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Three things we learned from the Colts’ loss to the Broncos

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts lost to the Denver Broncos 34-20 on Sunday. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the team "learn" loosely):

Andrew Luck is human

Last week, Andrew Luck played really, really well. This week, that wasn’t the case. Last week, Luck completed 31 of 47 passes (66%) for 385 yards (8.2 yards per attempt), four touchdowns, no picks, and a 119.5 passer rating. This week, Luck completed 21 of 40 passes (52.5%) for 197 yards (4.9 yards per attempt), a touchdown, an interception, and a 64.3 passer rating. What changed? Well, a lot of things: the Colts were facing the league’s best defense; the offensive line took a few steps back this week; the receivers struggled to create separation; and Luck just flat out missed some throws and overthrow a number of receivers. It wasn’t a great game from Luck, and while it’s nothing to freak out about (after all, it doesn’t suddenly erase how good he was last week), it’s worth pointing out: he’s not perfect. Luck will make mistakes. Luck will have some off days. And therein lies perhaps the biggest problem with the Colts relying so heavily on Andrew Luck: when he struggles, the Colts have no shot. The offensive line isn’t bailing him out; the run game isn’t going to carry the team; the coaching isn’t going to cover mistakes; and the defense probably won’t do enough to win games (on Sunday they were absolutely good enough, and I don’t want to take away from that... but it was also against a Trevor Siemian-led Broncos offense). Luck wasn’t good on Sunday, and it led to a really rough day for the Colts offense overall. We know Luck is human, but we also know that when Luck is human the Colts are normally humbled.

Slow starts again a problem

I’m not talking here about the slow starts within games, which has been well-documented. Heck, this game isn’t the one to point to about that, since the Colts actually only trailed by seven at halftime (which, believe it or not, is improvement). Instead, let’s focus on another slow start: the slow starts to a season that has become a trend under head coach Chuck Pagano. In 2012 (Pagano’s first year), the Colts lost the opener to the Chicago Bears before then defeating the Minnesota Vikings the following week for a 1-1 start. In 2013, the Colts defeated the Oakland Raiders in week one before a loss to the Dolphins the following week for another 1-1 start. In 2014, the Colts opened the season with a road loss to the Broncos and a home loss to the Eagles to start 0-2. In 2015, the Colts lost on the road to the Bills and then at home to the Jets to start 0-2. And then in 2016, the Colts lost at home to the Lions and then on the road to the Broncos for their third straight 0-2 start. So three straight 0-2 starts for the Colts, and they are only 2-8 in the first two weeks of a season under Chuck Pagano (1-4 in week one games), with only two of those games coming against teams that made the playoffs that year (the Colts are 1-1 against those postseason teams).

The Colts have not only developed a trend of getting behind in games; they’ve also developed a trend of getting behind in the standings. Right now, they’re two games out of first place (the Texans are 2-0), and while that’s certainly not insurmountable, it’s not a great situation to be in. The Colts know they can claw their way back, like they did in 2014. But they also have to know that it’s not good: since the current playoff format that came about in 1990, only 12% of teams starting 0-2 have made the playoffs (according to the Buffalo News). Since 2002, only 12 of the 116 teams to start 0-2 have made the playoffs. And if the Colts were to lose next week? Well, none of the 69 teams to start 0-3 since 2002 have made the playoffs that year. Basically, the Colts are employing the same strategy to begin their seasons as they are in the first halves of games: let’s just see how far behind they can get with Andrew Luck still being able to pull them out of the hole. It may work at times both in games and in seasons, but it’s not a great way to begin. And the Colts are 0-2 once again.

Season going as expected - but that’s not neccessarily a good thing

So far, the 2016 season has gone largely as expected for the Colts. In the first game, we expected it to be a high-scoring affair with little defense and that the game could go either way. Check. In the second game, we expected it to be a close game in which the defense looked better than in week one (though still not great) but in which they managed to stick around due to Andrew Luck. Though it wasn’t neccessarily all due to Luck, the rest of it still rang true overall. So the season has gone largely as expected for the Colts, and even though many thought they could pull out a win in week one, an 0-2 start is also not entirely surprising. But the season starting as expected overall doesn’t mean it’s a good thing or that there aren’t concerns. Just because a team is expected to lose doesn’t make that loss an acceptable one, and just because a team is expected to have struggles doesn’t mean that the struggles should just be brushed over.

In reality, this point can provide a perfectly fair reason to both stay calm and freak out. On the one hand, you might be inclined to see the season starting as expected and think that there shouldn’t be much to change one’s mind about this team yet, so an 0-2 start is no big deal. On the other hand, you might be inclined to see the season starting as expected as confirmation that this team isn’t great and that they’re very much dependent upon Andrew Luck, so the start has confirmed fears and leads to bigger concern. I think both are fair responses to what we’ve seen so far from the Colts. Basically, they’re a team that lacks talent on the defensive side of the ball and has been ravaged by injuries. They’re a team that needs the offense to carry them and for Andrew Luck to be a Peyton Manning-like Superman. And they’re an average team in the NFL. So whether you choose to see the start as going according to plan or whether you see the start as reason for concern is up to you, but this much is clear: two games into the 2016 season, the Colts aren’t a very good football team right now.