Offensive approach isn’t Colts’ problem, it’s execution

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The armchair quarterbacks are urging – absolutely begging – the Indianapolis Colts to do something different with their offensive approach early in games.

Do something, anything if for no other reason than what coordinator Rob Chudzinski has been doing the first month of the season isn’t working.

“Yeah, I think it’s human tendency to change, change, change, change, change,’’ quarterback Andrew Luck said.

Added tight end Dwayne Allen: “Those outside looking in, those who are fans of the game and not really students of the game say, ‘Scrap it. It’s not really working. This is the problem. This is problem.’’’

The problem has reared its head shortly after kickoff every week.

The offense is tied for seventh in the NFL in scoring (27 points per game) and Luck has been on top of his game when the pressure has been its most severe. His fourth-quarter passer rating of 111.3 – six touchdowns, one interception, a 66.7 completion percentage – ranks fourth in the league.

But getting out of the gate with anything resembling efficiency and productivity has been troublesome. On 11 first-quarter possessions through four games, Luck has generated one touchdown and three field goals.

That has contributed to the Colts being outscored 64-35 in the first half and having to rely on furious fourth-quarter closing kicks. Each of their games has been decided in the final 2 minutes.

Most damning? The Colts have scored only one touchdown on their opening drive of a game since the start of the 2014 season: Luck’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief against New England in the sixth game of last season. That’s a stretch of 36 games.

So, do something else? Maybe make more liberal use of an up-tempo, no-huddle approach?

Or how about this: Just execute better regardless if Luck is running the no-huddle, in the shotgun, under center, standing on his head.

“It’s not a big mystery,’’ Chudzinski said. “It’s not solving a puzzle. It’s about making plays. We have to execute better early in games.’’

That was never more evident than in Sunday’s loss to Jacksonville in London. Consider the carelessness in the first quarter:

  • The opening drive stalled when rookie running back Josh Ferguson dropped a third-and-2 pass.
  • On the ensuing possession, Allen worked himself free over the middle on second-and-8, but dropped what would have been at least a 15-yard completion. On the next play, the Jaguars deflected and intercepted a Luck pass.
  • On the third drive, running back Frank Gore was unable to secure a Luck pass on second-and-4 and rookie receiver Chester Rogers dropped yet another pass.

In the second quarter, wideout Phillip Dorsett upped the drop count to five on third-and-6, forcing the Colts to settle for Adam Vinatieri’s 49-yard field goal.

The tempo of the offense and play calls weren’t the issue. It was the execution.

“It’s the little things,’’ Allen said. “That’s why there’s no panic from the inside. Those who really sit down and analyze the film understand it’s a drop here, a missed block there. It’s technique issues, not play issues.’’

Chudzinski isn’t averse to having Luck run the no-huddle early in games. In fact, that has been the case on occasion.

However, he noted it’s misleading to use Luck’s ability to excel in up-tempo situations late in games and as evidence the similar style should be used from the outset.

“At the end of games you’re seeing defenses that are going to let you have yards and let you move the ball,’’ Chudzinski said. “They’re trying to keep you from scoring and playing you differently than they are during the middle of the game.’’

Personnel issues also factor in. One aspect of the hurry-up is sticking with the same group of skill players, which also locks in the defensive personnel. Donte Moncrief will miss a third straight game with a shoulder injury when the Chicago Bears visit Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday, perhaps limiting Chudzinski’s willingness to go heavy with three-receiver formations.

Whatever the discussions when devising the game plan for the Bears, Chudzinski made it clear going up-tempo, no-huddle is “definitely an option . . . always something we talk about.’’

T.Y. Hilton wouldn’t mind that one bit.

Going up-tempo, he said, “gives us a lot of advantages. It gets defenses tired, takes pressure off the O-line, helps us out. We should feel good. I like it.’’

But only if the execution improves.

“Yeah, it’s execution,’’ Luck said. “It’s finishing drives. It’s getting points when you’re down crossing the 50. It’s getting touchdowns instead of field goals.

“It’s about execution. Again, everybody is going to have an opinion and that’s great, but we have to execute better and whatever is called we have to run it better.’’