INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts today defeated the the Tennessee Titans, 38-10, at Lucas Oil Stadium.
What's top of mind for the Colts as they improve to 5-5 on the season?
After a 1-5 start to the season, the Colts have officially dug themselves out of a big hole.
What the team needs to do from here is another conversation for another day. For the rest of today, the Colts can celebrate the fact that they are playing as well as they have in at least four years — the last time they won four in a row, they were en route to an appearance in the AFC Championship game in 2014.
Indianapolis on Sunday had its most complete win of the season, as the Colts were able to cool down a hot Titans team and dominate both sides of the ball in their 38-10 home victory. Andrew Luck was decisive and efficient; T.Y. Hilton was beating the secondary up and down the field; and the Indy defensive front was swarming all day long, bringing down the quarterback and forcing turnovers.
The Colts will try to make it five in a row next Sunday when they wrap up their three-game homestand by playing host to the Miami Dolphins — one of four other teams currently sporting a 5-5 record and tied with Indy for the sixth and final spot in the AFC playoff picture.
But the Dolphins game can wait. Enjoy this one for now.
It's not like the Colts haven't been jumping out to huge leads like they did today against the Titans. It's just the way the team closed things out today that was encouraging.
Last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Indy had built a 16-point lead, 29-13, late into the second quarter, but the Jags were able to bear down from there, scoring 13 unanswered points the rest of the way and threatening to either tie the game or send it to overtime late in the fourth quarter. The Colts would get a timely forced fumble and recovery from their defense to ensure that didn't happen.
On Sunday against the Titans, the Colts went into halftime with a decisive 21-point lead, and then were forced to punt on their first drive of the second half. Would this be a repeat of that Jacksonville game? Was Indy giving an opportunity to Tennessee to start to get back into this thing?
Darius Leonard had other plans.
The Titans had reached midfield on the ensuing drive when Leonard stepped in front of a Blaine Gabbert pass for his first-career interception, taking it to the Tennessee 36-yard line; a facemask penalty on the return would put the ball all the way at the 21.
Just three plays later, quarterback Andrew Luck would find wide receiver T.Y. Hilton down the right sideline, and he was able to tiptoe his way into the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown, putting the Colts up big at 31-3.
Tennessee wasn't about to start to even sniff a comeback in this one — its lone touchdown game during garbage time late in the ballgame — and Indy shut the door with a 28-point victory.
PLAY OF THE GAME
In a game that featured a couple notable plays that didn't end up panning out — like Chester Rogers' long punt return for a touchdown that was called back, and Andrew Luck diving all-out through the air to try to nab a touchdown throw from tight end Eric Ebron — we'll stick with a play that actually did work in Indy's favor.
And it's that man Hilton again.
This time it was The Ghost's first of two touchdowns on the day, as he torched former first-round pick Adoreé Jackson up the middle of the field for a 68-yard touchdown reception, his longest of the season, putting Indy up 17-0 midway through the second quarter.
What a well-executed play and a perfectly placed ball from Andrew Luck to Hilton, who caught the ball around the 25-yard line and was able to keep his balance from there to find the end zone.
Hilton finished his day catching all nine passes thrown his way for 155 yards and those two touchdowns, and he is now tied with Marvin Harrison (11) for the most 150-yard or more receiving games in Colts history. Since Hilton entered the league in 2012, he is tied with Antonio Brown for the second-most 150-yard or more receiving games in the NFL.
A factor week in and week out that doesn't get a whole lot of attention for the Colts' defense is Jabaal Sheard. Oftentimes he's one of those guys who does everything right, but it might not necessarily show up on the stat sheet.
But Sheard has perhaps his best performance of the season on Sunday against the Titans, as he led a Colts defensive front that knew it had to apply tons of pressure in order to keep a hot Tennessee offense at bay.
Sheard finished his day with four tackles and 1.5 sacks, and perhaps most importantly he helped set the tone for what the Titans could expect all day.
Tennessee received the opening kickoff and was utilizing a quick-paced offense to methodically move the ball down the field, but eventually faced a 3rd and 8 from the Indy 34. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, lined up in the shotgun, would face a heavy blitz on the snap, and Sheard and cornerback Kenny Moore II — who also had a tremendous day — brought him to the turf at the 42. Time to punt.
Sheard's full sack came in that decisive third quarter, right after Hilton's second touchdown put the Colts up 31-3. On 1st and 10 from the Tennessee 39, Sheard took down backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert for a loss of eight yards, and the Titans couldn't get close to the sticks on their next two tries and were forced to punt — again. Andrew Luck eventually turned that into a seven-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Dontrelle Inman. At 38-3, the rout was on.
Sheard's numbers this season? Solid: 32 tackles (nine for a loss) with 5.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits and four passes defensed. He'll continue being a much-needed piece for this Colts defense as the team tries to continue making a push here over the final stretch.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
• The Colts' pass protection continues to be flawless. Not only was Andrew Luck not sacked on Sunday for a fifth straight game — the Titans didn't even register a single hit. The closest they came was a play in which edge rusher Brian Orakpo was able to dive to get two hands on Luck, but just briefly because Luck was able to slide up in the pocket and make a play down the field. The Colts' streak of five games without allowing a sack — it's been 217 straight pass attempts — ties the New York Giants (2010) and Tennessee Titans (2008) for the third-longest streak in the NFL since 1982.
• On the flip side of that, Indy on Sunday was able to return to the harassing ways it displayed in the first four games of the year, when the Colts' defense logged 17 sacks and was among the league's best. Against the Titans, the Colts registered five total sacks and seven quarterback hits, as defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus was dialing up pressure at the right time all afternoon. Sheard led the way with 1.5 sacks, while Denico Autry, Darius Leonard and Kemoko Turay also got in on the fun with one sack apiece, and Moore II combined with Sheard for half a sack. That's a lot of production from all over the place — front, linebackers and secondary — which has got to be satisfying for Indy.
• The pass defense was solid for the Colts, but so was their run defense. The talented duo of Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry — both of whom bring significantly different approaches, and, simply, builds, to the table — never was allowed to get going on Sunday, and Tennessee in all finished with 25 rushing attempts for 87 yards — an average of 3.5 yards per carry. Those numbers would've been even better if not for a couple decent runs by the Titans during garbage time late in the game. How about this? The Colts rank tied for sixth in the NFL in yards-per-carry average allowed at 3.9. That's getting the job done.
• The Titans entered Sunday's game as the league's best at limiting teams in the red zone, as opponents had scored a touchdown in just about 35 percent of their trips inside the 20. Against the Colts? Indy scored touchdowns on four of their five trips to the red zone for an 80-percent clip. Also very notable is the fact that the Colts scored 38 points against the league's top scoring defense; the Titans came into the game allowing just 16.8 points per contest. The Indy offense is rolling, folks.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
• In a day in which not much went wrong for the Colts, we can get a little nitpicky. For a second straight week, a totally unnecessary penalty wiped out what should've been a huge special teams play. Last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, linebacker Anthony Walker picked up a blocked field goal attempt and made a spectacular return, getting all the way to the end zone — but seeing that negated due to a chop block call at the end of the run, taking two points off the board. On Sunday, Chester Rogers took a punt 74 yards to the house in the first quarter … but cornerback Arthur Maulet was called for holding a significant distance from the play itself, and the touchdown was taken off the board. So, on one hand, kudos to the Colts special teams units for making splash plays, but if they don't actually end up counting, then it's hard to give full credit.
— Two key interior pieces — one offensive, one defensive — exited Sunday's game for the Colts and did not return: center Ryan Kelly and defensive tackle Margus Hunt each suffered knee injuries. While their immediate status is not known, Kelly did tell reporters after the game that he'll have an MRI on Monday. Head coach Frank Reich has his weekly conference call on Monday afternoon.
The Colts hope to keep things rolling next Sunday, but in their way will be another tough AFC test, as the Miami Dolphins come to Lucas Oil Stadium for a 4:25 p.m. kickoff. The Dolphins are one of five teams are currently sporting a 5-5 record and are tied for that sixth spot in the AFC playoff picture, so yet again, Indy faces a must-win scenario in order to keep itself relevant for postseason positioning. The Dolphins will be coming off their bye week, and last took on the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 11, falling 31-12. Miami is bringing in the league's 28th-ranked offense (313.6 yards per game), and the 27th-ranked defense (392.3 yards per game allowed). And, don't forget: the Colts will be sporting their "Color Rush" all-blue look for the game.