Colts grades vs. Jets

No grading on a curve here after second consecutive loss.

A new wrinkle to a familiar classroom assessment provides the platform for weekly grades on the Indianapolis Colts.

Granted, most of them won’t be flattering after Monday night’s 20-7 home loss to the New York Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Offense — F.

Quarterback Andrew Luck was intercepted three times, twice after being hit as he threw and the other with a free blitzer bearing down on him. While there are other obvious factors for him trying to make a play and force passes, he’s the caretaker of the guys responsible for scoring points. In two games, the Colts have scored a league-low 21 points. They’ve committed eight turnovers. The O-line must protect the passer significantly better, or it’s going to be a long season.

Running back Frank Gore showed he’s still got plenty of life in his 32-year-old legs, despite two of his early runs for a combined 23 yards being negated by holding penalties. He gained 57 yards on 15 carries, but it should have been more. His inexplicable lost fumble on a third-and-goal rush at the Jets’ 1-yard line in the third quarter was a true head-scratcher. As a team, the Colts averaged 3.9 yards per rush. Too many disadvantageous down-and-distance situations limits how much the Colts can run the ball effectively.

The Colts haven’t been able to keep drives alive with quick-hit passes because the wide receivers haven’t consistently been open. Why there aren’t more dump-off throws to running backs and tight ends releasing late is a fair question. It’s time to be a bit more creative with the play-calling and call some plays designed to take advantage of those blitzes.

Defense — C.

The Jets rushed for 3.7 yards per carry, amassing 101 yards on 27 carries. Considering the Colts’ run defense issues, this is more than acceptable. Rookie defensive tackle Henry Anderson has been solid. He had five tackles including one sack and a drive-ending stop on a third-and-1 rush to finish the Jets’ opening series. But a secondary depleted by injuries inevitably suffered when Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis exited in the second quarter with a concussion. There’s only so much that can be expected from unproven subs thrust into the lineup.

The Colts have only one sack in two games. This is a 3-4 defensive scheme built to apply pressure with blitzes. Outside linebacker Robert Mathis was on the field for the first time in more than a year, but as a situational pass rusher. New outside linebacker Trent Cole has yet to make an impact play. That Anderson, a third-round pick in May, has the team’s only sack in two games is telling. The Jets aren’t exactly an explosive offense, but they needed to go just nine yards to score the game’s first touchdown after a Luck interception. The Colts came within a Davis third-down holding penalty of forcing the Jets to settle for a field goal.

When the game was still on the line with the Colts trailing 10-7 after their only score, they couldn’t get a stop. The Jets spread it out and picked that secondary apart. The Colts tried to blitz, and it didn’t work. They tried to play zone and bump and run with their corners, and it didn’t work. Cornerback Jalil Brown held Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who still scored the game-clinching touchdown. The defense kept the Colts in the game, but couldn’t get a final stop when needed.

Special teams — C-minus.

Pat McAfee boomed two touchbacks on kickoffs and averaged 49.7 yards on three punts including one downed inside the 20. But Adam Vinatieri clanking his 29-yard field goal attempt off the right upright was, like so many other things, unacceptable. Rookie running back Tyler Varga shows a lot of spunk on his kickoff returns. He averaged 24.5 yards on four of them. Punt returner Griff Whalen had three fair catches and two other punts sailed out of bounds. All the Colts need from him is to make smart decisions and hang onto the ball. The Jets were forced to fair catch two of McAfee’s punts and a third went out of bounds. So the home team didn’t have to cover anything on kickoffs or punts, always a plus.

Coaching — D-minus.

Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s call for a tackle-eligible pass on a second-and-2 play at the Jets’ 11 in the first quarter is great if it works, but Luck missed Joe Reitz. So it comes off as just plain dumb, considering rookie Josh Robinson just picked up eight yards on a first-down rush. Instead of coming back to the ground game, Luck couldn’t hit T.Y. Hilton on third down. An ensuing missed field goal meant the Colts came up empty, which just can’t happen. That the tight ends have been largely ignored hasn’t made much sense, either. Even when Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are forced to stay home to block, there have to be times when they can release and become pass targets.

Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s blitzes aren’t having the desired effect, for whatever reason, be it when they are called or personnel. Because the secondary is so depleted, it’s even more of an imperative to force the opposing quarterback to throw quickly. That’s what Ryan Fitzpatrick did to put the game away in the fourth quarter. Unless the Colts can get consistent pressure, everything will unravel. The Jets were blitzing as many as two and three extra defenders at times. The Colts can’t afford to do that for fear of that secondary being exposed, but Manusky has to send at least one extra defender on passing downs to try to force the issue. 

Head coach Chuck Pagano was quick to remind his team was in this same 0-2 hole last year after a Monday Night Football loss at home. He also came off as critical of Luck for the turnovers, which is understandable, but Pagano’s frustration was directed too much at the guy most responsible for the Colts’ success the last three years. Luck always accepts blame, even when it’s not his fault, so to heap biting criticism on him was a surprise. It’s not all Luck’s fault, as Pagano made it more clear on Tuesday’s conference call. That Luck has been hit so much in his three-plus seasons doesn’t mean he should be able to just continue to be super human and continually overcome getting knocked around. There’s only so much one man can do, even a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback. And there’s only so much he should be forced to endure when he keeps getting hit.

Intangibles — D.

When a team commits too many penalties, as the Colts did with 11 enforced infractions for 84 yards, that’s a lack of discipline and/or abillity. That’s on players and coaches. And when those penalties wipe out big gains, the problem manifests. The Colts can’t keep facing third-and-long situations and hope Luck can bail them out. Too many times, he’s forced to throw to receivers who aren’t able to get separation. If they’re not open, these throws are prayers. The Jets had an edge in time of possession, 31:48 to 28:12, which reflects the Colts’ turnovers and a defense that eventually wore down. The defense actually did a decent job on third down as the Jets converted just 4-of-12.

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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