INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts today officially began on-field preparations for Sunday's Week 6 contest against the Cincinnati Bengals. What were some of the top takeaways on the day?
Here is today's injury report, the first of the week for the Colts:
Injuries to monitor
— On the good news front, the Colts on Wednesday saw the return of left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who missed last Sundays Week 5 matchup against the Cleveland Browns with a rib injury. Castonzo was limited in Wednesday's practice.
— Five other players that head coach Frank Reich said Monday would be evaluated this week in practice did not participate on Wednesday: tight end Mo Alie-Cox (knee), defensive tackle/end Denico Autry (ankle/knee), safety Julian Blackmon (groin), defensive end Justin Houston (hip) and linebacker Darius Leonard (groin). Of that group, Alie-Cox and Houston played most of the, if not the entire, game last Sunday vs. the Browns; Autry and Blackmon each exited the game in the second quarter and then returned later in the quarter; and Leonard missed the game entirely.
We're on to Cincinnati
The Colts' offense struggled throughout the second half of last Sunday's Week 5 loss to the Cleveland Browns. With the Indy defensive and special teams units doing every they could to keep the team in the game, the offense had two costly turnovers and also gave up a safety in what ended up being a difference of nine points.
After having a strong start in the first two quarters — completing 8-of-11 passes for 120 yards — quarterback Philip Rivers was unable to keep up the same pace as the Indy offense tried to play catch-up in the second half; overall, Rivers completed 21-of-33 pass attempts for 243 yards with two interceptions and also was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety and two points for the Browns.
So how do you move on to this Sunday's game against the Bengals? To Reich, the answer is pretty simple.
"We talk to every player at every position: there's a discipline to putting your last game behind you, whether you played lights out or whether you didn't play lights out," Reich said. "So we've been talking a lot about this year, really as a team, of just taking that same approach, of not riding the wave of results. If you want to be great in this league — and obviously Philip's done it a long time — that's what you do; you block that out and you reset. Whether it was good or bad or in the middle or anywhere in-between you block it out and you move on and you focus on the next opponent."
The Bengals' defense has been pretty stingy against the pass so far this season; they've allowed the ninth-fewest yards, the sixth-fewest passing touchdowns. Teams also average just 2:31 per drive against Cincinnati's defense, the second shortest time in the NFL.
That's Rivers' focus this week; not what happened last week.
"We all know he's a fiery, emotional guy. That's a great thing. That's one of the things that's made him a great player and a great competitor," Reich said of Rivers. "So you get early in the week, whether it's coming off a win or loss, I just think Philip has a good knack of focusing on the next opponent. There's always so much work to be done, so much film to watch, dialing in on the gameplan, and he does that early in the week to get ready for the next opponent. That's the cycle, the routine that you want to get in that helps you from the transition week to week."
The Colts entered the season knowing that they had one of the league's best offensive lines, as well as one of the best overall rushing attacks. From week to week, teams were going to try to key in on stopping Indy's run game first and foremost, which means a lot of stacked boxes for the Colts' offense to deal with.
So far, that trend has definitely proven true. Jonathan Taylor, for example, has faced a loaded box of eight-plus defenders on 27.27 percent of his rushing attempts this season, which is the second largest percentage for running backs with at least 60 rushing attempts, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
The challenge that presents, other than just extra defenders to worry about, is how you counter attack a loaded box: do you go with more playaction passes? Maybe throw in some screen plays? Do you work in more quick throws to the perimeter?
Reich said today that's been an area in which he hopes the offense can continue to improve moving forward; they know they're just simply going to be facing stacked boxes each and every week, but how do you use that to your advantage?
"That's the challenge we embrace and if you want to be the best then you've got to be able to handle that," Reich said. "I think we'll continue to make progress there. I feel good about the guys we got and the direction we're going, and I think it'll play out over the course of the season the way that we're intending it to play out."
Red zone improvements
One of the areas in which the Colts' offense knows it needs to improve is in the red zone. While Rodrigo Blankenship is nailing field goals and scoring points better than any other kicker in the league, Indy would much rather be scoring six points when its offense enters the opposition's 20-yard line.
Currently, the Colts rank 29th in the league with a 42.11-percent red zone touchdown scoring clip. Last season, the team ranked seventh in the league in this category at 64.29 percent.
Much like the team's struggles on third down, Reich and the offensive staff figure these red zone averages eventually have to start increasing over the course of the season. To get to that point, they're discussing different ways to make sure the ball gets into the end zone much more often.
Could more T.Y. Hilton be part of the answer? Hilton last season was among the league leaders throughout the year with five red zone touchdown receptions.
"You never know how the games are going to go — the opponents you're playing, what schemes they play, what plays we have up," Reich said about Hilton's red zone looks. "We talk about being an unselfish group, and sure we're always trying to get T.Y. involved in every area of the field, but we're not going to do that at the expense of the team."
Reich could also decide to dig into his bag of tricks from time to time, utilizing a package that includes Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Brissett, the team feels, is really effective at escaping danger and making plays happen with his feet, which could be an asset in the red zone.
"We look at it each week. We look at all our options," Reich said when asked about Brissett specifically. "We have a big inventory of plays. You know, we're always gonna try to evaluate that week what of our inventory (we're going to use), and then you're looking to create a wrinkle or two every week here or there. So we believe in what we're doing, and we've just got to do a little bit better. All options are always open each week as we're going to gameplan."