Five Things Learned

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5 Things Learned, Colts vs. Cowboys Week 13

The Colts lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 54-19, to fall to 4-8-1 on the season. Here are five things we learned on Sunday night at AT&T Stadium.

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1. Turnovers hit the Colts hard, again.

The Colts entered Week 13 having turned the ball over at least once in 11 of 12 games, then had five turnovers – three interceptions and two fumbles – that ignited Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys into a 54-19 defeat. Four of those turnovers came in the fourth quarter, and all four resulted in Dallas touchdowns.

"One turnover is usually unacceptable," tight end Kylen Granson said. "Two's like, guys, come on, what are we doing. Five, that's — I don't even have a word for it."

Wide receiver Parris Campbell conjured up an adjective for it.

"I'm almost at a loss for words," Campbell said. "It hurts. It's embarrassing. It's legitimately embarrassing."

The Colts have committed a league-leading 26 turnovers through 13 games, an average of two per game. It hasn't been the fault of one player or one position group; everyone, seemingly, has taken turns being at fault for those ball security issues this season.

"It's not one area, right. We're all playing a part of it," interim head coach Jeff Saturday said. "And that's the frustrating part because it's not something that you can just snap your fingers or change a player and all of a sudden fix it. We have a number of different position groups that have to make plays at points and we're not making them. We, collectively, gotta play better and execute better."

The Colts are 1-6-1 when committing two or more turnovers, and are 3-2 when committing one or fewer turnover this season. It doesn't tell the whole story, but if you're looking for a starting point to explain the disappointment of the 2022 Colts season, it's a good place to start.

"You're not going to win many games when you're turning over as much as we did," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "It becomes difficult."

2. Saturday liked the Colts' competitiveness, even in the face of a 35-point loss.

The Colts' 35-point margin of defeat was their largest since losing, 46-9, to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1 of the 2017 season; it was the just the 15th time the Colts had lost by 35 or more points since moving to Indianapolis in 1984.

But Saturday didn't see the Colts quit on Sunday's game, even as things spiraled in the fourth quarter.

"The effort, the energy, the enthusiasm these guys are playing with — they're battling," Saturday said. "I told the defense, they block an extra point (Grover Stewart did) — I don't even know how many we're down — but it's that type of effort that brings me back. And I love that. You talk about a gut check, you talk about we don't quit, I appreciate those things."

Still, Saturday challenged the Colts to look at the final four games of the season as a "gut check."

"After a performance like that, we got a bye week now, we gotta take a step back and look in the mirror," Campbell said. "We got four games left, are we going to lay down and let every single opponent that we face for the next four weeks do that to us? Or are we gonna respond? At the end of the day we're all professionals, man. Nobody wants to look up at the scoreboard and see that score, but what are we made of? How can we respond from that? It's another adverse situation that we gotta respond to."

3. The defense was put in tough situations, but also didn't play up to its standard.

While the Cowboys scored eight touchdowns, one came on a Malik Hooker fumble return; of the seven allowed by the Colts' defense, three came on drives of 70-plus yards while two came on drives that needed fewer than 30 yards to get in the end zone.

Too frequently was the Colts' defense tasked not only having to stop the Cowboys' offense in sudden change situations, but having those come on short fields and/or in the fourth quarter, when momentum was squarely shifted to Dallas.

"It's tough to defend those short fields," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "It always felt like second half turnovers mean more than first half turnovers."

A turning point in the game was a near-interception by cornerback Isaiah Rodgers Sr. late in the third quarter. Officials on the field ruled the pass incomplete, and an unnecessary roughness penalty on Franklin bumped the ball up 15 yards, too.

The Cowboys ripped off 33 unanswered points after that play; the Colts were down by only two points when it happened.

"I'm speechless, I don't know," Rodgers said. "It happened so fast. Next thing you know, it is whatever the score was. It kind of felt like that dropped interception by me just changed the entire game. I feel like if I catch it cleanly, I guess to the officials then it wouldn't be any debate. Just make the next one."

Still, the Colts' defense was charged with allowing more than 30 points for the first time this year – they were the last team in the NFL to not have allowed 30 or more points in a game – and the Cowboys, led by Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, averaged 6.5 yards per carry, gaining 220 yards on 34 attempts.

"That was a very talented team on both sides of the ball," Franklin said. "After a while, you keep giving them shots on goal, they are going to do what the great shooters do – they are going to make it."

The Colts take on the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football at AT&T Stadium.

4. Bernhard Raimann continued showing signs of progress.

It wasn't perfect, of course, but it's notable the Colts held Cowboys edge rushing terrors Micah Parsons (12 sacks) and DeMarcus Lawrence (six sacks) to no sacks on Sunday night.

"I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job on first and second down," Ryan said. "Have to take a look at the tape and see what we did, but I thought our guys battled hard up front."

Rookie left tackle Bernhard Raimann earned the Colts' highest Pro Football Focus pass protection grade (78.8) of the night, continuing an encouraging upward trajectory for the 2022 third-round pick. He didn't allow a pressure when lined up against Parsons, and allowed one pressure when lined up against Lawrence, per Pro Football Focus. Raimann has now had a PFF pass blocking grade of at least 70 in three of his last five starts.

5. A week after Jelani Woods broke out for 8 catches and 98 yards against the Steelers, another rookie made plays on offense.

Alec Pierce took responsibility for Ryan's first interception, which tipped off his hands on a late-second-quarter drive (Ryan thought the defensive back guarding Pierce made contact early, which led to Pierce losing his balance and ultimately the interception). But Pierce caught four passes for 86 yards, highlighted by a 45-yard snag on a go ball and a 15-yard touchdown.

Pierce's speed, athleticism and body control all shined on those receptions, which came after he had only four catches for 51 yards over his previous four games. Wide receivers coach Reggie Wayne said last week he didn't see Pierce hitting a rookie wall; instead, what he saw from the 2022 second-round pick on film was encouraging for when the ball would eventually come his way, as it did Sunday in Texas.

Prior to that four-game lull, Pierce was averaging four catches and 62 yards per game in Weeks 3-8.

"I think it's just what I'm used to. It's kind of how being a wide receiver is," Pierce said. "You're going to have hot streaks and then you're going to have weeks when you're not getting the ball. That's just part of the game. The thing that I'm not used to is, obviously, the team not performing on the wins and loss sheet like we should be. That's been tough."

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