INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s one of those time-tested coach-isms.
We take what the defense gives us.
Saturday in Houston, Frank Reich, Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts’ offense were more in a dishing-it-out mode.
Consider their first possession against Houston’s 12th-ranked defense: 9 plays, 75 yards. The Colts took some of the steam out of NRG Stadium crowd as Luck completed 5-of-7 passes for 69 yards, including three to T.Y. Hilton for 63 yards and the final one to Eric Ebron for a 6-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead.
Consider their second possession: 9 plays, 74 yards. The encore featured Marlon Mack, who offered an indication for what was to come by slashing through the Texans’ No. 3-ranked run defense six times for 39 yards. His 2-yard touchdown behind his massive offensive line shoved Houston into a 14-0 lead that would be instrumental in a 21-7 wild-card playoff victory.
Take what the defense gives us?
“To me it’s imposing your will on the defense,’’ Reich said Sunday. “What that is is running when you want to running when you want to run and throwing when you want to throw, and being effective at it.’’
The Colts won for the 10th time in the last 11 games and advanced to Saturday’s divisional round against the top-seeded Chiefs at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium by being effective at each, and because their offensive line dominated throughout.
They set a team playoff record with 200 yards on the ground, and averaged 5.7 yards per attempt against a defense that had allowed a 3.4 average gain during the season. Mack’s 148 yards were a postseason record as well for a franchise that has employed Edgerrin James, Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson.
Luck, meanwhile, helped prod the Colts to a 21-0 halftime lead with 192 of his 222 pass yards and both TDs in the first half. He wasn’t sacked and Houston was credited with just four hits.
“I’ve always used the boxer analogy,’’ Reich said. “It’s not just throwing punches wildly. It’s landing punches, being effective in your run game, in your pass game, in your play-action.
“Even though we knew we wanted to come in and have a big-time commitment to running the football, just felt like that first drive we could have a few chunk plays in the pass game and get it going.’’
In the tone-setting first half, the Colts were 6-for-6 on third-down conversions and 3-for-4 in the red zone. On third down during that stretch, Luck was 5-for-5 for 35 yards and five first downs. He hooked up with Hilton three times to move the chains.
“Andrew was masterful on third down,’’ Reich said. “Just watching the tape, he just did all the little things. Third down was just incredible, and red zone.
“I just can’t say enough the whole year with just how well we’ve been doing in those areas.’’
The Colts led the NFL in third-down efficiency (48.6 percent) and were 5th in the red zone (TDs 68.8 percent of the time).
Much of that red-zone success can be traced to Ebron. Including Saturday, he’s had 11 receptions inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. All 11 have been for TDs.
Ahead of schedule?
The Colts have extended one of the NFL’s more unlikely stories. They joined the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs and 1970 Cincinnati Bengals as the only teams in league history to reach the playoffs after a 1-5 start, and joined the Chiefs as the only ones to win a first-round playoff game.
From almost the first day he settled into his first head coaching chair in February, Reich has been focused on “the process’’ rather than considering how his first season might wind up from a wins-and-losses standpoint.
More than that, he reiterated Sunday, “I never thought it was a rebuild. I tried not to put expectations on how far we could go. I tried to put expectations on what the process would look like and then just to see how far we’d go.
“I just thought that was the better way to approach it. Don’t think about how many wins we can get or how far we can get. Just think about what’s the vision? What’s going to get us to where we want to go as fast as possible? Everything about my experience and my understanding of a football team has been it’s got to be process-oriented and people-oriented.’’
Reich is the eighth Colts’ coach to reach the playoffs in his first season, and joined Jim Caldwell and Don McCafferty as the only ones win a first-round playoff game.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.