Five Things Learned, Denver-Colts
INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts are 5-2 and have a two-game AFC South lead at their bye week. The last two home wins – 34-28 over Seattle, 39-33 over Denver – were 60-minute slugfests that showed the spunk of this bunch.
Chuck Pagano lauded resiliency, passion, toughness, fortitude and, most of all, grit in the locker room following the victory over Denver. The Colts still have not lost consecutive games under Pagano, going 7-0 and with a 7.1-point victory margin following losses.
It was a three-phase effort that is a blueprint of the program in Indianapolis.
Here are FIVE THINGS LEARNED.
MR. TEAM – Andrew Luck may have thrown for three first-half touchdowns and raced in from 10 yards out for another in the second half, but all he would do was cite the full-team effort in beating Denver. Luck always casts light on teammates and the program, never wishing any personal limelight. His maturity has been on full display since his opening game, and Luck stayed grounded in the bluster of the return of Peyton Manning. While some would call this a signature win over a team that had won 17 straight and with the finest Indianapolis Colt ever with Manning, Luck took delight in the team aspect of the win.
POSITIONAL PUNTING/KICKOFF EXCELLENCE – Pat McAfee had a 48.9 average on nine punts, with six landing inside the Denver 20. The Broncos had one first down on those resulting drives and a team that had averaged only 3.2 non-scoring drives per game came away empty on 11-of-17 possessions. More importantly, Indianapolis got 19 of its 39 points directly/indirectly as a result of those punts. The first TD came after a fumble created on a return. Another set up a strip-sack-safety that caused a nine-point swing to give Indianapolis a lead it would not lose. The final one led to an interception and a clinching FG. McAfee’s eight kickoffs all reached the end zone, four accounting for touchbacks. Denver averaged a drive start at its 25, an 11-yard advantage for Indianapolis in that category over the course of the game.
RUNNING STILL EQUALS WINS – Of the Colts’ 71 offensive snaps, 31 were rushes. Indianapolis upped its record to 10-0 under Pagano when attempting at least 30 rushes in a game – the league’s best record since 2012. Luck had 29 yards, including an 11-yard first-down dash on third-and-11 in the second quarter. That led to a touchdown, then he rolled in from 10 yards out himself in the second half. Darrius Heyward-Bey gained 30 yards on a reverse. The ground influence helped the Colts own the ball almost 32 minutes, 10 minutes more than in last week’s loss at San Diego.
LINEBACKER MAYHEM – Robert Mathis is Robert Mathis, a fifth multi-sack game this year to push his seasonal total to a league-best 11.5. It is his fifth 10-plus sack season (plus ties his seasonal-bests from 2005 and 2008), and his second-quarter sack-strip-safety triggered a nine-point swing for a lead Indianapolis never relinquished. Erik Walden was a free agent signee added to the corps to fight the run and harrow the quarterback. Walden hit the right arm of Peyton Manning with 7:07 left, creating an interception for Pat Angerer at the Denver 24. It led to a field goal and a nine-point lead after Manning cut a 36-17 deficit to six points with two scoring drives. Walden then forced a fumble at the Colts’ two with 3:03 to go, staving off a sure score that could have swung the final advantage to Denver. In a 35-possession game, there were plays made all over the field, but linebacker mayhem was a big reason Indianapolis emerged winners.
PAGANO VISION – It has been a season of successful replay challenges for Pagano and another one netted results against Denver when a punt return ruled out of bounds before a fumble was reversed, and it led to an Indianapolis TD. Pagano’s eagle eyes keep paying dividends. Also, stressing a plus-two turnover ratio per game, he got it for a fourth time in 2013. The Colts have defeated Oakland, San Francisco, Jacksonville and Denver with that margin. NFL home teams with plus margins were 20-2 heading into yesterday’s games. The Colts are 2-0 in home games with a plus margin.