The Indianapolis Colts survived a defensive punch-out with the New England Patriots on Sunday by a score of 10-6. This was a crucial win for head coach Shane Steichen and his troops, as it put them at 5-5, which places them just on the outskirts of the playoff discussion.
As the team takes their two-game win streak into their Week 11 bye, let’s look back on the previous 10 games and give out awards for the season’s performances so far.
Given that running back Jonathan Taylor missed the first part of the season recovering from an ankle injury and quarterback Anthony Richardson is out for the year with an AC joint sprain, the door for this award was wide open for the fourth-year pro out of Southern California, wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.
With Richardson out, backup signal-caller Gardner Minshew is the starter to finish 2023. Minshew will be the seventh QB to throw Pittman a football in his short career, which is an unprecedented pace that’s nearly unheard of. Yet, despite the passing rotation, Pittman shines as the go-to receiver in Steichen’s offense.
This season, Pittman is the undisputed leader in the receiving game, boasting 66 catches (98 targets) for 677 yards (10.3 avg.) and 3 TDs. He’s currently on pace for 112 catches for 1,151 yards and 5 TDs.
If Pittman can keep this type of consistency up, he’ll earn Pro Bowl nods when it’s all said and done.
While it was incredibly difficult to deny superstar defensive tackle DeForest Buckner this award, it seemed fitting for a defender who has bounced back from a down year.
Following up on an uncharacteristically bad 2022 season, cornerback and Colts veteran Kenny Moore II has returned to full Pro Bowl form and more.
After a Herculean-type performance against his old coach, Frank Reich, and the Carolina Panthers (8 tackles, 2 interceptions (both returned for touchdowns), 2 pass deflections, as well as 115 interception return yards, Moore showed the NFL that he’s back to what made him such a special defensive talent.
On the year, Moore has played in all 10 games and has collected 67 tackles (7 for loss), 1.5 sacks, 5 pass deflections, 3 interceptions, and 2 defensive TDs.
If he can continue to be one of the leaders of Gus Bradley’s defense, both mentally and through on-field performances, he’ll get his second Pro Bowl nomination. Potentially even an All-Pro nod to tack on.
Some criticized the Colts for signing then-free agent kicker Matt Gay to a historic four-year, $22.5 million contract. This is the largest free-agent contract to a kicker in NFL history.
However, Gay has been a weapon that has pulled wins out for the Colts. Without Gay, there’s a heavy chance the Colts don’t pull off the upset against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3 (5-of-5 FGs; 4-of-4 FGs 50+ yds; 1-of-1 XPs). In that game alone, Gay was essentially the points system, accounting for 16 of the Colts’ 22 they scored.
For the year, he’s been lights out, collecting 17-of-20 FGs (85.0%) and 25-of-25 XPs. He’s also been fantastic on long-field goals, with 7-of-9 (77.8%) from 50+ yards on the year.
Look for Gay to continue to be the ultimate safety blanket, especially in games where points could potentially be at a premium.
Back at the 2023 NFL Draft, it was thought without question that the Colts wouldn’t draft a receiver under six feet tall. This was known as the “Ballard Archetype” of receiver, showing general manager Chris Ballard's "type" at receiver.
However, with the 79th pick in the third round, Indy took North Carolina wide receiver Josh Downs. This has proven to be one of the biggest steals of the draft, not just for the Colts but the entire league.
Through 10 games played, Downs has 43 catches for 523 yards (12.2 avg.) and 2 TDs. Along with his catches, he’s been targeted 60 times, which puts his catch percentage at 71.7%. Given that the rookie has dealt with change at QB already, it’s encouraging to see his rise as the team’s clear number two pass-catcher.
Looks for Downs to continue to make big plays as a rookie like he did against the Patriots on Sunday.
Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin had a historic season in 2022. That season was a brutal year for the team overall, but Franklin broke the franchise single-season record for tackles that was previously held by fellow teammate Shaquille Leonard. Franklin would grab 167 total, which was an average of nearly 10 per game (9.8 avg.).
However, in just nine games through 2023, Franklin is emerging as one of the best linebackers in the NFL. He leads the league in both total tackles (117) and solo tackles (76). Franklin also has 2 forced fumbles, 3 pass deflections, 1.5 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss.
Franklin is averaging an insane 13 tackles per contest, which puts him on pace for 208 for the year. This would eclipse his Colts' single-season record by 41 tackles.
Franklin was thought of at one point as a special teams ace and captain, but not much more. Now, Franklin is a premier piece of the defense and is on his way to a surefire Pro Bowl nomination.
With his ridiculous consistency and performance, he’s deserving of the Colts MVP up to this point in the season.