The Dopey Report Card (Colts-Browns)
One day later, Indy is still up in arms about the officiating. Do yourself a favor: Stop. The Colts turned the ball over four times. They gave up a blocked field goal attempt. 'Nuff said.
The old Jonathan Taylor is back. Well, he’s close to back, anyway, making progress toward being the elite back he once was when he carried the Colts in 2021. With Shane Steichen using him more and more in the passing game, and occasionally in the Wildcat, Taylor finished with 75 yards rushing and 45 yards in pass receptions. It’s taken two, three games – as expected – but you’re starting to see the strength and burst that makes him such a special back. Taylor and the offense did this against a defense that’s been putting up numbers we haven’t seen in 52 years – first in total yards, yards per play, passing yards per game, first downs per game, third down percentage and the list goes on. Coming into the game, opponents had reached the red zone just nine times against Cleveland. Indy rolled up 38 points and 456 yards, which is usually two-plus games against the Browns. Now, with the trade deadline approaching Oct. 31, I wonder whether the Colts will be inclined to move Zack Moss, who has been so good since stepping in during Taylor’s absence. But with Taylor slowly re-establishing himself as the primary back, it seems to make sense to move Moss for a draft asset.
Think the Colts missed Grover Stewart? On the Browns’ first drive of the game, Jerome Ford went right up the gut, running through the space where Stewart would have been, for a 69-yard touchdown run. Stewart is one of those guys, you don’t really notice him until he’s gone. He’s an elite run-stuffer and the Colts will be hard-pressed to replace him for the next five games of his PED suspension. Aside from the 69-yarder, the Colts limited Cleveland to 81 yards on 33 carries. On a completely different subject – completely different -- I thought the alternative Indiana Nights uniform was pretty sharp, although it was interesting the Colts were playing a day game. Maybe next time, try all-black unis with blue highlights. That’s my professional fashion opinion. As anybody who knows me will tell you, I’m quite a sartorial expert.
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Talk about a mixed bag. Gardner Minshew was 15-of-23 for 305 yards and two touchdowns, plus he had two running touchdowns when he channeled his inner Anthony Richardson in the red zone. But…he threw one interception and lost three fumbles, the second straight week he’s had four turnovers. Minshew doesn’t normally throw interceptions, but he has been known to fumble during his limited appearances over the years. Hard – no, damn near impossible – to win that way, even on a day when you outgain the opponent by 150 yards. Don’t look now, but Josh Downs, who the Colts loved coming out of the University of North Carolina, is establishing himself as the slot receiver of the present and the future. He had five catches for 125 yards and a 59-yard touchdown. The Colts receivers won their share of one-on-one battles against a defense that primarily plays man. I also liked the way Steichen used Taylor in the pass game (3 catches, 45 yards). For the life of me, I’ll never understand why Steichen was throwing out of his own end zone on a day when Myles Garrett was dominating all over the line of scrimmage. Indy tried to help right tackle Blake Freeland with a tight end chip on that strip-sack/touchdown play, but both guys completely whiffed. Not good. And not a smart call by Steichen in that situation. Aggressive when he didn’t need to be. More on that later.
Deshaun Watson looked hurt and lost in his short time on the field, and backup P.J. Walker, a longtime Colts practice squad guy, didn’t have much success either (15-of-32 for 178 yards and an interception). But then rookie cornerback JuJu Brents went down with a quad injury in the second quarter, and you saw why we’ve been yelling about the Colts’ lack of secondary depth. No Dallis Flowers, no Brents, no hope. Darrell Baker Jr., who was benched after one game this season, simply couldn’t hold up, especially at the most crucial time. On the Browns’ late, game-winning drive, Baker was on the wrong end of a 30-yard pass to Elijah Moore on a third-and-10 at the 20 with 2:27 left. Then came the two penalties, the ones that have our city up in arms today. My take: The first penalty, an illegal contact, was a reasonable call to make. Baker was badly beat on the play and tried, without much success, to grab Amari Cooper as he ran toward the corner of the end zone. Could the official have let that one go? Sure. It wasn’t, um, egregious. But it was a penalty – my view. The pass interference, though, was a joke. First, there was a minimal amount of hand-fighting and the ball was thrown wellllll over Donovan Peoples-Jones’ head, an uncatchable ball if there ever was one. For 58 minutes, the grade was an A. But those last two minutes…