Quick Thoughts: Colts 24, Texans 34

It’s not a position the Colts are used to, but when they go to bed tonight they will not be in first place in the AFC South.  In a game that was hyped as the Houston Texans’ Super Bowl, the Colts were never able to get into a rhythm, and played inconsistently on both sides of the ball.  Here are my quick thoughts from the Colts’ opening day defeat:

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Arian Foster lit up the Colts defense.

Some have written that great offensive line play is not essential to being successful in the NFL anymore.  I hope those people were watching today.  The Colts were inconsistent in the running game, at best, but the real problems were in the passing game.

Poor protection forced Peyton Manning into quick decisions, limiting the Colts ability to run deep routes that could challenge the Texans’ secondary.  Worse, having watched every regular season snap that Peyton Manning has taken as a member of the Colts, I cannot remember a time when he took more abuse than he did today.  Multiple times Manning grabbed his leg or laid on the ground motionless for an extended period of time, and at the end of the game he was wearing a sleeve on his left (non-throwing) arm.

You may be able to get by with average line play, you may even be able to get to a Super Bowl with it, but the Colts will not be making the Super Bowl, or the playoffs, if their line play does not improve.

As bad as his offensive line was, Manning was equally let down by his wide receivers.  At one point, Pierre Garçon was targeted six times with one catch for seven yards.  Anthony Gonzalez had a mental gaffe in the first half that ended a drive.  Austin Collie fumbled a ball when the Colts were still close enough to stage a comeback.  Reggie Wayne dropped a sure first down pass in the first half.

In the preseason, wide receiver was thought of as a position of great strength, but it was one of the biggest causes for concern today.  I have more hope in the wide receivers than the offensive line to turn it around, but performances like this are worrisome, to say the least.

Joseph Addai did all he could to help the Colts.  He ran with a burst and with good vision, and made great cutbacks on multiple plays.  At times, if the Colts offensive line could hold a block, it looked like he may run wild — but his space was short lived as linemen slid off their blocks and wrapped him up.

Donald Brown, on the other hand, continued to show me that he’s not ready for the NFL.  He missed on multiple pass-protection assignments, including one time where he let all-world defensive end Mario Williams run free into Peyton Manning’s backside.  Brown also had multiple drops, which leads me to believe his focus is not where it should be.  Troublesome signs from a player that many expected to be the starter at some point this year.

I thought Peyton Manning played as well as he could.  He moved as well as he could in the “pocket” (a term I use loosely), he made amazing throws into tight spaces, and he did not turn the ball over, even under amazing duress.  But in the end, football is a team game, and Manning’s let him down.  I hope that he’s not seriously injured.

Bob Sanders got hurt.  Left in the first quarter, did not return.  In other news, my name is Greg.

A lot was made about Gonzalez being the punt returner, and then Jerraud Powers winds up returning punts?  If I thought four wide receivers was thin, imagine how I feel about cornerback?  I’m not sure what’s going on at the punt returner position, but it’s still unsettled, and their decisions are confusing, at best.

At kick returner, Devin Moore held down the job for the entire game, but was rather unspectacular.  He did have one long return after the game was decided, but it was called back due to offsetting penalties.  As in years past, however, Moore does not seem to be the issue as much as the lack of blocking.

While the loss is upsetting, perhaps more upsetting was the scene that was on the field late in the game: a defense that looked… disinterested.  I’m using the word disinterested because I’d rather not get skewered for using the word that I actually feels describes their performance.

Getting into specifics, it’s hard to judge how the Colts looked in pass defense.  Kelvin Hayden was shaky, at times, again getting beat on a deep pass, and though it was not completed, he did commit pass interference, extending the drive.  Otherwise, the Colts limited the Texans in passing yardage, but let’s be honest, who would pass if you’re able to put up 250 rushing yards?

For all the proclamations that this defense was better than 2009, for all the talk about their beefed up defensive tackles, and the return of Bob Sanders, this team looked more like the 2006 regular-season version than the 2009 version.  (I suppose, if you want a silver lining, you can take comfort in the fact that the last time the Colts run defense looked this bad AND the last time the Colts lost to the Texans, the Colts won the Super Bowl)

The defensive tackles looked bad, not holding up at the point of attack, not getting much of a push, and allowing Texans running backs to build up a head of steam as they hit the second level.  I cannot really assess the linebackers — they seemed sort of non-existent.  Some of this probably has to do with the play of the tackles in front of them, but I still expect more from Gary Brackett and Clint Session.  Philip Wheeler is still useless, and should be renamed Gilbert Gardner, Jr.

Every other AFC South team is 1-0 after week 1.

In the end, the Colts hurt themselves.  Dropped passes, penalties, lack of focus, poor tackling — traits that you cannot have if you want to beat good teams.  I expect some of the issues to be fixed next week — I do not think we’ll see a lot of drops and fumbles from our wide receivers, for example.

I’m worried about the offensive line and defense, though.  A lot of people said, “oh, don’t worry” during the preseason, but the problems we are seeing now are the problems we were seeing in August.  You may be able to help the defense – Jacob Lacey will get healthy, maybe Bob Sanders will return, and maybe you can put Pat Angerer in for Philip Wheeler – but the offensive line is going to look this way for the entire year.

They can talk about technique, they can talk about effort, they can talk about, “Doing what we do, just doing it better”, but in the end, it comes down to putting your helmet on the man across from you and beating him… or let your hall of fame quarterback die, either way.

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