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Andy Richardson

Thursday Night Recap

Colts slightly less bad in worst game ever

What percentage of NFL games in the last half century don't have any touchdowns? It's got to be a small number, and probably a lot of them were affected by crummy weather. Last night we had another one, and props to the defenses, but it seems to mostly be a case of two veteran transplant quarterbacks who left their best work in the past.

Usually these recaps proceed from Quarterback on down through miscellaneous comments including Team Defenses. I'm gonna be changing that up this week.

DEFENSES:

Both defenses played so well in this game that it was unfortunate somebody had to lose. For the Colts (who didn't even have their best player, linebacker Shaquille Leonard), this was the kind of defense I was expecting in the summer, since they added Yannick Ngaokoue and Stephon Gilmore. They got a lot of pressure on Russell Wilson, they mostly stuffed the run, and their secondary locked up receivers and made a couple of great defensive plays. Of course, they were helped a Broncos offense whose quarterback is struggling, best running back is on IR, and seems totally bereft of clever ideas on either the sidelines or in on-field management. But some credit must be given to a defense which also did a nice job on Kansas City's offense not too long ago. This Colts team isn't going anywhere, but it won't be their defense that holds them back.

Denver's defense was arguably better, in that it seemingly could have sacked Matt Ryan about a dozen times and basically didn't let the Colts move the ball at all until the final minutes, perhaps wearing down as teams do in the fourth and fifth quarters. And it lost some players to injury along the way, hurting them late. What was encouraging was the play of Bradley Chubb (generally a disappointment since being drafted) and last year's third-rounder Baron Browning. Both of those guys met at the quarterback in the backfield on several occasions, harassing Ryan into a terrible game. Patrick Surtain shut down Michael Pittman for a lot of game. A nice defensive effort, certainly not their fault the Broncos lost.

KICKERS:

Chase McLaughlin has been a little streaky, which is why he's been with seven teams the last four years, including multiple stints with the Colts. But he looks pretty automatic right now. Brandon McManus generally looks reliable, but the unit is having some breakdowns. Had one blocked last night and also an extra point against the Raiders. Those misses are highlighted with all the close games Denver is playing.

TIGHT ENDS:

It almost seems like the Colts are determined to frustrate fantasy teams; only plus is that it's predictable at this point. Two weeks ago Jelani Woods caught 2 TDs, last week Mo Alie-Cox did. So naturally those guys combined to catch 1 short pass on 2 targets last night, while Kylen Granson saw 3 passes and had a 16-yard catch. You might think one of these guys will be featured at some point, but you would be incorrect.

Denver has something similar going on with four different players at the position, the problem is that none of these guys are very good. Eric Saubert caught 5 passes last night, but for just 36 yards. I watched the entire game and just one of them made much of an impact, a 4th-down conversion on what should have been the game-clinching drive until the team mucked it up. The others were 2-yard catches on 3rd and 7 and 8-yard catches on 3rd and 10, helping to position the punter. Eric Tomlinson, Albert Okwuegbunam and Andrew Beck all saw single targets, with Beck's the most impactful, potentially. A perfect Wilson throw at the goal line that Beck had in both hands before the defender ripped it away. That was the closest Denver came to a touchdown all night. Denver hopes to have Greg Dulcich back from IR (hamstring) before the next game, and they'll probably get him involved quickly -- why not? They're not going to build around Eric Saubert.

WIDE RECEIVERS:

The Colts secondary mostly did a nice job on Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy. Jeudy got free downfield for a big play and Wilson hit him in stride with a pretty nice throw, but props to safety Rodney Thomas, who got over in time to break it up. Jeudy was free near the goal line on another play but Wilson led him a little too much. He then had a 37-yard catch in overtime to give Denver a chance at winning the game, which they of course didn't do. Sutton had the best statistical day (5 for 74), but it didn't feel like it. He was well-covered on the last play of the game and Wilson tried to force it in to him anyway. The highlight was a 51-yard catch where both Sutton and rookie Montrell Washington were there, both caught the thing (while the official, trying to get out of the way, took out the Colts defender, lol), Sutton ended up with it. No other Bronco receivers made an impact; KJ Hamler was open on the last play but Wilson couldn't see him.

Michael Pittman was a factor early, Alec Pierce late. Kind of a breakout game for the rookie, catching 8 for 81 on 9 targets; at the end Denver put Patrick Surtain on him, but not soon enough. There's no way this team is going to pass the ball well enough for Pittman and Pierce to both be weekly options, but it now seems possible that there will be other weeks where it's Pierce who's better. Just one game, but not a positive one for Pittman's value. Parris Campbell continues to play throughout, he's averaging a terrific 2 catches for 22 yards per game.

RUNNING BACKS:

In fairness to both horrific offenses, they probably would have been better if they had their starting running backs. Teams tend to undervalue these guys, but Jonathan Taylor and Javonte Williams would both have commanded more defensive respect and done more on the ground; their absence certainly helped the opposing defenses, and hurt the quarterbacks and offenses. And then Nyheim Hines, who was headed for a productive day after getting all three touches on the opening series, suffered a concussion similar to what we saw from Tua, being unable to stand on his own after what looked a like a pretty routine hit. So it was a Deon Jackson and Phillip Lindsay tandem, with Jackson (91 total yards and nearly 60 percent of the snaps) looking like the correct No. 2 or starter if either Taylor, Hines or both misses time. Averaged 4.8 yards per attempt and caught all 4 passes thrown his way, one of the two bright spots in the offense.

Melvin Gordon was running with both hands wrapped around the ball. He still had a fumble, but his knee was clearly down, and he held on despite getting flipped on his last carry at the end of overtime, so close to winning the game with a touchdown right there. The Broncos absolutely should have run the ball on 4th and short, 100 percent, no question. And lined up, initially, like they were going to do just that. But a timeout later, they opted for the shotgun and a futile pass play. Stupid choice, and the kind that loses the locker room, I think, too. Denver was running well in the fourth period and overtime. That was the time to line up and bash out the 1-2 yards and win the game. Instead they went for a low-percentage pass play. Just wrong-headed.

Mike Boone played as a change of pace and in some passing situations; it was about a 60-40 split. With a couple of long runs/receptions in there, he finished with much better averages and looked a lot more likely to have success running it than Gordon. I don't know if they'll give him a shot to carry more of the load, but I thought he did well enough that he'll continue to have a role, and I thought Gordon at least wasn't so awful to think that Latavius Murray will be starting soon. Gordon wasn't good (15 carries, 54 yards, 3.6, plus 3 catches for 49 yards); he is what he is. I don't think Murray would step in and elevate the offense. Denver has 11 days before their next game (a Monday nighter, good grief do we really need 4 primetime Denver games in six weeks? The schedule-makers really dropped the ball on this one, even if the Broncos were great), but I'm not sure we'll see anything markedly different with the backfield.

QUARTERBACKS:

Here we go. Matt Ryan is definitely cooked. He can't move, he threw a couple of the worst interceptions you'll ever see where he completely missed a defender standing in the passing lane, and if last night wasn't one of the last games the Colts win this year I'll be surprised. I'm going to be very wary of starting Pittman going forward, and it's probably not going to be a plus for Taylor, either. The Colts shuffled their offensive line, moving left tackle Matt Pryor to right tackle, moving right tackle Braden Smith inside to guard, and starting third-rounder Bernhard Raimann at left tackle. Ryan was sacked 6 times and it could easily have been more, so I don't think getting a win means it worked. We'll see what they do next game. Either way, start opposing defenses against Ryan. I'm calling the AFC South for Jacksonville, with Tennessee the 2nd-best option (and the Titans aren't good either).

I'm done making excuses for Russell Wilson. It's frustrating and depressing to watch him play. When he rolls out and scrambles, good things typically happen. But either because he's older and doesn't want to get hit, or the coaching isn't imaginative enough, or there's just not much desire, it doesn't occur very often. He led a nice drive (mostly on the ground) at the end of regulation that should have won the game. Run the ball, kick a field goal to go up 6, and keep the Colts out of the end zone, which would have happened. But no, the crowd booing had perhaps got to Hackett/Wilson, who decided to take a chance at scoring a touchdown, rather than get the win and go back to the drawing board before the next game. Wilson forced one into the end zone (to Tyrie Cleveland, who?) that was easily intercepted. Colts got to start at their 20, tied it up, won in overtime. Again in overtime, Broncos could probably have run the ball and won. But instead they went shotgun, forced a pass in with little chance of being completed, lost. Three and a half hours of my life I won't get back.

So where do these teams tied to veteran quarterbacks who won't get them into the playoffs go from here? Well, the Colts will look elsewhere for a quarterback next year, they've got a lot of practice at it. They at least have some draft picks and can get out of the contract fairly promptly. Denver? Well, they're screwed. They don't have early picks, and they've given Wilson a contract they're stuck with for a couple of years. They'll fire Hackett and bring in some coach who's experienced with figuring out a way to maximize an older quarterback's final years in some usable way. Maybe the defense is good enough to get them into the playoffs one of these years. But they're going to be the 3rd-best team in the AFC West, at best, for those seasons. In 2022, for certain, it's not happening for the Broncos, and fantasy teams tied to any of these guys are going to be coming up short, too.

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