What we learned from the Colts’ win over the Broncos on Thursday


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  1. Russell Wilson, the Broncos offense is back to square one. Most sensible people understood that integrating Wilson with his new receivers, playcaller, offensive line and others would take time to develop in Denver. But even the most pessimistic viewer couldn’t have predicted some of the matches we’ve seen thus far, especially with Wilson himself. Some of the concern seemed to fade after some confident shooting and quality fighting Sunday against the Raiders, even in a loss. But Thursday was a step backwards for the Broncos’ offense, as Wilson was selected twice (once late in the end zone that nearly cost them the game) and averaged just six yards per pass attempt. You certainly can’t blame 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 first downs have put Denver in some tough spots, which the defense shouldn’t have to. amend. for so many times. Nathaniel Hackett isn’t above reproach for offensive struggles, but the Broncos aren’t paying him a quarter of a billion dollars. Are Denver fans leaving en masse in a tied game at the end of regulation? They are not fools. They know that what they are seeing is really bad.
  2. Breakout game for Alec Pierce. The Colts were clearly shorthanded in this game without Jonathan Taylor, and they desperately needed someone to step up the offensive playmaking department. Certainly, in a game that featured only 21 points in which the Colts didn’t take a lead until overtime, picking offensive heroes is a difficult task. Kicker Chase McLaughlin did a terrific job, making all four of his field goal attempts (three from 48 yards or more) and Deon Jackson, Taylor’s replacement this game, was impressive with 91 scrimmage yards. But Pierce’s eight catches (on nine targets) for 81 yards turned out to be pretty big, both in this game and in the future. The Broncos moved top corner Patrick Surtain II away from Michael Pittman and onto Pierce late, a big sign of respect for the second round. If Pierce can play like this on a weekly basis, he could provide the second receiving option the Colts sorely need.
  3. Is Matt Ryan undercooked? That’s a tough question to answer fairly, as there are outside forces (see below) working hard against Ryan in his first season in Indianapolis. Watching him run for his life in the first half isn’t what he or the Colts envisioned as the offensive master plan this season. But there are factors very much under Ryan’s control that are not going well for him. Both of his interceptions in this game were relatively unforced errors that cost the Colts points in a game where points were scarce. We can’t forget that Ryan capped off the Chiefs’ Week 3 upset with a strong final drive or that he completed nearly 73% of his passes over the last two starts. But fumbles (he had two more Thursday, making 11 in five games now) are a major problem, and interceptions (seven now) aren’t far behind. Ryan put up a valiant effort and led two crucial late scoring drives. But he is eons away from his previous MVP form.
  4. Baron Browning puts in a noble effort before getting injured. If there was ever going to be a standout player from Thursday’s game, the smart money would be on him coming from the defensive side of the ball. With Randy Gregory on injured reserve, the Broncos knew going into this game they wouldn’t have a major source of passing juice. Enter Browning, who took the opportunity from him and took it by displaying a banner. He made his presence felt early on with various pressures and finished the game with six tackles, a sack that took 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 he always showed quick-passing potential, which made the move to the role this season a sensible one. We saw the fruits of that change against the Colts, even though he left the game with a wrist injury. The Broncos’ defense took a noticeable step back after he left the game.
  5. The Colts’ reworked offensive line is having a rough night. There was a surprise during the pregame show when a Prime graphic showed the Colts making wide swings at the OL against Denver in a short week with little practice time. They had started with virtually the same unit the first three games of the season, with Will Fries replacing Danny Pinter (starting Weeks 1-3) at right guard. On Thursday, they inserted rookie Bernhard Raimann at left tackle, moved right tackle Braden Smith to right guard and moved Matt Pryor from left tackle to right. The unit struggled from the start, with Ryan Kelly and Pryor hit by sacks and Raimann flagged twice for holding (although both calls seemed questionable) and once for a false start. Kelly (hip) was then injured following an interception by Ryan and was replaced by Pinter. Do you have all that? The net results were the same: disappointment from a highly paid unit that has been underperforming for most of the season.
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Next-gen game stats: On shots of 10 or more passing yards Thursday, Russell Wilson completed 2 of 14 passes for 88 yards and two interceptions.

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

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