Regular Season Week 1, Quick Recap: Colts 21 at Bears 41

The Andrew Luck Era got off to a rocky start today as the Colts (0-1) fell 41-21 to the Chicago Bears in their 2012 regular season opener. In a game that will likely be looked back on by Colts fans as a microcosm of their 2012 season, the Colts put up the kind of performance you’d expect from such a young team: some impressive highs coupled with far too many lows.

The Colts came out of the game dominating on defense, holding the Bears to -11 total yards and recording a Jerrell Freeman pick-6 on Chicago’s first two drives. But the inability of the Colts offense to compliment the hot start of the defense, coupled with a ankle injury to OLB Dwight Freeney, eventually lead to the Bears taking control of the game. The Bears would score 17-unanswered points, and finish the game on a 41-14 run.

 

On offense, the biggest theme – the dismal performance of the Colts offensive line – carried over into the regular season. The line was unable to provide time and space for the Colts, in neither the passing nor the running game.

As a result, QB Andrew Luck, for the first time in his short NFL career, looked the part of a rookie. He was unable to set his feet on a vast majority of his throws, and on the plays he was able to properly step into his passes, his timing and mechanics seemed rushed, leading to multiple overthrows of open receivers. This will be a theme for the Colts the entire season: Andrew Luck is good, there is a lot of talent at WR, TE, and RB, but if the Colts OL is going to perform this poorly over a 16-game season, the Colts are going to lose a lot of games in frustrating fashion.

On defense, the team started off with an energy and aggressiveness that they hadn’t shown during the preseason. An opening play sack from Robert Mathis, as well as an amazing read-catch-and score from LB Jerrell Freeman had fans thinking that perhaps the Colts were going not only going to give the Bears a run for their money, but perhaps their season would be more successful than they originally thought.

As the game wore on, however, the defense started to display some of the same red flags we saw in the preseason: poor coverage from the DBs, lack of gap control in the running game, and long stretches where the pass rush is non-existent. Perhaps the most concerning area of the defense is the DLine, which failed to provide either a penetrating attack or space eating, something, anything to provide some protection to the Colts back seven.

This was a game few expected the Colts to win, but some fans may have been caught off guard by just how inept the Colts looked for stretches. There will be a lot of “teaching moments” for Coach Pagano and his staff, and we expect the Colts to improve as they grow and get accustomed to the new systems.

Quick Thoughts, The Good:

- Reggie Wayne is an amazing wide receiver.  He’s a better pro. On a day the Colts, a team with little expectations, were getting blown out, Reggie Wayne could have mailed it in. Instead, he caught 9 passes (on 16 targets) for 135 yards, including 4 amazing one-handed grabs. The Colts offense is going to center around Luck-to-Wayne in the coming weeks, and Wayne is perhaps the one player outside of Luck that the Colts cannot afford to lose to injury.

- Today was not Luck’s finest day, but there were still more positive than negatives. He continues to display amazing pocket aware: his ability to subtly slide and shuffle his feet to avoid pressure while keeping his eyes down field is amazing. More than that, while the pass rush was clearly affecting Luck’s internal clock, he continued to show the poise and calmness of a veteran player. That said, this can’t be stressed enough: if the blocking from the OL doesn’t improve, the Colts run the real risk of doing long term damage to their franchise QB’s psyche.

- Ryan Grigson stated that he wanted to improve the special teams units. If today was any indication, he’s on his way. Yes, LaVon Brazill fumbled a kick off return and Adam Vinatieri missed a crucial field goal in the first half, but the return and coverage units both appeared to be better than in recent years. It’s likely the least important area the Colts need to upgrade at this point, but it’s still a positive.

- Donald Brown didn’t have a lot of running room, but took advantage of the few lanes he did have, gaining 48 yards on 9 carries and scoring the Colts first offensive TD. His work on the Colts first offensive scoring drive was especially good.

- Jerraud Powers played well, making 6 tackles (one for a loss) and recording 2 passes defended. He nearly had a first half interception that may have changed the complexion of the game, but dropped the ball after a hard fall onto his back.

- Jerrell Freeman had a good day filling in for the injured Pat Angerer. He made a good read and jump on the ball for his pick-6, and was able to contribute 4 tackles, and one pass defended.  While linebacker is clearly not a strength for the Colts, Freeman was far from a liability out there.

- Joe Lefeged, maligned for much of the 2011 season for his play at safety, had quite a day on special teams, downing two punts inside the 5-yard line. Players often get “attacked” by fans and media for being used in roles that don’t match their skills, so it’s nice to see Lefeged thrive in a role that better suits him.

- Coby Fleener came alive, going a long way towards alleviating some fans concerns about him following a quiet preseason. Fleener caught 5 passes for 80 yards, and seemed to become the reliable over-the-middle target for Luck that the Colts (and fans) had been hoping for when he was selected in the 2nd round of the 2012 drft.

Quick Thoughts, the Bad:

- The offensive line. You’ll likely read this sentence, or something like it, for the next 15 games, as well. The line was bad to awful on most plays, completely disrupting the Colts offensive flow and game plan. This offense will go only as far as the offensive line allows it, and right now, that looks to be about 4 wins. If OL is not a major focus of Grigson and company for the rest of this season and the 2013 off-season, the Colts should be in the market for a new regime. How Jeff Linkenbach, Seth Olsen, and Winston Justice are still employed is a mystery to me.   

- For all of the good things Donald Brown did in the running game and even in pass blocking, some fans will likely only be able to remember his two drops, including a crucial 3rd-down drop in the first half that would have allowed the Colts to easily convert, and, if he alludes the first tackler, may have set them up for a score.

- Tom Zbikowski continues to be a liability on defense, against the pass and the run. He’ll likely remain the starter for the rest of the year, simply because the Colts have no better options, but Zbikowski’s time as a starter will hopefully not last beyond this year.

- CB Vontae Davis did not have a good day. While I would never judge a player or a trade after one regular season game, I do believe today’s performance illustrates the problems with the trade. Davis definitely struggled throughout the game, getting burned on a couple of man-coverage situations and picking up a few pass interference penalties (some of which may have been questionable), but more importantly: with as bad as the Colts pass rush is, no CB, even one as highly-skilled as Davis, would be too effective. I fully expect Davis to grow and improve into a very good player for the Colts, but it won’t help fix the real issues with the Colts: almost their entire front-7.

- The offensive line is really, really, REALLY bad at football. Just thought you might need a reminder.

Quick Thoughts, the Ugly:

- I’ve been a big supporter of the replacement refs, reasoning that they weren’t much worse than the regular officials. This may still prove to be true, as I think some (especially in the media) are fondly remembering officials in an oddly flattering light. That said, today’s crew was especially horrible. Aside from the major issue of the game dragging on for 3 and a half hours, they inconsistently enforced rules throughout the game.

Their liberal, and weird, application of both offensive holding and pass interference left fans (and players) a bit confused. The regular officials are often bad because they choose to not enforce rules (such as illegal contact and offensive holding) but their non-application of those rules is at least consistent.

As we expect the young Colts players to grow and improve throughout the season, hopefully we get the same from the replacement refs.

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