The highs and lows for an Indianapolis Colts team that has dropped thirteen straight games in 2011 have taken a toll on its fan base, which consists largely of folks who are simply looking forward to more summer excitement and intrigue than has surrounded their record-setting franchise since the 1998 NFL Draft — coincidentally thirteen years ago.
While the outcome of Sunday afternoon’s game in Baltimore was not surprising, and nothing is really all that surprising for Colts fans in 2011 — except for maybe exiting a game without suffering a significant injury or two — hopes for a positive follow-up performance from a late game surge in Foxboro were squashed.
Quarterback Dan Orlovsky had an opportunity to shock the NFL world by following up an impressive Colts debut performance against the Patriots with a similar command of the offense against one of the league’s top defenses. Anyone expecting him to do so, of course, was hoping for too much.
After hanging with Tom Brady statistically, Orlovsky connected on only 17 of his 37 passes for 136 yards, one touchdown, and a 53.6 quarterback rating. Even those numbers are inflated by a late fourth quarter drive that resulted in a garbage time touchdown.
His job wasn’t made easier by a horrific performance from rookie left tackle Anthony Castonzo who was abused by linebacker Terrell Suggs continuously throughout the game. Suggs finished the game with 3 sacks, drew holding penalties, and enjoyed a lot of face-time with the Colts quarterback. Although Suggs can be a difficult match-up for any tackle in the NFL, handling speed rushing outside linebackers will have to be a major point of emphasis for Castonzo as his young career continues.
The biggest issue for Orlovsky is that he fumbled the ball three times. While significant blame can be placed on the young offensive linemen, the veteran backup needs to be more aware of the pressure coming from his blind side and do more to protect the football. Needless to say, like Painter before him, Orlovsky does not have the internal clock and pocket awareness of injured future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
For an idea how inept the Colts offensive performance was, consider that Indianapolis had 10 meaningful offensive possessions (dismissing 32 seconds at the end of the first half) and averaged only 2 and a half minutes per possession. Only five of those drives were over two minutes.
Four of the five were barely over two minutes. Only one seven minute drive in the second quarter could be considered a success — outside of the garbage time scoring drive. It yielded a field goal only and throws off the entire average. In the nine remaining drives, the Colts averaged drives of under one minute and fifty seconds — a three-and-out without stopping the clock includes up to two minutes of play clock running time.
Four turnovers, 37 passes to 16 runs, and an early hole on the scoreboard led things to get completely out of hand. A hungry Ravens defense teed off on a Colts offense that was not ready for that kind of a test.
While Indy’s team running average was only 3.1 yards, Donald Brown once again looked like the player most ready and able to make an impact on the ground. 28 yards on 9 carries won’t inspire anyone, but those numbers do not reflect the way Brown looked when he toted the pigskin.
On the defensive side of the football, end Dwight Freeney reached an impressive milestone. His two sacks push him to 100.5 sacks all-time. He is only the 26th player in NFL history to reach such a number. He looked like a player intent on doing his part to keep the Colts in the game — he gave Ravens tackle Bryant McKinnie (who Freeney played against in college) absolute fits.
Linebacker Philip Wheeler — who has improved significantly in 2011 — suffered a foot-ankle injury and had to be helped off of the field. He did not return. A tough break for a unit that has already lost veteran Gary Brackett, and whose standout second-year middle linebacker Pat Angerer has also been banged up in recent weeks.
Angerer finished the game with 8 tackles, good for fourth on the team behind the aforementioned Wheeler, cornerback Jacob Lacey, and safety Antoine Bethea. Bethea’s 11 tackles will push him to within four of Angerer, who led the league in total tackles just two weeks ago. For those who may not already know, a free safety leading his team and nearly the league in total tackles is not a good sign for a team’s defense.
One positive for the secondary is that rookie corner Chris Rucker and veteran Jacob Lacey held their own against talented Ravens receivers like Anquan Boldin, Lee Evans, and Torrey Smith. Lacey defended three passes, and though he was seen providing the now famous Colts cushion at times, he also fared well in man coverage situations against the dangerous Smith.
The issue for the Colts in Baltimore is very similar to the issues they have had in each of their 2011 contests — individual performances from a few players for stretches of the game are not enough to overcome their failures as a group. A sputtering offense, and an injury-depleted defense that was never meant to take the field for long stretches, will find wins elusive.
If you’re a Colts fan and you’re not steadily looking ahead to the decisions that will be made in 2012, you’re looking for stories in the wrong places. There will be no right decision in the Manning-Luck quarterback controversy. The implications for the team in the short and long term will be affected significantly by the team’s decision with the top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. What happens in Weeks 15-17 likely will not.
Looking for a silver lining? Indianapolis will face all three AFC South divisional rivals to close out the season. Those franchises are led by quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, and T.J. Yates. The entire division is a mess. Believe it or not, a win or two down the stretch is absolutely possible.