2022 NFL season, Week 5: What We Learned from Colts' win over Broncos on Thursday

Indianapolis Colts
2022 · 2-2-1
Denver Broncos
2022 · 2-3-0

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  1. Russell Wilson, Broncos offense back to square one. Most level-headed folks understood that Wilson integrating with his new receivers, play-caller, offensive line and others would take time to develop in Denver. But even the most pessimistic onlooker couldn’t have predicted some of the struggles we’ve seen to this point -- especially with Wilson himself. Some of the concern seemed to wane after some confident throws and quality scrambles Sunday against the Raiders, even in a loss. But Thursday was a step backward for the Broncos offense, as Wilson was picked twice (once late in the end zone that all but cost them the game) and barely averaged six yards per pass attempt. It certainly can’t be blamed on the absence of Javonte Williams. The Broncos’ first six third-down distances in the game were 17, 16, 15, 12, 10 and 7. Too many misfires on early downs have put Denver in some tough spots, ones that the defense shouldn’t have to make amends for so often. Nathaniel Hackett is not at all beyond reproach for the offensive struggles, but the Broncos aren’t paying him a quarter of a billion dollars. Denver fans leaving en masse in a tie game late in regulation? They’re not dumb. They know that what they’re seeing is really bad.
  2. Breakout game for Alec Pierce. The Colts were clearly shorthanded in this game without Jonathan Taylor, badly needing someone to step up in the offensive playmaking department. Certainly, in a game that featured a mere 21 points where the Colts didn’t take a lead until overtime, picking offensive heroes is a tall order. Kicker Chase McLaughlin did tremendous work, making all four of his field-goal tries (three from 48 yards or longer), and Deon Jackson, Taylor’s replacement this game, was impactful with 91 yards from scrimmage. But Pierce’s eight catches (on nine targets) for 81 yards ended up being pretty huge -- both in this game and going forward. The Broncos moved top corner Patrick Surtain II away from Michael Pittman and over to Pierce late, a pretty big sign of respect for the second-rounder. If Pierce can play like this on a weekly basis, he might just provide the second receiving option the Colts badly need.
  3. Is Matt Ryan semi-cooked? That’s a tough question to answer fairly, as there are outside forces (see below) working very much against Ryan in his first season in Indianapolis. Seeing him run for his life in the first half is very much not what he or the Colts envisioned as the offensive masterplan this season. But there are factors very much within Ryan’s control that he’s not doing well. Both of his interceptions in this game were relatively unforced errors that cost the Colts points in a game where points were at a premium. We can’t forget that Ryan capped the upset of the Chiefs in Week 3 with a strong final drive or that he’s completed nearly 73% of his passes the past two outings. But the fumbles -- he had another two Thursday, which makes 11 in five games now -- are a major problem, and the interceptions (seven now) aren’t far behind. Ryan turned in a gutsy effort and led two crucial, late scoring drives. But he’s eons away from his former MVP form.
  4. Baron Browning gives noble effort before injury. If there ever was going to be a breakout player from Thursday’s game, the smart money would be on it coming from the defensive side of the ball. With Randy Gregory on injured reserve, the Broncos knew coming into this game they would be without a major source of pass-rush juice. Enter Browning, who took his opportunity and ran with it in a banner showing. He made his presence felt early with several pressures and finished the game with six tackles, a sack that knocked the Colts out of field-goal range temporarily and six QB hits on a battered Ryan. Browning was more of an off-the-ball linebacker in college but always flashed pass-rush potential, which made the move to this role this season very sensible. We saw the fruits of that switch against the Colts, even though he left the game with a wrist injury. The Broncos’ defense took a noticeable step backward after he left the game.
  5. Colts’ reworked offensive line has rough night. There was a surprise during the pregame show when a Prime Video graphic showed that the Colts made wholesale OL changes against Denver, on a short week with little practice time. They’d started virtually the same unit the first four games of the season, with Will Fries subbing for Danny Pinter (Weeks 1-3 starter) at right guard. On Thursday, they inserted rookie Bernhard Raimann in at left tackle, shifted right tackle Braden Smith to right guard and moved Matt Pryor from left to right tackle. The unit struggled early, with Ryan Kelly and Pryor beaten for sacks and Raimann flagged twice for holding (although both calls felt debatable) and once for a false start. Then Kelly (hip) was injured following a Ryan interception and was replaced by Pinter. Got all that? The net results were the same: disappointment from a highly paid unit that’s underachieved almost all season.


Next Gen stat of the game: On throws of 10 or more air yards Thursday, Russell Wilson was 2-of-14 passing for 88 yards and two interceptions.


NFL Research: The Colts’ 12-9 win became the first game with zero touchdowns and four-plus interceptions since the Colts beat the Browns in Week 1 of the 2003 season when QBs Peyton Manning and Kelly Holcomb each had two interceptions in a 9-6 final.


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