INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — At times, Gardner Minshew had the Indianapolis Colts' offense humming Sunday.
He threw touchdown passes of 59 and 75 yards and relied on the powerful one-two punch of Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss on the ground.
The combination helped Indy produce more total yards, more yards rushing, more yards passing and more points than Cleveland's defense had allowed to any of its first five opponents. But for the second straight week, the Colts turned the ball over four times.
So heading into Week 8, the big question for the Colts is which offense will show up for the final 10 weeks of this season?
“I think that (game) should give us a lot of confidence — that and understanding we have everything we need and everything we’re messing up right now is in our control,” Minshew said. “So, I think, just go back, learn from it, and continue to get better.”
Which direction Indy goes will depend largely on Minshew.
In his first four appearances this season, he helped the Colts (3-4) win three times with only one turnover. In his two starts, both after rookie Anthony Richardson went down with a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery, Minshew has thrown four interceptions, lost four fumbles and been sacked seven times.
Minshew and coach Shane Steichen know that won't cut it — even if everything else runs smoothly.
“You keep hammering it home," Steichen said about reducing the turnovers. “You address it in the meeting room, you go through it in practice, ball security. You keep addressing it and keep working through it. That’s the bottom line. That’s it.”
And if the Colts can find a fix, they just might deliver on the promising signs on display against Cleveland. Their next chance to get it right comes Sunday against New Orleans (3-4).
“I think we played a pretty good game on offense, but I think we had too many penalties as a team and we turned the ball over,” three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly said. “We can do better up front. We can be better. This one stings. It’s about as bad as I can remember, because they’re a good team.”
Taylor. The 2021 NFL rushing champ is rounding into form. After seeing limited work in his first two games, Taylor showed power and burst Sunday with 18 carries for 75 yards and three catches for 45 yards. He scored his first TD of the season and 5.7 yards on 21 touches is ideal, too.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Pass protection. The majority of Minshew's eight turnovers in the past two games have come while he was under heavy pressure. While quicker reads and better decisions may help, so would more consistent pass protection. He's been sacked seven times in two weeks and 12 times in his three starts.
WR Josh Downs. The speedy rookie has flourished over the last three weeks, catching 16 of the 20 passes thrown his direction for 243 yards and the first two TDs of his career. On Sunday, he hauled in a 59-yard TD catch, posted the first 100-yard game and drew postgame raves in the locker room.
CB Darrell Baker Jr. After replacing the injured JuJu Brents, Baker drew two questionable penalties in the final 40 seconds that cost Indy the game. His illegal contact penalty erased a likely game-sealing fumble recovery. A pass interference call on the next play moved the ball to the 1-yard line. Baker also gave up a long completion on third-and-10 before the two-minute warning. Steichen didn't say much about the two penalties, though he acknowledged the team may ask the league office to review both plays.
Brents was the most concerning addition to the injury list, but Steichen had no update Monday. He said after the game DT Eric Johnson told trainers he hurt his ankle. WR-PR Isaiah McKenzie was checked for a head injury and was cleared to return. RT Braden Smith (hip and wrist) and TE Kylen Granson (concussion protocol) could return this week.
4 — After next weekend, the Colts play four of their next five away from Indianapolis. The only game scheduled for Lucas Oil Stadium is Nov. 26 against Tampa Bay. The Colts also “host” New England on Nov. 12 in Frankfurt, Germany.
Normally, scoring 38 points and allowing 316 yards is a winning combination. But four turnovers, three 50-plus yard field goals, a blocked field goal and defensive touchdown changed the equation Sunday. Until the Colts start limiting the giveaways, they're not going to win very often.
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