Colts’ offense taking different approach, at least in opener

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 09: Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts in the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The sample size is ridiculously small: four quarters and 77 plays.

It’s been somewhat skewed by the absence of the starting left tackle, which brings pass protection concerns to the forefront, and starting running back. And let’s not forget the quarterback hadn’t played in a game that mattered in 20 months.

So, what to make of the Indianapolis Colts’ offense?

Good question, and again, it’s too early to form any definitive answers.

A few observations following the opening loss to Cincinnati and heading into Sunday’s road test against Washington:

  • Offensive balance will be a subjective concept for Frank Reich. In his first game back since the final game of 2016, Luck tested the stability of his surgically-repaired right shoulder with 53 pass attempts. That was tied for the third-most in his career and the most by a QB on the opening week of the season. His 39 completions were a career high, one short of matching Peyton Manning’s team record and the most in week 1.

The Colts ran just 28.5 percent of the time (22 attempts on 77 plays). It was one of the most imbalanced attacks on opening day. But keep in mind Luck directed two-minute drives at the end of the first half and the game that consisted of 20 plays, 18 of which were passes.

“That can make the stats look a lot more lopsided than they actually are or as you actually feel when you are out there on the field,’’ offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “We do have to run the ball better and we would like to run the ball more, but sometimes the situation of the game leads you in the direction that it led us.’’

Added Frank Reich: “It’s beyond the numbers. Some of that is going to be dictated by the game, some of it’s going to be dictated by what the defense does. It wouldn’t be surprising to me if in the future we are going to want games where we run the ball more than we throw it.’’

The 77 plays, by the way, were the most on opening weekend excluding the Pittsburgh-Cleveland overtime game.

  • The Bombs Away! approach of previous seasons has at least temporarily given way to a more efficient passing game that features shorter drops by Luck, multiple formations, movement and underneath crossing routes. In his first 70 games, Luck averaged 7.2 yards per attempt. Against Cincinnati, it was 6.02. That ranked 23rd in the league on opening day.

The game plan against the Bengals was replete with short and intermediate routes, and shorter passes. It’s no coincidence Luck completed 73.6 percent of his passes, the fifth-highest of his career.

“Room to improve absolutely,’’ he said, “but I thought it was my best throwing day to date through this whole journey. That makes me happy.’’

The instability at offensive tackle likely is a contributing factor to the shorter drops and quicker throws. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo will miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury and J’Marcus Webb, the opening-day starter at right tackle, was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring issue. It’s possible Joe Haeg, who replaced Castonzo against Cincinnati, moves back to right tackle and Le’Raven Clark makes his first career start at left tackle after being inactive last week.

  • An obvious byproduct of the restricted passing approach against the Bengals was modest numbers by the receivers. Nine different players caught at least one pass, but they averaged just 8.2 yards on Luck’s 39 completions. Only Philadelphia (6.6), Arizona (7.7) and Chicago (7.4) averaged fewer yards per reception last weekend.

As much as Reich stresses efficiency and ball security, he also realizes the importance of creating chunk plays (completions of at least 20 yards, runs of at least 10 yards) and winning that in-game battle each week. In the opener, the Colts were a minus-6. Luck had only one completion longer than 20 yards, Eric Ebron’s 26-yard touchdown.

One caveat: T.Y. Hilton dropped what would have been a 35-yard completion late in the third quarter and was penalized for a questionable interference penalty in the second quarter that erased a 20-something-yard completion.

“I thought Andrew was aggressive throwing some of those balls,’’ Sirianni said. “He threw three deep go-balls to T.Y, so yeah, in my opinion we were (aggressive).’’