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Indianapolis Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew II (10) throws against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium on Oct. 8, 2023, in Indianapolis. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images/TNS)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew II (10) throws against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium on Oct. 8, 2023, in Indianapolis. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images/TNS)

Colts defense struggles in loss to Saints, as a major preseason concern rises once again

The Indianapolis defensive backfield continued to allow big plays

The Indianapolis Colts traded former Defensive Player of the Year and star cornerback Stephon Gilmore to the Dallas Cowboys on March 14 this year. Through seven games this season, Gilmore has defended seven passes, intercepted two more, and accumulated 27 tackles; good enough for 31st in the Pro Football Focus rankings.

This trade, spearheaded by GM Chris Ballard, put the Colts in a vulnerable position in the secondary. The team would be starting the season with Darrell Baker Jr., JuJu Brents and Dallis Flowers as the starting cornerbacks on the outside.

The three had a combined one start between them entering the season. 

Following some grueling weeks in the secondary in addition to the injuries suffered by Flowers and Brents, the unit looked to get back on track against a Saints team that had struggled offensively.

Instead the team was torched through the air for 310 yards and two touchdowns by Derek Carr en route to a 38-27 loss, the teams’ third loss in a row. Last week, in the loss to Cleveland, Baker Jr. was the scapegoat for the loss, instigating two questionable penalties on the final drive, sealing the Colts’ fate.

Unfortunately for Tony Brown Jr., no penalties were thrown to bail him out this week. Instead, Brown was torn apart by Carr and the Saints offense repeatedly. Brown Jr. allowed multiple first half first downs to Michael Thomas, gave a horrific effort in attempting to tackle Taysom Hill on one of his two rushing touchdowns, and gave up two catches to Rasheed Shaheed. The first to Shaheed was a 58-yard touchdown and the other was given up on third-and-13 where he allowed Shaheed to get behind him for 51 yards, effectively ending the game for the Colts.

“Being that third down is the money down and we didn't come up with a win,” Brown Jr. said postgame, “it definitely pains me for sure.”

Brown Jr.’s defensive teammates were quick to come to the 28-year old’s aid with their support. DeForest Buckner told reporters after the game, “we (defensive line) gotta apply more pressure…we can’t leave those guys out to dry.” 

Buckner has a point in regards to pressure applied by the defense. Carr was able to sit back most of the afternoon and pick the defense apart, only being sacked once. Carr was fourth in the NFL this week in passer rating with a 133.3, 45.7 points more than his season average.

The other side of the ball saw a quarterback with much different results with Gardner Minshew putting up a 76.6 rating. Minshew was able to rely heavily on the run game this week, but was still unable to put together a turnover-free game. 

With the Colts trailing 21-20 in the third quarter, Minshew threw a pass to the endzone intended for Michael Pittman Jr. Instead, Saints cornerback Paulson Adebo picked it off.

“Yeah, the guy didn’t bite for it,” Minshew said postgame. “Should've just kept moving on, um, yeah, that’s on me.”

Offensively the Colts were good enough to win this game. The team accumulated 164 yards on the ground on only 24 carries, good for 6.8 yards per carry with Zack Moss ending up in the endzone. Jonathan Taylor and Moss were good for first and third in the league this week in average yards over expected, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, combining for 60 total. 

Josh Downs continues to shine for the Colts, this week pulling in seven of his nine targets for 72 yards, moving himself into third among all rookies in yardage and receptions. The ascension for Downs is being produced partially due to the higher involvement that Pittman Jr. is having in the offense. Pittman was targeted 13 times in week eight and pulled in eight of those, including a 10-yard, first quarter touchdown.

Since Minshew has become the Colts’ starting quarterback, the team is sitting at 0-3, 3-5 overall for the season. The Colts have been outscored 114-85 in those three games, having now allowed the most points in the NFL this season with 229, an average of 28.6 per game.

The offense is sitting fifth in the league in scoring, putting up 25.6 points per game. This, of course, is the inverse to last season where the offense only scored 17 points per game and the defense allowed 25.1.

Minshew made a call to action for his Colts’ teammates postgame regarding toughness.

“Alright if you get hit once, you know, so what, you get hit twice, alright, three times, now who's tough?” Minshew said. “When your body hurts, when your heart hurts, who’s tough? I think we’re about to have to figure that out.” 

As the team enters a smooth part of its schedule, it will be time to figure out who is tough. The trade deadline comes into effect at 4 p.m. Tuesday, and that deadline will be a good answer for who Ballard deems tough.

Multiple players discussed postgame how close this team is, and how they believe in the guys they have in the locker room.

It is now time to see if the front office agrees.

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