Colts head coach Chuck Pagano spent training camp and the preseason assuring fans and media that Colts QB Scott Tolzien was ready to lead as Andrew Luck continued to rehab his shoulder. When declaring him as the starter against the Rams, Pagano used words such as smart, tough, gritty, confident, competitor, and game manager to describe his anointed QB. New Colts GM Chris Ballard used the word consistent to highlight Tolzien’s strengths. Neither used the word good. Or talented. Or winner.
To be fair, there is plenty of blame to go around in a 37-point loss and we have seen Colts greats Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck have off days. This was to be the year that the Colts took advantage of a weak early schedule and got off to a strong start, despite the absence of Luck. This team is #ColtsForged. The defense is younger, faster and more talented. Pagano is coaching for his job. The offensive line is improved despite the youth and lack of game experience. This team laid an egg.
It was over less than four minutes into the game. Pagano’s brain fart on rookie RB Marlon Mack’s potential touchdown reception in the first quarter ensured that no momentum would swing in the Colt’s favor and the Rams took a commanding 27-3 lead into the locker room at halftime. After presumably chopping wood and sharpening iron during halftime, Tolzien threw his second pick-six of the game to Rams DB Lamarcus Joyner midway though the third quarter and the route continued.
Tolzien (9-18-128-0-2) was finally benched in favor of QB Jacoby Brissett ( who promptly hit WR Donte Moncrief on a 50-yard bomb setting up Mack’s first career rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter. While Brissett is new to the team and has had limited time to learn the playbook, the Colts now have a quarterback controversy on their hands after seeing the offensive spark and energy that Brissett (2-3-51-0-0) led with. It will be very interesting to see who is named as the Colts starter against the Cardinals in week two.
Positives against the Rams:
- DB Matthias Farley (pictured) led the Colts with 8 solo tackles (10 total) in his first career start. He only had four tackles for his career heading into this game.
- The Colts revamped defensive held the Rams rushing attack to 63 yards on 33 carries (1.9 yards per rush). This is a significant improvement over past Colts defenses. The longest run of the day was only 12 yards by RB Todd Gurley.
- Rookie punter Rigoberto Sanchez averaged 50.3 yards on 6 punts while downing 2 inside the 20. His average was not inflated by one booming kick as his long was 53 yards. His punt coverage unit held the Rams to just 15 yards on 3 returns so he was very effective in his first game.
Negatives against the Rams:
- Rams QB Jared Goff picked the secondary apart on his way to career game highs in yards (306), completion percentage (72.4%), quarterback rating (117.9), and yards per attempt (10.55). He was rarely pressured and threw no interceptions while being sacked just once and hit only five times in the game.
- The Colts offense was 0-10 on third-down conversions and 0-1 on fourth-down attempts. This lack of sustained drives kept the Colts defense on the field for far too many plays (64) which gave Rams rookie head coach Sean McVay too many opportunities to exploit our young defensive secondary.
- It is far too easy to pick on Tolzien here based on his multiple pick-sixes, his lack of picking up one third-down, and his 33.8 quarterback rating. Most people that watched the preseason games doubted that he actually won the starting quarterback gig and at best the hope was that he would not “lose the game” since he would not be counted on to win the game with his play. It quickly became apparent that yet another questionable coaching decision placed Tolzien in a position in which he was not equipped to succeed. Unfortunately, questionable personnel and game management decisions have become a hallmark under Pagano’s reign. To his credit, Pagano is typically quick to assign blame too himself after each poor choice and performance. Hopefully Colts leadership is listening to his mea culpas and admits he is correct.
Colts fans had to be encouraged by the Chiefs shocking upset victory in New England in the season opening game. GM Ballard was directly responsible for helping to build and craft that roster and while it takes time to overcome the numerous errors and wasted capital from the Grigson era, it is expected that he will do the same in Indianapolis. A healthy Andrew Luck masks lots of roster shortcomings that become exposed when a career backup with no wins is given the helm.
Fans may have expected a rough few weeks to start the season. No one expected to lose by 37 points to a team coming off a 4-12 campaign last season with arguably their best defensive player Aaron Donald not playing in the game. The Colts may be out-manned due to injuries and lack of talent and experience, but they do not have to be out-prepared and out-coached. The Colts must fix things quickly and now must face former Colts coach Bruce Arians and his Cardinals at Lucas Oil Stadium this Sunday.