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Onside Kicks Are Helping the Colts Set the Tone in Games

This year, Chuck Pagano and the Colts have been using surprise onside kicks to set the tone of a game, and so far it has worked.

Scott Halleran

The Colts have kicked three onside kicks, converting all three of them.  The rest of the NFL has successfully converted just one onside kick (the Jaguars on Sunday).  For that, punter Pat McAfee deserves a ton of credit.

Additionally, however, head coach Chuck Pagano and special teams coach Tom McMahon deserve a lot of credit too.  Only one of their three onside kick attempts has come in a "traditional" onside kick situation (trailing late in the game), in week one against the Broncos.  The other two have both come early in games that the Colts led.  Those are aggressive decisions that Pagano deserves a lot of credit for calling.  While in the past he has been too conservative, he's beginning to show a lot of aggressiveness and that is perhaps most clearly shown in the onside kicks.

Not only do the onside kicks steal another possession for the Colts' offense, they help set the tone for the entire game.  Is it any wonder why the Colts have now been getting off to fast starts (as opposed to the slow starts a year ago)?  Pagano's aggressiveness has helped, and those onside kicks are a big way the tone has been set early.

"I think it's huge," Pagano said of the impact of the onside kicks on the game.  "You see how we started that game. You go right down, hit a big play to T.Y. (Hilton) to follow. Then you're in the end zone the next play and you're up 14. Momentum is everything. You look at how that whole momentum changed on one call on a field goal. They drive down, I think it was 24-0 and we hold and we finally get a stop and hold them to a field goal. We get called for covering up the center, and it's a four-point swing. We get a tipped ball. Then the next thing you know it's a 10-point game. It's huge. We're going to play as aggressive as we possibly can. We're going to be smart. We're going to take calculated risks based on preparation and things like that. It's huge."

Why have the kicks been so successful for the Colts?  "People have to adjust certain ways," Pagano said.  "We're doing different things. Tom (McMahon), again, has done a great job with that. Based on how they lineup and how they adjust, it's kind of just we're going to take whatever they give us. They've got to make a decision on how they adjust. We'll keep playing with it and try to find a way to steal a play here and there."

Basically, the Colts will continue to kick the onside kicks when the opportunity presents itself, and that's telling other special teams coordinators and coaches to be ready for it.  And at the same time, it doesn't seem like Pagano or the Colts are ready to move away from it anytime soon because they see the impact that it can have on games.  When you have a kicker like Pat McAfee (who doesn't quite have the same freedom at the line as quarterback Andrew Luck has, Pagano joked), it makes sense to utilize the onside kick as an additional "surprise" weapon to gain the momentum in a game or to set the tone.  And as I type this, I just think about how far Chuck Pagano has come - last year, the Colts consistently started off very slow.  This year, we're talking about onside kicks in the first quarter with a lead.  Give credit where it's due - Pagano and the coaching staff has really begun to be aggressive in order to set the tone for a game, and it's working.