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Jaguars beat Colts as Indianapolis is left with questions about future


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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Another complete failure in a city that has haunted the Colts for the better part of a decade has put the 2022 season on the brink and likely opens up big questions about the future of the franchise.

An Indianapolis team that many predicted to win the AFC South has instead opened the season by barely salvaging a tie against the Texans and getting blown out 24-0 by a Jaguars team that dominated every phase of the game from start to finish Sunday.

The Colts (0-1-1) have now turned in flat, listless performances in their last four games, dating back to a win-and-get in opportunity against the Raiders at home last season.

1. Frank Reich’s team came out flat, got out-coached

For the third consecutive game, the Colts started out flat and listless, unable to respond to any punches the Jaguars threw at them.

Reich tried to prepare Indianapolis for the humidity by practicing hard Wednesday and Thursday, then doing only a walk-through on Friday, but instead the Colts looked like they were beaten from the start.

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In addition, the Jaguars’ offensive plan — give quarterback Trevor Lawrence short dropbacks and quick throws to avoid pressure — looked better than anything the Colts drew up, trying to attack down the field despite having an overmatched offensive line, and Indianapolis never came up with an answer on defense.

Reich has often been able to get his Colts teams to play well with their backs against the wall, but Indianapolis has rarely played well when it’s favored, and Indianapolis did so again on Sunday.

2. Matt Ryan failed to elevate any of the talent around him

The Colts made a switch at quarterback, trading away Carson Wentz and trading for Matt Ryan in a move that was supposed to give Indianapolis an excellent leader, intelligent passer and a player who could help mask the young receivers and offensive linemen around him with heady play.

Ryan had his chance Sunday, with No. 1 wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and second-round pick Alec Pierce out of action.

With superstar running back Jonathan Taylor bottled up, Indianapolis needed Ryan to live up to his billing.

Instead, Ryan looked like an aging quarterback only capable of success if the conditions around him are perfect, and potentially worse than that.

A promising drive on the Colts’ opening series came to an end when Ryan lofted an ugly, confusing pass to a covered Ashton Dulin, and it was picked off by Jacksonville’s Rayshawn Jenkins.

Ryan kept fighting, kept trying, but the more he tried, the worse it looked. Ryan threw back-to-back interceptions in the fourth quarter, getting picked off by Devin Lloyd and Jamel Dean, and finished an ugly 16 of 30 for 195 yards and three interceptions.  

3.  Left tackle remains a gaping hole on a highly-paid offensive line that hasn’t lived up to its reputation

For the second consecutive season, Colts general manager Chris Ballard opted for a temporary, low-cost solution at the offensive line’s most important position, bringing back veteran swing tackle Matt Pryor on a one-year, $5 million deal and using a third-round pick on a potential left tackle of the future, Bernhard Raimann.

Raimann is not ready yet; the Colts are giving him a handful of snaps in each game to help speed his development.

Pryor does not look like he’s suited for the left tackle position. Facing off against the Jaguars dynamic defensive end duo of veteran Josh Allen and No. 1 pick Travon Walker, Pryor struggled from start to finish. Jacksonville racked up five sacks of Ryan.

But it’s not just the left tackle position that cost the Colts dearly on Sunday in Jacksonville.

Indianapolis superstar Jonathan Taylor never got a chance to make an impact on the game. Taylor’s first five or six carries were all covered up for little yardage almost immediately, and not all of the sacks were on the left tackle position; the Colts gave up a free sack to Allen on a stunt when nobody picked up Jacksonville’s best pass rusher.

4. The Colts wide receiver depth failed to rise to the occasion

General manager Chris Ballard, Reich and the rest of the Colts staff insisted this offseason that the team’s wide receiver group was better than everybody else thought, even though Indianapolis failed to produce a receiver outside of Pittman Jr. with more than 400 yards last season and lost veterans T.Y. Hilton (who wasn’t brought back) and Zach Pascal (in free agency to Philadelphia).

The Colts added only Pierce, a second-round pick, to that group.

With Pittman Jr. (quadriceps) and Pierce (concussion) out due to injury in Jacksonville, the rest of the wide receiver corps failed to back up their boss’s belief in them. Special teamer Ashton Dulin had five catches for 79 yards, but Parris Campbell failed to make a catch, Dezmon Patmon had a key drop on third down and Mike Strachan didn’t make an impact until a 23-yard catch in the fourth quarter.

Making matters worse, Ryan was often forced to hold the ball in the pocket without any open receivers available, leading to pressure and sacks. When the Colts offense has been good, the quarterback has been able to get the ball out of his hands quickly, but a quarterback has to have an open receiver to make those throws.

5. Gus Bradley’s defense failed to make any plays

Hiring Bradley, and adding both defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, was supposed to fix some of the issues that kept the Matt Eberflus-era defenses from becoming truly elite.

Based on Sunday, the Colts defense looks the same, except that they haven’t made the game-changing turnovers that were often the hallmark of the Eberflus defenses.

Indianapolis failed to produce any kind of a pass rush Sunday, recording just two quarterback hits and zero sacks. The Colts did not record an interception, and although they often line up in press coverage, Indianapolis was riddled by quick, short underneath throws. The Colts largely played good defense against the run, holding Jacksonville to 82 yards on 30 carries, but Indianapolis also gave up a 37-yard touchdown run to James Robinson.

In other years, the Colts made up for it by creating the kind of turnovers that could spark the entire team. Any chances like that on Sunday, though, slipped through the Indianapolis fingers; free safety Julian Blackmon missed an interception, and Stephon Gilmore couldn’t pull in another potential chance.

Without a big play, the Indianapolis defense was instead riddled in the first three quarters, allowing Jacksonville to run away with the game.

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