The Colts Mailbag is back! Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.
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Let's get after this week's questions:
Anival Ramirez, Fort Wayne, Ind.: Long time fan who finally got season tickets. As a fan that loss to the Jags was like a slap to the face. Watching that game we didn't really allow any explosive plays, with the exception of the run. The Jags dinked and dunked us for what seemed the entire first half. Personally it feels like Leonard's energy is missing in the defense.
Is Leonard the only one who can pump some life into this defense, do we need to find some additional leaders at D?
If Leonard plays, my gut says we win week 3. Put that on the record.
Believe in the Blue!
JJ Stankevitz: First up, the Colts can win even if Leonard doesn't play on Sunday. Guess who didn't play the last time the Colts faced the Chiefs? Shaquille Leonard. The Colts won, 19-13, in Week 5 of the 2019 season.
We'll find out Friday what Leonard's status for Sunday's game will be (if there's no designation, he'll play; he could otherwise be questionable, doubtful or out). And if he does play, his ability to create takeaways – he's the only player in NFL history to have eight or more forced fumbles and four or more interceptions in a single season – can swiftly end drives and give the Colts momentum.
But the energy part of not having Leonard the first two weeks is something defensive coordinator Gus Bradley addressed this week.
"What comes first, does the energy come and then you play faster, or you play fast, and the energy comes? That's always the million-dollar question," Bradley said. "We have a spirited group on defense, and I think the whole objective is to ensure that we play fast and right now, we're thinking a little bit too much out there and when you're thinking, it's hard to show that emotion consistently. We have to do a good job with our staff and presenting it to the defense in order to get where they're playing with great freedom."
As for the dink and dunk – that's real, and is a challenge for the Colts to defend going forward. In Week 1, Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills had the second-lowest average time to throw (2.28 seconds); in Week 2, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence had the fifth-lowest average time to throw (2.31 seconds).
Entering Week 3, Mahomes has the sixth-lowest average time to throw (2.52 seconds) in the NFL. While he possesses a remarkable ability to extend plays, he mostly gets the ball out quick – so the Colts' defense will need to find ways to get off the field and avoid the 10+ play drives Jacksonville had success putting together in Week 2.
"It's never an excuse. We just heard it, teams are doing a lot of quick game," Bradley said. "I think in the first game and the second game combined, one of the quickest releases that has been in the league thus far with the quarterbacks. The ability to play tighter coverage and get the quarterback to hitch it some.
"I think we all think that tighter coverage means man and that is a good point, but you try to confuse the quarterback, make him hitch to where you have time for the rush to get there. Whether it's tighter coverage through man, tighter coverage in zone where we recognize formations and we use the right techniques and then change up the looks."
Kyle Gullett, Lexington, Ky.: Two-fold question:
How close to 100% do you expect Michael Pittman to be for the game?
If he is still a bit hobbled (or even if he isn't), should we expect to see Nyheim Hines lining up out wide more often to get more involved in the passing game?
JJ Stankevitz: Pittman was limited in Wednesday's practice with the quad injury that held him out of Week 2. Reich sounded optimistic about Pittman's chances of playing against the Chiefs, but like with Leonard, we'll see on Friday's final practice report what his game designation is (none/questionable/doubtful/out).
Here's what Reich said Monday about Hines, who had two catches on three targets on the Colts' first drive and finished five targets, four catches, 37 yards and one rushing attempt for no yards.
"There were a lot of moving parts at the end of last week," Reich said. "Just think about it this way, okay, it was Wednesday and it was Thursday, and I was thinking that Alec (Pierce) and Pittman Jr. were both playing at that point. It wasn't for sure by any stretch, but, I mean – we weren't scrambling. This is par for the course, all coaches have gone through this. We find out Friday that Alec's not playing and then Saturday, Pitt's not playing.
"So, it would be harder to adjust Nyheim to that at the end of the week. It would just be easier to adjust the receivers. We're always looking for ways to get Nyheim the ball. I think we've tried to do that a little bit. He didn't get a ton of plays yesterday, as you guys have already noted but when he was in there, we were trying to get him the ball."
That the Colts had fewer than 50 offensive plays on Sunday also impacted their efforts to get Hines involved.
"In our first 15 scripted (plays), he was really scheduled to kind of get involved quite a bit," Reich said. "Obviously, we only had (48) total plays which is on the low side, or maybe in the high 40s that were kind of relevant plays. You're trying to get him involved. As you saw, we opened up with him, tried to throw a screen to him early. We had another play in that first drive that he got targeted that didn't come up quite the way we wanted it to come up.
"So really in the first 15 plays, I think we tried to scheme him up three, four, five times. From there – obviously, we're going to focus on JT (Jonathan Taylor). He's always going to be the focus. When you get down to 50 or in the high 40s (for) plays, it's just going to limit everybody as far as snap counts."
Sara Robinette, North Vernon, Ind.: I have been a huge Colts fan for 20 years or more. I am wondering how the players keep their spirits up for game day especially with the rough start to the season?
JJ Stankevitz: One thing this Colts team, collectively, feels they're good at is moving on from a bad loss. This team is certainly not satisfied with how they've played early in the season, but they've also learned from experience to not keep picking at the scab of one rough loss or a couple disappointing games.
"We got shut out last weekend, we're 0-1-1, and that doesn't matter. This week, we're 0-0," running back Nyheim Hines said. "That's one thing we've been great at since we've been here is just flushing out that last week, be the best at getting better and going 1-0 every week."
So the Colts, this week, are leaning on their confidence in the work they put in from April through August as well as their experience digging out of early-season holes. A bunch of guys on this team were part of that 2018 squad that started 1-5 and made the playoffs; in 2020, the Colts lost their season opener to the Jaguars and made the playoffs; in 2021, an 0-3 start didn't keep the Colts from competing for a playoff spot.
Reich this week said the gap between where the Colts are and where they want to be isn't that far, and that message has resonated inside the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center – even if, understandably, it doesn't look like that away from 56th Street.
"On the outside it does feel like an ocean. There's no question about that," Reich said. "But experience tells me what I said is true. Does it always happen right away, right when you want it to? Hey, we're not that far and all of a sudden, boom, oh this is the week we're going to catch on fire. I don't know. We're going to find out. I mean, we're going to find out. We're playing a good football team. I hope this is the week.
"But I've just seen it too many times. I've experienced it personally. I've been on teams, I've watched other teams, watch other sports, it happens all the time. This is just the experience. It's not that big of a gap.
"Secondly, what makes me feel that, is just the belief in our guys. It's just the belief in our guys that when things don't go right, we should be questioned, we should be criticized. There should be what's happening, but inside it's different. Inside, it's different. And it should be different inside. Everybody is doing their job. Everybody is doing their job and it's going the way it normally would go as far as all the dynamics. We just have to play better football. We've got to coach better, we've got to play better and things will take care of themselves."
Walter Blackburn, New Philadelphia, Ohio: When will Frank Reich pull out the no huddle? He says it's in the tool bag. It may be time to use it with our current offensive production.
JJ Stankevitz: It is, but I get why the Colts didn't use it in Jacksonville – it was hot and humid, and they were down two wide receivers. Asking the offense to go no huddle more than a few plays here and there might've been risky. Look at what happened to the Los Angeles Chargers last week – they went up-tempo on a fourth quarter drive, and Justin Herbert threw a pick-six near the goal line when it looked like tight end Gerald Everett was gassed on a route.