The Indianapolis Colts came to life in time to ensure that they will not go down as the worst team in NFL history. As an added bonus, they knocked division rival Tennessee out of contention for a playoff berth.
While Indy remained inconsistent in their winning performance, big games from some surprising players pushed them over the top. Players like Donald Brown, Jacob Lacey, and Ernie Sims all played a significant role in displacing the monkey on the backs of a struggling Colts team.
Following 13 games of a continuous focus on the passing game — without a viable quarterback to lead the offense to success — the coaching staff dialed up a run heavy game plan. Dan Orlovsky was asked to throw only 17 passes, while Colts running backs carried the ball 34 times.
Coming into the game, very few would have guessed that the Colts would out-run the Titans by 140 yards, 15 carries, and 2.5 yards average.
All world running back Chris Johnson? All but shut out.
Sure, he picked up a 35-yard run midway through the fourth quarter when Indianapolis was in a prevent defense. His totals without that carry?
20 yards on 14 carries, a paltry 1.4 yards per carry.
Whatever defensive coordinator Mike Murphy put in his defense’s Cheerios prior to the game seemed to work out just fine. Middle linebacker Pat Angerer tallied 12 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 2 passes defended, 1 interception, and one forced fumble. That is, in every sense of the word, a dominant performance — one worthy of strong consideration for the Pro Bowl.
Fill-in starter Ernie Sims had a very successful game at strong-side linebacker. He led the team with 15 tackles, including 1 for a loss. His counterpart Kavell Conner laid big statement hits on opponents, including his own for a loss.
Oft-maligned cornerback Jacob Lacey had a a breakout performance. He totaled 12 tackles, 2 passes defended, 1 interception, and a defensive touchdown. No single defensive player had a performance more significant to the Colts win than Lacey.
Lacey continues to have more success in man-coverage assignments. Over the past two weeks, defensive coordinator Mike Murphy has increased the number of single coverage calls — and the defense has benefited from those changes.
The 27-13 final score is not an accurate portrayal of the Colts dominance on the field for much of the game for two primary reasons. One, Pierre Garcon fumbled the ball away after a long completion from Orlovsky at a pivotal point in the first half. Two, the prevent defense put in place in the fourth quarter allowed the Titans offense to find far greater success than it had at any point earlier in the game.
Add a dropped interception by safety David Caldwell to the Garcon drop, and another near interception for Lacey and Indianapolis could have run away with the game. As is, there is reason to have some confidence the team can remain competitive down the stretch.
The coaching and game plan change just might be getting more out of the talent available. If so, it could bode well for the team as it inevitably keeps it gaze onto the future and the 2012 NFL Draft.