On Tuesday, the Indianapolis Colts fired offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, deciding that it was time to make a change. Rob Chudzinski took over the offense, but he faced an incredibly tough task: figure out a way to get your struggling quarterback and offense to have success against the top defense in the NFL on a short week in which a coordinator change was made.
If there's a scale of what leads to a win and what doesn't, that scenario the Colts found themselves in probably falls firmly in line with the latter part. That's not a recipe for success at all. The Colts noted last week that they weren't going to be able to implement a whole new offense but rather simply make some minor tweaks and improve on some things.
It was a tough test, but by all accounts Chudzinski passed it with flying colors. He led the Colts' struggling offense to a resurgence, putting up 365 yards and 27 points on the best defense in the league - both the highest single-game total given up by the Broncos this year. Actually, not only did the Colts put up the most points and total yards against Denver's defense of any team all year, they also had the highest third down conversion percentage, the highest opposing passer rating, the fewest sacks allowed, the second-most rushing yards, and the second-most passing yards.
Here's a comparison of what the Broncos were giving up in the first seven games on average compared to what the Colts put up on Sunday (an asterisk denotes a single-game high allowed by the Broncos):
|Broncos Defense (2015)|
|1st 7 games (avg.)||vs. Colts|
|3rd %||31%||60% *|
|Passer Rating||69.6||98.4 *|
Was that all because of Rob Chudzinski? No, of course not. The execution was as good as we've seen it all year, and Andrew Luck protected the football. But Chud deserves some credit for that, too, and for succeeding where Pep Hamilton didn't.
Entering the game, Chudzinski had a few areas of focus that the Colts wanted to change. They wanted to get Andrew Luck going, they wanted to start games faster, and they wanted to establish an offensive balance to take some of the pressure off of Luck.
Luck certainly got going, completing 21 of 36 passes (58.3%) for 252 yards (7 yards per attempt), two touchdowns, and no interceptions, also adding 34 yards rushing (including a couple of key third down conversions). The franchise quarterback protected the football, was smart with his decisions, wasn't afraid to tuck it and run, and overall showed a lot more confidence than in past weeks. Andrew Luck getting going? Check.
The Colts certainly got off to a quicker start, too. The Colts scored seven points in the first quarter - the first points given up by the Broncos' defense all year - and 17 points in the first half. It had been three weeks since the Colts had scored a single point in the first quarter and it was just the fourth time this year in which the Colts scored a touchdown in the opening period. Furthermore, it was the second-most points scored by the Colts in the first half all season. Instead of falling behind by double-digits, the Colts jumped out to a 17-0 lead. Starting fast? Check.
Lastly, the Colts also got their run game going. The team ran it a season-high 40 times on Sunday, racking up 120 yards. Granted, it wasn't the most efficient rushing performance, and Andrew Luck had six of those rushes (rushing for 34 yards on five carries and then adding a kneeldown). But Frank Gore carried the ball 28 times, the most in a single game for him since the 2011 season, and he rushed for 83 yards and a score. Most importantly, the Colts mixed things up. They didn't become totally reliant upon the pass game like they have in past games, but they maintained the balance that helped take some of the pressure off of Luck's shoulders. Keeping offensive balance? Check.
There are other things we could note with Chudzinski's offense, too. Wide receivers were schemed open better than in past games, utilizing crossing routes and the like to get the wideouts going. The blitz-beating plays were much better, as the plays were designed to get the ball out quicker and Luck obliged. The tight ends were utilized more than in any game this season. There's a lot to point out from Chudzinski's offense on Sunday, and it's pretty much all positive.
"Chud is one hell of a football coach," head coach Chuck Pagano said after the game, "and the rest of that coaching staff, I'd name them all, but they did a phenomenal job. Putting that thing together and making that thing work on a short week and against a team and against a defense, the No. 1 defense in the National Football League, was just phenomenal."
It was indeed, and the mid-season offensive coordinator change seems to have indeed provided a spark. It was just one game, but so far so good with Rob Chudzinski at the helm of the Colts' offense. Now he'll face an even bigger challenge in getting it to translate each and every week.