Colts’ Frank Reich: Gimpy Carson Wentz ‘best option’ at QB

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Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz (2) talks with head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, left, in the second half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

INDIANAPOLIS – The decision came after pre-game warm-ups Sunday at Nissan Stadium, and after a week of extensive treatment and scant little practice.

Carson Wentz would start against the Tennessee Titans, albeit with a pair of sprained ankles that would transform a mobile quarterback into a pocket passer with no reasonable ability to avoid pressure or extend plays.

Frank Reich insisted Wentz had progressed to the point the team never gave a thought to keeping him out a week – or two – to allow the ankles to fully heal.

“No, that was never a contemplation,’’ he said after Wentz and the Indianapolis Colts were handled by the Titans 25-16.

Wentz’s lack of mobility impacted how Reich dialed up plays and Wentz executed them, but there clearly wasn’t much thought given for either Brett Hundley or Jacob Eason to play as long as Wentz’s ankles held up.

“You know, he is our quarterback and we felt like him at whatever – 70 or 80% – whatever he is, is our best option to beat a very good football team on the road,’’ Reich said.

But a gimpy Wentz wasn’t enough. He wasn’t able to push the football down the field with a short-drop, quick-throw approach, and the team’s lack of commitment to the running game – 18 carries, 87 yards – only compounded the problem. Wentz averaged an understandable but unacceptable 5.2 yards per attempt, but it took 27- and 36-yard completions in the fourth quarter to Zach Pascal and Nyheim Hines to get it that high.

Wentz’s inability to move around “affected the play calling a little bit,’’ Reich admitted, “but not an excuse. I thought Carson did a good job understanding what his limitations were and playing within that.’’

Wentz suffered sprains to both ankles in last Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams. His week of preparation consisted of endless treatment – “throw the kitchen sink at it to try to get healthy,’’ he said –  and limited practice Friday.

The week, Wentz noted, was “stressful, mentally and physically trying to get ready. Unknown really until pregame warm-ups where I was going to be at and if I was going to be able to go.

“It’s been an exhausting couple of days. Really exhausting week just trying to get out here. Wish it had been a better result.’’

Wentz finished 19-of-37 for 194 yards. On more than one occasion when his protection broke down, he seemed to start to scramble but quickly thought better of it.

Has he ever been more limited in a game from a movement standpoint?

“Tough to say,’’ Wentz said. “I would probably say no, but it’s hard to fully say that.

“I knew I wasn’t going to scramble around and make some plays. Didn’t feel great when I did that. But at the same time, there’s plays to make. There’s plays in the pocket that I missed that I’m kicking myself that I want back down there in the red zone and some things like that.’’

On a first-and-goal at the Titans 9 in the third quarter, Wentz missed a diving Michael Pittman Jr. in the back of the end zone.

“You know, we had a chance,’’ he said. “We didn’t execute in key situations.’’

Continued pressure didn’t help matters.

Even using shorter drops and quicker throws, Wentz was sacked twice and hit on another eight occasions. He’s now been sacked eight times and hit another 24 times.

Teammates applauded Wentz’s willingness to play despite the sprained ankles.

“He’s tough as nails,’’ said Hines.

Wentz admitted he was sore after the game, and now faces another week of rehab.

“Just like I did last week, honestly,’’ he said. “More treatment . . . to try to get 100% as soon as I can. But yeah, it’s going to be the same type of approach. Rehab, rehab, treatment, treatment and let it heal.

“Honestly, I feel like it was the grace of God that I was even able to compete out here today the way earlier this week looked. Credit to the training staff in getting me ready to go. I am very confident just how quickly it is already from not even being able to walk the first two days this week to playing today. I’m very confident that we can progress this thing along and be myself.’’

Injuries mount; Nelson hurt

The Colts entered Sunday’s game without starting right tackle Braden Smith (strained foot), and exited it with several other injury concerns.

Rookie defensive end Kwity Paye was forced from the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury and All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson left in the second quarter with an injury to his right ankle. In the fourth quarter, the Colts lost safety Khari Willis (groin) and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (ankle).

Nelson suffered his injury on a 2-yard run by Jonathan Taylor when someone rolled up on the back of his ankle. He remained on the ground for a few minutes before finally limping to the sideline. Nelson was taken to the locker room on a cart, returned to the bench with his ankle taped, but never got back in the game.

It’s been a tough season for the team’s 2018 first-round draft pick. Nelson underwent a pair of unspecified procedures during the offseason, then required surgery on his right foot Aug. 3. He missed practice time after being placed on the COVID-19 list as a close-contact case, and recently has been limited with a back injury.

Nelson has started 54 straight games, including the postseason.

This and that

Pittman led the Colts with six receptions and 68 yards on 12 targets. Hines was next with five catches and 54 yards. . . . Jonathan Taylor had a season-best 64 yards on 10 carries. . . . Safety Julian Blackmon had a career-best 11 tackles, all solos. . . . The defense had one sack by linebacker Bobby Okereke, interceptions from linebacker Darius Leonard and cornerback Kenny Moore II and a forced fumble from Ya-Sin that Leonard recovered.

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You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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