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Five Things Learned

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5 Colts Things Learned, Week 13: D-line's sack spree continues, Michael Pittman Jr. breaks Marvin Harrison's record, Gardner Minshew's mentality pays off in win over Titans

The Colts topped the Tennessee Titans, 31-28, in overtime on Sunday at Nissan Stadium. Here are five big things we learned in Week 13 as the Colts held serve in the AFC playoff race. 

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1. The Colts' defensive line was ferocious – and now they get Grover Stewart back.

With six sacks against the Titans, the Colts have the second-most sacks (42) in the NFL behind the Baltimore Ravens (47). 

Samson Ebukam and Kwity Paye had two sacks apiece – both of Paye's were strip-sacks, while one of Ebukam's was – while Jake Martin had one and Eric Johnson II split a sack with DeForest Buckner. The Colts' team sack leaderboard now is:

  1. Samson Ebukam (8)
  2. Kwity Paye (7.5)
  3. Dayo Odeyingbo (6.5)
  4. DeForest Buckner (5.5)
  5. Tyquan Lewis (3)
  6. Jake Martin, Taven Bryan (2)
  7. Zaire Franklin, Kenny Moore II, Adetomiwa Adebawore (1.5)
  8. EJ Speed, Eric Johnson II, Isaiah Land (1)

The Colts are one of three teams (along with the Miami Dolphins and Washington Commanders) to have four players with five or more sacks. Ebukam, Paye and Odeyingbo have already set new career highs in sacks. The Colts have had five or more sacks in three consecutive games, which is the longest streak in the NFL this season. And the Colts are just four sacks shy of tying their Indianapolis-era single-season sack record (46, set in 2005), and need 18 sacks over their final five games to break the franchise record of 59 set in 1973. 

That's all to say: Nate Ollie's guys are relentlessly getting after opposing quarterbacks.  

"Coming out, getting a bunch of sacks in the past couple weeks, it's been fun to watch," Buckner said. "Guys aren't going to be able to gameplan just for me on third down. You gotta worry about multiple people, and that's when more one-on-ones start getting distributed among the D-line. It's going to be a lot of fun moving forward."

And since Week 7, the Colts lead the NFL with 24 sacks. 

Week 7 is notable here because that's when Grover Stewart's six-game suspension began. His suspension ends this week, and he'll be eligible to play again beginning with Sunday's Week 14 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. 

While the Colts' run defense slipped from 10th at the time of Stewart's suspension (3.7 yards/carry allowed) to to 17th upon his return (4.2 yards/carry allowed), this defense has worked to make up for his absence by generating a remarkable total of sacks. Since Week 7, the Colts have sent the third-fewest blitzes in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus, and eight of those 24 sacks have come when defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has sent extra pressure. 

If the Colts can keep turning pressures into sacks and get back to their run-stuffing ways when Stewart returns, it'll only continue to fuel a belief Ollie's room that this is one of the best fronts in the league. 

"Obviously missing (Stewart) over the last six weeks has been tough for us," Buckner said. "We've been trying to weather the storm while he's gone, and to finally have him back, it's going to be fun."

2. Michael Pittman Jr. set a new franchise record.

With his 11 receptions on Sunday, Pittman now has more receptions in the first four years of his career than any player in Colts history:

Table inside Article
Player Years Receptions
Michael Pittman Jr. 2020-2023 314
Marvin Harrison 1996-1999 311
T.Y. Hilton 2012-2015 283
Bill Brooks 1986-1989 233
Reggie Wayne 2001-2004 221

Six of Pittman's 11 receptions resulted in a first down, and his final catch was the game-winning, walk-off touchdown. Pittman now has consecutive games with double-digit receptions and six first downs, and he's had eight or more receptions in five consecutive games. 

Pittman is one of three players to have at least eight receptions in five consecutive games this season, along with the Dolphins' Tyreek Hill and the Chargers' Keenan Allen. He's only the second player in Colts history to have eight or more catches in at least five consecutive games along with Harrison, who did it twice. And he's just the 17th player since 1970 to have eight or more receptions in at least five straight games:

Table inside Article
Player Team Consecutive games Year(s)
Antonio Brown PIT 8 2014
Michael Thomas NO 8 2019
Amon-Ra St. Brown DET 8 2021-2022
Anquan Boldin ARI 7 2005
Travis Kelce KC 7 2020
Isaac Bruce STL 6 1995
Marvin Harrison IND 6 2002
Andre Johnson HOU 6 2006
Wes Welker NE 6 2009
Muhsin Muhammad CAR 5 2000
Eric Moulds BUF 5 2002
Marvin Harrison IND 5 2002
T.J. Houshmandzadeh CIN 5 2007
Calvin Johnson DET 5 2012
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 5 2015
Keenan Allen LAC 5 2023
Tyreek Hill MIA 5 2023
Michael Pittman Jr. IND 5 (active streak) 2023

"He's consistent every time he goes out there," head coach Shane Steichen said. "... (He) just came up back-to-back games with 100-yards receiving. Just the consistency that he plays with week in, week out, his preparation he puts into it, his toughness and his physicality, it's special."

Pittman will enter Week 14 fourth in the NFL in receptions with 87, behind only the Cowboys' CeeDee Lamb (90), Hill (93) and Allen (102). He needs 13 receptions and 111 yards for the 10th 100 catch/1,000-yard season in Colts history, which would put him alongside Harrison (1999-2002), Wayne (2007, 2009, 2010, 2012) and Dallas Clark (2009). 

"It's always good to come out and do it consistently," Pittman said. "Last week, it was another high-volume game. Just being there and making those tough catches. There were some tough catches that I should have made today that I would like back, but that's just how it goes. That's football. They're good players, too. I just have such a high standard."

3. Alec Pierce's two catches on deep balls took more than him and Gardner Minshew.

A few things jumped off the tape on both of Alec Pierce's downfield receptions that weren't the throw by Minshew or the catch by Pierce. Specifically, those things were what the Colts did to protect Minshew. 

Let's start with the touchdown:

Minshew needed a clean pocket to have time to let this play develop and step into his throw to Pierce, and the Colts' offensive line delivered. Going from left to right:

  • Left tackle Bernhard Raimann routes defensive end Arden Key upfield, taking him out of the play.
  • Left guard Quenton Nelson pulls to the right on the play fake and blocks defensive end Denico Autry's physical bull rush. 
  • Center Ryan Kelly quickly gains leverage on defensive tackle Kyle Peko, and right guard Will Fries comes over to help and knocks Peko to the ground. 
  • Right tackle Braden Smith locks up defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons one-on-one and takes him out of the play. 

If any one of those offensive linemen got beat, the play may not have worked. 

The same goes for Minshew's overtime deep ball to Pierce:

Again, going from left to right:

  • Raimann shuts down Key's spin move, then bends to route him upfield and away from Minshew.
  • Nelson wins a one-on-one handfight with defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson.
  • Kelly and Fries combo Peko at the snap and keep him out of the pocket. 
  • Tight end Drew Ogletree chips Autry, slowing his momentum and temporarily routing him upfield. Fries comes over to help right tackle Blake Freeland and thumps Autry – but the ball was already sailing in the air toward Pierce by the time Freeland even engaged with Autry. 

Minshew, again, was able to hit the back of his drop and cleanly step into his throw, which was on the money over 40 yards downfield. 

Minshew and Pierce certainly deserve the lion's share of credit for the accurate passes and well-executed routes and catches. But give the Colts' offensive line credit, too – without those blocks, Minshew doesn't have time to let the play develop and step into his throw, which could've nullified the routes ran by Pierce.

4. Gardner Minshew's next-play mentality paid off.

In between those deep ball thunderclaps was a missed opportunity. Early in the third quarter, Pierce beat Titans cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting on a quick double move and had a couple yards of separation when Minshew uncorked a throw down the far sideline. Safety Amani Hooker was late getting over to help, giving Pierce a clear path to the end zone if the pass were completed. 

Minshew sailed the throw long and out of bounds for an incompletion. 

But this is where a quality Minshew possesses came into play. Quarterbacks miss deep throws all the time. But just because you miss one doesn't mean a drive is over, or you should be hesitant to go back to a downfield shot later in the game. 

That miss to Pierce came on first-and-10. Two plays later, Minshew connected with Pittman for a first down – the Colts' first conversion on third down of the afternoon. The Colts ultimately marched downfield for a field goal, capping a 19-play, 70-yard drive and cutting the Titans' lead to one point at 17-16. 

And, of course, Minshew went back to that deep ball down the sideline to Pierce in overtime, sparking the Colts' win. 

"He has that next play mentality no matter what," Steichen said. "Playing quarterback in this league ain't easy. You're gonna have good plays, you're gonna have bad plays, but when you have bad plays you put them beside you and keep marching on. Obviously, for him to go lead us to a touchdown-winning drive, that was huge."

The Colts are now 7-3 when Minshew either starts or plays the majority of snaps behind center. Quarterback record isn't always the best statistic, but it's impossible to dismiss the belief the Colts have in Minshew's ability to dig deep and come up with plays to win, no matter what happened earlier in a game. 

"Minshew magic, man," linebacker EJ Speed said. "Let's just keep this going, man. I think he's a great quarterback, he can make a playoff run with us, and we got his back for sure."

5. Some perspective on the impact the Colts' special teams had Sunday.

Technically, Tony Brown didn't get credited with a blocked punt – he got to Ryan Stonehouse before the Titans punter could get the punt off, so in the official box score it went down as a forced fumble. 

For these purposes, though, we'll say the Colts blocked two punts against the Titans. Pro Football Focus, thankfully, credited Brown with a block, which helps put into perspective what Brian Mason's group did on Sunday. 

-- Prior to Week 13, there had only been two blocked punts this season – the Steelers in Week 5 and Cowboys in Week 8 – and the Colts doubled that total on Sunday. 

-- Grant Stuard's scoop and score of Cross' blocked punt is the only touchdown scored off a blocked punt in 2023. 

-- The Colts now have four touchdowns off blocked punts over the last three seasons. Those four touchdowns represent one-third of the NFL's total since 2021; the Cowboys and Dolphins each have two, while the Steelers, Panthers, Falcons and Jets each have one. 

While those consecutive blocked punts made a massive impact on the game – including the injury to Stonehouse, which forced quarterback Ryan Tannehill to hold for kicker Nick Folk, who missed a go-ahead PAT in the fourth quarter – Mason's special teams units came through in other moments, too. 

-- Both Matt Gay and his wife delivered on Sunday:

-- Isaiah McKenzie returned one of six kickoffs, but it made a difference on the Colts' first possession. Because the ball couldn't stay on the tee, the Titans had to use a player to hold the ball for Folk's kickoff in the first quarter. The kick went short and to the right, and McKenzie fielded it off a bounce at the 10-yard line, then sprung a 36-yard return thanks to clean blocks by Cross, Segun Olubi, D.J. Montgomery and Brown, the latter of whom blocked the Titans player who was late getting downfield because he was kneeling to hold for Folk. The Colts turned that advantageous starting field position into Pierce's 36-yard touchdown a few plays later.

View the best photos from the Colts' 31-28 thrilling overtime victory over the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on Sunday.

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