Colts offense keeps it simple, does something special

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 9, 2015) – Let’s get past what might have been a season-changing victory over a previously undefeated team at the expense of the returning favorite son.

Let’s talk about what might be the most consequential aspect of the Indianapolis Colts’ 27-24 win Sunday over the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos.

Aside from the outcome, it was nothing special.

There wasn’t a tackle-eligible pass to Joe Reitz. Or fake punt that went ridiculously off the tracks. Or end arounds, wildcat formations or other gimmicks designed to aid an offense that can’t handle a defense straight-up.

The game plan under new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was simplified and more committed to the run game. Andrew Luck leaned on season-high rushing attempts, including 28 by Frank Gore, his most since 2011.

Luck appeared more decisive and comfortable despite being banged around by the Broncos. A quarterback who had suffered at least two interceptions in seven of his previous eight starts had none against an opportunistic Denver defense. There were more underneath crossing routes and much better use of tight ends Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle, who were targeted on 11 of Luck’s 36 attempts.

Nothing special, and that’s special.

Luck and the offense, again aided by Chudzinski’s scaled-back approach following a week of transition from fired coordinator Pep Hamilton, simply returned to taking care of the football and taking care of their business.

The more basic game plan resulted in crisper execution.

“We scaled back a lot and guys knew exactly what we were going to do,” said wide receiver Andre Johnson. “(Chudzinski) didn’t have guys thinking as much. Just go out and play.

“If you just look at the speed we played with on offense, you can see it. Guys were locked in and flying around. You get into a rhythm on offense and it plays a big part in how your offense plays throughout the game.”

Luck spread his 36 attempts among nine different players. No one was targeted more than six times, everyone was targeted at least twice.

“Whenever you have a different person calling plays, it can seem like a totally different playbook,’’ said tight end Dwayne Allen. “Guys were able to make huge plays. Chud did a great job of getting the ball in the hands of our playmakers.’’

Along with being in attack mode from the outset against the Broncos’ No. 1-ranke defense, the offense executed. Luck converted 12-of-20 third-down situations, which led to rhythm, which led to productivity.

While Chudzinski’s game plan and play calling were major factors, so was Luck’s performance. Maybe he’s ready to shed the funk of uncertainty and hesitation that have plagued him much of the season.

Including the fourth quarter and overtime at Carolina, the Luck-led offense has converted 16-of-28 third-down situations (57.1 percent). Luck’s third-down passing during that stretch is off-the-charts good: 14-of-19, 191 yards, two touchdowns, a 140.5 passer rating.

For at least one week, simplified resulted in success.

“Guys were able to go out and play fast,” Pagano said. “If you’re out there thinking, you can’t play fast. (Chudzinski) did a great job of simplifying the plan and letting those guys tee-off.”

The offensive line, he added, “played fast, they played tough, they played physical and they played nasty.”

The elevated execution included a “clean game” – no turnovers from an offense that had 19 in its first eight games – and just two offensive penalties.

“The running game was great,” noted backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. “Our receivers stepped up against good tight, man coverage situations. We didn’t turn the ball over and we created turnovers. We were a plus-two (turnover differential) and that’s the formula that everyone agrees is the formula for success.”

Execute, execute, execute. Keep it simple and execute.

“It’s pretty simple, no doubt,” Pagano said. “First-down efficiency and positive plays, or just don’t have a negative play.

“Staying on the field running 77 plays to their 51, almost 39 minutes of possession time . . . you’re going to win a lot of football games doing that.”