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Colts’ slow starts still a major question mark without many answers

Detroit Lions v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

It’s a new season for the Indianapolis Colts, but an old issue loomed large in their game today. The Colts fell behind 21-3 in the first half and trailed 21-10 at halftime, illustrating yet another slow start.

It’s not a new issue either, and in fact it’s something they have struggled with ever since Chuck Pagano arrived in Indianapolis to begin the new era. In 71 games since the start of the 2012 season, the Colts have trailed at halftime in 34 of them - and 20 times they’ve trailed by double-digit points at the half. That means that in nearly half their games they’ve been down at the half, but the bigger deal is that in nearly 30% of their games they have been down by double-digits at halftime! In 34 different games, they have faced a double-digit deficit at any point in the game - meaning that in nearly half of their games under Pagano, they’ve been down by double-digits at some point. That’s obviously not good.

The Colts have a history of starting slow in games, and they also have a history of starting slow in seasons. Since the start of the 2012 season, the Colts are 1-4 in season openers and 2-7 in the first two weeks of a season. In both 2014 and 2015 they began the year 0-2, and this year they started 0-1 and are in danger of starting 0-2 for the third-straight year as they travel to Denver to face the Broncos next week.

Simply put, the slow starts - both in games and in seasons - have to get fixed. The Colts have to be able to start games off faster and to be able to at least be competitive early on instead of digging a hole for Andrew Luck to try to pull them out of. Chuck Pagano knows it, too.

“The slow start, again, [we’ve] got to find a way to get that fixed,” Pagano said after the game. “We can’t come out and go three-and-out, have a sack - it’s a drive killer - and then give up a nine or ten play drive for a touchdown, and then go three-and-out again, and the defense goes out there and we have a fifteen play drive, and then we go three-and-out again and next thing you know it’s 21-3 and you’ve dug yourself a huge hole, which has happened too many times. I know this team knows how to finish, but we’ve got to figure out a way how to start.”

Pagano is absolutely right: the blame for the slow start today goes all around. The defense gave up 21 points early, but the offense didn’t help them out much either as they struggled to get any rhythm going for most of the first half. Neither unit started out well, and that’s been a trend with the Colts. They’ve definitely been a second half team, but as we’ve seen, it’s hard to win consistently when always fighting to get back in the game due to an early deficit.

And if you’re looking for answers on how to fix it, Chuck Pagano doesn’t seem to have any - at least, not that he’s willing to share publicly.

“Well, that’s a great question,” Pagano said after an bit of a pause. “Because obviously, we haven’t solved the problem yet. But we’re more than capable. I mean, you come out and you can move the ball like we moved it toward the end of the first half and then moved it in the second half and then get off the field. It’s a by-product; one suffers because of the other. If we can’t get off the field, they were 75% on third down in the first half, and then you go three-and-out and punt and three-and-out and punt, the next thing you know you’re over thirty plays on the defensive side of the football. So it’s got to be better.”

Essentially, he dodged the question of how they can fix the slow starts. But perhaps he needs to first look at himself and his coaching staff. Perhaps a large part of it is their preparation. Often, the first several plays of a game are scripted beforehand for a team, and the Colts had all offseason to work on that plan this time around - and it failed. But once the Colts started adapting to the game and utilizing a hurry-up passing attack, the offense caught fire. Is it possible that the preparation for games isn’t the best, but the Colts have learned to adapt in-game and make adjustments? I think that has to be the most probable explanation, so I think Pagano needs to look first at himself when looking for solutions to the slow starts.

Andrew Luck has proven over the past four-plus years that he’s capable of leading the Colts out of pretty much any deficit, and he nearly did it again today - Luck actually put the Colts ahead with less than a minute to go, only to see the defense blow it. But it’s hard not to wonder how effective the Colts would have been had they not spent the entire first half trying to figure out what the heck they were doing, and they would be a much better football team if they could play a complete game. It’s been an issue for years now, but it still doesn’t seem like the Colts have many answers on how to fix it. Instead, it might just continue to be “In Luck we trust” to pull them out of holes, and while that will work at times it’s not a recipe for repeated, consistent success - which is what is needed come January.