Five Things Learned

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5 Things Learned: Colts vs. Dolphins, Week 4

Carson Wentz continued to take care of the football while the Colts established the run and played good complementary football in their 27-17 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. 

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1. Carson Wentz continued to take care of the ball well.

Carson Wentz led the NFL with 24 turnover-worthy plays in 2020, per Pro Football Focus. 

Through four games in 2021, he has zero of those.

The point is: Wentz has gone from putting the ball in harm's way quite a bit in his last year with the Philadelphia Eagles to doing a tremendous job taking care of it early on with the Colts. While Wentz does have one interception this year, it came on a shovel pass to Jack Doyle in Week 2 that was blown up by Rams all-universe defensive tackle Aaron Donald (Wentz, on it, made the correct read and decision — Donald just happened to make an incredible play). 

Re-litigating an interception from two weeks ago aside, the Colts are pleased not just that Wentz is avoiding interceptions, but that he's been strong with the ball in the pocket, too. That was a problem for him in Philadelphia that's been a point of emphasis from quarterback coach Scott Milanovich this year – not allowing defenders to get strips on sacks.

Wentz, too, is also picking the right opportunities to take shots downfield. There's a fine line between trusting your teammates to make plays and forcing things downfield; Wentz has done a good job not crossing that line. 

"This (game) was was his best yet," Reich said on Wentz's balance between taking shots and taking what was there. "I thought he was right on the money all day. When I watched the film back a couple times, he just had the right instinct on when to get it downfield, when to check it down. 

"What we talked about in our quarterback meeting was, he obviously made some nice chunk plays down field, but there were three, four, five plays that he made that were three, four, five, six-yard gains underneath that are important plays that keep us out of third and long. He's getting the ball out of his hand, not trying to extend it, just taking that short stuff but then still making chunk plays. That's the right mix that we're looking for." 

This is all important in the context of the Colts' win over the Dolphins because…

2. The Colts got the run game going.

Jonathan Taylor (16 carries, 103 yards) turned in his fourth 100-yard game of his young career; over the Colts' last two games, he has 26 carries for 167 yards (6.4 yards/carry). 

"I felt like he's been right on the precipice of breaking out a couple times," Reich said. 

Taylor broke off a 23-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and gashed Miami for a 38-yard run on the first play of the second half.

"He's just an electric guy with the ball in his hand," Reich said. "He's got a rare combination of speed and power and size. And the sooner we can get him going in a game the better." 

The Colts had 33 rushing plays in Week 4, which was their highest total of the season:

  • Week 3: 18
  • Week 2: 26
  • Week 1: 30

Taylor had those 16 carries, while Marlon Mack had 10, half of which came on the Colts' final drive of the game. 

"Once you get commit to a guy in a four-minute situation he's your guy for the most part," Reich said, explaining why Mack got those chances late in the game. 

And it's easy to see why the Colts were able to establish and stick to the run: Sunday marked the first time in 2021 they took an offensive snap with the lead. 

That was possible because…

3. The Colts played the kind of complementary football needed to win.

This all ties together, as you'd expect from a complete three-phase victory.

The Colts' defense played well — especially for the first three quarters — which helped the offense gain and grow the lead. The defense gave up some points in the fourth quarter, but the Colts' offense punched back — after Miami scored to cut the score to 20-10, Wentz hit Zach Pascal for a 41-yard gain, which sparked a touchdown drive to put the Colts back up by 17. 

"It's just the confidence that we can play with when the defense is playing as well as it was playing," Reich said. "I mean, the defense was lights out today. So that's a big factor in the overall success, even for the quarterback."

The Colts emphasized finding a way to play complementary football after last week's loss to the Tennessee Titans. There was a team meeting and spirited practice that followed that emphasis, which then paid off on Sunday.

4. The Colts continued to generate takeaways.

The Colts picked up two more takeaways on Sunday — a Grover Stewart strip-sack of Jacoby Brissett and an Ashton Dulin fumble recovery on a muffed punt — bringing their season total to eight in four games. 

That's a little shy of the pace needed to reach the 40-takeaway goal this team set during training camp, but it's nonetheless sticks in the Colts near the top of the league through four games:

  • 1. Buffalo Bills (11)
  • 2. Dallas Cowboys (10)
  • 3. Arizona Cardinals (9)
  • T-4. Indianapolis Colts (8)
  • T-4. New Orleans Saints (8)

The Colts also have a plus-four turnover differential for the season, which goes back to Wentz taking good care of the football here as well as opportunistic play on defense and special teams. 

Since 2010, 72 percent of teams with a turnover margin of +4 or better made the playoffs (92/128). And it's not a coincidence that good teams have good turnover margins.

5. The next men up stepped up.

One last thing here. The Colts beat the Dolphins by double digits while playing without:

  • WR T.Y. Hilton
  • LG Quenton Nelson
  • RT Braden Smith
  • DE Kwity Paye
  • CB Rock Ya-Sin
  • CB T.J. Carrie
  • S Khari Willis

That's six starters and a key reserve (Carrie) who might've started in place of Ya-Sin. 

And whether it was Chris Reed at left guard or Kemoko Turay at defensive end or Andrew Sendejo at safety and everywhere in between, the Colts' depth acquitted itself well on Sunday.

"We've got to get a lot better — I believe we will," Reich said. "Hopefully, we can use this to get some traction and get things moving in the right direction."

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