The New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts meet up in Indianapolis on short rest for this week's iteration of "Thursday Night Football." Both the Jets (2-5) and Colts (3-5) are coming off their own respective 34-31 games from last Sunday with varying results for each squad, both impacted dramatically by their own quarterback's play.
Jets' backup quarterback Mike White made his first career start in place of rookie Zach Wilson and played near-perfect football, leading his team from an 11-point second-half deficit to a home win over the heavily favored and red-hot Bengals. For the Colts, last Sunday was the full Carson Wentz Experience: moments of brilliance — two beautiful first-quarter touchdowns — clouded by moments of "what the…!?!" — two back-breaking interceptions — that eventually lead to the Titans stealing a win in overtime in Indy.
While the Jets are still likely destined for a top-five pick in next year's draft no matter who is under center the next couple of weeks, the Colts still have a shot at making the playoffs despite their underwhelming record. Lucky for head coach Frank Reich, and Wentz especially, there is no time to dwell on what could have been against Tennessee as Gang Green awaits on Thursday night.
Thursday Night Football: New York (2-5) at Indianapolis (3-5)
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 2 at 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network/FOX/Amazon Video
Spread: Colts -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Carson Wince … get it? Wentz ... Wince?!
There's an old Chris Rock joke about domesticated tigers attacking their owners with the punchline being "that tiger didn't go crazy … that tiger went tiger!" Oddly enough, that joke is all I could think about as I watched Wentz throw two mind-numbing interceptions in the fourth quarter and overtime against Tennessee last Sunday. The left-handed shotput to no one in particular, from his own end zone, that resulted in a pick-six with 90 seconds left in a tie game was almost comical. But the forced throw into quadruple coverage in overtime, on first and 10 no less, was unforgivable. But Wentz didn't go crazy … he was just being Carson Wentz.
On the surface, Wentz had been playing well enough heading into Week 8, tying a franchise record of four straight games with multiple touchdown passes and having a touchdown to interception ratio of 11 to one. But a deeper look at the numbers shows that Wentz was largely still the player he was in Philly, inaccurate and lacking in situational awareness.
He ranks 27th in completion rate (62 percent), red zone completion rate (48 percent), and catchable pass rate (71.7 percent) and is 25th in accuracy rating (7.4), according to PlayerProfiler.com. His 16 interceptable pass attempts and 14 "danger plays" are among the 10 worst marks as well. This is who he is. This is exactly who the Colts traded for.
So now the Colts are stuck with a quarterback who time and time again has made the wrong and boneheaded play when the game is on the line and pressure mounts. Is Wentz really the answer to lead Indy out from a 3-5 hole that he helped dig? I guess we will find out the answer starting on Thursday night against the Jets.
2. Mike White
Filing in for Wilson, White was fantastic leading the Jets in a second-half comeback to knock off the Bengals. He started the day by completing his first 11 passes and finished by connecting on 14 of 16 in the second half for 188 yards and two scores. In total, White had 405 yards, three touchdowns, an 82-percent completion rate, and a 107.9 passer rating. It was the first time since 2000 that a Jets quarterback has thrown for more than 400 yards in a game. Not bad for a fella who's been a practice squad journeyman and cut five times since 2018.
While it's certainly uncanny for a backup quarterback on a one-win team to throw 45 times in his first career start, head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur put White in a position to succeed by not asking him to do too much. The Jets redesigned their offense to ensure more short-yardage and high-efficiency throws, and White responded accordingly.
Fourteen of White's 45 attempts were either near, at, or behind the line of scrimmage. Not a single one of his throws went more than 15 yards in the air. Only seven of his completions resulted in more than ten yards. And his 4.1 intended air yards were the lowest among any quarterback last week.
Most notably, White did something that Wilson, and Wentz for that matter, has yet to learn — he took what the defense gave him. After back-to-back first-quarter interceptions, White settled in and learned to check down to his running backs, and it paid dividends. Michael Carter and Ty Johnson totaled 14 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield.
For the Jets to go back-to-back, White is going to have to be as judicious as he was against Cincy last week. This Colts defense is as good as it gets when it comes to forcing teams into turnovers, leading the league with 18 takeaways.
3. Dear, Frank Reich … Give JT28 the ball. Signed, everyone.
I like Reich. I think he's a good football coach who has done more with less in Indy than most could hope for. But for the life of me, I just don't understand why running back Jonathan Taylor doesn't get more touches.
Taylor doesn't have a single game this season of 20 carries. His 18 attempts against San Francisco was his season high, and all he did was rush for 5.9 yards per touch, rack up 108 yards, and score a touchdown in a torrential downpour.
I'm not saying Taylor needs Derrick Henry's level of carries. I just find it odd that the NFL's second-leading rusher (649 yards), who is also in the top five in first downs (44), average per rush (5.4), and rushing touchdowns (6), is only getting his number called 15 times a game. And while I'm piling on, Taylor leads the league in yards created, evaded tackles per touch, and "juke rate." Basically, analytics tell us he makes more defenders miss than anyone else in the NFL.
So that's what made Taylor's lack of action so baffling last Sunday. After the Colts took a 14-point first-quarter lead, Taylor only had four more carries the rest of the half and a mere nine carries the entirety of the second half and overtime.
If Reich were smart, and he undoubtedly is, he'll take the ball out of Wentz's hands and give it to one of the league's emerging stars in Taylor more often, especially against a mediocre Jets' rush defense.
I'm not ready to throw in the towel on the Colts just yet. I think they certainly have the pieces to get back into the thick of the playoff hunt, even though their schedule and quarterback often do them no favors. It's just a matter of putting teams away and not doing overtly dumb things. At home against the Jets on a short week is a good time to turn it around as any.
Prediction: Colts 31, Jets 18
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.