By Kevin Bowen
INDIANAPOLIS – The calendar changes but the trend of the Colts and season opening losses does not.
For an 8th straight season, the Colts lost their Week 1 contest, putting up a pitiful performance in front of the return of fans to Lucas Oil Stadium.
What did we learn from the Colts losing 28-16 to the Seahawks?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Season Opener Drought Continues: Anyone check on Jim Irsay? The Owner has never shied away from telling his football team, and fans, how frustrated he’s been by the season-opener drought over the years. Well, that frustration is boiling even more after an 8th straight loss in Week One. We knew this challenge would be tough on Sunday, but it still doesn’t lessen the sting of the Colts once again behind the 8-ball to start a season. When such a streak stretches nearly a decade, when does the criticism for how the Colts handle training camp and the preseason get deserved attention? A refusal to ramp up the physicality and limit frontline guys playing time in the preseason has to be looked at. This 5-game stretch to begin the season is no joke and now the Colts will have to beat a different NFC favorite in the Rams next Sunday to avoid the 0-2 start heading to Tennessee in Week 3. Looking for good news? The Titans did lose their opener, in a blowout home loss to the Cardinals.
2. Putrid Offensive Line: When the Colts made the trade for Carson Wenz, a reason for their belief in him came from the support that they were putting around their new quarterback. That included a top-flight offensive line. That group was horrible on Sunday. And it wasn’t just Julie’n Davenport looking like the backup left tackle that he is (Davenport gave up two sacks both on third downs). You had major issues by Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith, among others, with a critical missed exchange between Kelly and Carson Wentz costing the Colts on a QB sneak. Simply, the Colts never had control of the line of scrimmage on offense. With how this team is built, that cannot happen. You’ve invested too much into the O-line for this to be the result. The run game never got going (Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines combined for 90 yards on 26 carries, 3.46 YPC) and Carson Wentz was hit/sacked on 10 of his 41 drop backs. Even with the Colts using a heavy screen game on Sunday, Wentz was still a sitting duck. Personally, I haven’t seen a Colts QB hit that much and so violently since Jacoby Brissett in 2017. For those clamoring on Wentz to get rid of the ball quicker, his game is predicated on making plays down the field and this offensive line has to realize quickly that they are no longer blocking for a statue in Philip Rivers who was looking to get the ball out ASAP. It was a pitiful performance by the Indy O-line on Sunday.
3. Carson Wentz Wasn’t The Problem: The numbers of Carson Wentz in his Colts debut were aided by some garbage time production: 25-of-38 for 251 yards and 2 touchdowns. But Wentz’s play on Sunday was nowhere near the top of the list as reasons why the Colts got handled on Sunday. When given time, Wentz showed an ability to make some plays in the pass game. Where the passing game has to evolve is Wentz taking more shots down the field, and not being so reliant on the running backs/screen game. Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines had 15 of the 38 targets, and 12 of the 25 completions on Sunday. The big plays in the passing game weren’t there, despite Seattle often wanting to cheat safety Jamal Adams down into the box. Wentz’s debut was fine. He avoided the major mistake and hung in there, despite taking shot after shot. One thing to note on Wentz’s day, Frank Reich mentioned in his post-game presser that the Colts had some communication issues which contributed to the offensive struggles. How much of that was on Wentz?
4. Defense Sets The Wrong Tone: Let’s not forget what happened in Sunday’s first half. It was the Colts defense that got shredded by Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, giving up 21 points, with Seattle having just 4 possessions. For a defense that prides itself on not giving up big plays, the Colts did a terrible job of accomplishing that. Whether it was selling out on a blitz in the first quarter, and not getting home, which had Wilson dropping a great ball to Tyler Lockett, who made a beautiful grab, too. Later in the first half, with the Colts down just 14-10, the defense had Seattle in a 2nd-and-20 with 51 seconds to go until halftime. Keeping the ball in front of the Colts was the only thing needed on such a play. Instead, Wilson found Lockett splitting down the middle of the field past all 11 Colts defenders. The 69-yard touchdown was the backbreaker heading into halftime. Yes, the defense played much better in the third quarter. But what we saw in the opening half was way too often the result last season of the Colts against the game’s above average quarterbacks. This defense cannot be considered a top-10 unit until it plays better against upper-echelon quarterbacks. The standard shouldn’t be giving up 21 points in one half of football when the opponent is welcoming in a new offensive coordinator.
5. Any Positives? In all seriousness, I do think there’s one player who deserves some praise. Rookie Mike Strachan, who entered Sunday having not played football in nearly two years, made his NFL debut and recorded a couple of really nice third-down grabs. Carson Wentz clearly wasn’t afraid to go to the rookie in some big moments and that’s encouraging for an offense needing perimeter playmaking right now. If we are looking for another positive, the Colts didn’t announce a single injury during Sunday’s game, something Frank Reich confirmed after. Obviously, the statuses of Eric Fisher (was limited in all 3 practices this week) and Xavier Rhodes (missed all 3 practices) will be monitored very closely. “It’s a marathon and not a sprint,” was the message from Jim Irsay after the loss. The Owner is right, and the Colts should be grateful to reside in the worst division in the AFC.
-Injury Report: No Colts players were announced as injured during Sunday’s opener. The following players were inactive: CB-Xavier Rhodes (calf), OT-Eric Fisher (Achilles), OL-Danny Pinter (foot), DE-Kemoko Turay (groin), DL-Isaac Rochell, OL-Will Fries, CB-Chris Wilcox.
–Key Stat: Despite winning the time of possession 35:47 – 24:13, the Colts scored on just 3 of their 11 drives, with the Seahawks getting into the end zone on all 4 of their scores.
–What’s Next: The Colts will be back at home again in Week Two, taking on the Los Angeles Rams at 1:00 PM.