Analysis: Colts' plan has gone awry

Four games in, nothing has unfolded as expected in Indianapolis.

The suggestion that Murphy’s Law is in play with the Indianapolis Colts would be disrespectful to Mr. Murphy.

Such an assessment would imply that the Colts’ struggles haven’t been of their own doing and everything has been a series of unfortunate events beyond their control.

Sure, sometimes stuff happens. But if the NFL has taught anything in 18 years of covering Colts games, it’s all about that old boxing analogy: Everybody has a plan, then they get hit.

Colts owner Jim Irsay spoke of having high expectations for this team. Head coach Chuck Pagano said this was the best team’s he’s had in four seasons.

But from the outset, the Colts have been scrambling to adjust.

The offensive line was supposed to be fortified, but it wasn’t. Not nearly enough.

After two games, and quarterback Andrew Luck taking his usual pounding, offensive guards Lance Louis and Todd Herremans were benched with Jack Mewhort moving from right tackle to left guard, Hugh Thornton inserted at right guard and Joe Reitz installed at right tackle.

Then Luck got hurt in Week 3, although there’s enough evidence to suggest that his struggles could be traced to being battered and bruised before he was wincing in pain on the sideline at Tennessee due to a sore right shoulder.

Wide receiver Andre Johnson as well as rookie wide receiver Phillip Dorsett were going to give Luck so many weapons that defenses couldn’t cover all of his pass targets. But Johnson hasn’t caught a pass in two games. And Dorsett hasn’t played nearly as much as expected, although in limited snaps he’s had seven catches for 120 yards and one TD. The seven catches are the same total as Johnson.

Running back Frank Gore was supposed to give the Colts their best running back since Edgerrin James. While Gore has shown flashes, he’s also inexplicably lost two fumbles into end zones for touchbacks. Both times, the Colts desperately needed touchdowns. There’s still time for him to be the player expected, but so far, he hasn’t performed according to plan.

The Colts have averaged just 18 points per game, tied with Tampa Bay for 26th. Yeah, Tampa Bay. Luck’s seven interceptions are tied with Buccaneers rookie Jameis Winston for the league high, and Luck has played one fewer game. Luck's passer rating of 65.1 ranks 41st (gulp).

The defense has allowed 23.2 points per game, which ties with Atlanta for 15th. But in total yards allowed, a telling statistic considering how it's been a struggle to get off the field at times, the Colts rank 27th at 387.5 yards allowed per game.

A defense with its secondary returning intact has been decimated by injuries. Teams always preach "Next man up" and "Injures aren't an excuse." But in fairness to the Colts, this has been beyond comprehension. When cornerback Vontae Davis was lost to a concussion for the second half of a Week 2 loss to the New York Jets, at that point the Colts had lost their top four cornerbacks. Greg Toler is expected to make his season debut Thursday night. Darius Butler missed two games. Rookie D'Joun Smith, a third-round selection, is on injured reserve with a designation to return due to a knee injury.

Outside linebacker Trent Cole, another offseason addition in free agency, doesn’t have a sack and has made seven tackles in three games. He missed one start due to injury.

The Colts spent a lot of money — $33 million over five years with $10 million guaranteed — on defensive tackle Arthur Jones in the 2014 offseason. An ankle injury derailed his first season with the Colts, when he admitted he never could regain his form. Then another ankle injury ended his second season before it could begin.

The hits just keep on coming.

Of course, the biggest concern and possible adjustment moving forward is being smarter in protecting Luck. Can he make it through the season with the most serious injury of his four-year NFL career? Not if he keeps getting hit. As much as the Colts might hate it, they need to max protect most of the time.

At some point, all of this adversity adds up. Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson are both responsible for how this team moves forward. Some get caught up in the blame game, saying Grigson’s mistakes have hurt the team more than Pagano’s coaching, but an argument could be made that both men haven’t done their jobs well enough.

That’s not unfair. A team that reached the AFC Championship Game last year is hanging on by a thread. The Colts haven’t even played what are supposed to be their toughest games yet. This defense still has to face quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger (presuming he’s healthy by December).

After escaping Sunday with a 16-13 overtime win over Jacksonville at home, some suggested the Colts were fortunate to be 2-2. Seriously, the Colts are lucky they're not 0-4. They were down 13 in the fourth quarter at Tennessee. And the Jaguars missed two field goals (a third miss was wiped out by a Pagano timeout) to give the Colts enough second chances to prevail. These same Jaguars lost 51-17 at New England the previous week.

Irsay has gone silent, and that’s not normal for him. He’s undoubtedly aghast about what has transpired.

As everyone including Irsay watched the Colts sweat through training camp at Anderson University in August, confidence was at an all-time high. This offense was going to be unstoppable. The defense was going to be able to stop the run and be reliable.

Now, the Colts are just trying to survive. August optimism has disappeared, replaced by continual doubt.

Make no mistake, more punches are coming. The hits won’t stop. The NFL is always a grind.

How the Colts adjust, if that’s realistically possible, will determine what this team can salvage from 2015.

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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