INDIANAPOLIS – The schedule doesn’t tell the whole story — even if the narrative generated from that is good.
Since a loss to the Patriots on Sunday night in mid-November, the Colts have won four consecutive games. The last of those gave them a second-consecutive AFC South title and put them in the playoffs for a third straight year.
But even Chuck Pagano admits that everything is not as dominant as it may seem for the 10-4 Colts as they approach the end of the 2014 season. While a quartet of victories have the team in good shape for the postseason, their sometimes inconsistent play casts some doubt as to the damage they could do once the calendar turns to January.
That’s why Pagano took a blunt tone when asked about if he liked where his team was at this point in the season.
“Obviously we’ve got things to clean up,” said Pagano when asked that question. “We’ve had issues with turnovers. Nobody likes that. We’ve had issues with penalties. We’ve left yards out on the field because of penalties. We’ve stalled drives because of penalties. We’ve kept drives alive because of penalties.
“We’re doing a lot of good things, but there’s some things to clean up. If we’re going to go where we want to go and get to where we want to get to we’ve got to keep addressing those things and get them cleaned up.”
Turnovers are certainly a sticking point considering the team has given up 12 of them in the last four games. They came in wins against teams that were below or–in the case of Sunday against the Texans–just over .500. It’s led to the return of a bad trend that gave the team issues in 2013 and that’s starting games off on the wrong foot.
In that four-game winning streak the Colts were behind in three games and tied with the lowly Jaguars for most of the first half. The Colts dug out of each situation to pick up the win, but that formula could make things tricky in the playoffs as the team found out last year.
The Colts needed a historic 28-point rally just to get out of the Wild Card game against the Chiefs at home. An early 14-0 hole in New England in the Divisional Playoffs spelled doom for the Colts season a week later.
“Yeah, it’s huge. We know we’ve got to keep improving and it starts in practice when it comes to cleaning up the mistakes,” said quarterback Andrew Luck when asked how big it will be for the team to fix those mistakes. “A chance to go out and play a good football team this Sunday and try and execute, that’s huge.”
It will also give the Colts their clearest picture of where they are before the playoffs begin. That might have seemed cloudy since the Patriots game considering that the Colts were beaten handily by New England, arguably the best team they’ve faced all season. While bright spots were in many places in the following four victories there was the lingering notion that the teams the Colts were beating aren’t going to be around once the playoffs began.
That won’t be the case this Sunday in Arlington when the Colts face a 10-4 Cowboys team that’s in the thick of the NFC East races as the season comes to a close.
“It’s going to be a heck of a challenge to see exactly where we’re at,” said Pagano. “We’ve played good defense the last couple weeks. The whole idea is to stay consistent and go play well, play better than we did last week. That’s our goal and that’s what we’re preparing to try to do.”
Defensively the game figures to show if their month-long improvement in consistency is a true change from early in the season or the product of struggling teams. The past two weeks the unit has only allowed 13 total points (21 came on two interceptions and a fumble by Luck) and have ended each game with an interception.
“For teams that hang their hats on getting to the playoffs and obviously making a run in the playoffs, it’s an important game on every level, and we understand that. We’re going to come ready to play,” said linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. “That’s what you grind all year for is to be able to play in these type of games, and be able to come out victorious in these type of games.
“That sense of urgency hasn’t left, and it’s another great opportunity to go to Dallas and play a great football team.”
Along with making sure they are one as 2015 creeps ever closer.