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Five Things Learned

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5 Colts Things Learned, Week 12: Shane Steichen stays aggressive, Jonathan Taylor, Zack Moss spark run game, Wesley French solid again at center

The Colts topped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 27-20, on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Here are five big things we learned in Week 12 as the Colts enter December in possession of the AFC No. 7 seed. 


1. Shane Steichen was aggressive on fourth down.

The Colts converted three of four fourth down tries, highlighted by Mo Alie-Cox's 30-yard reception, which we went in depth on here. Head coach Shane Steichen said his aggressiveness came from "just feeling it in the game," and it certainly paid off: The Colts generated 8.0 Expected Points Added (EPA) on those plays, per The Athletic's Mike Sando, which just so happens to be right in line with their seven-point margin of victory. 

"When we show we can execute plays, that gives (Steichen) more confidence to do certain things that coaches normally wouldn't do, especially at that time of the game and stuff like that," running back Zack Moss said. "As long as we keep doing our job, it gives them more confidence and trust in us to go out there and do things."

Through Week 12, only four teams have attempted to convert more fourth downs than the Colts (22). Looking at more neutral fourth down situations, though, the Colts have gone for it 14 times on fourth down while leading or trailing by one score, tied for the sixth-highest total in the NFL. Eight of those plays (57 percent) have turned into first downs, the 10th-highest conversion rate among 20 teams to attempt double-digit fourth down conversions in those situations. 

The point is: The Colts have not only been generally aggressive on fourth down, they've been reliable at converting those plays into first downs.

"Any time that we're fourth and one, I'm always thinking we're going to go for it," wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. "It's probably good that I'm not a head coach because I'd go for fourth and one on our own 20, like – we'll probably get it. He (Shane Steichen) does a great job."

2. Samson Ebukam's strip-sack continued a trend.

The Colts sacked Baker Mayfield six times, the last of which was a strip-sack forced by defensive end Samson Ebukam and recovered by defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo. That strip-sack takeaway was the Colts' fifth of the season, tied with the Green Bay Packers for the most in the NFL. 

This may have had a little randomness in it, but in 2022, all eight teams with at least four strip-sack takeaways made the playoffs. 

Also, after Week 12, the Colts are up to 36 sacks – tied for the sixth-most in the NFL. The Colts are averaging 3.3 sacks per game, up from 2.6 sacks/game in 2022, when the team's 44 sacks were tied for 10th.

Against the Buccaneers, six players recorded at least a half-sack: Ebukam (two), Kwity Paye (one), Isaiah Land (one), Tyquan Lewis (one), Dayo Odeyingbo (1/2) and Adetomiwa Adebawore (1/2). The Colts' sack leaderboard now looks like this heading into Week 13:

  1. Dayo Odeyingbo (6.5)
  2. Samson Ebukam (6)
  3. Kwity Paye (5.5)
  4. DeForest Buckner (5.0)
  5. Tyquan Lewis (3.0)
  6. Taven Bryan (2.0)
  7. Zaire Franklin, Kenny Moore II, Adetomiwa Adebawore (1.5)
  8. Jacob Martin, Isaiah Land (1.0)
  9. Eric Johnson II (0.5) 

For the Colts, the emphasis on a collective pass rush – one in which four players have at least five sacks through 12 games – is paying off. 

"It just goes to show that all together, four equals one," Lewis said. "We are all striving to be the best that we can be each and every day in practice. We all are working together and trying to just come together as a complete unit and show that we are a force all together on the D-line."

3. The Colts' run game got rolling with both Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss.

Following the Colts' Week 10 win over the New England Patriots – in which Moss played nine of 57 snaps and had one carry for two yards – general manager Chris Ballard said this in an interview on the Official Colts Podcast:

"Zack Moss played not good football, great football for us," Ballard said. "And I know this last game the carries got a little out of what with Jonathan getting most of them, and I know our staff will work hard because both Jonathan and Zack need to be involved for us to be successful."

Against the Buccaneers, the Colts' split between Taylor and Moss looked like this:

  • Taylor: 42 snaps, 15 carries, 91 yards, 2 touchdowns
  • Moss: 30 snaps, 8 carries, 55 yards

Together, Taylor and Moss combined to rush 23 times for 146 yards (6.3 yards/attempt); the Colts as a whole averaged 5.7 yards per rush, the highest average Tampa Bay has allowed all season. Only one team – the Philadelphia Eagles – averaged over 4.5 yards per carry against the Buccaneers this season; Tampa Bay held three teams to under three yards per carry heading into Week 12. 

That the Colts were able to impose their will on the ground against one of the league's strongest run defenses speaks to how dynamic a duo Taylor and Moss can be. 

"The team feels it, the defense feels it," Moss said. "There's something about the run game with the physicality that shows up, big runs that show up that gets the entire defense and offense inspired — gets everybody on the sidelines jacked up and stuff like that. So you see that, you get excited. I'm happy we were able to get that run in today and we gotta do it again next week."

4. Wesley French stepped in and played well, again.

Another reason why the Colts' rushing attack had an impactful Sunday: There wasn't a drop-off with center Ryan Kelly out with a concussion. Wesley French, the 2022 undrafted free agent who started Weeks 3 and 4, filled in for Kelly and had a solid afternoon against not only one of the NFL's top run defenses, but one of the NFL's most aggressive defensive schemes in the Todd Bowles-coached Buccaneers. 

While the Buccaneers didn't blitz as much as they had previously this season – Tampa Bay blitzed on about one-third of the Colts' passing plays, down from the near 50 percent clip they blitzed at prior to Week 12 – the Colts still leaned on French to make the right calls and identifications to get them in the right looks to pick up extra pressure when it came.

One example: Early in the third quarter, with the Colts facing a third and six at their own 29 yard line, the Buccaneers lined up with three down linemen and two outside linebackers in two-point stances. Defensive tackle Vita Vea was lined up as a zero technique (directly across from French), with linebacker Devin White a few yards behind him. 

The Buccaneers bring pressure at the snap, with White blitzing to the right and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. blitzing up the middle through the A-gap. The protection slid to the right, with left guard Quenton Nelson picking up Vea and French cooly blocking White. Running back Jonathan Taylor picked up Winfield, giving Minshew a clean pocket and clear window to zip a pass to tight end Will Mallory to convert the third down. The Colts wound up turning that conversion into a possession that ended with a field goal, putting them up by 10 points early in the third quarter. 

"He's just a gamer," Nelson said of French. "He's always ready to do, and he's extremely confident in himself I think because of how hard he works and what he puts in. That piece of him coming in and being able to do his job on a consistent basis is so fortunate for this group. And then he has to make all the calls too, get everyone on the same page all day and just did a great job and he's gotta keep it up."

French has developed a weekly routine he sticks to whether he will start, could start or won't start a given game. It's paid off for him, as he held his own in Week 3 against the blitz-happy Baltimore Ravens and in Week 4 against the Aaron Donald-led Los Angeles Rams. While Kelly has played well this season – he's Pro Football Focus' fifth highest-graded center – that the Colts have been able to win without their experienced veteran center shines a light on French's dedication and work ethic. 

"He loves ball. He's prepared. He prepares every week," Steichen said. "When he gets his opportunity, and he's had his opportunity a few times to go in there and play and he fights and scratches and claws, and it's a testament to him and Tony (Sparano Jr.), our line coach getting those guys ready to go."

5. One other thing on Wesley French.

While French didn't play during the 2022 season, he spent the entire year on the Colts' scout team – meaning he squared off against defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart every single week at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. 

You want to prepare yourself for facing the likes of Aaron Donald and Vita Vea? Go against Buckner and Stewart in practice for a full season. 

"We have one of the best defensive lines in the country, in the league," French said. "And they definitely prepare us every single week. And all of last year I went against Grove and Buck and them, and I'm just super blessed and thankful that I get to go against those high caliber guys all the time because it makes game day a lot more manageable.

"And kudos to Tampa Bay's defensive line — they have a good defensive line — but we have a great offensive line. And if we execute to the way we're supposed to, then we can be the best in the league. I'm so thankful to have so many good guys around me to make my job easier, and I couldn't ask for a better group of men to go out there and battle with every single day."

View in-game highlights from the Colts versus Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 26.

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