INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The calendar advances Thursday. November gives way to December.
That means a few things to Chuck Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts.
Most important, it means the Colts head into a stretch run with virtually no room for error. An AFC South title remains a possibility, but only if they rid themselves of their unpredictable tendencies, beginning with Monday night’s road test against the New York Jets.
But December, according to Pagano, also heralds a time for a brass-knuckles approach. This is a time when finesse gives way to force, when games are won – and lost – by what transpires in the trenches.
Run the football. Defend the run.
“We understand what December football is all about,’’ Pagano said Wednesday, adding the Jets present a “huge challenge,’’ despite their 3-8 record. “On the road, hostile environment, you’ve got weather, crowd noise, elements . . . all that stuff that you’ve got to deal with.
“Again, December football. Being able to run it gives you a chance. You look at the numbers, when we have more rushes than our opponent has, we generally win 80 percent of the time.’’
Our research revealed a heftier advantage for the Colts. Since Andrew Luck’s arrival in 2012, the Colts are 34-2 during the regular season when they have more rushing attempts than their opponents.
At issue, though, is whether the Colts ran more to get ahead, or established a lead with Luck’s passing and then turned to their ground game.
Regardless, no one should argue that Luck’s been more effective when he’s leaned on a rushing attack that at least kept defenses off balance. A stat that speaks volumes: the Colts are 10-16 in the regular season when Luck attempts at least 40 passes, and have lost seven straight.
Tight end Dwayne Allen represented a voice of reason: “We’ve got to stay true to who we are as an offense. We’ve got to do what we do best.’’
Quarterback Andrew Luck insisted the Colts will do whatever it takes.
“We’ve always done what we’ve needed to do in any game, whether it’s throw X-amount of times, or run,’’ he said.
What the Colts won’t do, Luck added, is waste plays. If the running game isn’t effective “we’re not going to beat our heads against a wall.’’
And that’s why Pagano’s run-the-ball-in-December mantra might not be the best idea Monday night.
His Colts have shown flashes with Frank Gore, but rank 25th in rushing yards per game (95.4) and 23rd in yards per attempt (3.9).
The Jets? They’re 4th in fewest rushing yards allowed per game (85.9) and 5th in yards per attempt (3.6). Of the 266 rushing attempts the Jets have faced, 37 – 14.9 percent – have resulted in negative yards. That’s the 7th-best mark in the league.
New York’s defensive front seven, according to Pagano, “is as good as we’ll see.’’
The Jets’ defense features six first-round picks, two second-rounders and a third-round selection. The first-rounders: linemen Leonard Williams (2015), Muhammad Wilkerson (’11) and Sheldon Richardson (’13), linebacker Darron Lee (’16), cornerback Darrelle Revis (’07) and safety Calvin Pryor (’14).
The Jets have a modest 19 sacks – three fewer than the Colts – but have generated 89 quarterback hits and 56 tackles for loss.
They’ve also dominated their two previous meetings with Luck. In losses – 35-9 in ’12, 20-7 last season – Luck has completed 43-of-81 passes for 530 yards with one touchdown, five interceptions and four sacks. His passer rating: 52.0.
“The Jets are a heck of a team. I do not think their record is indicative of how good of a team they are,’’ Luck said. “I know on the defensive side of the ball there are playmakers and Pro Bowlers all over the field and arguably one of the best eer to play the cornerback position in Darrelle Revis.
“We are not looking at any other game but this.’’