The Dopey Report Card is back. Really.
The good, the bad and the ugliness of failed third- and fourth-down conversions in the Colts 31-21 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Dopey Report Card is back!
So let me tell you why I jettisoned it while working at The Athletic. Basically, there were two reasons:
One, my old publication employed several hardcore football types who watched the all-22 tape, broke offenses down by formation, really studied each game at a granular level. It was really impressive work, and most of it flew well over my head.
My offerings were/are intentionally dopey. I watch the game and give out grades. Not exactly rocket science.
Second, the metrics on the Dopey Report Card kind of stunk. Everything at The Athletic was/is geared toward drawing subscriptions – I always felt massive pressure to produce numbers -- and it started to feel like a waste of time and effort with no discernible payoff.
It was my choice and my choice entirely. Whether it was the right call or not, I don’t know. But now I’m doing my own thing, and so many readers have asked about bringing it back, well, who am I to deny the public the literary greatness that is the Dopey Report Card? And as always, thanks to Bill Polian for one day grousing about “writers and their dopey report cards,” which inspired the name of this offering.
So without further ado:
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If you’re Jonathan Taylor and his agent, Malki Kawa, you’re loving what you saw Sunday from the Colts. Who’d have thought they would have missed Zack Moss so desperately? The starter, Deon Jackson, rushed 13 times for 14 yards and fumbled twice. Then Evan Hull rushed once for a yard, got hurt and was replaced by the immortal Jake Funk. The only real running game was produced by Anthony Richardson who, if Taylor never plays again for the Colts, will end up as the team’s leading rusher this year. He gained 40 yards in 10 carries, including a touchdown on a quarterback draw (shades of Jalen Hurts last year at Lucas Oil). The Colts were abysmal in short yardage situations, going 1-for-5 on fourth-down conversions. The grievously overpaid offensive line never solved Jacksonville’s front seven, the Colts rushing 65 yards in 26 carries, a 2.5 yards-per-carry average. That won’t get it.
The defensive front seven should be a Colts strength this year, and that was the case in the opener. Jacksonville running back Travis Etienne had 18 carries for 77 yards, but nobody else did much, the final Jags rushing total being 105 yards on 35 carries, a 3.0 yard average. Indy had seven tackles for loss, a gaudy number, and forced three fumbles. Zaire Franklin, the team’s leading tackler last year, got off to a white-hot start with 18 tackles, one pass defensed and a forced fumble on a heads up play that resulted in DeForest Buckner’s fumble return for a touchdown. The aforementioned Buckner had seven tackles, one for a loss, one sack, a forced fumble and a fumble return for the score. Kwity Paye also showed up big with four tackles, two for a loss and a sack.
It was, um, efficient. I arrived at Lucas Oil expecting Shane Steichen to make a statement and air it out with Richardson. I don’t know why I thought that, but I figured he’d want to show off his new quarterbacking toy and his big arm. Instead, the gameplan was simplified and with Jacksonville defending the deep ball, Richardson looked more like Gardner Minshew, dinking and dunking, his longest pass coming on a quick out to Michael Pittman, Jr., who scooted down the sidelines for the touchdown. (Side note: That’s the fastest I’ve ever seen Pittman move. Not saying he’s slow or anything, but he’s not a burner. Let’s just say that). I thought the pass protection was pretty solid. Four sacks, but most of them came when Richardson tried to make a play and ran into at least a pair of those sacks. Outside of Pittman (97) yards, a quiet day for the receivers. Kylen Granson flashed but Alec Pierce, well, wake me when he becomes a player. Still waiting.
This was my greatest defensive fear with two undrafted free agents starting at the corners and rookies backing them up. But aside from some early catches by Calvin Ridley, I thought they held up well. Once Kenny Moore plastered himself to Ridley in the second half, the Jags receiver all but disappeared, adding just one more second-half reception. The pass rush registered just two sacks, but it felt like they were pressuring Trevor Lawrence and at least making him feel a bit uncomfortable. Saw some good signs from defensive ends Paye and Samson Ebukam. The one interception, by Tony Brown, was the young corner’s first of his career.
In my mind, the biggest play of the game came on special teams with the Colts leading 21-17 with 11:03 left in the third quarter. After a day of kicking away from ace return man Jamal Agnew, Rigoberto Sanchez pooch-kicked one down to the 6-yard line, where it bounced, was picked up by Agnew and run around the right corner for 48 yards down to the Colts 46-yard line. Jacksonville scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive, then scored one possession later after the Richardson interception. Ball game. It changed everything. Not the greatest punting exhibition from Sanchez, but keep in mind, this was about directional kicking and keeping the ball out of Agnew’s hands.
By and large, I loved Shane Steichen’s fourth-down aggression. One exception: Near the end of the game, at fourth and five, I would have kicked the field goal, then tried an onsides kick with the clock under a minute. But all’s well that ends well; Richardson bailed him out with a first-down run. The problem was, it was the Colts only fourth-down conversion in five tries, which, in the end, killed them. Even the famed Eagles-style quarterback sneak, which always works for Philadelphia, failed in Indy. The game plan was limited and quite conservative, but I feel like that was a function of playing a rookie quarterback in his first-ever NFL game. Plus, again, Jacksonville was in a deep shell most of the game. Problem was, the Colts never made them pay for that alignment with anything resembling a running game. As the season wears on and Richardson becomes more comfortable with larger portions of the playbook, I expect them to air it out a bit more – or a lot more.
This is the portion of the Dopey Report Card where I pull something out of my ass – not so different from the rest of my offerings, really. Today, I want to bring up the Lucas Oil Stadium retractable roof, which is a very expensive toy and as useful as a pair of slim fit jeans on me. Why was it closed Sunday? The temperatures were in the high 70’s, the sun was shining, the humidity was low…was there a barometric pressure issue I’m not aware of? Were we expecting a plague of locusts Sunday late afternoon? What a complete waste of money this was. I have to laugh at fans who say, “Oh, but it gets hot in my section.” Shaddup. Yes, I’m in the air conditioned comfort of the press box — and by the way, the food offerings up there have improved by about a thousand percent; thought you’d care deeply — but can you imagine fans in Chicago/Green Bay/New England, etc. complaining that it’s a bit toasty at 79 degrees. Toughen up, Indianapolis. (My wife usually watches the game on TV, and hates the shadows that are cast when the roof is open. Which inspires the question, why is Lucas Oil at an angle where the shadows have such an impact? Who designed this thing?) OK, I’m off my soapbox. Until the next time.