Newfound depth is helping fuel the Colts’ ride into AFC South lead

Indianapolis Colts coach Shane Steichen tailored his offense around rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson and 2021 NFL rushing champ Jonathan Taylor.

 

Gardner Minshew and Zack Moss look pretty comfortable in it, too.

 

With Richardson suffering his third injury in four games Sunday and being ruled out of next weekend’s matchup at Jacksonville with an AC joint injury in his throwing shoulder, and Taylor still working his way into game condition after a 10-month absence, the unlikely combination of Minshew and Moss has somehow given Indy a share of the AFC South lead.

 

 

 

Steichen isn’t surprised by how they’ve played.

 

 

 

“I think (Minshew) is an elite processor of the game,” Steichen said, referring to what he saw the previous two seasons when they worked together in Philadelphia. “When you’ve got a guy that can process the game quickly and make quick decisions … he’s really good, he’s accurate, he knows where to go with the football at the right time and the right place. He’s been awesome for us.”

 

The numbers don’t lie.

 

Minshew has won three of the four games in which he’s appeared, two in relief of an injured Richardson. He’s completing nearly 69% of his throws and does not have an interception.

 

Moss has been even better. Despite missing the season-opening loss to Jacksonville, his 165-yard, two-touchdown performance against Tennessee vaulted Moss to third among NFL rushers with 445 yards. He’s also tied for 10th in total TDs (four).

 

 

 

 

Having depth is a welcome luxury for Indy (3-2). Last season, the team rotated three quarterbacks and tried to manage Taylor’s injuries. The offensive line struggled, and the defense was missing three-time All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard for 15 games. The result: a 4-12-1 record.

 

This season, the Colts just keep finding solutions.

 

Wesley French and Blake Freeland proved capable fill-ins while three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly and left tackle Bernhard Raimann each missed two games while in the concussion protocol. The defense even found a way to slow down longtime nemesis Derrick Henry without Leonard (groin).

 

There is optimism that Richardson’s right shoulder injury won’t keep him out beyond Sunday’s rematch with the Jaguars (3-2). Taylor will see his workload increase over the next couple weeks. But until they’re back to full strength, the Colts will continue to rely on Minshew, Moss and others.

 

“Those guys just ran their tails off, and I couldn’t be more proud of the team in general,” Kelly said. “Gardner stepping up and doing a great job, this team has a lot of excitement and it’s fun.”

 

 

 

 

WHAT’S WORKING

The offensive line. Last season, the line couldn’t protect quarterbacks or create holes for Taylor. This year, the Colts are 12th in the league in sacks allowed (12), eighth in yards rushing per game (131.2) and tied for 11th in yards per carry (4.4).

 

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Pass coverage. Indy’s young, largely inexperienced secondary was burned repeatedly by three-time All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins, who had eight catches for a season-best 140 yards.

 

 

 

 

STOCK UP

WR Josh Downs. The rookie has been a favorite of Richardson, his training camp roommate. With and without Richardson, Downs delivered on Sunday. He had his best game so far with six catches for 97 yards.

 

STOCK DOWN

WR Alec Pierce. Indy’s top draft pick in 2022 showed promise last season with his body control and ability to make contested catches. This season, he’s largely been a decoy. He only had two passes thrown his way against Tennessee, catching one for 10 yards.

 

INJURIES

Steichen didn’t have a timetable for Richardson’s return and said the team was awaiting more medical information before making any treatment decisions. TE Mo Alie-Cox became the latest Colts player to enter the concussion protocol. DE Kwity Paye also missed the Titans game while in the protocol.

 

 

 

 

KEY NUMBER

7 — The Colts ended a seven-game home losing streak that began nearly a full calendar year ago.

 

NEXT STEPS

The rematch with Jacksonville has big implications for the division race. Indy would improve to 3-1 in AFC South play and take sole possession of first place with a victory. Minshew will start against the franchise where he spent his first two NFL seasons. He’ll need Indy’s ground game to be strong as the Colts face a defense allowing just 81.6 rushing yards per game.

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