Saturday night won’t soon be forgotten for fans of the Indianapolis Colts.
In front of a raucous crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts took it to the top-seeded New England Patriots 27-17. This marked the first win by the Colts against the Patriots since 2009.
The Colts stormed to victory behind a vicious defensive effort and the brilliance of running back Jonathan Taylor. With Patriots head coach Bill Belichick doing everything to contain him, Taylor still went off for 170 yards, including the game-sealing 67-yard touchdown at the end of the fourth quarter.
The Colts needed a night like that from their superstar running back as quarterback Carson Wentz turned in his worst performance to date as a member of the Colts. Wentz went 5-of-12 (41.7%) for 57 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran the ball eight times for 17 yards. It was certainly not the performance Wentz or the Colts were hoping for out of QB1.
“They have a good secondary – their defense and their scheme is really good,” Wentz said after the game. “They’re going to stack the box, they have good cover guys back there as well, which can kind of make it confusing to some extent. But I just thought we misfired on a few. I definitely want some throws back, no doubt about that. We had some chances there; we just didn’t hit them.”
On this week’s installment of “Wentzday” on Horseshoe Huddle, we’ll take a look at why Wentz struggled so much against the Patriots and if this should be a concern moving forward.
Wentz once again had quite a bit of success on play-action fakes on Saturday. Four out of his five completions came off of play-action.
In the first set of clips, we see three of these completions by Wentz. The second play, in particular, is very nice for a variety of reasons. First, Taylor does a fantastic job of picking up the blitzing linebacker to give Wentz time to throw. Second, Wentz throws his best ball of the night as he’s a little off-platform but still delivers it perfectly to wide receiver Zach Pascal.
Because of the success of Taylor and Wentz’s ability to carry out the fake, play-action has been a go-to for this Colts offense. Expect that to be more of the same as defenses continue to sell out to stop Taylor.
The lone touchdown “throw” by Wentz was more of a pitch than a throw.
The Colts ran a version of the “Philly Special,” the infamous play ran by the Philadelphia Eagles in their Super Bowl LII victory over the Patriots. Colts head coach Frank Reich was the offensive coordinator with the Eagles at the time and playing against the Patriots once again, Reich decided to bring out Indy’s version of the play.
Instead of a tight end pass to the quarterback, Taylor takes the snap and hands it off to Wentz, who tosses it to running back Nyheim Hines. With Taylor as his lead blocker, Hines runs it in for the TD and gives the Colts the lead.
While this counts as a Wentz touchdown pass, it really shows off the creativity in Reich’s play designs. To run this play against the Patriots, who got burned by a version of it before, shows Reich has plenty of tricks up his sleeve.
While Wentz didn’t have much of an impact throwing the ball, he certainly had an impact with his legs.
Wentz and the Colts went 3-for-3 on QB sneaks on fourth-and-one. These plays were huge because they continued to extend drives for the Colts and keep the clock moving.
In the clips showing these, you’ll notice that Wentz doesn’t just sneak behind center Danny Pinter. On each one, Wentz sidesteps to find the hole made by All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson so that he can pick up as much yardage as possible to ensure getting the first down.
Wentz has proven to be very effective on QB sneaks in short-yardage situations, just like Jacoby Brissett did last year for the Colts. This allows the Colts to be much more aggressive when facing fourth-and-short.
Wentz was only sacked once on Saturday night, bringing his season total to 23. Wentz doesn’t have anywhere to go on this play. All the receivers are covered downfield and left tackle Eric Fisher gets pushed back into Wentz, causing the pocket to collapse.
Wentz was visibly upset for what happened after the play ended, getting into it with Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon.
“I don’t need to go into the specifies obviously, but a man’s ability to reproduce is being in question and some other guys with curse words. Guy’s hands need to be at their side,” Wentz explained. “I will just say that. When that happens, you can get pretty riled up as I expect a lot of people would.”
One of the main reasons Wentz struggled against the Patriots was his inability to connect with his favorite target in wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. When Wentz and Pittman are clicking on all cylinders, it’s hard to stop them. But Saturday night was a different story.
This next set of clips shows some of the misses to Pittman throughout the game. Wentz tried to force it to Pittman at times, overthrew him deep, and threw behind him on crossing routes. This was something we don’t normally see from these two.
When Pittman was ejected in the third quarter for an altercation with Patriots defensive back Kyle Dugger, it really hurt the passing game and basically brought it to a screeching halt. This is why the Colts should look to invest in another top-flight receiving option for Wentz this offseason.
The interception thrown by Wentz on Saturday is one of his worst throws of the season. He’s looking to make a play to pick up the first down and tries to fire a pass to Pascal. The only problem is there are three defenders in the area. The ball has no chance of making it to Pascal, and it’s picked off by safety Devin McCourty.
There were other throws like this one on Saturday where Wentz tried to force things unnecessarily. One of the strengths of Wentz this season has been his ability to not turn the ball over and give the other team opportunities. This cannot be the start of a trend if the Colts want to achieve success the rest of the way.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Carson Wentz had his worst game of the season against the Patriots. Whether it was his throws being off-target or trying to force the ball into coverage, Wentz did not have a good night throwing the ball and actually had a more positive impact with his legs.
While Saturday night was bad, I don’t think this should be cause for concern. Before this game, Wentz played probably his two best games of the season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Houston Texans. The Patriots also have one of the best secondaries in football and can make the best quarterbacks look bad. While Wentz definitely needs to clean things up and learn from his performance, I do not see this becoming the norm.
Wentz will have an opportunity to redeem himself against the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas Day. While the Cardinals rank fifth in the NFL against the pass, they have given up 503 passing yards and six passing touchdowns over their past two games. While the Colts’ offense will continue to run through Taylor, Wentz can certainly have success against the Cardinals’ defense.
Have thoughts on the overall assessment of Carson Wentz coming out of the Week 15 matchup against the New England Patriots? Drop a line in the comments section below letting us know how you feel!
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Andrew Moore is an Indianapolis Colts expert just getting his start in NFL media.
Saturday night won’t soon be forgotten for fans of the Indianapolis Colts.