The Colts 2013 regular season was filled with a lot of positives (along with some negatives), but perhaps the brightest and best aspect of the entire season was that the Colts didn't turn the ball over and didn't commit penalties. In fact, the Colts set franchise records for a 16 game season for the fewest turnovers in a season (14) and fewest penalties in a season (67), also leading the league in both categories.
In 16 games, the Colts turned the ball over only 14 times (10 interceptions, 4 fumbles lost). More remarkable than averaging just 0.875 turnovers per game, however, is that the Colts finished the season with a seven game stretch of turning the ball over only one time or less in each game. For the season, the Colts turned the ball over one time in seven different games and zero times in seven other games. That means that in only two games the entire season did the Colts turn the ball over multiple times, and one of them was two turnovers against the Seahawks. Therefore, there was one game that was a complete aberration, and that was the home loss to the Rams, where the Colts committed five turnovers in a single game. That game was not indicative of this team, and if you take it away, they turned the ball over only 9 times total in the other 15 games (0.6 turnovers per game). That's incredible.
The fact that the Colts also led the league and set a franchise mark in fewest penalties at the same time is even more remarkable. Coaches preach protecting the football and being disciplined - not committing penalties. The Colts finished +13 in the turnover margin and only committed 4.19 penalties per game. People use turnovers and penalties against coaches a lot, and I feel that it's only fair to praise them for it when deserved as well: Chuck Pagano deserves a lot of credit for his team performing tremendously well in two of the biggest areas of the game for head coaches. The Colts protected the football and didn't commit many penalties, and they did it better than any other team in the NFL and better than any Colts team in the past.
Give the players a lot of credit, too, and especially quarterback Andrew Luck. In his rookie season, he threw 18 interceptions and people (idiotically) called him "turnover-prone," even though he threw an interception on just 2.87% of his attempts. Regardless, Luck took care of the football this year and did so better than almost everyone else. Despite throwing 571 passes this year, he only threw 9 interceptions (only 1.58% of his attempts). His predecessor in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning, who very well might be the best to ever play the position, threw 9 interceptions in a season only once and he never has thrown fewer than that. In 2006, Manning protected the football very well and threw only 9 picks on 557 attempts (1.62% of his attempts).
Chuck Pagano talked about the Colts ability to protect the football and tendency not to commit many penalties last week before the Jaguars game (where the Colts notched their seventh zero turnover game of the year):
How have you guys been able to protect the ball so well?
"We just, like everything else we talk about, process all the time and how we do things. From day one, starting all the way back to the offseason program to training camp, every day out there. We stress fundamentals and techniques and ball security is first and foremost on the list. The guys have done a great job throughout the year. They do a great job in practice. Andrew (Luck) is doing a great job of managing the game and making great decisions. Guys are taking care of the football. I think anything you emphasize, you're going to get. We emphasize that, along with penalties, in training camp all the way back to training camp. We talk about penalties, not beating yourself, not shooting yourself in the foot, those types of things, taking care of the football, win the turnover battle. That's one of the first talks that you give. I always talk about if you're plus-one, plus-two, plus-three, what your winning percentage is. It's, other than the score, it's the second-most tell on wins and losses, is turnover margin. Coaches do a great job of teaching the fundamentals of how to take care of the football. The guys are paying attention to it."
How about penalties? Extending drives?
"No question about it. You don't win games in the National Football League, you lose them. We talk about that all the time."
The Colts 2013 season has been a good one, but nothing has been more incredible than the Colts in the area of turnovers and penalties. They were simply phenomenal in both, and Chuck Pagano deserves a ton of credit for marks that both led the NFL and set Colts franchise records.