‘Cumulative effect’ spurs Colts to win over Titans, 6-3 mark

Sports

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers (17) attempts to avoid a sack by Tennessee Titans defensive tackle DaQuan Jones (90) during the second quarter of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brett Carlsen)

INDIANAPOLIS – At first glance, it was coach-speak.

It was a coach (Frank Reich) offering a day-after review after a team (the Indianapolis Colts) handled its business against an arch-rival (the Tennessee Titans) on Thursday night’s prime-time stage.

Listen.

“It was a complete team win and all three phases played well,’’ Reich said Friday afternoon on a Zoom conference call.

That’s how coaches respond after this type of victory. His Colts had gone on the road for a mid-season showdown with the Titans and at least temporarily seized control of the AFC South. The next few games – back-to-back home games with the Green Bay Packers (Nov. 22) and these same Titans (Nov. 29) – afford Indy an opportunity to really seize the division.

Complete team win.

But it was. And that’s how the Colts have gotten to 6-3 and positioned themselves for a meaningful late-November and December.

General manager Chris Ballard and Reich advocate a it-takes-all-of-us approach – all 53 players on the active roster, plus the 16-player practice squad – and they’re getting the desired results.

Yes, the team’s high-profile talent stepped up against the Titans.

Philip Rivers passed for 302 yards and one touchdown pass while directing an up-tempo, no-huddle offense much of the evening. He pushed his career yardage total to 61,666 and moved past Dan Marino and into 5th place all-time.

Top draft pick Michael Pittman Jr. took the most authoritative step of his rookie season with seven catches and 101 yards and added 21 yards on an end around. Nyheim Hines, the established, versatile third-year running back, generated a career-best 115 total yards from scrimmage and TDs running and receiving.

T.Y. Hilton returned after missing one game with a groin injury. His numbers were lackluster – four catches, 40 yards – but three of his catches moved the chains. Defensively, tackle DeForest Buckner and ends Justin Houston and Denico Autry spent the night testing Ryan Tannehill’s durability. All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard was his usual productive self with a team-high nine tackles.

But Thursday night went much deeper down the Colts’ depth chart, which has been the case much of the season.

Again, listen to Reich.

“We talk a lot about the cumulative effect,’’ he said. “When you take every guy on the roster and you count guys on the practice squad and the cumulative effect of who has the best team . . .

“Now, do I think we have some star power? Yeah, I think we have star power, but it still comes down to the cumulative effect of the whole team.’’

Against the Titans, that cumulative effort included E.J. Speed blocking a punt and T.J. Carrie scooping it up and returning it 6 yards for a touchdown. Speed is a backup linebacker who has yet to take a defensive snap in nine games but has established himself as a core special teams player. Carrie, one of Ballard’s offseason free-agent acquisitions, has been solid as Kenny Moore II’s backup as the nickel corner and now has two return TDs as well – he had a pick-6 against the New York Jets.

And it included undrafted rookie wideout DeMichael Harris finishing with just one catch, but the 21-yarder converted a third-and-4 late in the second quarter and kept a drive alive that ended with Rodrigo Blankenship’s 43-yard field goal as the first half expired. Instead of trailing 17-10, the Colts headed to the break down 17-13 with momentum. They would score the game’s final 24 points.

Defensive tackle Grover Stewart added to a fourth-year resume that’s going to bring him a big payday next offseason. He had five tackles, including one for a loss. At times this season, the 6-4, 315-pounder has been unblockable.

“Man, Grover Stewart is special . . . he’s having a monster year,’’ Reich said.

While some teams are star player-driven and production tends to fall off the deeper they go down the roster, the Colts have proven they can succeed with a more diverse approach. Consider:

  • Fifteen players have scored, including 12 with at least one TD. Buckner and Houston have chipped in with a safety each while Blankenship has been rock solid in the kicking department. The undrafted rookie ranks 2nd in the NFL with 80 points: 19-of-21 on field goals, 23-of-25 on PATs.
  • The Colts share the league lead with 11 interceptions, and seven players have had at least one. Carrie and Xavier Rhodes, another off-season addition, have pick-6s.
  • Fifteen players have at least one catch and nine have accumulated at least 100 yards.
  • Ten players have handled at least one rush attempt, and we’re not including Rivers.
  • Nine players have contributed to the team’s 21 sacks.
  • Speed is credited with the only blocked punt this season, but let’s not forget Jordan Glasgow’s almost-block at Chicago. The rookie linebacker deflected a Pat O’Donnell punt in the first quarter that set up Rivers’ 13-yard TD to Mo Alie-Cox.
  • Backup QB Jacoby Brissett has waited, waited and waited for an opportunity to contribute, and that came Thursday. He replaced Rivers in a third-and-1 at the 2 and burrowed for a TD behind center Ryan Kelly and left guard Quenton Nelson.
  • Cornerback Isaiah Rodgers, a sixth-round pick, has participated in just 7% of the defensive snaps, but quickly has established himself in the return game. He’s averaging 29.8 yards on 18 returns, and clicked off a 101-yard TD at Cleveland.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

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