Derek Robertson: Last week, I joked about how a big Jonathan Taylor chunk play gave me unwelcome flashbacks to my days mainlining Big Ten football as a Northwestern fan. The football gods were apparently listening, as Sunday’s game against the Vikings felt eerily similar to the beatdowns I’ve repeatedly witnessed against my beloved Wildcats at the hands of, you know, actual football schools like Wisconsin and Michigan State. In this case, the Vikings played the role of their spiritual cousins in purple, putting together one of the most comically inept offensive performances in recent memory while allowing Taylor to run all over them for just more than 100 yards (the first Colts rookie to do so since Vic Ballard in 2012).
There were two key factors that drove events to play out this way, one great and one not-so-great: Respectively, the defense decided to show up, with DeForest Buckner and Denico Autry putting Kirk Cousins and the Vikings’ O-line through 21 minutes of hell, and then Parris Campbell suffered a gnarly-looking knee injury on his first reception that took him out of the game. Overall, the victory was about as mixed of a bag as an 11-28 blowout can be—what did you think was real and sustainable, and what’s going to be an issue as the Colts move forward against stronger competition?
Michael Rubino: I don’t know if you’ve heard, Colts fans, but many people are saying that 2020 is shaping up to be an asshole. The Parris Campbell injury was par for the course. Right now, we’re unsure of the injury’s extent. He’s scheduled to have an MRI today. Fingers crossed.
Still, a couple of minutes into the third quarter of this game, as a former sports writer I found myself in a familiar position, which is the point where you move around the bullshit in your mind to shape the hill you’ll eventually die on: The injury to Campbell is bad, but I’m more concerned about T.Y. Hilton catching seven passes in two games for just 81 yards.
But maybe I’m underselling the Colts’ defensive performance and how its showing against the Vikings really underscores how bad the unit was at Jacksonville in Week 1. Thoughts?
DR: It could be, but it could also be that Jacksonville is just … good, actually, or at least average; they took the Titans to the wire yesterday, with their rookie RB James Robinson also running for more than 100 yards. If that’s the case, it raises another interesting question: What’s the path to win this division? Over at the Star, Gregg Doyel wrote that what the Colts did yesterday could serve as a Super Bowl blueprint, which I’m highly skeptical of not least because there’s a plausible scenario in which each team in the AFC South finishes in the 7-10 win range. For the most part, the Colts have a pretty soft schedule outside their division, but based on what we’ve seen from this offense (and Philip Rivers, who was deeply underwhelming again) I have a hard time imagining them consistently out-dueling a Deshaun Watson or Tannehill/Henry-led offense. Especially when Campbell’s fate is uncertain and Hilton is playing like he’s ready to retire ahead of schedule, there’s a lack of dynamism that lowers their ceiling. Not to get into the parlor games prematurely in the season, but imagine you’re Chris Ballard—assuming the playoff push continues, what are you hoping to accomplish with this roster by the end of October?
MR: I take your point about the level of competition in the AFC South, but I agree with Doyel. It is a Super Bowl blueprint, one that others (notably, the Manning-led Broncos) have used in the past. But once you have the blueprint, it’s about the execution. And the way that the Colts played in Week 1 against the Jags won’t get you to the big game in Tampa, but it will get you an early vacation and a first round pick that’s just outside of the Top Ten.
As far as Rivers goes, I don’t think you want him in a QB duel with anyone. The passing game to me looks like an extension of the run game, which obviously took a hit last week with the injury to Marlon Mack but appears to be in great shape nonetheless. Thanks, Colts O-line! (The success of Colts’ season rides on the Big Uglies on both sides of the ball, IMO.)
To your question, I think the goal is to have this team in a position by October where Tim Brando no longer calls your games. His praise of Jonathan Taylor staggered into “articulate and bright and clean” territory.
DR: He also referred to Rodrigo Blankenship as Rigoberto Sanchez, who is the Colts’ punter. He also kept calling Mo Alie-Cox “Cox,” despite his last name being, in fact, Alie-Cox. Yes, for the love of god, Colts, if you play for nothing else this season, play for a record that will earn you a better broadcast team. I see the template for what you’re describing, but as bad as Manning technically was in that last Broncos season, he still had better judgment as a passer than Rivers. To give credit where it’s due, however, that version of Manning couldn’t make the small handful of very nice deep passes to Michael Pittman Jr. and Alie-Cox that Rivers did over the course of this game. Still, my skepticism persists: despite those flashes, and the fact that the Colts controlled the ball for nearly three quarters of this game, half of their 28 points were scored on field goals. Nice work, Sanch— ah, Blankenship.
MR: Ha! Yes, do NOT look up Rigoberto Sanchez on Urban Dictionary. But, football-wise, Skinny Jeans has exceeded my expectations as a replacement for Adam Vinatieri.
DR: Next up for Rivers and co. are the Jets, and under the circumstances I would be remiss to not leave us with a gratuitous Mark Sanchez joke. Maybe he can make a comeback this season as a backup and placeholder, further confusing Tim Brando. See you next week, hopefully with both good news about Parris Campbell and a more dynamic offensive attack.