Pass-happy Colts, Andrew Luck need to get some help from run game

Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts throws in the first half of the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 18, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Anyone seriously questioning the imbalance in the Indianapolis Colts offense hasn’t been paying attention.

Two words: Andrew Luck.

“We’ve got a great quarterback and we have a good passing game,’’ Frank Reich said Monday afternoon, “so we’re going to throw the ball a lot.’’

Let that sink in, and remember Luck has tossed 121 passes the last two games, the second-most in NFL history in consecutive games. He’s on pace to wipe out NFL records with 784 attempts and 521 completions.

But allow Reich to finish his thought.

“We still need to mix it,’’ he said.

Mix it, as in mix in the run game, and certainly more than has been the case during the first five weeks.

Offensive balance is in the eye of the beholder, and often a captive to week-to-week situations. The last two games, for example, the Colts trailed by 21 at the half (at New England) and 18 in the third quarter (versus Houston). Neither situation was conducive to stubbornly sticking with the run game.

But at the same time, let’s not kid ourselves. The Colts are getting very little done on the ground. They rank 29th in yards per game (74.4) and 27th in yards per attempt (3.7). The 101 attempts are their fewest in the first five games since 1991 (87), a season that careened out of control and finished 1-15. The 74.4 per-game average would be the lowest since, that’s right, ’91 (73.1).

As for something approaching balance? Not in Indy. The Colts’ 71.7-28.3 percent pass-run breakdown represents the league’s most-lopsided offense.

“If you look over the years, I don’t think you can put a number on it,’’ Reich said. “You just don’t want to be too high in the pass area.

“If you’re a 60-40, that’s probably in the acceptable range.’’

Not 70-30.

After Luck’s historically-busy last two games, Reich conceded it was “killing him’’ to dial up so many passes. It was necessary, though, based on how the Patriots and Texans games unfolded.

“Week to week you’re just going to do what you have to do to win the game,’’ Reich said Monday. “Some weeks we hope that’s running it 40 times. Other times if we have to throw it 50, we will.

“The goal is to be balanced.’’

That’s not simply a statistical benchmark to be hit so another coaching box can be checked off. And it’s ludicrous to expect the Colts at some point to turn Luck into a game manager who leans heavily on his running game.

As long as Luck is under center and Reich is sending in the plays, Indy will follow a pass-first offense blueprint. It’s possible, though, for too much of a good thing to eventually sabotage an offense.

The only thing worse than a team having the reputation of being one-dimensional on offense, is that team having earned that reputation.

“What happens is it eventually catches up with you,’’ Reich said. “You just know over time and from experience that you have to run the football.’’

A key component with the Luck-led passing game is effective play-action. When a defense respects the threat of the run, the pass rush slows down a tick and linebackers are slower to drop into coverage.

“But play-action passing loses its effectiveness the more and more you don’t run the football,’’ Reich said. “Early in the season you can get away with it because there’s always the threat of the run.

“But once you get further into the season and you’re one of those teams that have been determined ‘These guys can’t run the ball,’ as the season goes on they pay less and less respect to the run and then the play-action doesn’t get as effective and it just snowballs.’’

The Colts, Reich insisted, aren’t at the point with their meager running game that defenses simply will ignore it and zero in on stopping Luck at all costs.

“By far I’m not ‘Oh, we’re in trouble,’’’ he said. “We’re in good shape.

“We haven’t run the ball well, but I’m not panicking, I’m not worried. I know we have the offensive line to run the football. I know we have the backs. We just have to get in a rhythm of running the football.’’

Luck agreed after setting a franchise record with 62 attempts in the overtime loss to Houston and following that up with 59 at New England.

“We know we need balance,’’ he said. “Football’s not rocket science. You need to be able to run the ball well to help protect your passing game. We’ll keep working at it and we have no excuses for it.

“We’ve got to get better; everybody, including me.’’

Reich won’t make excuses, but injuries have impacted the team’s inability to establish the run. The offensive line has been especially impaired. The Colts have started five different tackles: Joe Haeg, J’Marcus Webb, Denzelle Good, Le’Raven Clark and Braden Smith. Haeg (ankle) and Webb (hamstring) are on injured reserve.

From a personnel standpoint, help might be on the way.

Left tackle Anthony Castonzo (hamstring) might be poised to make his first appearance of the season. He was in uniform and available at New England, but only would have been used in an emergency situation. The idea was to give him another week to fully heal.

Also, veteran Robert Turbin made his first appearance of the season against the Patriots – nine snaps – after serving a four-game suspension, and Marlon Mack could return for Sunday’s road test against the New York Jets. Like so many players, Mack has been battling hamstring issues. His exposure has been limited to 18 snaps at Washington.

“Marlon obviously is our No. 1 back and Turbin is a proven vet who’s been very productive,’’ Reich said. “Every body helps. It’s not that we don’t have confidence in the guys that have been in there, but certainly Marlon as the No. 1 back for a reason.’’

While Turbin and Mack have been limited to a combined 27 snaps in five games, rookies Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins have carried the load. Trouble is, they’re averaging just 3.6 yards on a combined 77 attempts with a long of 18 yards. The team’s longest run from scrimmage: Luck’s 33-yard scramble at Philadelphia.

“I definitely want to be a playmaker, a difference-maker for this team,’’ Turbin said. “Those rookies have done very, very well to this point, but they have a lot to learn. We can all still improve as a unit.

“Marlon and I would love to be a spark for this running game.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.