INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s a difficult task sifting through the debris following another loss – another loss that most certainly jeopardizes post-season aspirations – but someone’s gotta do it.
So here we go, with some serious assistance, of course.
Given a quick nap and some work in the video room, Frank Reich had an opportunity to digest, dissect and second-guess himself. What went wrong – ok, and right – in Thursday night’s 20-17 loss to the Texans in Houston.
Here’s a sampling of the aftershocks.
Playoff picture dims: With a seasonal sweep of the Texans, the Colts would have been 7-4 and essentially held a vise-like, two-game lead in the AFC South with five to play. Their odds of reach the postseason would have been better than 80 percent.
Now, it’s roughly 43 percent, according to Football Outsiders.
“The war isn’t over,’’ Eric Ebron said after the game. “We ain’t trippin’.’’
But the Colts should be concerned. Reich always preaches the importance of “controlling what you can control.’’ Indy no longer controls anything, other than doing whatever it takes to finish 4-1 – at the very least – over the final five weeks. Winning at New Orleans is going to be tough.
The Colts likely need to win the AFC South outright since Houston probably would hold the edge in the pertinent tiebreakers. Grabbing one of the two wild-card spots is problematic. Buffalo is the No. 5 seed and seems secure at 7-3. Oakland (6-4) sits at No. 6, a rung ahead of the Colts. If there’s a tie, it goes to the Raiders based on their Sept. 28 win in Indy. Ditto the 5-5 Steelers, who outlasted the Colts in Pittsburgh.
“It just comes down to the next game, and then the next game after that,’’ Kenny Moore II said. “We’re not worrying about what’s at stake. We’re just trying to be 1-0 every week.’’
Problem is, that might not be enough.
How’d that happen?: So many stats insisted this was a Colts’ victory, even on the road. They rushed for 175 yards, converted 9-of-15 third-down situations, went 2-for-3 in the red zone, were penalized only three times for 29 yards, didn’t turn the ball over, got an interception from Moore and limited Houston’s high-octane offense to 20 points.
So much good. But too much bad.
“We were able to do a lot of those things on both sides of the ball,’’ Reich said Friday morning, “but obviously we all know that more than anything what cost us that game was big plays on both sides of the ball.’’
More to the point, it was big plays generated by the Deshaun Watson-led Texans and the lack of chunk plays from the Jacoby Brissett-led Colts. The latter has been an issue much of the season.
The Colts chart chunk plays as 16-yard receptions and 10-yard runs. The obvious goal is to win that battle on a game-to-game basis, or at least not get obliterated as was the case at Houston. Using that formula, Indy was out-chunked 7-4 in plays and 236-53 in yards. The Colts’ four chunk plays were all runs. Brissett averaged 5.2 yards per attempt and 8.1 yards per completion.
About the lack of shots: Brissett’s longest completions were a pair of 14-yarders to Eric Ebron. The Colts have had one 20-plus-yard completion in the last two games: a 31-yarder to Jonathan Williams against Jacksonville on a third-and-19 screen.
Also, Brissett was unable to get his wideouts involved: nine targets, four catches, 30 yards. Too often, he seemed unable or unwilling to push the ball down the field. Some of that had to do with the Colts’ success on the ground, but that should have opened things up underneath Houston’s zone coverage.
“Jacoby did a good job of hitting some check downs in that game that gained good yards and moved the sticks,’’ Reich said. “Then we’re running the ball well on top of it . . . but we still have to find ways to make big plays.
“If you are going to run the ball for 175 yards, that has to be accompanied by four or five chunk plays in the passing game that are set up because of how well you are running the ball. Collectively as coaches and players – as an offense – we just didn’t get that done.’’
Here’s a tough stat to gnaw on: the Colts have failed to pass for 200 net yards in eight of 11 games. That’s just the fourth time that’s happened since 1997. The others, with the number of sub-200-yard games and the team’s record: 2017 (10, 4-12), 2011 (9, 2-14) and 1997 (9, 3-13).
About T.Y.: T.Y. Hilton returned after missing three games with a calf injury, and was on a “pitch count” that wound up being 25 snaps. He was a non-factor with three catches and 18 yards on six targets, although that stat line would have been much more attractive, and impactful, had he been able to come up with a pair of crucial third-down receptions in the second half. One was a third-and-4 at the Indy 34 late in the third quarter with Vernon Hargreaves in coverage, the other a third-and-4 at the Indy 47 with Johnathan Joseph in coverage.
Hilton took full blame for the incompletions.
“I’ve got to make that,’’ he said. “That’s what I get paid for. I let my team down. One hundred percent on me.’’
After video review, Reich wasn’t as harsh on his top wideout.
“I naturally think that T.Y. should feel like he should make those plays, but at the same time, those were two really good defensive plays,’’ he said. “You have to give their DBs credit on both those catches that T.Y. is saying he should have made. It took every ounce of strain and effort for those DBs to be able to break the ball up at the last second.’’
About that non-fumble recovery: Darius Leonard was adamant he came up with what could have been a game-changer with less than 2 minutes remaining. He clearly pried the football out of Watson’s hands and insisted he recovered the fumble. Approximately 1 minute, 40 seconds remained and a recovery would have given the Colts possession at the Indy 41.
“I punched it forward. Got it out. I had it,’’ Leonard said. “Then after that, he said it was no fumble.’’
It’s difficult to ascertain what the officials said since they never shared anything with the viewing audience. After the game, the NFL’s official Twitter account announced, “In #INDvsHOU, officials on the field ruled a fumble recovered by the offense. There was no clear visual evidence of a recovery by the defense.’’
“I don’t like the final result,’’ Reich said. “I saw what the NFL put out . . . in their mind there was no evidence of recovery, a clear and obvious recovery.
“I am not saying that I don’t agree. I think there are two parts to that evidence: what is on film and then what did the officials see live when it was happening? I think the ruling that the league put out was a fair ruling based on what they saw.’’