Five Things Learned

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5 Things Learned: Colts vs. Cardinals, Week 16

The Colts beat the Arizona Cardinals, 22-16, on Christmas night to improve to 9-6 on the season. Get inside the Colts' resilient victory with this week's installment of 5 Things Learned. 

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1. The Colts overcame an immense amount of adversity to win.

For myriad reasons, the Colts had to rely on a long list of reserves for all or most of Saturday's game in Arizona:

  • WR Keke Coutee (29 snaps, season high)
  • TE Kylen Granson (32 snaps, career high)
  • T Julién Davenport (52 snaps, highest since Week 2)
  • G Chris Reed (59 snaps, highest since Week 8)
  • C Danny Pinter (70 snaps, third straight game playing 100 percent of offensive snaps)
  • G Will Fries (12 snaps, career high)
  • G Matt Pryor (70 snaps, season high and first at guard with Colts)
  • DE Dayo Odeyingbo (27 snaps, career high)
  • DE Ben Banogu (14 snaps, season high)
  • LB E.J. Speed (65 snaps, career high)
  • CB Isaiah Rodgers (55 snaps, highest since Week 5 and second highest this season)
  • S George Odum (65 snaps, second game in which he's played 100 percent of defensive snaps)
  • S Jahleel Addae (61 snaps, season high)

Tight end Mo Alie-Cox (63 snaps) set a season high in play time; wide receiver Ashton Dulin (28 snaps) had his second-highest snap count in 2021. And, of course, Dezmon Patmon caught his first career touchdown to effectively seal the Colts' win.

Also: Because so many of these reserves played significant snaps on offense and defense, special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone's depth chart was "a complete turnaround" from where it usually is, head coach Frank Reich said. Guys like safety Will Redmond and Anthony Chesley, who were both elevated to the active roster from the practice squad as COVID-19 replacements, had to play a handful of snaps on special teams.

Every team preaches a "next man up" mentality, but the Colts truly coalesced around it to produce a 22-16 win on Saturday.

"We talked about it today," Reich said after the game. "'Hey, we're prepared for this. We've practiced this. Everyone going out there today has practiced every one of these plays a million times. There's no excuses, no explanations. We're prepared for this, we've practiced these reps over and over and let's just go perform.' And that's what they did."

Now, as the Colts head into the final two games of the regular season and then potentially the playoffs, they'll do so knowing they can count on their depth to step up and play well if needed.

"We finally got a chance to come together and show how much depth is on the roster," Speed said.

2. For the second straight week, the Colts made critical plays in the fourth quarter.

Last week against the New England Patriots, it was Jonathan Taylor ripping off a 67-yard touchdown run to turn a three-point lead into a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter.

And on Saturday against the Cardinals, it was Carson Wentz hitting Dezmon Patmon on third and eight for a 14-yard touchdown; it upped the Colts' lead from two to nine points.

Both of those plays came in clutch spots to turn one-possession games into two-possession games. Those plays were missing in the first half of the season, but the Colts always knew how good a team they had – and that, eventually, they'd make those game-winning or game-sealing plays plays.

"Early on in the season, we knew the type of team that we had, the depth that we had," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "We just came up short with some plays late in the fourth quarter early in the season and guys are finally making those plays. ... You can see the confidence that our guys are playing with."

3. Frank Reich pressed the right buttons with Carson Wentz.

Wentz only attempted three passes in the fourth quarter, but they were three of the biggest plays of the game: A 20-yard completion to Michael Pittman Jr. (that erased the yardage lost on a Pinter holding penalty), a 39-yard strike to T.Y. Hilton and then the 14-yarder to Patmon in the end zone.

But before that, the Colts were able to pull Wentz out of the rut he was in early in the third quarter by rolling him out of the pocket and getting him to throw on the move. Those were big plays – while rolling to his right, he found Hilton to convert a third-and-7 in Cardinals territory, which helped set up Michael Badgley's go-ahead field goal.

And the 39-yard completion Wentz had to Hilton in the fourth quarter? That came when rolling to his right, too. That the Colts were able to generate those explosive and critical passing plays while down 80 percent of their starting offensive line is a testament to Reich, Wentz, and the receivers.

4. Matt Eberflus' scheme worked extremely well.

While the Cardinals had a couple of explosive plays – most notably Kyler Murray's 57-yard run – the Colts' defense largely limited those chunk gains. That forced Arizona to need long, methodical, patient drives to put points on the board.

The Cardinals had three drives of 10 or more plays, and all of those ended in a field goal. Only one of Arizona's drives before their final one of the game gained more than 55 yards, and that was the one on which Murray ripped off that explosive run.

And again, the Colts were able to stay disciplined and on their assignments with a number of reserves playing key roles. It's why Reich said it was one of the most complete team victories he's ever been a part of – and he's been in the NFL now for 28 years.

"I'm sure there's some good ones in there, but this is up there," Reich said. "It really took all three phases. The defense played so good. The defense played so good against a dynamic quarterback and a dynamic offense. Special teams made the plays that they needed to make. And then offensively it wasn't always pretty, but we moved the ball enough to score the points we needed."

5. The Colts' odds of making the playoffs are scraping 100 percent – but aren't there yet.

The Colts will enter Week 17 with a 97 percent chance of making the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight, and own a number of key tiebreakers over AFC opposition. The Colts have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bills, Patriots, and Dolphins, and if they beat the Raiders would own that, too. And the Colts will enter the final two games of the season with a 7-3 record in the AFC, which is tied with the Patriots and Bengals for the best in the conference (AFC record is the second tiebreaker after head-to-head).

So the goal is clear heading into Week 17: Beat the Raiders, and the Colts are in the playoffs.

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