INDIANAPOLIS — Identity and standards.
For Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich, the team fell short in both areas last week in its season-opening loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But that certainly wasn't the case Sunday in the Colts' 2020 home opener against the Minnesota Vikings at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Indianapolis was the aggressor on offense and defense, and had a flawless day on special teams; it was the all-around effort and response Reich was looking for, as the Colts evened their record at 1-1 with their 28-11 victory over the Vikings (0-2).
"A great team effort — in all three phases," Reich told reporters after the game. "That's what we wanted to see today. That's the kind of game we expected. And so, just proud of the team, the way we responded after last week."
The Colts got off to a hot start in Week 1, but saw the Jaguars steal the momentum late in the first quarter after a big stop on 4th and 1 from the Jacksonville 3-yard line. Colts quarterback Philip Rivers ended up throwing the ball 46 times in all in that game, and Reich later admitted he had hoped Indy could've established its run game better than it did.
The Colts had no such problems in that area on Sunday against the Vikings. Indianapolis ran the ball 40 times for 151 yards, grinding out long drives and wearing out the Minnesota defense.
Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, who earned his first-career start Sunday after a season-ending injury last week to veteran Marlon Mack, led the way on the ground with 26 rushing attempts for 101 yards and his first-career touchdown.
"The plan was to feature Jonathan, and he was running hard and running good," Reich said. "It just felt like we had good rhythm, he was seeing it well, obviously the line was getting movement on the line of scrimmage."
The Colts' offense also got a big boost from another young player playing a major role with an injury to a veteran starter, as tight end Mo Alie-Cox, in for two-time Pro Bowler Jack Doyle, who was inactive Sunday with knee and ankle injuries, had a career day with five receptions for 111 yards, averaging 22.2 yards per catch.
Sunday was the first time the Colts had a 100-yard rusher and 100-yard receiver in the same game since Oct. 17, 2010, when Joseph Addai (128 rushing yards) and Pierre Garçon (103 receiving yards) achieved that accomplishment in a 27-24 victory over the Washington Football Team.
"He works so hard — it's so important to him," Reich said of Alie-Cox, who is in his third full NFL season after exclusively playing college basketball at VCU. "He's physically and mentally tough, and he's just continued to get better. And it was obvious this week with Jack down, that being a big blow, Philip let us know right away — he let me and Nick (Sirianni) know right away — how much confidence he has in Mo, and (to) not hold anything back."
Defensively, outside of some garbage points scored late by the Vikings, the Colts couldn't have played much better than they did on Sunday.
The Colts held the Vikings to just 175 yards of total offense (their fewest allowed since Oct. 19, 2014, vs. Cincinnati ), picked off quarterback Kirk Cousins three times, forced a safety, sacked Cousins another three times, limited Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook to just 63 rushing yards, and, perhaps most importantly, clearly showed improvement from Indy's Week 1 loss to the Jaguars, when Gardner Minshew II had his way by completing 19-of-20 passes and three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
"That was an explosive offense; we were good for 60 minutes," Reich said. "You could feel it the whole game. Our defense kept the pressure on 'em. We stopped the run, we got turnovers. We made the statement we wanted to make defensively."
And, finally, on special teams, rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship nailed all six of his attempts on the day, connecting on four field goals and two extra points in all. Long snapper Luke Rhodes also had a clutch hustle play that led to a Colts punt being downed at the Minnesota 2-yard line; a few plays later, Cousins was sacked in the end zone by defensive tackle DeForest Buckner for a safety, setting the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
The goal from here is to keep the momentum going next Sunday, when the New York Jets come to Lucas Oil Stadium for their Week 3 matchup against the Colts.
The Jets fell to 0-2 on the year Sunday with their 31-13 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
"There's no question that this is a blueprint to what we want it to look like," Reich said of the win over the Vikings. "Overall it was really, really solid in all three areas."