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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Cody Manning

5 takeaways from Colts’ 23-19 loss to the Texans

The Indianapolis Colts’ 2023 season has officially ended after falling to their divisional rivals Houston Texans in a win and in game.

The Indy offense was led by Jonathan Taylor on the ground with the passing attack failing to find rhythm at any point in the contest. The defense had some moments but C.J. Stroud was the difference maker in this matchup. The rookie quarterback made some outstanding throws throughout the night.

It was because of him that the Texans were able to move the ball with ease on their three touchdown drives. This game did come down to the final minutes but a slightly questionable sequence by Shane Steichen led to Houston coming away with a victory.

On a fourth-and-one inside the red zone, he elected to try to draw the defense offsides and burned a timeout. Steichen did dial up a great play call but Gardner Minshew had poor ball placement to a wide-open Tyler Goodson and he dropped the ball.

It wasn’t a great throw but it was still a ball Goodson should have caught. It’s puzzling that JT or Zack Moss weren’t the back in that situation with the season on the line.

Because of the timeout, the Colts weren’t able to get the ball back with time to work with for one last comeback attempt. This is a brutal loss in this moment but the future is bright for Indianapolis.

Before looking ahead to the 2024 offseason, here are five takeaways from the game:

Difference Maker: C.J. Stroud

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

This was one of those matchups where having the better quarterback wins the game. The Texans got things off on a high note when they dialed up a play-action shot play. C.J. Stroud stood tall with DeForest Buckner coming at him and hit Nico Collins for a 75-yard touchdown on their first play of the game.

Stroud continued to pick apart the secondary throughout the night and when it was crunch time. He delivered for Houston. With the game tied up 17-17 in the fourth quarter, he made tremendous throws to get their offense inside the five-yard line.

The first one came when it looked like the Colts were going to get a big sack, but he stayed calm and tossed the ball into a perfect spot for Collins.

His connection with Collins continued when he took a hit but delivered a dart for a 23-yard gain.

Stroud finished the game going 20/26 for 264 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball three times for 20 yards.

The Texans found their quarterback so now it is up to the Colts to figure out how to handle him going forward.

Jonathan Taylor carried the offense

The only positive thing about the Indy offense was Jonathan Taylor’s performance in all four quarters. He was the only player in the first half that had success moving the ball. By halftime, he had 89 total yards while averaging 6.2 YPC.

With the Colts down 14-6, it was JT who got them back in the game on the offense’s first drive of the second half. He ran the ball three times for 64 yards and got 49 of them on his touchdown run that helped tie up the game.

Things got scary for Taylor when he was ruled doubtful to return with an ankle injury after he went to the locker room at the beginning of the fourth quarter but he was able to return on the drive after the Texans took the 23-17 lead.

He helped nickel and dime with some runs to get inside the red zone to end his night. JT finished with 196 total yards, which was responsible for 54.4% of the offense’s total yards.

His 188 rushing yards is the second-most he’s had in a game in his career and this was the first time he went over 100 rushing yards this season. While the outcome wasn’t what the team wanted, it was great to see their star player step up with the playoffs on the line.

Now we can spend another offseason imagining what the offense will look like with Anthony Richardson and JT in the backfield.

No answer for Nico Collins

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Two straight weeks of Gus Bradley’s defense failing to keep the opponent’s best receiver in check. After seeing Davante Adams go off against his secondary in Week 17, one would think that the defense wouldn’t allow that to happen again.

Especially when you factor in that the Texans were without Tank Dell, Noah Brown, and Robert Woods. Oh, and the fact that Nico Collins finished with seven receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting this season.

As I mentioned, Collins was a part of sparking the Texans’ offense on their first play of the game, and his chemistry with C.J. Stroud didn’t stop there. The pair connected often and every time it seemed like Collins was wide open for his quarterback.

The third-year wide receiver made play after play and it was his connection with Stroud that set up the game-winning touchdown drive.

Collins finished the game with nine receptions for 195 yards on nine targets. Talk about efficiency. In two games against the Colts this year, he tallied 16 receptions for 341 yards and two touchdowns.

You can blame it on the youth of the secondary but there has to be improvement on slowing down No. 1 receivers this offseason for Bradley’s unit.

Money down failures

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

While the defense struggled to stop the C.J. Stroud-Nico Collins connection, they did have their moments where they were able to force punts to help keep the team in the game. It was at these points where the Indy offense could have grabbed control of the game but their inability to sustain drives kept them from it.

In the first half, the defense was able to force three straight punts after giving up the 75-yard touchdown but the offense failed to capitalize. They punted each time, which included a three-and-out.

That trend unfortunately for the Colts popped up in the second half. The defense forced two straight punts to start the third quarter. The offense did get a touchdown on their first drive but after not converting a third-and-9 or getting in better field goal position, it led to a Matt Gay 57-yard attempt that hit the right upright that gave the Texans great field position.

Which they took advantage of and got three points on the following drive. The third-down woes continued in the fourth quarter. Down 17-14, Indianapolis was able to get in scoring position for a potential go-ahead score but once again stalled and came up short on third down to settle for a field goal that tied the game.

It wasn’t until their final comeback attempt when they converted their first third down of the game but the struggles on money downs showed their ugly head on the fourth-and-1 when Gardner Minshew and Tyler Goodson failed to connect for the first down.

The Colts finished 1/11 on third downs and 0/1 on fourth downs. This has been an issue in games throughout the season. It should be a focus point when Shane Steichen gets his team prepped for the 2024 season.

Gardner Minshew's shaky night

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

If it wasn’t for Jonathan Taylor, this could have easily been a blowout loss for the Colts. The Indy passing attack couldn’t get anything positive going, which was because of Gardner Minshew not getting into a rhythm and having bad ball placement throughout the night.

On the opening drive, on a third-and-four at the Houston 14-yard line, Minshew sailed a ball over Tyler Goodson’s head. If he would have dropped it into him then it would have either put the offense inside the five-yard line or a touchdown.

He also had a huge miss to end the first half. The Colts had a nice drive going to get a touchdown instead of a field goal. On a second-and-15, Minshew again had an overthrow when he had Mo Alie-Cox streaking for a touchdown.

Which Shane Steichen wasn’t happy with. He appeared to say something along the lines of “we had that.”

By halftime, Minshew mustered 45 passing yards compared to C.J. Stroud’s 151 passing yards. Thankfully JT provided life to this unit in the second half and with his success and a struggling passing attack, Steichen leaned into the rushing attack to win this game.

Minshew ended the night going 13/24 for 141 yards. The only positive from him didn’t put the ball in danger and finished with zero turnovers.

Minshew is set to be a free agent but I would like to see him back despite his performance tonight. He’s fine as a backup but tonight was an example of why you need a franchise quarterback in games like this.

For the Colts, they’ll hope for a healthy 2024 season from Anthony Richardson.

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