Historic collapse latest sign of Colts’ need for overhaul: AFC South analysis

When the Colts were rolling in a way they never had this season against the Vikings on Saturday, before the biggest collapse in NFL history, their special teams play was phenomenal. 

There was Dallis Flowers‘ 49-yard kick return to start the game. His 48-yard kick return in the third quarter. Ifeadi Odenigbo‘s fingertip blocked punt in the first period, caught by linebacker JoJo Domann and returned for a touchdown. The fake-punt stop in the second quarter. 

In the first half, Indianapolis’ defense was dominant, too. At halftime, the Vikings had no points. They were held to a meager 82 yards of offense, 0-for-6 on third down. Kirk Cousins had already been sacked three times. Superstar receiver Justin Jefferson was held to three receptions for 17 yards.

But even while just about everything was going right for the Colts, everything was still wrong with their offense. 

Indianapolis had one offensive touchdown during the 33-0 first half. The Colts reached the Minnesota 10 or better four times and had one touchdown to show for it. In the first quarter, star running back Jonathan Taylor injured his right ankle again (and most likely will not return this season). 

Even when the Colts have been at their best in 2022, with the defense flying around, their offense’s flaws have been undeniable — from the quarterback to the offensive-line struggles. They’ve been visible for the whole NFL world to see. 

While blame is deserving all around for blowing a 33-0 lead, one must start with the Colts offense. Matt Ryan & Co. left 12 points on the board in going 1-for-4 in the red zone. It’s likely we’re not even talking about Minnesota’s miraculous victory if the Colts had converted on one or two more of those red-zone trips in the first half. 

The Colts’ collapse is the latest example of the team’s need for a robust offensive overhaul for 2023. 

While Indianapolis has something to build on with a promising young core of skill players (Taylor; receivers Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell and Alec Pierce; tight end Jelani Woods), it must find a franchise quarterback — via the draft, free agency or trade — and revamp the offensive line. 

Left guard Quenton Nelson, center Ryan Kelly and right tackle Braden Smith are the high-priced guys who aren’t going anywhere, but making improvements at left tackle and right guard — two spots that have gone ignored — must take precedence. 

Other thoughts across the AFC South:

Jaguars‘ offensive line takes big hit amid recent surge 

The Jaguars are one of the NFL’s ascending teams, winners of four of their past six games coming off a stunning overtime victory over the Cowboys. They’re now breathing down the Titans‘ neck in the AFC South. 

But could Jacksonville’s blossoming offense take a step back?

Coach Doug Pederson announced Monday that left tackle Cam Robinson will likely miss the remainder of the season with a meniscus injury in his knee. He was hurt in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against Dallas. 

Backup Walker Little replaced Robinson and will be Jacksonville’s left tackle moving forward. 

“He went in there with some adverse conditions against those two edge rushers and did a nice job,” Pederson said of Little’s performance vs. the Cowboys. “We got a lot of confidence in Walker and look forward to getting him in there and getting him going.”

Trevor Lawrence, one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL, has benefited from great pass protection. Through Week 15, the Jaguars are tied for third in adjusted sack rate (4.8%), per Football Outsiders. That accounts for opponent quality, down and distance. 

Time to crown Trevor Lawrence after Jags win over Cowboys?

Time to crown Trevor Lawrence after Jags win over Cowboys?

Nick Wright, Chris Broussard and Kevin Wildes discuss the Cowboys’ loss to the Jaguars. Jacksonville QB Trevor Lawrence had four TDs in the game.

And Robinson has been an above-average left tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, of the 29 offensive tackles who’ve played at least 500 pass-block snaps, Robinson has given up 27 pressures, which ranks 10th.

Little is tasked with preventing a steep drop-off on Lawrence’s blindside to keep the Jaguars’ passing game humming. The 2021 No. 1 overall pick, Lawrence has thrown for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. 

Playcalling looms large in Titans’ loss to Chargers

The Titans offense was dreadful in Sunday’s 17-14 loss to the Chargers, but questionable playcalling didn’t give the unit a chance in pivotal moments. 

Tennessee faced third-and-2 twice in the game, both times in the third quarter. Neither resulted in a conversion. Star running back Derrick Henry didn’t touch the ball either time. He was on the field for just one of the plays, both of which were passes that sailed incomplete. 

“He’ll be in there on some third downs,” coach Mike Vrabel said Monday of Henry. “Others, he won’t be.” 

Opposing defenses know to stuff the box in those scenarios, especially against Henry. Eliminating predictability is always a goal. But if you’re the Titans, there’s no need to get cute. You have a 6-foot-3, 250-pound truck in Henry, arguably the best tailback in football. Why not trust your best player to get two yards? 

There’s a third-down play in the fourth quarter that’s also a head-scratcher. The Titans were in field-goal range at the Chargers 24 after a seven-yard run by Henry. Instead of playing it safe with a run, knowing the sad state of the passing attack in a game in which points were already hard to come by, Tennessee elected to pass. Ryan Tannehill was sacked for a nine-yard loss, and placekicker Randy Bullock missed the 51-yard field goal. 

Sunday marked another bad game for oft-criticized offensive playcaller Todd Downing. While acknowledging that the offensive playcalling probably wasn’t good enough to win, Vrabel added that he’s ultimately responsible for every play that gets called. 

“Whether it gets executed or it’s a good call or a bad call, you have to look and see times we’ve gotten into a flow and a rhythm,” he said. “The execution and the playcalling all go hand-in-hand.”

Texans carrying momentum into Christmas Eve game vs. Titans

The Texans may be on a nine-game losing streak, but they’re coming off their best two-game stretch of the season. 

Without several starters, Houston took Kansas City — a Super Bowl contender — to overtime on Sunday. The week prior, it lost to Dallas — one of the NFC’s best teams — by just four points. The Texans had a fourth-quarter lead in both games. 

They scored 47 points in the contests, the most they’ve had in a two-game span all year.

“I think you get better as the year goes along,” coach Lovie Smith said Monday. 

The inability to finish has been a season-long issue for Houston. Through 15 games, the Texans are 12th in the NFL in third-quarter scoring (68 points) and point margin (plus-12), but in the fourth quarter/overtime, they rank 30th in scoring (55 points) and last in point margin (minus-57), according to TrueMedia. 

But one can’t ignore how well they played playoff teams in consecutive weeks. 

With confidence from those performances, heading into a Christmas Eve matchup against the reeling Titans, who are in a tight AFC South battle with the Jaguars, maybe something surprising happens. 

“The spoiler part, you’re just playing a division opponent,” Smith said of Houston possibly wreaking havoc in the AFC South to end the season. “That should get you fired up, just that in itself. That’s where we are.”

Houston Texans


Tennessee Titans


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Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur

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