by Kent Sterling
All the Colts who contributed mightily to the Colts opening day win over the woeful Oakland Raiders, please stand up. If your name isn’t Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne, or LaRon Landry, sit your asses back down.
The problems with the performance of the Colts were many and profound, but as was the case last season, Luck and Wayne are the NFL’s answer to Compound W – the warts melt away quickly enough to allow the Colts to win games they otherwise shouldn’t.
Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson knew exactly what the score was after last season, and many adjustments were made to the roster to upgrade the areas of gravest concern. Landry was one important upgrade at safety, and he responded with a gaudy 15 tackles.
We’ll have to watch the tape to see who was responsible for the relentless pressure Luck sometimes dodged and sometimes didn’t. He was sacked four times by a defense that wasn’t expected to be able to deal with the arsenal of offensive weaponry presented by the Colts.
Luck threw for two touchdowns and ran for the clincher with 5:20 left in the game. That represented his eighth comeback in just 17 games. Reggie Wayne was typically excellent with eight catches for 96 yards.
There were several moments where the game’s outcome hung in the balance, and the Colts coaching staff had the good sense to put the ball in the hands of its best two players. As the Colts tried to put themselves in a position to score with 7:52 left, they faced a third-and-two on their own 42. Luck dropped, stared a hole in Wayne, and slipped the ball in for a gain of nine. It was simultaneously simple and elegant, moved the sticks, and showed that while the acquisitions during the offseason were a noble effort to upgrade C players to B players, with the game on the line Luck and Wayne are the guys trusted to execute.
The running game was like the 6 1/2 years Alfonso Soriano spent with the Chicago Cubs. The ball either flew out of the park – like on Luck’s game-winning scramble from the Oakland 19, Vick Ballard’s first run from scrimmage for 12 yards, or Ahmad Bradshaw’s 13-yarder up the middle on the first drive of the second half (which came on third-and-31. Or they were strikeouts like on the 12-of-20 rushes that gained three or less yards from its two running backs.
The Colts offensive line will need to protect Luck at a higher level. After a rookie season that saw the franchise sacked 41 times, the Raiders put the Colts on a pace to yield 64 sacks.
The Raiders went with the very athletic Terrelle Pryor under center because other than his wheels, the offense has nothing to keep defensive coordinators up nights. Minus Pryor’s improvised 112 yards on 13 carries, the Raiders producers 59 yards on 20 carries.
That would be acceptable if the Colts weren’t schedule to face both Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick this season. If they think Pryor was tough to corral, imagine if Pryor had an accurate arm, a great running back like Frank Gore or Marshawn Lynch, and receivers like Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis, or Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, and Sidney Rice.
The Colts escaped today’s game with a win because Luck is quickly becoming special – a player who can be counted upon week-after-week to provide game changing heroics. Doubters need only watch other respected field generals like Carson Palmer and Sam Bradford to see exactly how unique his gifts are.
His stat line of 18-23 for 178 yards and two TDs isn’t gaudy, but nothing about this 23 year-old is – except the number of wins he piles up wherever he goes.
Some random thoughts
- Greg Toler was understandably enthusiastic during his first game in a Colts uniform. He was in front of the home crowd, and wanted to make a good impression, but the histrionics after every tackle was ridiculous. A win is a win in the NFL, but this was not a game with much but the result to celebrate. The defense’s effort was mediocre to be kind. Toler’s cavorting belied a lack of understanding that the Colts have a long way to go before they can content with the NFL’s best.
- There is no excuse for the Colts not using timeouts after the two-minute warning. The Raiders converted a fourth-and-9 with 1:52 to play at their own nine. The clock was irrelevant to Oakland because they would be able to easily run four more plays to try to score a touchdown that would give them a 24-21 lead. If the Raiders had found a way to score late, the Colts would have had all three timeouts, but very little time left. If the Raiders didn’t score, the Colts could have exhausted the time remaining regardless of how much remained. The percentages heavily favored using the timeouts. Not doing so was like hitting a 16 against a five in blackjack.
- The penalty on the Raiders for hitting a defenseless Darrius Heyward-Bey was a little goofy in that the hit that was flagged didn’t even result in his tackle (if it was on Kevin Burnett). The referee said it was on #23, but Tracy Porter was nowhere near the play. There was a little nudge from Tyvon Branch, but that wasn’t late or excessive. Burnett hit DHB hard, but it didn’t bring him down. How defenseless could he have been if it didn’t cause him to go down. At any rate, if I can’t figure out who the hell the flag was on, there shouldn’t have been one.
- If the Colts don’t take a significant step forward this week, they are going to be in trouble against the Dolphins, and 1-1 is not acceptable given their schedule if the Colts want another shot at the postseason.