The Colts throttled the Houston Texans, 31-3, on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium to improve to 2-4 on the season. Here are five big storylines we learned coming out of the game. JJ Stankevitz
1. The Colts' offense is as explosive as ever.
The Colts had three plays of 50+ yards against the Houston Texans - Carson Wentz' 51-yard touchdown to Parris Campbell, a 52-yard heave to T.Y. Hilton and an 83-yard dash by Jonathan Taylor.
Since Pro Football Reference began tracking play-by-play data in 1994, Sunday was the first time the Colts have had three plays of 50 or more yards in a game. Also: Only one other team has hit that mark this year (the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2 against the Titans).
Explosive plays - especially ones to the extent the Colts hit against the Texans - are the product of every single player on the field doing their jobs.
Let's take the deep ball to Hilton as an example here. The pass protection was excellent, especially with tight end Jack Doyle helping right tackle Matt Pryor double team defensive lineman Jacob Martin. The other four offensive linemen won their blocks against three rushers and passed off those Texans defenders well when needed. Wentz had an incredibly clean pocket to step into his throw, which traveled over half the length of the field in the air.
Hilton, meanwhile, quickly accelerated and turned on the jets to split the Texans' two-high safety look. But for the play to work, Ashton Dulin had to run a crisp corner route after to hold safety Justin Reid long enough for Hilton to sprint from the field to boundary and away from safety Lonnie Johnson Jr. Wentz had to make the throw with accuracy and Hilton then had to track the ball and make the catch.
"It starts up front with taking those shots," Wentz said. "We've got to get time. Those guys did a great job on those. But when you have guys that can roll. You've got Parris out there, you've got T.Y. obviously getting out there that can just fly past the defenders. I'm just throwing it to a spot. Those guys use their speed and run underneath it, and like I said, it was just fun to hit a couple of those today."
And Taylor now owns two of the five longest plays in the NFL this season:
Those plays needed Taylor's acceleration, speed, vision and strength to happen, but they were also sprung by good blocking up front and on the perimeter by Dulin, Michael Pittman Jr. and Zach Pascal.
Zooming out a bit, though, the Colts now have four plays of 50+ yards this season, all of which have come in the last two weeks. The Colts had four plays of 50+ yards in the entire 2020 season.
"I love striking quick and fast the way we did today on a couple of those," Wentz said. "It's just so big for us, for the whole team, for momentum. We're backed up on a drive and then all of a sudden JT takes it 80 yards or we're throwing that shot to T.Y. to get us out of our own territory and then all of a sudden we're in the red zone. It's huge for us and it's momentum and I think we can keep doing some of that."
2. Carson Wentz still isn't turning the ball over.
It's one thing to generate those kind of big-time explosive plays. It's another thing to get those while not turning the ball over.
Wentz has completed 144 consecutive passes without an interception, and his only pick of the season came in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams (on shovel pass blown up by Aaron Donald, which Pro Football Focus did not grade as a "turnover-worthy play"). Over the last three weeks, no quarterback has a higher yards per attempt than Wentz (9.3); only Dak Prescott has a higher passer rating than Wentz (113.2) and he's doing all of it with an average depth of target of nine yards, signaling steady progress in aggressiveness.
Through the first three weeks of the season, Wentz's average depth of target was 6.8, fifth-lowest in the league. But what he did early in the season was build a foundation of ball security - and now, as the ankles he sprained in Week 2 continue to get better, he's building shot plays and explosive gains on top of that foundation.
So Wentz's patience in taking shorter throws when shots aren't there, and then taking those shots when they're available, is making defending the Colts' offense a challenging task for opponents.
"We know teams are going to come up and press us," Hilton said. "If we have a shot, we'll take it. If not, we'll check it down. Until they give us the shot, we'll just continue to check it down."
3. T.Y. Hilton made an immediate impact.
Wentz was asked if there was any doubt where he was going with his first pass of Sunday's game.
"Nope," he grinned.
That throw went to Hilton for a 12-yard gain. It was the first of Hilton's four catches, and he finished with 80 yards, bringing his career totals against the Texans to 101 receptions, 1,798 yards and 11 touchdowns in 19 games.
But while Hilton's tangible impact on the field Sunday was clear, there was a certain emotional boost he provided last week. It started with his return to practice on Wednesday and grew through an emotional speech to the team Saturday.
"You could see the passion and emotion that he had from the time missed," Taylor said. "He was really, really, really excited to get back and he let that be known to us. He was like, 'Man, I'm really excited to be back. I'm sure you guys can hear in the tone of my voice and how I look like now that I really did truly miss this.' We missed him as well. Like I said, having that leadership from him back is something that we missed. We just missed having T.Y. around, let alone his play on the field."
Hilton left the game with a quad injury in the fourth quarter, although he said after the game "I'll be all right" and Reich didn't indicate concern the injury was a bad one.
4. The defense finished strong.
The Colts squandered a 19-point third quarter lead in Week 5 by allowing the Baltimore Ravens to average 8.8 yards per play in the second half, with Lamar Jackson completing 23 of 26 passes and throwing three touchdowns to force overtime.
On Sunday, the Texans averaged 4.8 yards per play in both the first half and second half. Houston's five meaningful drives in the second half (before taking over with one minute left) ended with:
Interception Punt Turnover on downs Fumble Interception
"We needed it bad, especially coming off that tough loss in Baltimore and everybody still counting us out," linebacker Darius Leonard said. "We wanted to come out and prove that we are a dominant defense and we can be a dominant defense when we play great all four quarters. And that's what we had to. That was a good relief because we finally played four great quarters of good defense. Hopefully we can just keep building off it and keep continuing to get better."
The Colts' defense got a number of standout performances on Sunday, too. Darius Leonard stuffed the stat sheet with seven tackles, one quarterback hit, one interception and one forced fumble. DeForest Buckner notched a sack and Khari Willis hit home on a blitz for one, too. Bobby Okereke set a career high with 14 tackles. Isaiah Rodgers picked off Davis Mills late and Julian Blackmon had a tackle for a loss that was nearly a forced fumble. Kwity Paye, too, had an interception overturned.
5. Michael Badgley filled in well as the next man up at kicker.
Badgley connected on a 41-yard field goal and made all four of his PATs in his Colts regular season debut. The Colts signed him to the practice squad on Wednesday and elevated him to the active roster Saturday while placing Rodrigo Blankenship on injured reserve, meaning Hot Rod will be out for at least three games with a hip injury.
Badgley did make three field goals - including a long of 51 yards - in 2018's preseason at Lucas Oil Stadium while with the Colts as an undrafted free agent.
"I have always had high praise for this organization. They gave me a shot," Badgley said. "A coach like Bubba (Ventrone) - he's awesome too and Chris Ballard at the head as the GM. This organization is high class. It's cool to be back."