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Five Things Learned

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5 Colts Things Learned, Week 1: Anthony Richardson's debut, Michael Pittman Jr.'s speed, Kwity Paye's impact

The Colts fell, 31-21, to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1 of the 2023 season. Here are five big takeaways from Sunday's action at Lucas Oil Stadium:

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1. Anthony Richardson's poise transferred to the regular season.

This is less about how Richardson responded to throwing an interception in the fourth quarter – we covered that on Sunday here. This is more about Richardson not forcing throws that weren't there throughout the game.

Per Pro Football Focus, Richardson faced zone coverages (Cover 2, 3, 4, 6) on 36 dropbacks; he saw man coverage on 11 dropbacks. Without getting into the weeds of the exact numbers here – sometimes Cover 3 can become man with match coverage, etc. – let's just say Richardson saw much more zone than man on Sunday.

The Jaguars' strategy seemed to center around taking away downfield shots, which led Richardson to take plenty of quick throws or checkdowns as the game went on. His throws traveled, on average, just under five yards beyond the line of scrimmage against zone – because that's what was there.

"I thought he did a really nice job for his first time out there," head coach Shane Steichen said. "I think he completed 65 percent out there. I thought he was good in the pocket, checked the ball down when he needed to check it down when they didn't give us the shots. But I thought he saw the field really well, he was calm in the pocket. Overall, really solid performance by him – first time out there."

The point here: Richardson didn't try to make something out of nothing down the field. Usually, that's when you see quarterbacks put the ball into harm's way – throwing deep against two-high safety looks or deep-dropping cornerbacks runs the risk of a turnover. Even the interception Richardson threw wasn't necessarily him forcing a throw – he felt like he could've put more loft on the pass to tight end Mo Alie-Cox get it over Jaguars cornerback Tyson Campbell.

"I saw that matchup and I thought I could get it over his head, but I threw it a little too flat," Richardson said. "But he made a good play. Hopefully it doesn't happen again. We just grow from it."

When Richardson did get man coverage, he got the ball out quick – including a 20-yard, in-rhythm strike to tight end Drew Ogletree, among other plays. There weren't many opportunities to take shots downfield in those situations.

One last thing here. There wasn't anything about Sunday seemed too big for Richardson. That didn't come as a surprise with everything we've learned about the Colts' 21-year-old rookie quarterback, but it's noteworthy nonetheless – sometimes, things change when a game really matters.

For Richardson? Nothing changed.

"He's poised," wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. "He's ready. And we have something we can really build off."

2. The Colts' pass protection held up well.

Richardson was sacked four times, but two of those came when he ran out of bounds barely behind the line of scrimmage. One of the two other times he was sacked came on a third down when Richardson didn't see anyone open beyond the sticks and went to scramble, only to be caught from behind by Josh Allen; the second one came late in the second quarter 3.7 seconds into the play (which is a decently long time by NFL standards).

None of those four sacks were charged to the Colts' offensive line, per Pro Football Focus. And – take PFF grades for what you will – the Colts' O-line earned a 79.3 pass blocking grade on Sunday, highlighted by Quenton Nelson (81.5 grade) and Ryan Kelly (80.4).

3. Michael Pittman Jr. sent a reminder to the NFL.

Pittman averaged 4.9 yards after the catch per reception over his first two years in the NFL, but saw that YAC average drop to about 3.5 yards in 2022. He had fewer than 40 yards of YAC in 14 of 16 games last year – but that was more the product of the Colts' collective offensive shortcomings than anything he did.

Case in point: Pittman rumbling 39 yards on a screen for a touchdown in the third quarter of Sunday's game.

Pittman reached a top speed of 19.53 miles per hour on the play, making him the 18th-fastest player in Week 1 per NFL Next Gen Stats.

"Somehow the notion that I'm slow has been created over the years," Pittman said. "I don't know where it came from. Maybe from my friends joking around too much because I'm a bigger guy, and bigger guys are deemed as slow. But it's good to prove I got a little bit of speed."

4. Kwity Paye got Year 3 off to a good start.

Paye recorded a sack and was strong against the run against the Jaguars, putting together a performance he felt like had been coming for months.

"Man, I worked so hard – I worked too hard to not reap the benefits," Paye said after the game. "For me, you work too hard, go out there and get it. Because it's out there for you to get it.

"For me, I'm going to stack on this game, watch the film, see what I can improve on. But it's out there for me."

Paye flashed potential over his first two seasons in the NFL (10 sacks, 20 quarterback hits, 13 tackles for a loss in 27 games) but wasn't able to find the consistency he hoped to hit. Through all the training he did this offseason, and through long conversations with defensive line coach Nate Ollie, Paye entered the 2023 season loaded with confidence – and it translated to impactful play in Week 1.

"At times I felt like I was doubting myself last year where I limited myself to being strictly a power rusher," Paye said. "And once I powered, if it didn't work, I would just kind of stop. Just stuff like that. But once it was second and long, third down, whatever it was — I was out there hunting. I was trying to do my best to go out there and make some plays."

Paye has added other moves to his pass rushing toolbox besides just trying to win on power rushes, and he headed into Year 3 trusting his athleticism, speed and strength. On Sunday, he felt like he was able to set up his rushes as the game went on, which only boosted his confidence.

"I felt like when I was out there, I was like, I'm gonna make a play every single play," Paye said. "That was my mindset."

5. Zaire Franklin, Grover Stewart and DeForest Buckner picked up where they left off.

Franklin set a Colts record with 166 tackles in 2022 – an average of about 9.8 tackles per game. So how's this for a follow-up: Franklin notched a career-high 18 tackles against the Jaguars, tied for the third-most in a single game in Colts history.

Stewart was an absolute monster on the interior, helping hold Jaguars running backs to 3.3 yards per carry – and that's with Travis Etienne Jr.'s 26-yard touchdown in there.

Buckner was a force, too, and not just on his strip-sack-fumble-recovery-touchdown. His 93.7 PFF pass rushing grade was the highest of any interior defensive linemen and put him behind only Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt for Week 1.

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