This week the Colts played a strange game, to say the least. The first team was hot and cold, while the second team was good overall, with some players redeeming themselves and some simply standing out. Individual efforts were incapable of bringing home a victory for the Colts. Still, we discuss who looked good and who disappointed below.
Devin Moore: Devin Moore gets the game ball. He had four kickoff returns for an average of 32.3 yards per return, as well as two punt returns for an average of 24.5 yards per return, culminating into a total of 180 return yards. Moore also broke off a 22 yard run on his way to an average of 4.3 yards per carry. He made good cuts, showed great speed, and had a hard-nosed running style the Colts have not seen in quite a while.
Joseph Addai: After my previous post laying blame at Addai’s feet, Addai went out of his way to show that he can overcome the inadequacies of the offensive line to be successful. He finished the game with 6.5 yards per carry and 43 all-purpose yards on two plays (which were negated by two other negative plays).
Donald Brown: Probably the second most improved player of the game. Brown got a 13 yard rush, and consistently gained yardage when he carried the ball. He finished the game with a 5.8 yards per carry average, along with a seven yard reception.
Brody Eldridge: Eldridge didn’t get the start but quickly replaced Robinson on the first team offense, joining Tamme for a very effective combination. Eldridge made a couple of catches for a 16 yards per reception average, and was crucial to the running game with some good blocks on the line.
Jacob Tamme: Tamme has proven to be a good replacement for Clark and Garçon — taking Clark’s place at tight end, while also fulfilling Garçon’s role as a deep threat. Tamme made a nice catch and did a very good job selling his routes. This is his second straight game with a big catch.
Taj Smith: Smith earns the distinction of being the most improved player this week. He led all receivers in yards and secured two great passes that he probably would have dropped last week. Smith showed the speed and strength which made him stand out in training camp and averaged over 30 yards per reception.
Curtis Painter: Painter played well today, secured a perfect QB rating (158.3) and scored his first professional touchdown. He was able to avoid poor decisions and overcome the poor play by the offensive line that plagued him last week. Painter avoided throwing an interception, despite throwing into Buffalo’s strong secondary that hindered the first team offense, and was able to avoid pressure in the pocket. He was also aided by the Taj Smith’s improved play and a better performance from the running game. Painter finished the game completing five of six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown.
Gary Brackett: Brackett showed exactly how much he deserved the new contract he signed with the Colts by being a bulwark on a defense that was otherwise shaky against the Bills. While only tallied three tackles, he generated a lot of pressure on Trent Edwards, forcing him to scramble, and did a solid job corralling running backs who broke through the defensive line.
Antoine Bethea: Like Brackett, Bethea is doing just about everything possible to show his contract extension is a good decision for the Colts’ front office. Bethea forced a couple of quarterback scrambles himself and was one of the few bright spots in a secondary that gave up a number of big plays and long third downs. He finished the game with two tackles.
Terrail Lambert: Lambert played an impressive game with the second and third team defenses. He led all defenders for both teams with eight tackles, batted down a pass, and provided excellent coverage against another. He was a big reason the defense rebounded in the end of the second and third quarters.
Brandon King: King had the second most tackles on the Colts defense, gathering four solo tackles and one assist. He also proved to be a stable cornerback during the latter stretches of the game, with the 3rd team secondary. King nearly had an interception off a deflected pass.
Mike Newton: Newton continued to impress with the second string defense, alongside Pat Angerer. Newton had one of the biggest impacts for the Colts defense and had one of the numerous batted passes in the second half. He finished the game with one solo tackle, two assists, and a pass defended.
Terrell Skinner: He was signed just before Tuesday’s practices, had all of maybe two full team drills before his first game in the Colts system. Needless to say, expectations were about zero, but Skinner proved to be a stable safety, showed good coverage skills, and finished the game with three tackles.
Garrett Lindholm: Lindholm got some good booming kicks while covering kickoff duties. Some of his kicks started making it to the back of the endzone, which has seriously been helping McAfee keep his strength on days when punts are in high demand.
Pat McAfee: Pat McAfee punted seven times for an average of 44.1 yards per punt. Three of his kicks were firmly inside the 20, while two were fielded at the 21 yard-line (where they stayed), and another landed at the 27. Pat McAfee was also having to rush his kicks slightly as line blocking started to break down giving the Bills good penetration.
Brandon James: James didn’t have as amazing of a day as Moore did, but in terms of what we have come to expect from our returners, he represents a definite step up. He had a 19 yard punt return that showed his grit and fortitude when opposing players were flying all around him.
Defensive Line (all teams): While some of the run defense was shaky, the linemen themselves ended up being quite impressive as a unit. They were got pressure from all sides, opened gaps for blitzes from the secondary, and made some great backfield plays. The defensive line even batted down three passes in the later stages of the game. While specific players like Freeney and Mathis did not have big impacts, the overall effectiveness of the line was much improved.
Peyton Manning: Manning was not horrible, but he was absolutely not on his game. His quarterback rating was below 70, and even though the interception was not entirely Manning’s fault, it was only one of a number of throws he made that very easily could have been picked off. That said, Manning made some very nice passes to Addai and Tamme on his touchdown drive, it is only the preseason.
Anthony Gonzalez: Gonzalez got to start wide left against the Bills, but failed to shine like many expected him to. He was targeted five times and only managed eight yards, but was also a victim of the poor play on offense. Two of his targets were when he was very well covered and should probably have not been thrown to him in the first place, while his other target turned into an interception when his back arm was pulled away as he tried to secure that ball. While he disappointed, he did get more looks and yards than either Wayne or Collie, so his performance probably will not cost him much in terms of time on the field.
Gijon Robinson: Robinson has top billing at tight end in the Colts’ depth chart with Clark sitting out, yet Robinson dropped one catch-able pass and proved to be a non-factor with the offense. Robinson’s spot on this list is not so much an indictment of poor play, but more related to the fact that backups Eldridge and Tamme had more impact on the game, both as blockers and receivers, with much less time on the field. Approximately 30% of an NFL roster turns over from year to year, and while the Colts do tend to be loyal to vets, they also are pragmatic. Being “average” at the tight end position may not be enough this year.
Kick coverage: There were only three kick-offs made by the Colts that were returned, but two of them featured sloppy tackling and missed chances, especially during Chad Simpson’s 33 yard return. While small sample sizes do not usually warrant a serious look at performance, the fact that last week’s game also featured poor coverage justifies the unit’s inclusion on the list of disappointing performers until something changes.
Second team offensive line: How poor the second team line is became clear when Hiller and Brandstater were both dominated at the line by third string defensive linemen. The only saving grace was they somehow figured out a way to be stable enough to let Painter get his feet under him. As the game went on though, they started to seriously break down.
First team run defense: While Sanders made two big plays stopping the run along the sideline as well as invading the backfield, tackling was sloppy on run plays. Spiller had a good game, but on a number of his runs there were multiple missed tackles, with his touchdown run featuring spectacular whiffs by Mathis, Lacey, and Bethea. Whether this was just a bad outing, or a resulting of not tackling in practice, the whole first unit disappointed against the run with the starters on the field.
Kelvin Hayden: Hayden has been looking good in practice, but two 70 yard touchdowns in three days is more than a little embarrassing for our most experienced corner (Gonzo during Tuesday’s evening practice was the first). Whether it was a miscommunication with Bullitt, or whether Hayden simply got blown up on the play, he has not been as dominating as he is expected — given his experience and billing as the top cornerback on the Colts roster. While one performance by no means will force his relegation, the continued solid play by Powers and Lacey should have Hayden working hard to show why he is the top cornerback.
Melvin Bullitt: Bullitt didn’t have too awful of a night, but between his coverage screw-up with Hayden and being overshadowed by both Bethea and Sanders, Bullitt did not show that he should retain his starting spot over the recovering Sanders. He did end up with the same number of tackles as Sanders and Bethea, but even Bethea’s whiff was not as bad as the complete lack of coverage on the 70 yard touchdown reception for a team that allowed the fewest passing TDs in modern NFL history with a nearly identical secondary (Hayden, Sanders, Bethea, and then Jackson).
Tom Brandstater: Brandstater does not get a dreadful berth because he was not in the game long enough to have a chance to redeem his poor performance on one series. Still, his three plays were a tale in extremes. First play he very nearly throws an interception that could have been a pick-six, but then on his next play he holds the ball to long in the pocket is taken down for the sack… No, wait… He’s up! He magically teleports out of the dog pile and is running for a first down! WOW! He lines up… Oh… He fumbled the football. Anxiety turned to dread turned to amazement turned to disappointment. This was Brandstaters series which gained him a 39.6 QB rating.
Tony Ugoh: Ugoh probably gets the award for worst player of the game after his THREE false-starts. He has been getting reps at left tackle for three years now, including a lot lately as the starter while Charlie Johnson is injured. The fact that he cannot block well and is becoming as much of a liability at tackle as Diem (in other words requiring a TE to assist in blocking) is only hurting Ugoh’s case. Until Eldridge came into the lineup with Robinson, Ugoh was allowing too much pressure and eliminating any hope of running down the left side. If Ugoh wants any chance at making his position on the starting line permanent, he will really need to pick up his game and stop jumping the gun.
Ray Fisher: Fisher has effectively a zero chance of a roster spot now. He has been in one form or another terrible during practice at training camp returning kicks/punts, and has shown nearly nothing as a corner to warrant him staying on the roster. Throw in his poor decisions on returns with the dominance of Moore, and the consistency of Giguere and Brandon James, and Fisher stands little to no chance of being the returner for the Colts. Add the stability of players like Brandon King, Terrell Skinner, Deshea Townsend, and Jordan Hemby in practice and games, and there is no room for Fisher as a corner either. It is sad that a player who had such a good opportunity has failed so spectacularly, but a Rushing/Jennings hybrid we need not.
Tim Hiller: Hiller really worked to get this distinction. After all the anti-Painter sentiment flowing out of every corner of the world this past week all Hiller needed to do was not screw up and he would have had everyone in the media and in Colts’ blogs around the world demanding Painter’s replacement. Hiller decided to go the other approach, though. With Brandon James, Sam Giguere, and Blair White on the field (effectively the same receivers as Painter except Painter had Smith instead of James), Hiller went one of five passing, took a very bad sack, and threw a couple of near picks. Throw in Hiller playing third string defenders with the same offensive line as Painter and Hiller’s collapse becomes even more spectacular. Javarris James was actually doing well with Hiller, averaging 3.6 yards per carry, so it wasn’t all the line’s fault. When people that had been calling for Painter’s head earlier in the day start saying, “God, Hiller really isn’t doing well. Put Painter back in,” you know you’ve got a problem. Still, it was Hiller’s first outing, and despite the dreadful nature of this failure in his debut, Hiller will likely get another crack at the backup gig in the next couple of games.