INDIANAPOLIS – Embarrassing loss. Playoffs gone. Questions growing.
Something about playing in Jacksonville (3-14) continues to cause nightmares for the Colts (9-8).
What did we learn from the Colts losing 26-11—the biggest loss of the season in more ways than one?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Offensive Line Breaks Down: Carson Wentz sacked the most (6 times) he’s been all season long. Jonathan Taylor held to 18 rushing yards on 8 first-half carries. The Colts have committed an incredible amount of resources into their offensive line. In the season’s most important game, that group failed them. It was a healthy and in-tact starting O-line for Sunday’s “win and get in” game, yet they got whipped by the Jaguars all throughout the contest. Blame for this loss obviously extends in other places, too. Carson Wentz and the passing offense continued to be an issue that everyone is finally seeing. Witnessing the soft coverage played against Jacksonville’s best receiver on the opening 3rd down of the game was reminiscent of past Matt Eberflus’ defensive plans. It was that type of approach, plus a library-quiet pass rush, that allowed Trevor Lawrence (23-of-32 for 223 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions) to have his best game of the season. Remember, this was a Jaguars offense that had 2 passing touchdowns in the last 2 months. Two. Dos. They had 2 on Sunday. With the turnover luck running out on the Colts, the problems with this defense (pressuring the quarterback and covering on the back end) showed up once again.
2. Carson Wentz Wilts: The biggest question of this season—no matter the Colts record/playoff outcome—was this: Is Carson Wentz the definite answer for this franchise moving forward? That answer? Frank Reich offered a vote of confidence post-game, but it wasn’t much of a ringing endorsement. On Sunday, Wentz and the passing offense was a major let down, once again. Wentz went 17-of-29 for 185 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He was erratic in important moments and once again looked shaky in such critical situations. The pass catching personnel for Wentz is not elite, but his play to end this season was not at an acceptable/neccessary level. Options aren’t abundant to find a new answer at quarterback, and Wentz’s contract looks like a guy who will start at least one more season in Indy, but he did not look like the answer at QB, particularly when the pressure rose throughout the year. Wentz will now head into his 7th NFL season having played 9 snaps ever in the postseason, while these AFC quarterbacks will have experienced more: Patrick Mahomes, Ryan Tannehill, Joe Burrow, Mac Jones, Josh Allen, Derek Carr, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield and Deshaun Watson (wherever he ends up). Are the Colts in quarterback purgatory with a very blurry picture to finding a way out?
3. Where Are The Problems? Whenever this season was going to end, it was stated time and time again that the passing offense and defending the pass would be the reasons why. And that was quite apparent in these last two defeats to send the Colts into starting their offseason early. The passing offense was masked at times by other areas this season, but it was a problem for the final 3 months of the year. It was inaccurate/poor decision making by Carson Wentz along with a lack of needed personnel at wide receiver and tight end. On the other side of the ball, the Colts pass rush remains a major worry, especially with everything that has been put into that group via draft picks and money. And the coverages/cornerback group isn’t sticky enough to disrupt timing at a necessary level in today’s NFL. We will get into this more below, but the positions that matter even more in “2022 NFL” are where the Colts are lacking.
4. Is This Fireable? Jim Irsay gave out contract extensions to Chris Ballard and Frank Reich for this? Sunday’s loss (as the biggest road favorite in franchise history, in a “win and get in” game and by the widest margin of the season) is a fireable offense. There’s little to debate that. With so much at stake, playing the worst team in the NFL and to give that effort? That’s inexcusable. Having said that, I would be surprised if Jim Irsay decided to make substantial moves. But did Irsay give (not needed) those extensions to Chris Ballard and Frank Reich to miss the playoffs and be the 8th best team in the AFC? Is Matt Eberflus safe after the defense continues to have the quietest of pass rushes, despite major investment put into that area? Irsay has to be irate. But he also has preached patience throughout this era. Does such a historic loss change that? You had a 98 percent chance at making the playoffs two weeks ago. And lost two games where you were a combined favorite of 23 points. Accountability in this organization has been something with blurred lines under this regime. It’s time for it to be preached and demanding results at a level that speaks to the actual extensions those guys were given.
5. Offseason Checklist Growing: No one thought the Colts would be needing to address the off-season checklist so early, but that’s the reality when the finality of a season hits. We pointed to some of the coaching/personnel possibilities above (unlikely, but need to be acknowledged). On the roster, you have retirement decisions for T.Y. Hilton (32 years old) and Jack Doyle (31 years old). You have free agency decisions with Hilton, Eric Fisher, Mark Glowinski, Mo Alie-Cox. Kemoko Turay, Xavier Rhodes. What about a contract extension for Quenton Nelson? In summarizing this season, what really stings about the end to this season is this: the Colts missed the playoffs, don’t have a first-round pick and uncertainly remains about their franchise quarterback. While this roster has many nice pieces, those issues pointed out are worrisome, particularly at the game’s most important positions (QB, WR, LT, DE, CB). Has this team been built in the wrong way? It’s a fair question to ask.
-Injury Report: Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (ankle, hip) left the game in the first quarter and did not return. OT-Eric Fisher (pec) left the game in the second half and did not return. The team’s inactives were as followed: CB-Xavier Rhodes (hamstring), WR-Dezmon Patmon, RB-Marlon Mack, OL-Will Fries, WR-Mike Strachan, DE-Ben Banogu, OT-Julie’n Davenport.
–Key Stat: The Colts loss on Sunday came in a game where they were the biggest road favorite in franchise history (15.5 points).
-What’s Next: The Colts (9-8) season came to a close with Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars and the Steelers beating the Ravens in overtime.