The Indianapolis Colts have a lot to prove in the 2018 season. It isn’t all on the defensive side of the ball either. Frank Reich enters the fold as both the head coach and play-caller and is inheriting one of the league’s most impressive quarterbacks in Andrew Luck to showcase his offensive system.
Most of us believe that Reich will be better than the offensive coordinators of the most recent era of Colts football, but a lot goes into those expectations. Yards per play, third down efficiency, red zone success and a litany of other aspects go into the overall success of the offense.
But, there is one specific area in which Reich must be better than those who’ve come before him recently if the Colts are going to win any games this year — scoring late in the half. Putting points up as halftime nears, and at the end of the game has not been a strength of the Colts since 2012. It needs to be in 2018, so let’s look at the bar Reich has to beat going forward.
The specific time we’re looking at is the final three minutes of each half. Since 2012 the Colts have really struggled in these three-minute windows with, and without Luck under center. Of course Luck has missed 26 games in his first seven years in the league, but these numbers aren’t limited to his being sidelined as you’ll soon see.
Reich will attempt to get these numbers up from the combined efforts of Bruce Arians (2012), Pep Hamilton (2013-2015) and Rob Chudzinski (2015-2017). We can argue about which yielded better results in their time with the team, but this is a broader look at the product that has been accumulated.
There is a combination of timing and mentality that comes into play here, and a more aggressive approach by Reich could lead these numbers in either direction. Here’s how the offense has compared to the rest of the league in this time frame.
What’s more important than being able to sustain drives, and put touchdowns on the board in the NFL? Not much, especially when considering the potential of getting the final strike of the first half, or putting the finishing touches on a game-winning drive.
Trying to find the complete picture, the Colts have been 24th in yards per play, T-20th scoring touchdowns and have compiled a 26.8 percent (T-15th) first down rate. As I mentioned earlier, a lack of aggression may be playing a part in some of these numbers when considering that the team is T-7th throughout this six-year period.
With field goals up, and touchdowns near the bottom-third of the league, that tells you about the lack of aggression with past play-callers and maybe just as likely, the approach that Chuck Pagano expected out of the offense. First down percentage wasn’t terrible, but was still just very average for having a top-tier quarterback under center for most of those games.
Reich and the Colts’ coaching staff has been stressing situational football all summer. Another major point of interest has been ball control. The two come together at these points in the game.
The Colts have been good at avoiding throwing interceptions (T-11th) at these critical junctures in the game. But, they have put the ball on the carpet far too often (T-20th) which leads to lost opportunities and losing close games as a common result.
The Colts have lost 19 one-score games since 2012. That’s over 44 percent of their total losses over this time span. More touchdowns and fewer field goals would have gone a long way towards improving that win-loss record.
Maybe one of the more disturbing trends with these teams of the past, is the complete lack of protection of Luck, and jaw dropping sack numbers they’ve allowed. The Colts have given up 52 sacks (29th) at the end of halves, which is only better than the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets. That’s sickening.
For a team with average numbers in sacks allowed, that’s two season worth of sacks. The Colts have allowed 239 sacks over the past six seasons, and nearly 22 percent of those have come just in the final three minutes of each half.
This is where Reich is going to earn his coaching stripes this season. With all things considered, the Colts defense may not be much help to keeping opponents’ scoring down. It looks to be a bend-but-don’t-break approach under Matt Eberflus’ tutelage, but the Colts have been notorious for giving up big plays in recent years as well.
That’s not going to help Luck, and will only put more pressure on him to be a miracle worker, but Luck’s going to need some good coaching in this area of the game as well.
In Luck’s career to this point, he’s 17th in yards per attempt (6.7), 22nd in completion rate (57.7%), 15th in quarterback rating and has taken the seventh-most sacks (33) during this high-pressure time bubble in each half. That’s not ideal for a guy who is expected to almost single-handedly carry the team to victory.
I’m not a believer in the thought process that all interceptions are created equal, but when considering that he HAS missed 26 games, his turnovers have likely been pretty costly. Only 11 quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions than Luck at these points in the game. Only three of those 11 have better interception percentages, though, so it’s not all bad.
Surprisingly enough — or maybe not — Luck has thrown enough passes in his short career that his attempts were very comparable to several of these passers who haven’t missed anywhere near as many games throughout the past six seasons.
Anyway you slice it, Luck is going to have to take to the coaching, while the Reich needs to devise a unique, efficient, and aggressive gameplan in order to get this offense over the hump. He’s got a long year ahead of him too. A questionable receiver corps, very little experience in the backfield and a few holes on the offensive line will make this difficult to make a reality
But, if the Colts are going to prove anyone wrong this year, late-in-half scoring will be critical to this young team in stealing a few games throughout the course of the season.