INDIANAPOLIS. Even after they took their first win of the season on Sunday, no one in the Indianapolis Colts dressing room will dare say they’ve solved their list of problems. Veterans like quarterback Matt Ryan know better.
In their 20–17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Colts showed their mettle and also showed their flaws.
It can be a difficult balance, but as the Colts continue to pack up after a messy start to the season, they believe it’s possible to stay afloat while sorting things out.
“We still have a lot to improve,” Ryan said. “And what I’ve found throughout my career is that you usually keep getting better throughout the year and you clean up. But you have to find ways to win as you improve. This is what I’m proud of today.”
This is a challenge for the Colts.
Can they, for example, handle their escalating problems on the offensive line enough to give Ryan more opportunities like the one he took on Sunday, projecting a 16-game, 76-yard game-winning shot — the 43rd such shot in his 15- summer career? career? Can their exceptionally young passing targets continue to bear fruit while also learning on the fly, as rookie tight end Jelani Woods did with his incredible pair of touchdowns against Kansas City? And can the Colts’ defense last until squad leader Shaquille Leonard returns from back surgery?
The Colts used that elusive formula on Sunday, capitalizing on the Chiefs’ many missteps on their way to a much-needed win that turned the narrative around a team whose fans were increasingly worried.
The win was a reminder that the pre-season predictions that pointed to the Colts as a team to watch in the AFC were indeed based on something tangible. Ryan, who alternated between defending the ball and his elusiveness, earned the nickname “Matty Ice” for a reason. Coach Frank Reich called him “deadpan” on Sunday. Also, the excitement generated by the addition of defenders Stephon Gilmour and Yannick Ngakue may have been justified in the end.
There are certainly legitimate talents on this team. However, what is missing is synergy. The offensive line, according to center Ryan Kelly, is still adjusting to his two rookies. This, he says, is the reason for the parade of unblocked Blitzers who played Ryan on Sunday. The Chiefs recorded 10 hits from the quarterback, a week after the Jaguars recorded 11 hits in the victory over the Colts.
The offense brought in 3.8 yards per game overall against Kansas City. This is probably not sustainable if the Colts are to be a viable team. But on the other hand, the confidence that comes from players like Woods and fellow rookie Alec Pierce (three catches, 61 yards) could help kick-start what has been a stagnant offense. That’s how a team manages to win while experiencing the pains of growth.
“This is one of the biggest adjustments in this league,” Pierce, a second-round pick from the University of Cincinnati, said. “You assume you’re a man and you know you’re going to get the ball and you know the quarterback, all things being equal, will be looking your way, now you have to come in and prove yourself. quarterback, offense and coaches.”
This, again, speaks to the growth issues that were probably to be expected from this team, and which are now becoming more and more apparent.
These growing pains extend to defense as well. The Colts, who are in their first season under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, have allowed quarterbacks to shoot with relative accuracy for two weeks. But Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ propensity to play longer games, combined with a more aggressive defensive plan, allowed the Colts to reverse that trend.
“I think we had a good game plan,” Gilmour said. “We played tighter and I think our rush did a great job of stopping the run. We played as a team, the way we had to play to beat this team.”
Sunday was the best example of team defense the Colts have shown this season, and at times it has stymied the Chiefs. Improved play at the secondary level was matched with performance up front. Ngakoue showed his worth with a sack and two quarterback hits, while defenseman DeForest Buckner showed his best game.
According to Sportzshala Stats & Information, Mahomes was pressured 38% of the time he dropped, compared to 21% in the Chiefs’ first two games.
“I felt constant pressure throughout the day when he held the ball,” Buckner said.
The Colts even seem to have stabilized their footwork, an area that has been in disarray in recent weeks. Player Matt Haack did a great job replacing the injured Rigoberto Sanchez (Achilles tear in his right leg). And kicker Chase McLaughlin, who was called in as a substitute after Rodrigo Blankenship missed the game-winning field goal in Week 1, converted field goals from 43 and 51 yards.
Will the Colts be able to guess the rest? Time will tell. In the meantime, they have shown that they can possibly find ways to win as long as they find their way.
“It showed us that we can be the team we want to be,” Reich said. “We can be the team we think we were going to be this season. We can be this team. But we have to work to get better.”