Carson Wentz isn't healthy enough to pull out a win against Titans as Colts drop to 0-3
NASHVILLE — A Colts team that began the 2021 season with playoff hopes finds itself in need of a miraculous turnaround before the calendar even turns to October.
Battered, bruised and playing behind an injured Carson Wentz, Indianapolis spent most of the day gutting it out to simply stay in the game against Tennessee, then finally capitulated in a 25-16 loss that drops Indianapolis to 0-3 for the first time since the Colts’ disastrous 2011 season.
Indianapolis is now tied with the hapless Jaguars for last place in the AFC South, two games behind the Titans and facing a schedule that takes them on the road against Miami and Baltimore the next two weeks.
Wentz wasn't himself
Wentz fought back from two sprained ankles to start the game.
But he clearly wasn’t himself. He wasn’t comfortable buying time in the pocket, and it clearly affected his play. Inaccurate and unable to throw the ball downfield much because of his inability to buy time; Wentz completed 19-of-37 passes for 194 yards.
Wentz also took two sacks behind an offensive line that already didn’t have right tackle Braden Smith and lost All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson in the second quarter.
For some reason, though, the Colts relied far too heavily on the pass. Jonathan Taylor averaged 6.4 yards per rush against Tennessee, but he was given just 10 carries, and in critical situations, Indianapolis kept turning to the pass. Taylor did the lion’s share of the work on the first drive of the second half, and then the Colts threw three passes from the 10-yard line. Wentz missed Michael Pittman Jr. on the first, and on the third, Zach Pascal dropped a ball that he might have been able to take into the end zone.
If Indianapolis had a better backup, it might have been able to go to him, but with Brett Hundley and Jacob Eason on the bench, the Colts stuck with Wentz throughout the game.
Opportunistic but overmatched
A Colts defense that spent training camp talking about its desire to create turnovers finally took the ball away.
First, linebacker Darius Leonard picked off Ryan Tannehill to set up an Indianapolis scoring drive. Then Kenny Moore intercepted a Chester Rogers bobble and returned it past midfield to set up a field goal. Rock Ya-Sin ripped a fumble out of Nick Westbrook-Ikhine's hands inside the red zone.
But the Colts needed those plays just to stay in the game against a Tennessee offense that lost wide receiver A.J. Brown early.
Titans running back Derrick Henry has been kryptonite to the Colts defense even when it’s playing well, and no matter how many times Indianapolis made a play on Henry in the hole, the big back came back to start a drive. Henry ripped off 113 yards on 25 carries, hauling the Titans offense down the field on his back, then let Tannehill and the passing game punch it in.
Tannehill threw three touchdown passes, including the backbreaker in the second half, a simple swing pass five yards short of the end zone. A play like that normally doesn’t turn into a touchdown, but Leonard failed to recognize it or close on the ball to make the tackle, and McNichols waltzed into the end zone with ease.
Making matters worse, after the Colts pulled the game within six points, Indianapolis allowed Tennessee to drive down the field, erase the clock and take away any chance at a comeback.
Injuries strike again
The 2021 Colts haven’t been able to avoid the injury bug all season long.
And it hit them hard again in Tennessee, even outside of Wentz playing on two sprained ankles. First-round pick Kwity Paye left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury. All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson suffered an ankle injury and was forced out of the game. Strong safety Khari Willis left the game with cramps, and Ya-Sin was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury. An obviously compromised Leonard has been a shell of himself all season.
The injuries are not an excuse. Indianapolis is supposed to be built around its depth, and the Colts have failed to provide good options to fill in for injured players in enough spots, leaving them facing an enormous drop-off every time a player leaves the game.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Carson Wentz isn't healthy enough vs. Titans as Colts drop to 0-3