LANDOVER, Md. — The Indianapolis Colts today defeated the Washington Redskins, 21-9, in their 2018 regular season Week 2 matchup at FedExField.
What’s top of mind for the Colts as they move to 1-1 on the season?
An obsession to finish.
Colts head coach Frank Reich has repeated that saying over and over and over again since his hiring in February, and for good reason. Coming off a season in which the Colts struggled to close out several leads — many of those deep into the second half — the roster continued to be reshaped this offseason to feature many more young, talented players that can learn how to close out games.
Last Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals seemed to be déjà vu (all over again) for this Colts team, however — despite the fact so many players on this roster were not even present for last year’s struggles.
Sunday’s game against the Redskins, though? The obsession to finish was clear.
Stingy second-half defense (just two field goals allowed) and a game-sealing, 13-play touchdown drive was the proverbial foot on the throat the Colts needed to leave the Washington, D.C., area with their first win of the season — also the first in Reich’s career.
Talk about making an impression.
After the Redskins won the opening coin toss and elected to defer to the second half, the Colts took over, after the kickoff, from their own 25-yard line.
Eleven plays and 75 yards later, quarterback Andrew Luck, on 3rd and 3 from the Washington 7-yard line, found tight end Eric Ebron on the fade route for a touchdown — Ebron’s second touchdown in as many weeks.
Other than simply opening the game by punching the opponent in the mouth, the Colts did two things particularly well on that drive: they converted all three of their third-down attempts, and they also ran the ball effectively, collecting 35 yards on six rushing attempts.
The Redskins were an extremely confident bunch coming into this game after they dominated the Arizona Cardinals last week to open up their season, but that drive by the Colts set a tone that they weren’t going to be pushed around today.
PLAY OF THE GAME
It was the kind of drive, and touchdown, the Colts haven’t really had the last couple seasons.
And, boy, was it huge.
After the Redskins had cut the Colts’ lead to just five, 14-9, after a 49-yard field goal by kicker Dustin Hopkins with 13:33 left in the fourth quarter, some might’ve had one of those “we’ve seen this movie before” kind of moments.
And that’s a fair reaction: the Colts have simply struggled to close out games when they have had halftime leads, a trend that started in 2017 and carried into last week’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
There would be no such struggles today, however.
That’s because the Colts would go on a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that featured the creative playcalling of head coach Frank Reich, who broke out the RPOs (run-pass-options) against a Washington defense with which he is very familiar after his two seasons as the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive coordinator.
The play of the game, meanwhile, came on 3rd and Goal from the 3-yard line.
Luck, lined up in the shotgun, brought running back Nyheim Hines in motion, who was out wide to the right, across to his left. On the snap, Luck faked the handoff to Hines, dropped back and looked to his left, where Ryan Grant was running a crossing route.
But the Redskins’ defense forgot about a pretty important piece to the Colts’ offensive puzzle: T.Y. Hilton.
After Grant cleared the field running to the left, Luck found a wide-open Hilton running across the field to the opposite side of the field at the two-yard line, and The Ghost was able to jog in from there for his second touchdown of the season.
The play gave the Colts a 21-9 lead with 7:37 left in the fourth quarter, the Indy wasn’t going to let this one go.
Eighteen tackles (one for a loss). A sack. A forced fumble. A pass broken up.
That was Darius Leonard’s stat line today against the Redskins.
The second-round pick was coveted for his sideline-to-sideline speed coming out of South Carolina State, and he showed it off with an impressive debut last week against the Bengals, as he racked up nine tackles.
But today? Today Leonard was just on a completely different level.
He brought down quarterback Alex Smith for a loss of 10 yards, setting up a 3rd and 19 for the Redskins to start the fourth quarter.
Then, with 5:08 left in the fourth, Leonard corralled tight end Jordan Reed, who started to dive for extra yards. But the rookie linebacker knocked the ball out of his hands, and the fumble was recovered by cornerback Pierre Desir at the Indianapolis 19-yard line.
Leonard also nearly had what would’ve been a second forced fumble on a play in the second quarter when he knocked the ball out of wide receiver Jamison Crowder’s hands, but a review showed Crowder was down before the ball came out.
What a day. And he’s just getting started.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
• With starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo out with a hamstring injury for a second straight week, the Colts today turned to third-year veteran Le’Raven Clark to step in at a major time of need against an extremely talented defensive front. Clark’s response was absolutely terrific. At first glance, Clark more than held his own against the likes of Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan, who combined for just one quarterback hit on the afternoon (Joe Haeg, playing right tackle today, deserves a ton of credit, too). Talk about a confidence booster for a guy like Clark who did exactly what the Colts needed him to do: be ready to go when his number was called.
• After a phenomenal 11-of-17 (65 percent) conversion rate on third down in their season opener against the Bengals, the Colts turned in another solid performance on third down today against the Redskins. In all, the Colts were 9-of-16 (56 percent) on the day, three of which came on the team’s opening touchdown drive (the final one a touchdown pass to Eric Ebron), and then another one on the touchdown pass to Nyheim Hines on their final scoring drive. Being successful on third down is one of the major ingredients to success in the NFL, and the Colts have simply been getting it done to this point.
• While Darius Leonard absolutely went off today, the Colts also got solid days out of their primary defensive ends: Jabaal Sheard and Margus Hunt. Sheard finished his day with three tackles (two for a loss), his first sack of the season, two total quarterback hits and he also knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage. Hunt, meanwhile, followed up his two-sack performance Week 1 against the Bengals with three tackles, two of which were for a loss.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
• For all the timely success the Colts’ offense had one Sunday, they’re going to try to figure out how, and why, they went dormant for a long period in the second and third quarters. After Nyheim Hines’ eight-yard touchdown run with 6:51 left in the second quarter to put Indianapolis up 14-3, the Colts’ next five possessions were: punt, punt, QB kneel to end the first half, interception, punt. So, yes, it’s great that the team did so well to start and finish the game, but you can imagine this coaching staff will still have plenty of teaching points after watching the film tomorrow.
• Luck’s second interception today is definitely a throw he would like back. About midway through the third quarter, with the Colts leading 14-3, Luck faced a 3rd and 10 from his own 22-yard line. Lined up in the shotgun, he scanned the field before he felt the pressure off the edge from Ryan Kerrigan and Jonathan Allen, and quickly fired a pass towards wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in the middle of the field. But safety D.J. Swearinger — a former rival with the Houston Texans — read the play perfectly and jumped the route to pick off the pass, his second interception on the day. This was smack dab in the middle of Indy’s mid-game drought, and it gave Washington the ball at the Indianapolis 29-yard line. Fortunately, the defense would limit the Redskins to just a field goal on their ensuing drive.
— Those who suffered injuries and did not return to today’s game for the Colts: defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway (calf) and cornerback Quincy Wilson (concussion). We'll see if we get updates from the team on these players tomorrow.
— Those who suffered injuries and were able to return to the game: running back Jordan Wilkins (ankle).
The Colts now set their sights on their Week 3 matchup against the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles today fell to 1-1 on the season with a 27-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Next week’s game, of course, will serve as a reunion of sorts for first-year Colts head coach Frank Reich, who served as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.