Sat, 23 Oct 2021

5 Things Learned: Colts vs. Rams, Week 2

Indianapolis Colts
21 Sep 2021, 17:39 GMT+10

The Colts liked what they saw from Carson Wentz before his ankle injury, but the team's issues in the red zone were the story from Week 2's 27-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.  JJ Stankevitz

1. Carson Wentz is tough and played well, but his ankle injury will be now be evaluated.

Carson Wentz tried to come back into Sunday's game. He got his ankle taped and he tested it on the sideline, but there just wasn't enough stability for Wentz to continue playing.

"I played with a lot before and this one I just couldn't play through today," Wentz said.

We'll learn more as the week goes on about Wentz's potential availability ahead of Sunday's trip to Nashville to face the Tennessee Titans. But there's no doubt he'll play if he can, and his toughness roundly impressed his teammates against the Rams.

Wentz, though, had to show that toughness because he was pressured so much, similar to what happened in Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks.

"We need to be better up front and do a good job to protect him because he's a great player and if we give him more time, he can play even better than he already is," left guard Quenton Nelson said. "And for the pressure that I think we've let up up front, he's done a pretty good job in my opinion so if we clean it up and we do our jobs, all the blockers, then we can have some big plays. We got talented guys on this offense, our wide receivers, running backs and everyone just do their job and we can light it up."

Even with having the Rams' front creating havoc around him - Wentz was pressured on 17 of his 39 drop backs, per PFF - he still played well, completing 20 of 31 attempts for 247 yards with a touchdown and an interception (more on the interception later). Beyond the stats, Wentz was able to lead the Colts' offense through an up-and-down second half while overcoming two first-half trips inside the five-yard line that resulted in zero points.

The Colts will now hope testing on Wentz's ankle reveals good news, since he showed plenty of encouraging signs in his second game with the team.

"We like the guy we got," head coach Frank Reich said. "I'm really happy about the way Carson's playing and I think it's just going to get better. I'm encouraged. I'm encouraged with how he's playing and where we can go as an offense."

2. Reich is frustrated with the red zone.

The second part of that Reich quote above on Wentz is this:

"I'm just really discouraged about our red zone play in the first two games. If we're better in the red zone, in the first two games, it could be a different story."

The Colts have had eight possessions enter the red zone this season. The results of those drives have ended with a:

Field goal (vs. SEA) Touchdown (vs. SEA) Turnover on downs (vs. SEA) Touchdown (vs. SEA) Turnover on downs (vs. LA) Interception (vs. LA) Touchdown (vs. LA) Field goal (vs. LA)

So three of those eight drives haven't resulted in points, including two against the Rams that ended inside the five-yard line. In a three-point loss to Los Angeles, only generating 10 points from four trips to the red zone could certainly be looked at as the difference on Sunday.

"We were one-for-four in the red zone. That's basically the story," Reich said. "Every other area was pretty equal. We've just got to play better in the red zone."

So what went wrong?

On the first drive, the Colts got to the one-yard line thanks to a scything 13-yard run by Taylor on a massive hole opened up on the left side thanks to strong blocks on the line by Quenton Nelson and Mark Glowinski and a good second-level block by center Ryan Kelly.

But the Rams stuffed Jonathan Taylor on three consecutive running plays. On fourth down, the Colts tried to catch the Rams off guard by getting to the line of scrimmage quickly and running a play-action pass; Los Angeles was ready for it, though, and Leonard Floyd came free to sack Wentz.

"It's unacceptable," Nelson said. "We ran the ball three out of the four times. You got four downs to get, shoot, one yard. We weren't successful and it's unacceptable. We need to be better in that situation. We gotta block them better and just get in there, punch it in."

The Colts' next drive quickly got to the 10-yard line, and a quick completion to Michael Pittman Jr. set things up for second and goal at the three. Taylor was then stopped for no gain, setting up third down.

The play called for Wentz to read the defensive end - Floyd - and if he crashed down on the play, Wentz would flip a pass to running back Nyheim Hines in the flat. If Floyd didn't, the read was a shovel pass to Jack Doyle, who would be one-on-one against a safety to get in the end zone - a matchup the Colts would take every time with their big tight end.

Wentz made the correct read on the play. But Aaron Donald made the kind of play that's earned him AP Defensive Player of the Year honors three times - he knocked Doyle off his route right as Wentz went to flip the ball.

"When I went to flip it, I thought we had a walk-in touchdown," Wentz said.

"I think it was coming up just like it was supposed to come up," Reich said. "Except, Aaron Donald made a great play."

3. The Colts found solutions in generating explosive plays.

One of the more encouraging things Sunday was the explosive plays schemed and executed by the Colts' offense against a Rams' defense designed to take those away.

Wentz first found Pittman on a deep shot for 42 yards, with the throw coming against pressure from Donald on a third and 14 (Pittman did a tremendous job working back to the ball to make the catch, too). Next, Wentz found Pittman again for 23 yards on a well-designed and executed route.

Finally, Wentz hit a wide-open Doyle for 34 yards, giving the Colts three plays of 20+ yards on Sunday.

"I thought they did a nice job being able to kind of let some things develop," Rams coach Sean McVay said.

The Rams entered Week 2 as the stingiest defense in the NFL since the start of the 2020 season at allowing explosive plays (the only allowed 36 passing plays of 20+ yards in that span). Generating those chunk plays was a focus for the Colts leading up to Week 2, and it paid off with some success on Sunday.

4. The offensive line is focused on getting back to "playing Indianapolis Colts football."

According to PFF, Wentz has been under pressure on 37 of his 83 drop backs this season. That's not the standard the Colts' offensive line has for itself.

"I think after Week 1, we got Carson hit too many times that week. Today, I think (the Rams) probably saw that on film and went for it, right?" center Ryan Kelly said. "There's no hide in this league we got to stop it. Too many shots on him, obviously ended with him coming out of the game. They're a good front seven, but I think a lot of it is self-inflicted. I think it's all something we can get better at, we can clean up. It wasn't scheme it was more so just technique."

There was an encouraging sign for the Colts on Sunday, though, in left tackle Eric Fisher making his season debut. Fisher played 49 of the Colts' 73 offensive snaps (73 percent) just under eight months after suffering a ruptured Achilles' in the 2021 AFC Championship with the Kansas City Chiefs.

"He did some great things and I really appreciated him being out there and fighting through an Achilles," Nelson said. "It's outstanding what he was able to do. I think going into next week we're going to fix a lot of things and get back to playing Indianapolis Colts football."

5. The defense isn't hitting the panic button.

The Rams averaged 6.2 yards per play and had a couple of touchdown drives where the Colts couldn't force them into third downs (which were an area of success on Sunday - LA went just three of nine on third down). Matthew Stafford completed 19 of 30 passes for 278 yards with two touchdowns and one interception (to safety Khari Willis); wide receiver Cooper Kupp had 163 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches.

"I give Matt a lot of credit," Reich said. "He played well. Cooper Kupp is a special receiver. So, they obviously have developed a pretty good chemistry early on. I think coach McVay does a good job getting that connection wired up."

Through two games, the Colts' defense is allowing 6.7 yards per play (27th in the NFL) and 27.5 points per game (23rd). But this is a group that's played together for a number of years in the same scheme, and is not sounding the alarm after two games against, to be fair, two of the NFL's best offenses.

"We can't panic and overreact," Willis said. "A lot of people are going to overreact, panic. We are going to continue to build. It's a long season. We've played two good teams, two teams that have been playing together for a while. Good offenses, good defenses - great defenses, great offenses, and had chances, with our quarterback.

"We are going to continue to rally behind him, continue to support him. I know he's going to do the same for us. We're not going to press the panic button. We're going to continue to take steps in the right direction. This is a long journey."

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