When it comes to scoring, the Indianapolis Colts' offense ranks as the fifth-best in the NFL, while their defense ranks as the third-best. The problem is that those numbers are only looking at the fourth quarter. When taking the whole game into account, the Colts offense' is 20th and their defense is 21st.
The Colts' slow starts have plagued them all season and is one of the main reasons they are only 3-5 on the year. When you always have to overcome a large deficit in order to win, you're probably not going to win too often. The Colts have trailed at the half in five games this year, trailed at any point in seven games this year (and trailed in the second half in six of them), and have trailed by double-digits in six out of eight games (the only two exceptions being the games against the Jaguars and Texans). In the fourth quarter, however, the Colts have outscored six of their opponents and outscored them 74-35 overall, drawing close in several games (including the last two against the Saints and the Panthers).
The problem for them is starting that way instead of waiting until late in the game to start playing good football, and it sounds like that might have been one of the reasons why the team parted ways with Pep Hamilton earlier this week. They're making no doubt about it this week: they need to start faster.
"I think we've all seen this team make some incredible comebacks since we've been here in 2012," head coach Chuck Pagano said on Wednesday. "I think we saw on Monday Night Football a football team because of its grit, its perseverance and its character down 17 points with less than a quarter to play against a football team on the road, undefeated, playing as good as anybody in the National Football League comeback, force overtime and take the lead in overtime. That just doesn't happen unless you have the right people. We've got the talent. We've got the grit. We've got the character. [Firing Pep Hamilton] was just something that I felt we needed to do.
"We're close. And our mission, and my mission, and the rest of our mission, coaches and players, is to start like we finish. Start like we finish. Offense is ranked, fourth quarter scoring, fifth in the National Football League and our defense is third in the National Football League. That's for one quarter though and we've got to do it for four quarters and that's our mission is to start like we finish."
It's much easier said than done. In fact, the Colts have struggled with slow starts on and off for a couple of years, and the issues have returned this year with much more consistency. One of the biggest factors in that has been the offense and their inefficiency early in games - such as last week against the Panthers, when they turned the ball over on each of their first two drives. With Rob Chudzinski now taking over the reigns of the offense, he'll try to fix the issues and help get the unit going earlier in games.
Does that mean going more up-tempo early in games? Pagano wouldn't rule it out.
"It seems like, again, as soon as you get down 23-6 and your backs are against the wall and you're running out of time and we get in that situation and we start to go up-tempo, we can say, ‘Hey, that's the reason,'" Pagano said. "Or is it because it's desperation time or whatever you want to call it? We perform well under those circumstances. We can't do that, obviously. It's too hard, it's too hard to win football games in the National Football League and try to dig yourself out of holes that we've dug ourselves in. When you go four games and don't score any points in the first half and you go three quarters of this last game and don't muster up anything other than six points, it's very, very difficult. You've got to play great team football. From a tempo standpoint, we've got different tempos. So I think every game plays, whether you do it or not, it depends on the situation of game, the score of the game, all those kind of things."
However they go about trying to do it, the Colts know one thing very clearly: they can't afford any more slow starts. They need to start like they finish, and if they can do that, we'll see them start to turn things around.