I thought the defense played a great game, hanging in there. (The Eagles) are a great defense, a good team but I thought we should have won that game.”
This is the 2022 Colts. They are a team with a good to great defense that has kept them in almost every game this season. However, the Colts also have a dysfunctional, mistake-prone offense that cannot execute at a high enough level to win games against good teams. When combining the two, it’s a recipe for disappointment.
“That’s just the NFL,” Zaire Franklin said. “Most games are decided by one score. And at the end of the day, that’s why they pay the quarterbacks all that money because most of the time, the other team’s offense has the ball with a chance to win or tie the game. Either they are going to make a play, or the defense is going to make a play. And unfortunately, we came up on the short side of that.”
The truth is, there is no change the Colts can make at this current juncture that can save their season. They’ve already made changes at head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterback, and along the offensive line. Yet they still appear to be searching for answers.
And unfortunately, answers will not be found until the whistle has been blown on the 2022 season.
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