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Five Things Learned

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5 Things Learned, Colts vs. Jaguars Week 2

The Colts were shut out, 24-0, in their Week 2 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. Here are five things we learned from Sunday's game:

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1. Frank Reich and Colts players took accountability for what happened Sunday, and were ready to move on from the loss by Monday afternoon.

From Reich to the players who participated in the Colts' shutout loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, there was plenty of accountability taken publicly – and surely more privately – in the visiting locker room at TIAA Bank Field on Sunday.

But Monday, after going through the film, the Colts began working to put Week 2 in the rearview mirror and focus their energy not on what they did wrong in Jacksonville, but what they can do right to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday's home opener at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"It wasn't good. We all that it was a poor performance in every way," Reich said. "So go through, evaluate all that — look at the gameplans, the scheme, the plays, the execution and make corrections from it, and then get better and focus all those efforts on the Kansas City Chiefs this week."

The Colts after Sunday's game talked about using the defeat as fuel and drawing motivation from it, and that process began Monday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

"I think everybody's ready to move on," wide receiver Ashton Dulin said Monday. "We all have the mindset of bouncing back and showing everybody that the last week is not us. Yes, it was an embarrassment, but we're ready to come back and show we're that team that everybody had preseason hype (on), that we are the team. That's our mindset moving forward." 

One focus for Reich, who said Sunday the Colts' scheme and gameplan will be evaluated, is simplifying things on offense.

"Simplify the schemes, think players, not plays — every coach is going to tell you the same thing," Reich said. "Now you have to interpret that. And you can't overdo it, right? You can't overreact. We still go to do some things that change up things, but we always got to find ways to enable our players to play fast."

2. "The ball's in our court."

The Colts have played two of 17 regular season games and are 0-1-1. There are two realities in that sentence: First, that it's early in the NFL calendar; second, that the Colts are winless against two AFC South opponents.

"We are where we are and we and I think being realistic about where we're at and what we have to do improve is important," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "It has to be brutal honesty. We have to find ways to play the way we're capable of. It starts with me. I've got to do that this week."

The Colts know that brutal honesty and accountability has to lead to problem-solving. This team has a chance to prove its Week 1 tie and Week 2 loss were blips, not trends, while it's still September.

"Thankfully we have 15 more games," Hines said. "This sucks right now but we go on a win streak and win our next seven games, nobody will talk about this.

"Really, the ball's in our court and what choices we make as an offense, as a staff, as a complete team to move forward and get ready to play against the Chiefs." 

The Colts' didn't express any wavering confidence in the immediate aftermath of their loss to the Jaguars. The belief that this group of players and coaches can compete at a championship level remains – "That's not who we are as a team and we know that," Buckner said.

But for the Colts right now, it's all about making their corrections and ensuring a result like this one doesn't happen again. Because while it's a long season, and there's plenty of season left – the NFL calendar goes by quick, too.

"There's good players across the board, every week is going to be tough, it happens to do you sometimes," Ryan said. "But one can't turn into two. You have to pick yourself back up, have a great week of preparation and make sure we have a better performance next week."

3. Missing Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce had an impact, but wasn't used as an excuse.

The Colts ruled Pierce (concussion) out on Friday and Pittman (quad) on Saturday, leading to some tweaks in the gameplan on Sunday.

"Obviously, we didn't know we weren't going to have (Pittman) until later in the week," Reich said. "We thought we were going to have him. Then it just didn't work out. We just made a few small adjustments.

"Our passing game, even if we knew earlier in the week, I don't think it would have changed much. It was just a question who are we going to put in what role? I thought Ashton stepped up and made a couple of plays today in Pitt's absence."

Dulin caught five of seven targets for 79 yards, while the rest of the Colts' pass-catchers (Nyheim Hines, Dezmon Patmon, Mike Strachan, Kylen Granson, Mo Alie-Cox, Jonathan Taylor, Parris Campbell) combined for 23 targets, 11 catches and 119 yards. And after the game, the Colts didn't view not having Pittman and Pierce as an excuse for getting shut out.

"Our job is to come out here and be ready to play," Hines said. "… That doesn't matter, that's no excuse. We're pros, we are the best at what we do, we're experts at what we do, and we really gotta come out here and play better. We let our coach down, we let the state of Indiana down. It was honestly just embarrassing."

4. The Colts' issues on first and second down were a big reason for the shutout.

On Sunday, Reich identified the Colts' struggles on first and second down as a reason why the offense wasn't able to get going, especially in the first half. The Colts averaged 3.5 yards per play on first down, nearly two full yards below the team's average since Reich was hired in 2018 (5.3). The Colts' offense was more efficient on second down (5.8 yards per play) but too often were left in third-and-long situations.

Against the Jaguars, the Colts needed to gain, on average, 8.7 yards to pick up a first down on third down. Of their 10 third down tries, seven were with six or more yards to go. League-wide in 2022, the conversion rate on third-and-6+ is 29 percent; the Colts were 0/7 on those tries, and Ryan was pressured on four of seven dropbacks with one sack and one interception.

"(As) an offense in the first half, we were just not productive on first and second down," Reich said. "We got nothing. Every time we just couldn't get a completion, we couldn't run the ball on first or second down. It seemed like in the first half every run was two yards."

"Usually when we're humming, we're effective on first and second down. We just ended up in a lot of third and longs today. Put a lot of pressure on our O-line."

The upshot to all those third-and-longs – and the lack of conversions on them – was that the Colts didn't feel like they were able to get the ball to Jonathan Taylor as much as they would've liked. Taylor finished the game with nine carries for 54 yards; it was the lowest number of carries he had in a game since Week 10 of his rookie year.

"You gotta convert on third down to get runs called," Reich said. "If you're three and out, four and out, it's hard to get runs called because you're getting third down plays. And then when you add on to that, we were third and long all day – it's hard to get enough runs to Jonathan.

5. The run defense was good, but the defense didn't get the game-changing plays they wanted.

A bright spot for the Colts was how efficient their run defense was – James Robinson, Travis Etienne and Jamal Agnew combined for 34 carries and 85 yards, good for an average of 2.5 yards per attempt. And that's with Robinson's 37-yard touchdown run in there – take that out, and that trio of Jaguars gained 48 yards on 33 attempts (1.5 yards/rush).

Through two weeks the Colts are allowing the second-lowest yards per rush average (2.7) in the NFL. Grover Stewart has been a menace on the interior to lead that push, and three of his five tackles represented a loss for the Jaguars' offense, according to Pro Football Focus.

Reich pointed out the Jaguars' rushing success in Week 1 – Robinson and Etienne combined for 113 yards on 15 carries – to emphasize how well the Colts stopped run in Week 2.

But the Colts' defense still did give up that 37-yard touchdown run, and had neither a sack nor a takeaway on Sunday. Since 2017, teams that have neither a sack nor a takeaway on defense are 10-106 (the Colts have one of those 10 wins, which came last year when they beat the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16).

"We need to create more explosive plays," Buckner said. "Obviously we didn't get any turnovers today — sacks, turnovers, any big plays to create momentum, especially create more opportunities for our offense. That's something we definitely need to work on."

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