For much of Andrew Luck’s career with the Indianapolis Colts, a prevailing narrative has been that Luck doesn’t have the supporting cast around him to be a good football team. The popular thought has been that Luck has masked a lot of issues for the Colts, and that’s true.
This year, that has once again been true. In year five of the rebuild it wasn’t supposed to be that way, but the Colts are still just as dependent on Luck as ever. Sure there are excuses you can make along the way as to why that is - such as injuries - but the fact of the matter is that the Colts are 1-3 and haven’t looked particularly good while doing so.
And while it’s important to never base the totality of one’s opinions on just one game, I think Sunday morning’s loss to the Jaguars illustrated quite clearly what so many have thought over the years: that Luck isn’t getting any help.
Just to illustrate, here’s the “help” Luck had today:
- The receivers dropped five passes and struggled to get open on some other plays. Josh Ferguson, Dwayne Allen, Frank Gore, Chester Rogers, and Phillip Dorsett all dropped passes, and we saw coverage of the wideouts that forced Luck to take a lot of checkdowns at times. Furthermore, on the last play of the game, Allen didn’t help much - a play he said that he considers a drop. Overall, it was a bad outing by the pass-catchers.
- The offensive line struggled all day with protecting him. They had to start three rookies up front, but the veterans also didn’t step up (mainly Anthony Castonzo). Luck was sacked six times and hit another 13 times on Sunday in a miserable outing for the line. The Colts’ franchise quarterback was hit hard a number of times, and while that wasn’t all due to the offensive line, a lot of it was.
- The defense wasn’t good, either. Facing an offense that had really struggled through the first three games, the Colts allowed the Jaguars to have their best game of the season. Jacksonville entered the day averaging 18 points and 317.3 yards per game, and on Sunday they scored 30 and racked up 331 yards. Jacksonville entered the day with the 31st-ranked rushing offense, averaging 55 yards per game and 2.8 yards per carry. On Sunday, they rushed for 136 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. The Jaguars had turned the football over three times in each of the last two games and Blake Bortles had thrown a pick in all three games this year - but on Sunday, the Colts didn’t force a single turnover. It was a bad performance by the Colts’ defense, and when they desperately needed a stop, they missed tackles and allowed a 42-yard score instead.
- The discipline wasn’t there. The Colts were penalized seven times for 78 yards (which was actually much better than the Jaguars’ penalty numbers), and some of them really hurt. There was the false start by Dwayne Allen that made it a longer third down try (it led to an Adam Vinatieri 49-yard field goal, so the Colts still got some points). There was the stupid shove out of bounds by T.J. Green that was flagged for a 15-yard penalty. There was the pass interference on Antonio Cromartie later on that same drive (one that basically handed the Jaguars three points before the half, due to the penalties). In the second half, Akeem Ayers notched a sack but the Jaguars still gained 15 yards because Curt Maggitt made a stupid play to dive on the pile late. Again, it’s not like the Colts were screwed by the refs and it’s not like the penalties made the difference due to the Jaguars also being penalized so much, but they certainly didn’t help.
- And while we shouldn’t ignore the failures of the players, a lot of the blame lies on Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson, too. The Colts were sloppy and unprepared - again. That’s on Pagano. In fact, the Indianapolis Star’s Zak Keefer said that some players were saying that they weren’t focused and weren’t ready. Really? That reflects back on Pagano and the coaching staff. And furthermore, the Colts are overall devoid of talent at a lot of places on the roster. That’s on Grigson. Jim Irsay made the decision to bring both men back earlier this year, and his franchise is now feeling the effects of that decision.
To be fair, there were a few players who did a nice job on Sunday. Frank Gore rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown while averaging 4.3 yards per carry, and he also caught five passes for 27 yards (with the one drop), racking up 95 yards total. And Adam Vinatieri made both of his field goal attempts, continuing to be absolute money. And there were some defensive players who did a nice job despite the unit not playing well.
And to be sure, there were plays that Andrew Luck left on the field, too. After all, he had a solid but unspectacular day: completing 27 of 42 passes (64.3%) for 234 yards (5.6 yards per attempt), two touchdowns, and a pick. If we factor in the drops, he was accurate on over 75% of his throws, and it certainly wasn’t a bad game from Luck. But take the play on which he missed Chester Rogers running wide open down the field for a touchdown as an example. Luck missed him, but that’s kind of my point (and what I’ve been saying for a few weeks now): the Colts are at a point where they need Luck to be absolutely perfect. There’s no margin for error, and that’s an unrealistic expectation to place on anyone. So when I write this, I’m not excusing Luck of missing some plays, but I am pointing out that the Colts need him to be perfect - and that’s a sign of a bad team around him.
The team hasn’t been constructed too well. Of their top-seven highest-paid players for the 2016 season, here are four of them: left tackle Anthony Castonzo (third-highest paid; $9.8M cap hit this year) has struggled this year in pass protection and did so again on Sunday. Tight end Dwayne Allen (fourth-highest paid; $8.9M cap hit this year) caught just two passes for 20 yards on Sunday and has just 11 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown this season (with multiple drops). Inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (sixth-highest paid; $5.75M cap hit this year) recorded six tackles and a tackle for loss on Sunday and has recorded 21 tackles, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and a pass defensed this year. And outside linebacker Robert Mathis (seventh-highest paid; $5.0M cap hit this year) recorded just one tackle on Sunday and has just five tackles and two quarterback hits this year without a sack.
So of the Colts’ seven highest-paid players, four of them have been underwhelming this year through four games (the other three are Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, and Vontae Davis). And as if that isn’t bad enough, the Colts are also behind in developing young defensive talent. As My Colts Account pointed out on Twitter today, the Colts have more undrafted free agents (two) than draft picks (zero) still on the roster from the 2012-2014 draft classes on the defensive side of the football. That’s not good. The last two drafts have seen Ryan Grigson do a much better job of adding young talent (hello, Henry Anderson!), but there’s no denying that the Colts are very far behind where they should be at this point in the rebuild.
And while the offense is supposed to be the unit that gives Luck the most help (which is true), they’ve still been inconsistent at times this year and we’ve seen the receivers go quiet at times and the offensive line struggle at others. Sure, a part of that today was the losses of Donte Moncrief, Denzelle Good, and Joe Reitz, but that doesn’t excuse the poor play all around.
Odds are that you’ll see this game through whatever lenses you choose to: either as a rough stretch for a talented team or as a bad performance by a bad team. But there’s no denying that on Sunday the Colts did not give Andrew Luck much help, and that’s been a theme for way too long. And as long as Jim Irsay rewards that kind of production with contract extensions, it’s likely to continue.