If you just want to feel good about how the Indianapolis Colts played Sunday, perhaps you don’t want to read this.
Yeah, on a Sunday afternoon when the Colts went on the road and kicked the living you know what out of Jacksonville 44-17 at EverBank Field, analysis starts with a bit of an advisory.
No question, there’s plenty of positives to accentuate. But there’s also a glaring negative, and I refuse to overlook it.
First, a quick synopsis of the positives. The offense clicked early with scores on all six of their first-half possessions. The defense pitched a shutout for a half, forcing three-and-outs the first three series.
A 30-0 halftime lead meant game over. We all knew that. Good for the Colts. They needed this win and didn’t take any chances. They overcame a few early mistakes and never gave the winless Jaguars any hope of being competitive.
Andrew Luck tied a career best with four touchdown passes. He completed 31-of-39 passes for 370 yards. Three of those eight incompletions were drops. Tight end Coby Fleener had two, one when he was wide open in the end zone, a sure touchdown.
Aside from that, though, it’s pretty obvious the passing game had the Jaguars breathless.
So you can imagine my surprise, sitting back in Indianapolis, when the quote email arrived and I started to scan the words from those involved and Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said, “Run game; when you can run the ball effectively, it opens up everything else in your offense.”
OK, I’m thinking, he’s just giving props because the Colts ran for 144 yards, 5 yards per carry. Those are strong numbers, indeed.
Pagano continued, “It opens up the play-action game and we had a couple of good plays off the play-action. To have the yards on the ground like we did and be efficient in that way, it opens up everything else for Andrew and the pass game.”
The head starts to shake. No, coach, it’s the other way around. The Colts throwing the ball opened up run lanes. Am I delusional in my thinking?
The memory can be foggy, so I went back to the play-by-play online. No, it’s exactly as I remembered it.
Three times on the opening drive, the Colts handed off to Trent Richardson on first-and-10 plays. He gained a total of 5 yards. The one time they threw on first down, Luck hit T.Y. Hilton for 9 yards.
That’s not establishing the run. That’s realizing the Colts must pass to set up the run.
Ahead 3-0, the Colts got the ball back and looked to throw the ball five consecutive plays. Luck had to scramble once for 2 yards. The other four plays gained 29 yards. Then Richardson ripped off a 27-yard run. It was only after the Colts passed all over the place that the Jaguars had to back off and try to defend the pass that Richardson had room to run.
Looking at third-and-5 at the Jaguars’ 6, Luck hit running back Ahmad Bradshaw out of the backfield for the 6-yard TD pass to make it 10-0.
You see what’s happening here?
When the Colts got the ball back, the trend continued. On first down, Luck threw and completed a 22-yard pass to Dwayne Allen. Then they tried to play smash mouth on first down with Bradshaw on first down and lost 1 yard.
So the Colts went back to what works, three consecutive passes gained 45 yards. That backed the Jaguars off and allowed Bradshaw to run for 9 yards. Then Luck finished up with a 1-yard TD pass to Allen.
No need to keep reciting play-by-play. I think the point is obvious.
In the first half, the Colts tried to run the ball 11 times on first down. They gained 34 yards. Eight of those carries gained 3 yards or less.
In those same two quarters, the Colts passed 10 times on first down. Those plays gained 143 yards, an average of 14.3 yards per play, with one TD pass.
The reality is the Colts could have called pretty much whatever they wanted and probably still beat the Jaguars, who have been outscored 119-44 in three games. But this wasn’t about just lining up helmet-on-helmet and slamming away with the run.
The Colts still sound stubborn about accepting the reality that Luck’s passing sets up everything else. I mean, he completed at least two passes apiece to nine different pass catchers. You can’t spread the ball around better than that.
So while the much-needed win was secured with ease, let’s not forget the big picture. When the Colts play a good team, a playoff team like the ones they lost to the previous two weeks, they would be wise to play to their strength.
One half of football proved that Sunday. And unless the Colts’ braintrusts eventually accept that, they’re going to lose some games again because of this stubborn belief that everything starts with running the ball.
It does not, plain and simple.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.