The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, September 14, 2021 1:00 am

Colts seeking answers for defensive failures

MICHAEL MAROT | Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS – Darius Leonard provided a succinct immediate analysis about the Indianapolis' defensive problems in Sunday's season-opening loss.

The Colts failed in pass coverage, failed to stop the run, and failed to force multiple turnovers.

It wasn't good enough to meet Leonard's high standards and it certainly wasn't good enough to beat a perennial Super Bowl contender.

“We got our (butt) kicked, especially in the first half,” the 2020 All-Pro linebacker said. “We didn't do enough, and then in the second half we made some adjustments. We kind of got it going, but we didn't have enough takeaways. If you want to win football games, you have to take the ball away, and we only had one.”

The search for solutions began in earnest Monday and any necessary changes will be installed Wednesday.

But for a playoff team with championship aspirations built in large part on a run-first mentality and a stout defense, the 28-16 loss to Seattle exposed some glaring holes.

Leonard couldn't chase down tight end Gerald Everett on a crossing route for Seattle's second touchdown. Twice, Russell Wilson threw TD passes to Tyler Lockett – the second coming with 41 seconds left in the half as he broke free behind two safeties to give Seattle a 21-10 lead.

Sure, the Colts played without three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes, but the problems went deeper.

“Offensively and defensively I thought it was a little bit feast or famine and that's not good enough,” coach Frank Reich said Monday. “Four three-and-outs is too many, and as a play caller I have to do a better job on that. On defense, it was a little bit of the same feast or famine thing: too many big plays, too many long drives.”

What's working

Screen passes. Running backs Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines had 11 receptions for 108 yards, nearly half of quarterback Carson Wentz's overall production. Reich, however, wanted to see more big plays from his pass-catching backs.

What needs help

Pass protection. The Colts' offensive line has been one of the league's best since All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson arrived in 2018. It was tough to tell Sunday. Without longtime left tackle Anthony Castonzo (retired) or two-time Pro Bowler LT Eric Fisher (Achilles tendon), the Colts gave up three sacks and 10 quarterback hits.

Stock up

Zach Pascal. The veteran receiver again proved a reliable replacement for four-time Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton (neck surgery). He caught four passes for 43 yards and hauled in both of Wentz's TD throws.

Stock down

Running back Marlon Mack. Last year's opening-day starter lost the No. 1 job to Taylor when he got hurt. Mack re-signed in free agency, presumably to be No. 2 on the depth chart. But on a day Taylor logged 17 carries for 56 yards and six catches for 60 yards, Mack was one of five active players who didn't play.

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