The Colts started strong and relied on late-game heroics to leave Las Vegas with a 25 – 20 victory. Which players are trending up, which are trending down, and how is interim head coach Jeff Saturday trending this week?
Colts Trending Up: Wide Receiver Parris Campbell
Wide receiver Parris Campbell continued his solid performance this season, his first opportunity to show his potential, free of injury. That performance had been relatively quiet – until this week. Campbell caught seven passes for 74 yards on nine targets – all of which led the team. He scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, a 35-yard catch-and-run scamper across the middle that proved that running back Jonathan Taylor is not the only Colts player with speed.
Campbell’s upward trend has been apparent over the past five games, during which he has amassed two-thirds of his targets, receptions, and yards. On the season, Campbell is second on the team, behind only Michael Pittman, Jr., in targets, receptions, Yards After Catch, and first downs. Playing mostly from the slot, Campbell is third, behind outside receivers Pittman and Alec Pierce, in receiving yards.
Colts Trending Up: Quarterback Matt Ryan
Quarterback Matt Ryan‘s trajectory has emulated a roller coaster over the past few weeks, from leading the team to three fourth-quarter come-from-behind wins to being injured in a divisional loss, to being benched and replaced by the third-string quarterback, to being thrust back into the starting role, seemingly at the last minute, by an interim head coach. Through it all, by all outward appearances, Ryan has remained the consummate professional, saying and doing all of the right things that are expected of him as a professional.
Interim head coach Jeff Saturday progressed from declaring Sam Ehlinger the starting quarterback during his introductory press conference on Monday to being noncommittal and somewhat coy about the quarterback situation during the team’s regular Friday afternoon press conference. When the team took the field in Las Vegas for pre-game warmups, Matt Ryan was taking snaps from starting center Ryan Kelly and warming up with the first-team offense. Sam Ehlinger was taking snaps from backup center Danny Pinter and warming up with the second team.
After returning from injury on Wednesday and presumably assuming the starting role sometime between then and Sunday, Ryan had minimal time to prepare for his eventual start. And while the Raiders’ defense isn’t exactly stellar, Ryan looked sharp all game. He led the offense to two first-half scores, giving the Colts their largest lead of the season (ten points), its first halftime lead, and its first lead entering the fourth quarter. He ended the game with 21 completions on 28 attempts (75%), 222 yards (7.9 yards per attempt), one touchdown, zero interceptions, and a rating of 109.5.
Ryan also led the Colts on yet another fourth-quarter come-from-behind victory. The drive that ended with Ryan’s 35-yard touchdown to wide receiver Parris Campbell also included an electrifying, albeit unexpected, 39-yard, third-down scramble by the veteran quarterback.
Colts Trending Down: Wide Receiver Keekee Coutee
Single-handedly, wide receiver and punt returner Keke Coutee almost cost the Colts the game.
As a wide receiver, Coutee caught his first pass of the season – a 20-yard reception that would have put the Colts on the Raiders’ 21-yard line with a chance to build upon their 10 – 0 lead – but he fumbled the ball at the end of his catch-and-run. The fumble was recovered by the Raiders, who drove 79 yards for a touchdown – a likely ten- to fourteen-point swing on the scoreboard and a major shift in momentum.
As a punt returner, Coutee opted not to fair-catch two significant fourth-quarter punts. The first, Coutee allowed the Raiders to down at the five-yard line, setting up the offense in the shadow of their own end zone. The drive stalled, the Colts punted from the end zone, the Raiders took over in Colts’ territory, and promptly scored another touchdown.
The second punt, with the Colts trailing the Raiders with eight minutes remaining in the game, Coutee allowed the Raiders to flip the field. After the defense forced the Raiders to punt from their own 20-yard line, Coutee ran out from under the ball, allowing it to bounce inside the Colts’ 20-yard line – a 62-yard kick. Matt Ryan’s late-game heroics on the ensuing drive were made more challenging by Coutee allowing the offense to be pinned deep in their own territory.
Colts Interim Head Coach Trend Tracker: Jeff Saturday
As my Gen Z daughters might say: this game just hit different.
The players played differently – more inspired, with more passion and energy. The offensive line looked nastier, fighting through plays until – and even after – the whistle. One might reasonably assume that these differences are the influence of interim head coach Jeff Saturday. While it appeared that former head coach Frank Reich had lost his locker room, the opposite appeared to be true in Week Ten. The players played for their coach.
The team played with more discipline (four penalties for 25 yards), and while the team didn’t win the turnover battle, the offense only turned the ball over once (down from a season average of 1.8 per game).
Saturday installed assistant quarterbacks coach Parks Frazier as the offensive play-caller. Overall, Frazier called a very solid game. He played to the strengths of the team and offensive players and avoided trick, gimmick, or “cute” plays. It was actually refreshing to see Frazier dial up a quarterback sneak on first and goal from inside the one-yard line – a scenario in which former play-caller Frank Reich seemed to favor running plays from shotgun.
Granted, the Colts played the Las Vegas Raiders – the restaurant equivalent of a soft opening. Saturday faces a much steeper challenge next week against the undefeated Eagles. But for this week, interim head coach Jeff Saturday acquitted himself very well. He remains trending up.