Indianapolis Colts: Tavon Austin

Mailbag: Should Colts rest T.Y. Hilton?

December, 21, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- Want to win player of the week honors?

The Indianapolis Colts will gladly help out with that.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton became the third player to win player of the week this season after facing the Colts when he took top offensive honors in the AFC.

He was 24-of-35 for 275 yards and three touchdowns in their 42-28 victory over the Colts this past weekend. Dalton also had an 8-yard touchdown run.

Dalton follows Arizona’s Carson Palmer and St. Louis’ Tavon Austin in winning the award after playing the Colts.

Palmer was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week after he was 26-of-37 for 314 yards and two touchdowns in Arizona's 40-11 victory on Nov. 24.

Austin put on a clinic on offense and special teams against the Colts on Nov. 10. He had four punt returns for 145 yards, including a 98-yard return for a touchdown, to be named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after the Nov. 10 game. An argument could be made for him to win offensive player of the week, too, after he had two catches -- both going for touchdowns -- for 138 yards in the Rams' easy 38-8 win.

Be on the lookout for Houston’s Andre Johnson against the Colts this weekend. He had nine catches for 229 yards and three touchdowns in the Texans’ 27-24 loss on Nov. 3.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Cornerback Greg Toler's groin injury was originally expected to keep him out the Indianapolis Colts' lineup 2-4 weeks.

Four weeks came and went. So did Week 5. The same can be said for Weeks 6 and 7.

It’s gotten to the point now where you wonder if he’ll be back to help the defense this season.

“I want to be back out there helping my teammates,” Toler said. “Some dudes can play with their bodies being off a little. I can’t. The training staff told me they want me to be 100 percent before I go back out there.”

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace and Greg Toler
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe groin injury suffered by cornerback Greg Toler (right), has weakened the Colts' secondary.
Where is Toler at health-wise?

“I’d say I’m about 90-95 percent,” he said. “I need a great full week of practice of not having to be limited at all. They want to know that if a guy gets by me, I can turn it on and catch him. I respect that. This is one of those situations where I have to be completely healed first.”

The time it has taken Toler to try to overcome his groin injury, which happened in the third quarter of the Oct. 20 game against Denver, is somewhat alarming.

He said there is a backstory behind it. Toler, who also had injury problems during his four seasons with Arizona, said he made the mistake of trying to play through injuries when he was younger.

He doesn’t want to make the same mistake again.

Toler suffered a setback with his groin while working out about three weeks ago. He practiced on a limited basis last week but knew the odds of playing against the Cincinnati Bengals were slim, because he faced the risk of aggravating his groin with the game was played outdoors in the cold.

“I’m ready and confident that I’ll be back out there with the guys,” Toler said. “They want me to be at my best. I don’t want to hurt the team. The cold doesn’t play in your favor, because it doesn’t allow your body warm up the way you want to."

Toler's absensce isn't the only reason behind the recent demise, but the secondary has struggled since he was injured. Receivers like Houston’s Andre Johnson (229 yards), St. Louis' Tavon Austin (138 yards) and Arizona’s Michael Floyd (104 yards) have had big games against the Colts.

“When you’ve got a player of his caliber that can play, that’s why we signed him, and for him not to be in the lineup does hurt a little bit, don’t get me wrong,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky recently said. “If something happens to other players that are Pro Bowl type players, you’re going to have a letdown. But we pick it up and next guy in line, we go out there and we roll.”

Double Coverage: Titans at Colts

November, 29, 2013
Fitzpatrick/Jean FrancoisGetty ImagesRyan Fitzpatrick, left, and the Titans can tighten the AFC South race vs. Ricky Jean Francois' Colts.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts want to remove the bad taste in their mouths from their 29-point loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The Tennessee Titans want to make the AFC South race intriguing.

Something will have to give when the teams meet Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts can basically lock up their first division title since 2010 with a victory, because they would have a three-game lead on the Titans with four remaining. A win by the Titans would cut Indianapolis' lead to one game. Colts reporter Mike Wells and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky break down the matchup.

Wells: The Titans made things in the division a little more interesting when they came from behind to beat Oakland last weekend. But they will be without a key player this weekend. How much will losing safety Michael Griffin impact the Titans' defense this weekend?

Kuharsky: They are OK without him, as George Wilson is a capable veteran safety who will start in his spot. Wilson played for an injured Griffin in St. Louis, which was a bad game for Tennessee, but not because of that switch. Wilson has covered tight ends in a heavy nickel set and the dime package for much of the season, and the Titans have been better against tight ends after having huge problems in 2012. The Titans didn’t use Wilson against Coby Fleener two weeks ago. Wilson played only one defensive snap in that game, and the Titans let their base defenders deal with Fleener. They didn’t fare well, as he caught eight passes for a game-high 107 yards. Using Wilson as they have against other teams is not an option now, since he’s in line to start.

Let’s stay in the secondary. Has Vontae Davis been consistent? And how is his health now?

Wells: Inconsistent is a better word to describe Davis. He looked like he was on his way to earning a nice offseason payday earlier this season. But he hasn’t been the same since Greg Toler, who starts opposite of him at cornerback, went down with a groin injury four games ago. It’s like Davis feeds off of Toler’s presence on the field. Houston's Andre Johnson, St. Louis' Tavon Austin, and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald all took turns getting the best of Davis at times in three of the past four weeks. Davis' groin injury isn’t severe, so he should be in the lineup this weekend. There is a chance that Toler could be back, too.

Running back Chris Johnson had a monster first half in the previous meeting against the Colts. But the Titans stopped handing the ball to him in the second half. Do you think the same thing will happen this weekend if Johnson has another strong first half?

Kuharsky: Well, the Colts came out and scored, collected Devon Wylie's kickoff fumble, and scored again, erasing the Titans' lead. I’m thinking Leon Washington, who was just signed to replace Wylie, will be more reliable, and the Titans won’t go so long without having the ball on offense. With Ryan Fitzpatrick finding a rhythm at quarterback, they are more likely to throw some short passes that function as runs. The Titans will certainly want to run it. But they don’t sustain it very well when they do manage to get it going some.

The Titans jumped out to that lead last time after the Colts were coming off getting blown out by 29. Now they draw the Colts after the Colts were blown out by Arizona. The Colts usually bounce back well, but I sense that the faith of those close to the team is waning. Is the team starting to doubt itself?

Wells: Faith better not start waning after owner Jim Irsay was, well, Jim Irsay and voiced his frustration Tuesday on Twitter about the team’s performance the past few weeks. The Colts have yet to lose back-to-back games with Andrew Luck as quarterback, but this was a different Colts’ team inside the locker room after the Arizona game. They normally talk among each other win or lose after the game. There was very little of that this time. Players showered and dressed rather quickly and headed toward the bus. The Colts are very vulnerable right now. The Titans have an excellent opportunity to come to Lucas Oil Stadium and win the game. All the pressure in the division race would shift to the Colts if that happens.

You mentioned that Fitzpatrick is finding his rhythm. Do you think this could lead to a quarterback controversy next season with him and Jake Locker?

Kuharsky: Well, we aren’t sure yet that the same coaching staff or regime will be in place. Presuming it is, and presuming Locker recovers fully and on schedule from his Lisfranc surgery, he’ll begin next year at the front of the line. The question isn’t so much about the possibility that Fitzpatrick surpasses him -- he’s very much a backup -- it’s about whether the Titans are compelled to deem Locker injury-prone and draft an alternative/possible replacement. Based on what they have seen so far, they can't execute a very expensive option in May for the 2015 season, so they also have to be looking ahead.

The Colts have had some serious injuries, too. Reggie Wayne was a terrible guy to lose. Would tight end Dwayne Allen rank a close second?

Wells: Don’t get me wrong, not having Allen is a significant blow to the Colts, but I’d say losing guard Donald Thomas is second on the list. The offensive line was abysmal last season, and the Colts went out and spent money to upgrade it during the offseason, with Thomas and tackle Gosdar Cherilus being the main pieces. The Colts went from starting Thomas, a veteran, to starting rookie Hugh Thornton. That’s a drastic drop-off, especially since Thornton shifted to left guard on the fly because he played right guard in college. The entire offensive line has been inconsistent with its run and pass protection this season.


Mailbag: Can Fleener continue to play well?

November, 23, 2013

Toler, Havili ruled out against Arizona

November, 22, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts will be without starting cornerback Greg Toler and fullback Stanley Havili for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Sunday will be the fourth straight game that Toler has missed with a groin injury. His goal was to play against his former team, but Toler tweaked his groin during a workout on Monday.

“Absolutely, we’ll get him back at some point,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano.

Havili came out of the Nov. 14 game at Tennessee with concussion-like symptoms and didn’t practice all week. He has to pass the NFL's concussion protocol before he can be cleared to play. Havili is the only fullback the Colts have on the roster. They'll likely use one of their tight ends when one is need during the game.

The Colts could use Toler in the secondary against the Cardinals. The unit has given up big receiving games to Houston’s Andre Johnson (229 yards) and St. Louis’ Tavon Austin (138 yards) in two of the last three games. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer threw for 419 yards against Jacksonville last weekend. Cassius Vaughn will continue to start opposite of Vontae Davis at cornerback in place of Toler.

“Any starter that you lose will be missed,” safety LaRon Landry said. “That’s the reason why they’re starters. We have great depth and the chemistry back there from the first team on down. We’re comfortable with anybody we put out there.”

Here’s a rundown of the rest of the Colts’ injury situation:

-- Linebacker Kavell Conner is out after injuring his ankle during the special teams portion of practice Thursday.

-- Landry was limited in practice Friday and is questionable with a toe injury.

-- Running back Trent Richardson is also questionable with a calf issue. Pagano said he believes Richardson play against the Cardinals.

-- Cornerback Josh Gordy is questionable with a groin problem.
INDIANAPOLIS – The good news for the Indianapolis Colts is that they know Bruce Arians' Arizona Cardinals will throw the ball downfield a lot in Sunday's game. The Colts did the same thing under Arians last season.

The bad news is that Indianapolis' secondary has a tendency to give up big plays.

Houston’s Andre Johnson had nine catches for 229 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts on Nov. 3. St. Louis’ Tavon Austin had two catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns the following week.

Now the Colts get to face Arizona receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd and quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw for 419 yards against Jacksonville last weekend.

“Run it and throw it down the field as far as you can and complete a lot of them,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said about Arizona’s offense. “[Arians has] been doing it a long time. He’s a great playcaller. We all know that. You see a lot of similarities in there and he’s utilizing their talent very well.”

The struggling secondary may be without one of its starting cornerbacks for the fourth straight game. Greg Toler hasn’t practiced this week because of a groin injury. He wants to play Sunday because he spent his first four seasons with the Cardinals, but he tweaked his groin while working out Monday. Safety LaRon Landry also hasn’t practiced this week because of a toe injury, although he said he believes he'll play Sunday.

Vontae Davis and Cassius Vaughn, who started in place of Toler in his absence, will be matched up on Fitzgerald and Floyd, who have combined for 1,211 yards and nine touchdowns this season. The Cardinals became the first team since 1971 to have touchdown receptions of at least 80 and 90 yards in a season when Floyd scored on a 91-yard pass against Jacksonville.

“He’s a future Hall of Famer and he’s still playing at a high level and making plays, 45 catches and six touchdowns,” Pagano said about Fitzgerald. “Floyd and the rest of the guys, they got a bunch of skill guys, they got a bunch of playmakers. Carson’s doing a good job of spreading the wealth and getting the ball out to them.”

The Colts have to take advantage of Arizona’s weak offensive line and put pressure on Palmer. He’s thrown for 2,573 yards this season, but he’s also been picked off 15 times and sacked 27 times.

Colts linebacker Robert Mathis leads in the league with 13.5 sacks. Only three quarterbacks – Miami's Ryan Tannehill, Denver’s Peyton Manning and Houston’s Case Keenum – have thrown for more than 300 yards against Indianapolis this season.

“A heck of a quarterback who can throw the ball downfield,” Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. “Again, back end we got to challenge. And they’re up for it. Our guys, we don’t back down from a fight. We stand up, and even when everybody points us down and says we’re not going to do anything, that’s when we rise up the best and we go out there and showcase it. I believe my guys on the back end, our defensive unit, our DBs are going to step up and rise to the occasion. Everybody on the defense is going to rise up and play the ball game.”

Irsay goes to Twitter after blowout loss

November, 11, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- It took a few hours -- maybe he was letting the embarrassing loss soak in -- but Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay took to Twitter on Sunday after his team had its worst home loss with Andrew Luck at quarterback, 38-8, to the St. Louis Rams.

The Colts trailed 28-0 at halftime and eventually 38-0 before they avoided the shutout. You can’t point the finger at one particular area on why the Colts were blown out.
  • Luck threw three interceptions and was sacked three times.
  • Indianapolis ran for 18 yards on 14 attempts.
  • Rams rookie Tavon Austin killed the Colts secondary for 138 yards on two catches.
  • Special teams gave up a 98-yard touchdown to Austin on a punt return.

Irsay has a history for getting on Twitter to voice his frustration over his team’s performance. He did it after their 24-point preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills in August. Irsay he said they had a “crap performance” and he gave his “commanders” an “earful” after the game.

Upon Further Review: Colts Week 10

November, 11, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS – An examination of five topics from the Indianapolis Colts' 38-8 loss to the St. Louis Rams:

[+] EnlargeVontae Davis and Tavon Austin
AP Photo/AJ MastReceiver Tavon Austin gave the Rams a spark as a rookie in 2013.
Getting roasted: Colts cornerback Vontae Davis was defending Rams rookie Tavon Austin on both of his long touchdown receptions (57 and 81 yards). Davis appeared to give up chasing Austin on his first touchdown catch along the Colts' sideline. "Oh no, we just had busted coverage," Davis said when asked if he was injured on the play. "It was busted coverage on my part. I misread the play. Busted coverage on my part, so he got behind us." Austin came across the middle of the field, caught a pass from Kellen Clemens and then just outran Davis and safety Antoine Bethea for his second touchdown. "They moved him around a lot, put him in mismatch situations, using his speed to run away from coverage and stuff," Davis said. Austin finished with two catches for 138 yards.

Good to get back on the field: Having a short turnaround in between games is supposed to be a bad thing. The Colts don't see it that way. They like that they play again on Thursday night against Tennessee Titans. The Titans are coming off a home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who went into the game winless. "Yeah, this is a time where we're looking forward to getting back out there," Bethea siad. "We can get this taste out of our mouth and put this game behind us. Give credit to St. Louis, they played better than us today. But we have to bounce back and get ready for Thursday."

Zero running game: I give Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton credit for trying to establish the running game with Trent Richardson. It just simply didn't work. Richardson ran the ball four times in the first quarter. Those four carries led to minus-3 yards. That was just a sign of things to come the rest of the afternoon for the Colts. They gained 18 yards on 14 attempts. But wait, there's more: Quarterback Andrew Luck was responsible for 17 of those yards. That means Richardson, Stanley Havili, Donald Brown, Matt Hasselbeck and Dan Herron combined for 1 yard rushing. The Rams entered the game ranked 28th in the league against the run. "It's tough when you can't run the ball," Luck said. "Credit to them for forcing us into a one-dimensional attack."

Good play turned bad: Sergio Brown did the right thing when he saved the ball from going into the end zone in an attempt to pin the Rams deep on their end of the field. What Brown and the Colts didn't expect, though, was for Austin to grab the ball and go 98 yards for a touchdown. "Had guys down there and a bunch of guys maybe assuming play is going to be down at the 1-yard line," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "We told our guys, they knew this guy would catch it at the 1, catch it 5 yards deep. He's that type of player and he's dynamic that way. He made a great play and we obviously didn't cover well enough." Austin finished with 172 yards on punt and kickoff returns.

Scoreless day: Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri's streak of scoring at least one point came to an end at 154 games. The Colts scored a touchdown when Luck threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Brown in the third quarter. Pagano bypassed the extra point to go for two. Luck found tight end Coby Fleener for the conversion.
Andrew LuckAP Photo/Darron CummingsThe Indianapolis Colts can't count on dramatic comeback victories from quarterback Andrew Luck every week.
INDIANAPOLIS -- You were just waiting for that moment to happen. A Robert Mathis strip sack to energize the Indianapolis Colts. Then Andrew Luck calmly leading them to a come-from-behind victory.

Why wouldn’t it happen that way?

We’ve all seen Luck work his magic before. You spend Monday morning standing around the watercooler talking about how much of a joy it is to watch Luck rescue the Colts.

But something happened on Sunday afternoon in front of 66,004 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Rams jumped on Indianapolis and made sure they weren't going to be Luck's 11th come-from-behind victim in just 25 games.

The Rams embarrassed the Colts, handing them their worst home loss in the Luck and coach Chuck Pagano era, 38-8.

“They beat us in every single phase,” Pagano said. “We just didn’t do anything. And I take full responsibility as the head football coach, did not have this team ready.”

Is it time to panic?

No, the Colts are still in first place in the AFC South by two games. But Sunday was a dose of reality -- the kind that causes you to spend the night tossing and turning in bed -- that they cannot continue to think they can constantly come back from first-half deficits.

That plan was risky even when veteran receiver Reggie Wayne was in the lineup. The Colts won’t survive playing that way without him even if they did manage to get away with falling behind and coming back against Houston on Nov. 3. The Colts can't do it with so many players out with injuries, a weak receiving group outside of T.Y. Hilton and an offensive line that can’t protect Luck.

The Colts have trailed at the end of the first quarter in five of their nine games this season.

“Regardless of what happens, we know what we have,” Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. “Like I said, our mental mentality, our toughness, our belief in one another has not wavered. They were the better team today. They outplayed us, period.”

The Rams tried to help Indianapolis cure its slow starts when they were called for a taunting penalty on the opening kickoff and then a neutral-zone infraction. Not even a free 20 yards could help the Colts, though.

The Colts got to St. Louis’ 42 before defensive end Robert Quinn beat Anthony Castonzo for the strip sack on Luck. Quinn’s sidekick on the other side, Chris Long, picked up the loose ball and ran 45 yards for a touchdown.

A short touchdown run by running back Zac Stacy followed, then a 98-yard punt return for a touchdown by rookie Tavon Austin, and an 81-yard touchdown reception by him sent the Rams into the half with a 28-0 lead.

There was never a feeling that the Colts would make it a game in the second half. There shouldn’t have been any hope, not with Luck trying to avoid Quinn and Long from sandwiching him and a running game -- if you want to call it that -- rushing for 5 yards in the first half.

The Colts finished with 18 yards rushing on 14 attempts, and Luck was sacked three times, was hit seven times and matched his season total in interceptions with three.

“We knew coming into this game after last week’s game [at Houston] that we’re not going to be able to consistently spot teams three-touchdown, four-touchdown leads and be able to come back,” Pagano said. “And we can’t count on executing well on both sides of the ball and special teams for 30 minutes of the game. You got to do it over 60 minutes.”

Luck, as he’s done throughout his short career with the Colts, didn’t get discouraged. After the game he addressed the media, then walked around the locker room slapping hands and offering words of encouragement to his teammates before finally making his way to the shower.

That’s what the Colts will need from Luck off the field to go with his competitiveness on it because they'll likely encounter another situation like Sunday at some point in their remaining seven regular-season games.

“It’s a tough business,” Pagano said. “It’s not for the meek. It’s for grown men. Everybody in that locker room, coaches and players, we got broad enough shoulders to handle it. You sit there and you dwell on it and dwell on it; we ain’t got time to dwell on it.”

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

November, 10, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 38-8 loss to the St. Louis Rams at Lucas Oil Stadium:

What it means: The Colts gave up a trifecta before halftime in their worst home loss under coach Chuck Pagano. The Rams scored a touchdown on defense, offense and special teams while jumping out to a very easy 38-0 lead during an embarrassing performance by Indianapolis. Rams rookie receiver Tavon Austin entered Sunday averaging 6.7 yards a catch. The Colts allowed him to have the breakout game that he needed. Austin roasted Colts cornerback Vontae Davis twice, as he finished with two catches for 138 yards. Both catches were for touchdowns. Austin also had a 98-yard punt return for a touchdown, which was helped by Sergio Brown tapping the ball to him while trying to save it from going into the end zone. And the Colts’ running game? It finished with 19 yards on 13 attempts. Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck combined to throw four interceptions.

Stock watch: Colts linebacker Robert Mathis recorded two sacks -- both in the first half -- increasing his season total to 12.5. His second sack set a team record for multisack games in a single season -- six -- and multisack games in a career with 26. Dwight Freeney has the Colts’ single-season record with 16, set in 2004. Mathis has seven more games to surpass that total and increase his odds to win Defensive Player of the Year.

Playing into the fourth quarter: Luck didn’t take all the snaps for the second time in his career. Pagano pulled Luck with the Colts down 38-8 with a little less than six minutes remaining. It’s a little surprising that Pagano didn’t take his franchise player out sooner, because it was pretty obvious that the Colts weren’t going to win the game. Luck finished the afternoon 29-of-47 for 353 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. He was also sacked three times. Luck entered the game having thrown only three interceptions.

What’s next: The Colts (6-3) don’t have much time to think about this loss because they have a short turnaround between games. They travel to Nashville to take on AFC South counterpart Tennessee on Thursday.