INDIANAPOLIS – This is how it’s supposed to be.
Pound away with the ground game – Jonathan Taylor, it’s your room – behind a physical offensive line.
Chip away with Philip Rivers, who was more game-manager than gunslinger.
Be efficient on special teams.
And swarm, suffocate and dominate on defense.
“There’s no question this is a blueprint to what we want to look like,’’ Frank Reich said on a Zoom conference call Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The blueprint’s bottom line: Indianapolis Colts 28, Minnesota Vikings 11.
And let’s be honest. It never was that close. At the end of three quarters, the Colts’ disruptive defense had allowed 111 total yards and turned Kirk Cousins into a Blutarski-ish QB – a 0.0 passer rating with three interceptions and a safety.
“We’ve been talking about it all year, our standards that we have on defense,’’ tackle DeForest Buckner said after pestering the Vikings with three tackles, 1.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and the safety of Cousins. “We have to uphold those standards.
“Today was just a little taste of what we can do moving forward.’’
It certainly was an authoritative step forward after the opening clunker at Jacksonville. Only a cosmetic closing drive allowed the Vikings to push their output to 175 yards. And Cousins? Yeech. The second-most accurate QB in NFL history endured the worst game of his nine-year, 95-game career: 11-of-26, 113 yards, three interceptions, a career-low 15.9 rating.
Buckner, Tyquan Lewis and Justin Houston got to Cousins for three sacks. They hit him four other times. Kenny Moore, Khari Willis and T.J. Carrie had interceptions. The Vikings’ run game managed 80 yards on 18 carries.
“I don’t know if you can play much better than we played defensively,’’ Reich said. “That was an explosive offense. We were good for 60 minutes. You could feel it the whole game. Our defense kept the pressure on them. We stopped the run. We got turnovers.
“We made the statement we wanted to make.’’
The offense, meanwhile, was efficient, save for an early gaffe. An otherwise crisp 16-play, 67-yard drive to open the game ended when Rivers’ hot pass to Mo Alie-Cox inside the Vikings’ 10-yard line turned into a ricocheted interception by linebacker Eric Wilson.
After that, Rivers was more than satisfied being a game manager than unleashing the 46 passes he uncorked at Jacksonville. He delivered the necessary passes, made the proper checks, handed the ball to Taylor and Jordan Wilkins and allowed his defense to dominate.
“It does, it makes it easier,’’ he said. “I guess easier is the word. I’m thankful for that group up front and being able to run it.
“The team game-manager has always been seen as a negative. I don’t think it’s a negative. Shoot, whatever the quarterback’s job is. Sometimes the quarterback’s job is to throw it all over the field and find a way to lead a 2-minute drive, and sometimes it’s to hand it off, not turn it over, get everybody lined up and handle motions and make a few checks here or there.
“If that’s the term ‘game-manager’ – if that’s what today was – it was a heckuva lot of fun. We’ll take today each and every week from out outcome standpoint.’’
What allowed Rivers to lean on that smash-mouth approach was Taylor responding to Marlon Mack’s season-ending Achilles injury and putting the running game on his shoulders in his first NFL start.
“The plan was to feature Jonathan and he as running hard and running good,’’ Reich said. “Felt like we had good rhythm.’’
Taylor handled 13 of the Colts’ first 16 plays: 11 rushes for 45 yards, two catches for another 10.
By game’s end, the second-round draft pick had pounded away at the Vikings 26 times for 101 yards. He’s the first Colts’ rookie to breach the 100-yard mark since Vick Ballard in 2012.
For good measure, Jordan Wilkins offered solid backup work with nine carries for 40 yards. After managing an unsatisfactory 88 yards on the ground at Jacksonville, the Colts were back at it with 151.
That enabled Rivers to be more economical with 19-of-25 passing for 214 yards with the interception and a 2-yard TD to Zach Pascal.
“Jordan ran the stew out of it,’’ he said.
“He ran the stew out of it today,’’ Rivers said.
In that vein, Alie-Cox caught the stew out of it. Forced into a leading-man’s role with Jack Doyle out with ankle and knee injuries, he finished with five catches and 111 yards, both career highs.
Obviously, an enticing recipe, especially when you add a few pinches of special teams.
Rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship was perfect – 28-, 38-, 38- and 44-yard field goals, 2-for-2 on PATs – and long-snapper Luke Rhodes set up Buckner’s safety by keeping a Rigoberto Sanchez punt from bouncing into the end zone in the second quarter. The Vikings were forced to start at their own 2.
“The team’s built to win in a lot of different ways,’’ said Rivers. “Today our defense was on fire. We were running the ball well. It was ‘Just don’t turn it over,’ and that’s what we did after the first one.
“When we’re efficient and we don’t turn it over and we run it 30-plus times and our D plays like that, we’ve got a chance to win a lot of games.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.