JACKSONVILLE — Another complete failure in a town that has haunted the Colts for nearly a decade has brought the 2022 season to a head and likely raised big questions about the franchise’s future.
An Indianapolis team many predicted would win the AFC South has instead opened the season by narrowly salvaging a tie against the Texans and by a Jaguars team starting every phase of the game on Sunday dominated until the end, was blown out 24-0.
The Colts (0-1-1) have now put on flat, listless performances in their last four games, dating back to a winning streak against the Raiders at home last season.
1. Frank Reich’s team came out flat, was exhausted
For the third straight game, the Colts started flat and listless, unable to respond to punches the Jaguars threw at them.
Reich tried to prepare Indianapolis for the humidity by training hard on Wednesday and Thursday and only doing a walk-through on Friday, but instead the Colts looked beaten from the start.
Additionally, the Jaguars’ offensive plan — giving quarterback Trevor Lawrence short dropbacks and quick throws to avoid pressure — was looking better than anything the Colts had worked out as they attempted to attack the field despite an overwhelmed offensive line, and Indianapolis came up never an answer in defense.
Reich could often get his Colts teams to play well with their backs to the wall, but Indianapolis rarely played well when favored, and Indianapolis did so again on Sunday.
2. Matt Ryan failed to highlight any of the talent around him
The Colts switched at quarterback, trading Carson Wentz and trading for Matt Ryan in a move that would give Indianapolis an excellent leader, intelligent passer and a player who could help intoxicate the young receivers and offensive linemen around him with intoxicating play mask .
Ryan had his chance Sunday when No. 1 wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and second-round pick Alec Pierce were out.
After superstar running back Jonathan Taylor bottled up, Indianapolis needed Ryan to live up to its bill.
Instead, Ryan looked like an aging quarterback who can only thrive when the conditions around him are perfect and potentially worse.
A promising drive in the Colts’ opening series ended when Ryan lofted an ugly, confounding pass to a covered Ashton Dulin and it was intercepted by Jacksonville’s Rayshawn Jenkins.
Ryan kept fighting, kept trying, but the more he tried, the worse it looked. Ryan threw consecutive interceptions in the fourth quarter, getting picked up by Devin Lloyd and Jamel Dean and finishing an ugly 16-of-30 for 195 yards and three interceptions.
3. Left tackle remains a gaping hole in a high-paying offensive line that doesn’t live up to its reputation
For the second straight season, Colts general manager Chris Ballard opted for a temporary, low-cost fix on the most important position on the offensive line, retrieving veteran swing tackle Matt Pryor on a one-year, $5 million contract and a third Round took advantage of a potential left tackle of the future, Bernhard Raimann.
Raimann is not ready yet; The Colts give him a handful of snaps every game to speed up his development.
Pryor doesn’t look like he’s suited for the left tackle position. Pryor battled the Jaguars’ dynamic defensive end duo of veteran Josh Allen and No. 1 pick Travon Walker from start to finish. Jacksonville has amassed five sacks for Ryan.
But it wasn’t just left tackle position that cost the Colts dearly in Jacksonville on Sunday.
Indianapolis superstar Jonathan Taylor never had a chance to influence the game. Taylor’s first five or six carries were all covered up for a few yards almost immediately, and not all sacks were on left tackle; The Colts gave Allen a free sack on a stunt when no one picked up Jacksonville’s best pass rusher.
4. The Colts’ wide receiver depth couldn’t do justice to the situation
General Manager Chris Ballard, Reich and the rest of the Colts staff have insisted this offseason that the team’s broad receiver group was better than everyone else thought, despite Indianapolis not having a receiver outside of Pittman Jr. with 400-plus yards last season and lost veterans TY Hilton (who was not brought back) and Zach Pascal (in Free Agency to Philadelphia).
The Colts added only Pierce, a second-round pick, to this group.
After Pittman Jr. (quads) and Pierce (concussion) missed out through injury in Jacksonville, the rest of the wide receiver corps couldn’t back up their boss’s belief in them. Special teamer Ashton Dulin had five catches for 79 yards, but Parris Campbell failed to catch, Dezmon Patmon had a key drop on third down, and Mike Strachan didn’t make an impact until a 23-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
To make matters worse, Ryan was often forced to pocket the ball with no open receivers available, leading to pressure and sacks. If the Colts’ offense was good, the quarterback could get the ball out of his hands quickly, but a quarterback has to have an open receiver to make those throws.
5. Gus Bradley’s defense failed to make any plays
The hiring of Bradley and the addition of both Yannick Ngakoue and cornerback Stephon Gilmore on the defensive end should fix some of the issues that prevented the Matt Eberflus-era defense from becoming truly elite.
Based on Sunday, the Colts’ defense looks the same, except they haven’t made the game-changing turnovers that have often been the hallmark of the Eberflus defense.
Indianapolis failed to produce a pass rush on Sunday, recording only two quarterback hits and zero sacks. The Colts recorded no interceptions, and although they often lined up in press coverage, Indianapolis was riddled with quick, short submissions. The Colts played good defense against the run for the most part, holding Jacksonville for 82 yards with 30 carries, but Indianapolis also gave up a 37-yard touchdown run to James Robinson.
In other years, the Colts made up for it by creating the kind of sales that could ignite the entire team. However, such chances on Sunday slipped through Indianapolis’ fingers; free safety Julian Blackmon missed an interception and Stephon Gilmore failed to capitalize on another potential chance.
Without a big game, Indianapolis’ defense was instead punctured in the first three quarters, allowing Jacksonville to run away with the game.