Derek Robertson: Let’s start with the bad this week, because there wasn’t much of it. Darius Leonard left the game limping late in the second half, an unwelcome injury to an important player that nevertheless didn’t seem too severe. Aside from that, this game went exactly how Frank Reich and the Colts wanted it to, perhaps even more so than their blowout of the Jets last week. The defense looked as elite as it has since Week 2 against what should have been a more formidable opponent in the undefeated Bears, with the rookie safety Julian Blackmon playing like an All-Pro. Maybe the game’s defining moment wasn’t anything that actually happened with the clock running, but when Philip Rivers, deep in the fourth quarter, pointlessly and audibly taunted Roquan Smith for the Bears’ inability to stop the Colts’ death-by-a-thousand-cuts offense. I never thought I would describe myself as a Phil Rivers fan, but… as long as they keep piling up anachronistic grind-it-out wins like this, his schtick can actually be pretty endearing. The Colts have clearly established a formula, and it’s working. I know it’s early, but beyond the basics, what did each of you see today that spoke to why this team is looking poised to make a run at the division title?
Michael Rubino: I’m with you on Rivers. You’ve got to love it when your quarterback is 16 for 29 with fewer than 200 yards passing and is barking and jawing with the opposition during the waning seconds of a hard count before a timeout. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Colts signing him, but, I have to admit, when Rivers was flapping his yap, it was like the “What’s your favorite dinosaur?” scene in Step Brothers. But, to your question, the simple answer is the Colts are right there with the unbeaten Titans (3-0), Jacksonville is at 1-3, and, stunningly, Houston (0-4) hasn’t won a freaking game. And I thought the Colts offensive line, particularly the right side, which is the Kirkland brand side of the line which doesn’t get a lot of credit, was pretty good today. Did you hear Khalil Mack’s name called today? I don’t know, maybe he’s past his prime, but was a nonfactor nevertheless.
Derek Schultz: I’m surprisingly cool with Rivers. I never liked him with the Chargers, notably his mouthiness on the sidelines in the 2007 Divisional loss, but I think he’s the kind of guy you only like if he’s on *your* team. His arm looks like it might be shot, and he played poorly on Sunday, but he’s been about what I expected overall. It actually feels good to complain about a “road” win against a previously unbeaten team where the Colts never trailed, but what was that offense? A bunch of short field goals and completely-doomed-before-the-snap 2nd & long runs might work against the Bears, but is that going to fly against the Chiefs or Ravens? Luckily, this defense has been historically great through four games. Fewest yards allowed in almost fifty years (1971). Strength of schedule and blahdy blah blah, but still! Regardless, it’s a two team race down the division now. Texans won’t recover from 0-4.
DR: Derek, I’m glad you brought that up. Over the first few weeks, a mild point of contention between Michael and I has been my skepticism that this kind of carefully-gameplanned, defense-heavy strategy can earn a win when it counts against the hyper-modern behemoths currently atop the AFC. But this week, I’m feeling more confident and excited about their capability to do so than I have been at any point this season — largely a credit to their defense, although or maybe I’m just desperate for joy after another depressing Lions loss. “Historic” is not just a platitude here, but a fact of the matter, as the Colts are putting up defensive numbers that put the rest of the league to shame. With that in mind, I’ll kick this to you, Michael: care to make the case that this team can strike fear into the hearts of the Ravens, Chiefs, or even the Bills when it counts come January?
MR: I don’t know about striking fear into anyone’s heart, but I wouldn’t want to play a team like the Colts. They seem very solid in all phases of the game, and even some of the position groups that I thought might be a little meh—tight ends, for example—have accounted for some very good football. But they have to get some things straightened out before you can even consider them as one of the elite teams in the AFC. They did not do a good job in the red zone (1 for 4), should be rushing the ball better if the o-line really is one of the team’s strengths, and T.Y. Hilton needs to get on track. Three receptions, 29 yards, no touchdowns from him isn’t going to get it done, and I’ve found myself forgetting he’s an option offensively for large chunks of multiple games this season. I can’t imagine the Colts going score-for-score with Mahomes and K.C. Or even next week against the suddenly high-octane (?!?!) Cleveland Browns. (Man, is there anyone in the NFL with a more punchable face than Baker Mayfield?) I’m only half-joking.
DS: Good for the Browns, but man, it’s so weird to see a competent Browns team. They’ve made the playoffs once in the last quarter-century and haven’t won a postseason game since 1994, when Derek was in diapers and Michael was in college, so I’m guessing both of your memories of ’94 are a bit hazy. I just remember being really into Ace of Base.
DR: For the record, in 1994 I may not have been able to fully appreciate the nascent genius of Bill Belichick, but I’m pretty sure I was out of diapers, and I was definitely aware enough to at least have seen that “Full House” episode featuring Ace of Base. Big event in the Robertson household. Stefanski is certainly getting more out of this team than any other Browns coach has since, well, I was still fighting acne on the regular, but as a Baker Mayfield fantasy owner I’ll just say if I were a diehard Colts fan I wouldn’t be losing any sleep about shutting down his offense. Side note: I just realized this week that we’ve won the Unofficial Phil Rivers Achievement In Avoiding Swears. Kick-butt job, everybody, and see you next week when we’ll find out if Rivers will be able to talk his, uh… stuff as fervently against Myles Garrett.