The good and bad of the Colts and Gardner Minshew

INDIANAPOLIS - Here's a sampling of the Indianapolis Colts' offensive fireworks over the past two weeks:

  • Quarterback Gardner Minshew has thrown for a combined 634 yards, including touchdown passes of 75 and 59 yards.

  • Indianapolis scored a total of 58 points, including 38 against the Browns' vaunted defense.

  • Only the Chiefs, Ravens and Saints averaged more than the Colts' 405 yards in Weeks 6 and 7.

And what do the Colts have to show for it? Two consecutive losses. The numbers might be satisfying if the goal were scoring points in fantasy football. But when it comes to the Colts' real-life prospects for staying competitive in the AFC South, the consecutive losses have been a major blow, dropping them to 3-4.

Why hasn't this surprising offensive production translated into victories? Look no further than their rash of turnovers.

"That's a big, big part of winning football," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. "Protecting the football."

That has been a glaring failure for the Colts, and Minshew specifically, in recent games. Minshew has committed eight turnovers in the two games he has started since rookie Anthony Richardson was lost to a shoulder injury. Richardson underwent season-ending surgery this week and is expected to make a full recovery for the 2024 season.

Ironically, the fears that the big-play potential provided by Richardson would be lacking with Minshew at the controls haven't been realized. The Colts have displayed plenty of explosiveness, with Minshew registering the highest yards-per-attempt mark of his career in Sunday's loss to the Browns (13.3). Remarkably, Minshew threw for 305 yards on just 23 pass attempts.

But the Colts are left trying to square those achievements with their losses to Jacksonville and Cleveland.

When tracing the root causes of the losses, coming back to turnovers is unavoidable.

"We're 3-0 when we win the turnover battle," coach Shane Steichen said. "When we don't, obviously, we've lost four."

Minshew has shown some variety in his recent turnovers. He had some questionable decision-making with his three interceptions in Jacksonville two weeks ago.

"I put our team in a really bad spot, and it's not fair to the rest of the guys," Minshew said.

But the fumbles have been, perhaps, more concerning. Minshew has fumbled five times this season, despite playing just 65% of the team's offensive snaps. That ranks seventh among all players in 2023.

It might be asking a lot of Minshew to protect the ball while being ravaged by Browns All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett -- that happened often in Week 7 -- but there also are things Minshew must do better.

Take, for instance, the late-first quarter play on Sunday when Garrett beat Colts left tackle Bernhard Raimann off the edge and pressured Minshew. After being contacted by Garrett, Minshew tried to reposition the ball, perhaps to make an attempt at a last-second throw. It was a fateful decision as it gave Garrett an opportunity to jar the ball loose, which Garrett did.

A possible solution, Steichen said, is "in the pocket, two hands on the ball. Those strip-sack fumbles happen sometimes. Sometimes, you don't see those guys and that's part of it, playing quarterback. Just knowing when bodies are around you [and] doing a really good job of keeping two hands on the football will be a priority moving forward."

Minshew's coaches are also trying to impress upon him the importance of not making a bad play even worse.

"Sometimes in the pocket, you're in a muddy pocket," Cooter said. "You've got an opportunity to maybe extend a play a little bit and try and make that conversion throw on a third down or make that extra throw to find that completion and get the ball out of your hand. [It's] just sort of weighing the positives and negatives of extending that play a little bit longer. What can happen good and what can happen bad? That's an ongoing process for every quarterback in this league."

There are other mitigating factors in some of Minshew's turnovers.

Steichen took the blame for one fumble against Cleveland. He attributed an end zone turnover forced by Garrett (which resulted in a Browns recovery and touchdown) to the coach's overzealousness under dangerous circumstances. The Colts were backed up to their own 6-yard line with 1:50 remaining in the first half when Steichen dialed up a deep drop and throw. The play had Minshew dropping deep into his own end zone, at which point the quarterback held the ball too long.

By the time he attempted to throw, Garrett had split a double team and was knocking the ball loose.

"I got aggressive," Steichen said. "Instead of just throwing something quick, [we] tried to do a double move back there. ... That was on me."

And on the Colts' final offensive play against Cleveland, Minshew fumbled when sacked by Za'Darius Smith. But it was a desperation play with time running out and the Colts needing significant yardage, all of which contributed to Minshew's reluctance to throw sooner.

But, for now, the Colts will hang their collective hats on the idea that they have the offensive potential to play with any team -- provided they can actually hang on to the ball.

"I think that should give us a lot of confidence," Minshew said of the offensive production. "That and understanding that we have everything we need and everything we're messing up right now is in our control."