But Monday night's debacle should serve as a warning to the Colts: they're setting themselves up to fail if they continue down this course.
I know I'm overreacting to this, but not to the fact that if the Colts want to win on Sunday against the Denver Broncos (and trust me, they do), they need to take the handcuffs off of Andrew Luck. They need to let him fly.
Look, the Colts' offense has actually been successful this year, especially in the run game that Chuck Pagano and Pep Hamilton so much wanted to implement. The Colts' rushing attack ranks 8th in the NFL with 130.6 yards per game. The Colts as a team (including Luck) are averaging 4.7 yards per carry and scored 7 times on the ground. They've been successful there. But should we just automatically buy into that and assume the Colts are doing it perfectly right now? A simple glance at the Colts' passing ranking destroys that idea. With a guy that most consider to be playing top five football right now and some even believe is the second best quarterback in football, the Colts have the 23rd ranked passing offense with 231.8 yards per game.
You want the list of the primary/starting quarterbacks for the teams ranked above the Colts in pass yards per game? Here you go: Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, Tony Romo, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Matt Schaub, Ryan Tannehill, Andy Dalton, Brian Hoyer / Brandon Weeden, Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, Sam Bradford, Christian Ponder / Matt Cassel, and Geno Smith. All of them quarterback a team who is ranked higher than the Colts in passing yards per game. And the Colts are right around the middle of the pack in terms of points per game.
The run game worked at San Francisco in pulling a big upset over the 49ers. But a large part of that was after the Colts had already gotten a lead. The balance on the season in terms of run/pass ratio is actually right where you want it to be: 62% pass plays, 38% run plays. That's pass-balanced, by all means. But consider the fact that in four of six games this year, the Colts have trailed in the fourth quarter. In two of them, Luck pulled out the comeback, but it also means that at the end of games the Colts have had to be throwing a lot. That obviously drives the passing numbers up, and it also means that something didn't work that great in the first three quarters. Peyton Manning has said that, "You hear about how many fourth quarter comebacks that a guy has and I think it means a guy screwed up in the first three quarters."
Of the plays there has been a called pass play, 48 of them have come in the fourth quarter this year and another 14 of them have come in a two-minute situation at the end of the first half. That's 62 passing plays in obvious passing situations, or 28 percent of Luck's dropbacks this season. The Colts need to do a better job integrating the passing game throughout the game. Jon Gruden even noted it on ESPN's broadcast of the game Monday night that "it seems they wait until they are behind and then put the ball in Luck's hands." That is very true.
It's not about the run/pass ratio. It's about the run/pass balance. It's about mixing things up. It's about giving Andrew Luck more responsibility. It's about the principle of the thing: place the game in the hands of your best player.
The Colts have proven that they can run the ball to stay in a game. They've done that well this year. But really, for the most part, they've won because of Andrew Luck first and foremost.
He's not perfect. He will have plays where he makes mistakes and he is going to have games where he won't pull it out. He's had four games in his career so far where he has had an opportunity to lead a game winning drive at some point in the fourth quarter and hasn't. But in order to get the 9 game winning drives he has led, you have to take some of the failures. It's not about perfection, it's about putting yourselves in the best possible position to win as much as possible.
Jim Irsay doesn't want to repeat the mistakes they made in the Peyton Manning era, which was putting everything on Manning's shoulders. He doesn't want it all to fall on Andrew Luck. But they can give him more responsibility than he has had so far.
There is a fine line between utilizing your franchise quarterback well and being too dependent on him. But unlike what I thought early on this year, the Colts aren't close to the line yet. They've got much more room to give Luck more. He can handle it, I guarantee you. And with the Denver Broncos coming to town this Sunday in a huge game, people are talking about it as a game for Andrew Luck to prove himself. I've said it's a huge game for him. Huge. But the Colts need to give him the chance - and if they don't they don't stand a chance against the Broncos. Andrew Luck is good enough to win any ball game against any team in the NFL. But so far this year, the Colts have inadvertently handcuffed him while trying to implement their run game offense.
I give them credit for trying, I really do. I'm glad they went with what they thought would work and didn't listen to the criticism. And they proved that the Colts can run the ball effectively. They've accomplished all of that. But in doing so, they significantly lowered this team's ceiling. They essentially handcuffed their best player.
With the Broncos coming to town, it's time for those handcuffs to come off. I'm not saying abandon the offense, but I'm saying put more of it in Luck's hands. Give him more and better opportunities to succeed. Just a week ago people were talking about the Colts as legitimate contenders. I still believe they are. But that ceiling can only be reached by utilizing one of the best quarterbacks in the game successfully.
On Sunday, the Colts will continue to try and run the ball, trying to follow a similar game plan they employed in the huge win over the 49ers. But at some point they'll fall behind to Peyton Manning's incredibly effective and high scoring offense, and only then will they fully give the reigns over to Andrew Luck. Maybe he'll pull out the win still - he has done it numerous times before. Maybe he won't. But it will be yet another example of just how good the Colts could be. It's up to them: do they want to keep running the ball and limiting themselves, or do they want to give more to Andrew Luck, take the handcuffs off, and see just how high this quarterback and this team can fly? And I'd suggest that this Sunday night is as good of a time as any to see how the latter option works out.