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Five Things Learned

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5 Colts Things Learned, Week 3: Shane Steichen's vision gets reinforced, 2023 free agents step up, defense shuts down Lamar Jackson late

Shane Steichen has demanded relentless effort from the Colts since he arrived in Indianapolis earlier this year. And the Colts' 22-19 Week 3 win over the Baltimore Ravens was defined by the exact sort of relentless effort the first-year coach has worked to instill in his team. 

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1. Sunday's win reinforced the culture Shane Steichen is establishing.

Arguably no play in Week 3 put the Colts' culture on display more than what, on first glance, might've felt like the worst play of the game.

On a third and nine with 42 seconds left in the second quarter and the ball on the Baltimore Ravens' 42-yard line, safety Kyle Hamilton came screaming off the right edge and thumped quarterback Gardner Minshew, who fumbled on the play. All of a sudden, there was a loose ball rolling on the Colts' 43-yard line. Ravens outside linebacker Jeremiah Moon got his hands on it first.

And the Colts got the ball back.

Watch the play again and you'll notice left guard Quenton Nelson, as soon as he sees the ball on the ground, break into a full sprint. He lays out toward Moon and knocks the ball out toward the Ravens' sideline.

Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. sees this all go down from the Ravens' 38-yard line and, too, breaks into a full-on sprint. He quickly covers about 20 yards of wet turf, and as cornerback Brandon Stephens tries to fall on the fumble, he dives for the loose ball. Minshew is there, too, hitting Stephens on the ground. The ball is still loose, and Pittman recovers it at the Colts' 43-yard line.

One of head coach Shane Steichen's pillars is being relentless. That play showed how much the Colts are buying into it.

"The way Quenton went and dived at the ball to not make it an easy recovery for those guys, and then Gardner on top of that allowed Pitt to get the ball and allowed us to get the punt instead of them getting the ball in the plus side of the field right before the half, which could've easily swung the game in their favor," running back Zack Moss said. "Things like that show up. And we've only been together with coach Shane for a few months, technically – for things like that to show up early in the year, that says a lot."

The Colts needed that relentless effort for 84 plays on offense and 72 plays on defense to emerge from M&T Bank Stadium with a 22-19 win on Sunday. And in emerging with a hard-fought win, the vision Steichen has for the Colts – one which players had already bought into – was reinforced.

Because the Colts don't win Sunday's game without the kind of resiliency and relentlessness Steichen has emphasized over the last few months.

"That is the ideal type of win when he first came in that he was stamping, with all the pillars of what our team is going to look like," Moss said. "Not what we want to look like, but what we're going to look like. Guys did a great job of buying in. He's a no-nonsense kind of coach. The standard is the standard, the standard is very high. And the type of guys we have on this team, everyone responds well to that. We all love that, especially about him."

2. The Colts' 2023 free agent class came up big.

The Colts moved quickly to sign four outside free agents last March: Quarterback Gardner Minshew, defensive end Samson Ebukam, defensive tackle Taven Bryan and kicker Matt Gay. All four of those players were key in delivering the Colts a Week 3 win:

Minshew gritted his way through his first start with the Colts, completing 27 of 44 passes for 227 yards against an aggressive Ravens defense. More important than the statline, though, is that the Colts – collectively – won while starting their backup quarterback. The Colts will move forward this season knowing from experience they can win with Minshew either tagging in for Anthony Richardson during a game (as he did in Week 2's 31-20 win over the Houston Texans), or starting in his place in a given week (as he did in Week 3).

Ebukam continued his strong start to the season with a strip-sack, two tackles for a loss and three total pressures on Sunday. His speed off the edge has been a problem for opposing left tackles, and he's had good discipline with his rushes, allowing the defensive linemen next to him – like DeForest Buckner – higher-quality chances at getting after the quarterback. Steichen said Monday Ebukam earned the Colts' defensive player of the week honors.

Bryan recorded his second sack of the season when he drove right guard Kevin Zeitler into the pocket, which threw off Jackson as he decided against making a throw over the middle. Bryan's presence contributed to the ball slipping out of Jackson's hands for a fumble, which the Colts recovered and turned into a field goal. Through three games, Bryan has two sacks – his career high is three – and has tagged in on 29 percent of the Colts' defensive snaps. His effective play is allowing the Colts to rotate Buckner more than in previous years.

Gay set an NFL record when his fourth field goal of 50-plus yards went through the uprights in overtime to net the Colts a 22-19 win. That's why you sign a kicker, right? Gay has now made seven consecutive field goals of 50 or more yards, and in his career is 21 of 27 (78 percent) on those kicks. Among kickers with at least 20 attempts of 50 or more yards, Gay has made those tries at the fifth-highest rate in NFL history.

Also, as a bonus here – the Colts signed wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie about a week into free agency in March. He had punt returns of 16 yards and 32 yards on Sunday, with the latter flipping field position and setting up the first of Gay's four 50-plus-yard kicks.

3. Gus Bradley's defense shut down Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews, and closed the game out.

Fourth quarter stats for 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews:

  • Jackson: 8/15 passing (53 percent), 69 yards, two sacks; five rushes, 36 yards
  • Andrews: 15 snaps, one target, one reception, seven yards

Two years ago, when the Colts weren't able to close things out in a Week 5 loss to the Ravens, that pair put up these numbers in the fourth quarter and overtime:

  • Jackson: 18/20 passing (90 percent), 194 yards, three touchdowns, 0 sacks; five rushes, 19 yards
  • Andrews: 16 snaps, 6 targets, five catches, 68 yards, two touchdowns

The Colts defense shut down Baltimore's offense over the final 20 or so minutes of Sunday's game – in total, the Ravens averaged 3.8 yards per play after the third quarter ended. All 30 defensive plays were in high-leverage spots – one additional first down, or one additional shot at points, and the Ravens probably win the game.

Things got even tighter in overtime. The Ravens ran seven offensive plays, all of which came within six yards of midfield, and gained 11 yards.

A physical tackle by linebacker Zaire Franklin – who had 15 tackles in Week 3, bringing his season total to 45 – stopped running back Melvin Gordon for no gain on second and six from the Colts' 44-yard line. Franklin blitzed on the next play and Jackson threw behind wide receiver Zay Flowers for an incompletion, leading to a punt.

The Ravens, on their next possession, had a third-and-three on the Colts' 47-yard line. Tight end Isaiah Likely dropped a pass, leading to EJ Speed forcing a fourth down incompletion on a Jackson throw to Flowers over the middle.

After the turnover on downs, the Colts' offense churned out enough yards for Gay to line up his 53-yard game-winner.

"We never folded," Blackmon said. "When we needed to make plays, we made them."

4. Michael Pittman Jr. sparked the Colts in overtime.

If you're wondering how Pittman caught this ball, you're not alone:

Here's an explanation. Pittman, every week, is one of the toughest dudes on the field.

"It was his ball or nobody's ball," Steichen said. "He made the play."

Backed up on the Colts' 11-yard line, Steichen called a shot play to start the Colts' second possession of overtime. Pittman ran an in-and-up double move and gained separation on cornerback Brandon Stephens. Safety Geno Stone broke toward Pittman as Minshew threw it deep and hit Pittman after he high-pointed the pass and got two hands on the ball. Pittman bobbled the ball as he was being hit but kept his focus and strength, hauling in the pass even as his helmet flew off.

(Also, this play doesn't work without the offensive line winning one-on-one battles and Zack Moss stonewalling a blitzing Patrick Queen.)

The Colts didn't wind up scoring after Pittman's catch, but it flipped field position and sparked belief on the sideline.

"We needed somebody to make a play," Minshew said. "Gave him a chance, it was a tough chance but he made it. So, I think that really helped us get it going."

5. The University of Utah had quite a day.

Utah's recruiting department had to love what they saw in Baltimore on Sunday.

Of the 16 Utah Utes in the NFL right now, three are on the Colts – giving Indianapolis the most Utes in the league. Two of those three players set career highs and one set an NFL record:

  • RB Zack Moss: 30 carries (career high), 122 yards (career high), 17-yard receiving touchdown
  • S Julian Blackmon: 12 tackles (career high), 1 TFL
  • K Matt Gay: 5 field goals, 4 from 50-plus yards (NFL record), game-tying and game-winning field goals

"We come from a good school," Moss said. "Coach (Kyle Whittingham) and the program the run there kind of preps you for these type of moments. It's just a really good overall program and that's why they're still winning today."

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