5 takeaways from Colts’ 31-21 loss to Jaguars

The Indianapolis Colts (0-1) are in familiar territory after failing to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-0) at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The franchise has now failed to win season opener in a decade and Sunday snapped their five-game winning streak at home over the Jags. It was a hard-fought battle for three-and-a-half quarters by the Colts. The offense was able to put together a couple of scoring drives between the second and third quarters but failed to stay on the field throughout the second half after scoring a touchdown on their first drive of the second half.

Unfortunately, this game was a flashback from the 2022 season. The Indy defense played lights out in the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarter. They were the reason why the Colts took a second-half lead when DeForest Buckner forced a fumble then a wacky sequence happened that led to him scooping the ball and taking it back to give his team a 21-17 lead. Then just as it happened often last year, they got no help from the offense and the Jaguars broke free towards the back half of the fourth quarter to go up by two scores.

There were some highs and lows for Indianapolis in their first game. Let’s take a look at the biggest takeaways from the Colts loss to the Jags:

Up-and-down first game for Anthony Richardson

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest positive for Anthony Richardson in his first career start was that it wasn’t a disaster. The rookie quarterback played very well in the first half. He looked comfortable, didn’t look to force anything, and let plays come to him.

Richardson was the Colts’ offense in the first two quarters. He went 11/15 for 100 yards and had 25 rushing yards heading into halftime. He got his first touchdown of his career by punching it in from the two-yard line.

The second half was a different story for Richardson. After getting his first passing touchdown on a Michael Pittman Jr. screen, he and the rest of the offense failed to stay on the field. This is how the unit finished the game after scoring to start the third quarter:

– Three-and-out
– Fumble (would’ve been turnover on downs)
– Three-and-out
– Three-and-out
– Interception
– Turnover on downs

While it didn’t help that the rushing attack did no favors for their quarterback and put him in less-than-favorable third-down situations. Richardson had some errant throws throughout the last two quarters and couldn’t connect with his receivers down the field.

I thought some of those throws had too much zip and needed more touch with accuracy. Richardson did play mistake-free for much of the game but his biggest one came in a moment that was costly for Indianapolis.

He didn’t see Tyson Campbell sitting underneath Mo Alie-Cox’s route and Campbell was able to jump back into the passing lane to get his hands on the interception.

Richardson finished his first NFL game going 24/37 for 223 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He was the team’s leading rusher with 40 yards.

Now Richardson will have to build on the positives he had in this matchup and learn from some plays he wished he could take back.

The defense did their part

Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The box score doesn’t tell you that the Colts defense played well against the Jags offense but they were a big reason why Indy had a chance to win this game. Gus Bradley’s unit looked juiced to start the game, they forced two straight three-and-outs to start the game.

Following the first touchdown by Indianapolis, Tony Brown was able to come down with an interception after a pass attempt went through Tank Bigsby’s hands.

Despite putting the offense in a great field position, it was a turnover on downs after the Jags stuffed an Anthony Richardson sneak on a fourth-and-short.

The defense’s effort continued in the second half starting with a three-and-out on the opening drive. Then in the middle of the third quarter, the defense got a huge turnover on downs at midfield but the offense once again failed to do anything with it and was off the field in four plays.

On the following drive, DeForest Buckner capped off one of the weirder plays of the day across the NFL. He first makes a great play to light up Trevor Lawrence to force the fumble, then the players stood around like the play was over, and Zaire Franklin showed great awareness to punch the ball out of Bigsby’s hands since the whistle wasn’t blown, which led to Buckner scooping it up for the score for the lead.

The Colts defense’s effort didn’t stop there. They would force another three-and-out on the next drive but their offense had a three-and-out as well. Bradley’s unit came up with another big turnover on downs when Buckner got an initial push and Franklin came in for a big hit to stuff a Lawrence sneak.

Sadly, that was once again followed up with a three-and-out by the Indy offense. Eventually, the defense was on the field too much and broke down late in the fourth quarter to give up two straight touchdown drives.

The Colts defense wasn’t perfect but they weren’t the reason why the team failed to win this matchup. They forced four three-and-outs, two turnovers on downs, and won the turnover battle with three. Bradley’s unit also held the Jags to 3/12 on third downs and 1/3 on fourth downs.

Rushing attack was abysmal

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

As I alluded to earlier, the Indy rushing attack was putrid throughout Sunday afternoon. This was by far the most disappointing to see from the offense with the expectation of an elevated running game with the addition of Anthony Richardson. He did his part with his legs but with no threat from the backfield, it took away the explosive element from the quarterback.

The offensive line was getting dominated in the trenches, which led to tight rushing lanes for the backs. It was pretty rare for the running backs to get in open space but when they did, it didn’t turn into positive results.

Deon Jackson had a rough game after getting the start. He ran the ball 13 times for 14 yards and fumbled the ball twice. Evan Hull unfortunately got hurt after coming out on the field as the back to start the third quarter.

He would’ve had the longest run (11) from the running backs but it got called back on a blindside block from Will Fries, and that was the play that took him out of the game. As of now, it sounds like Hull escaped a major injury.

That led to Jake Funk getting some playing time and he had 10 yards on two carries. Overall the Indy running backs combined for 1.56 YPC. The rushing attack has to improve if they want to avoid putting Richardson in third-and-long situations.

Perhaps, Zack Moss could provide a boost in Week 2 if he gets cleared to go. The Colts will need him if Hull is unable to go against the Houston Texans.

If he can’t then it will be a long three weeks for the offense as they await the potential return of Jonathan Taylor’s presence in the backfield.

DeForest Buckner was a beast

 Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The anchor of the Colts defensive front played with his hair on fire. DeForest Buckner was constantly winning his matchups to affect Jacksonville’s rushing attack and helping disrupt the pocket with his pass rush. His forced fumble was the play of the day and shifted momentum in his team’s way.

Buckner finished with seven tackles (four solo), a TFL, two QB hits, a sack, and his fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Have to improve on money downs

Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

As I mentioned, the biggest factor of why the Colts’ offense failed to sustain drives throughout the game was their lack of a rushing attack which led to them losing the first two downs. But even when they were in favorable situations, they struggled to convert short gains for a first down.

Shane Stiechen’s offense went 2-of-12 on third downs and 1-of-5 on fourth downs. They had a total of five three-and-outs, three turnovers on downs, and fumbled the ball on a fourth-down attempt. Losing the money downs was a critical piece to the puzzle of why they lost this game to the Jaguars.

I would expect this to be a focus for the coaching staff as they prep for next week’s matchup against the Texans.

Story originally appeared on Colts Wire