INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The latest installment of Frank Reich’s offense was sloppy, inefficient and largely unproductive.
His triggerman, still in the final stages of his return following a 19-month absence, contributed to the uneven Monday evening loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Lucas Oil Stadium with a few errant throws and a crippling red-zone interception.
“On the continuum,’’ Reich said Tuesday with the aid of video review, “there’s a couple of things to clean up. It was not terrible, but it was not our best day offensively.’’
Consider it a jigsaw puzzle with too many pieces still scattered across the dining room table. Or an interior decorator rearranging your front room.
Everything will come together. Sooner or later. It has to if the Colts are going to return to respectability this season. Even with Luck likely to be rusty early, the offense will have to carry an inordinate load while a revamped defense finds its way.
“You’ve seen these guys at times and what they can do,’’ Reich said. “You have a vision for what it can be, and even though it all hasn’t been in there at one time, you still feel like, hey, when it all gets in there, it’s going to look good. That’s just from years of experience.
“And for me, the other thing I’ve seen happen is once the pieces do come together, it can gel pretty quick. You can play winning football pretty quickly when you have the right players in there.’’
Therein lies the rub. Too many of those “right players’’ weren’t in there against the Ravens. Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton was nursing a sprained left shoulder. Tackles Anthony Castonzo and Denzelle Good still were dealing with hamstring issues. Injuries robbed the backfield of Marlon Mack (hamstring) and Robert Turbin (ankle).
“We’re just very confident in the players that we have,’’ Reich insisted.
Hilton’s shoulder injury is thought to be minor, and the team is looking for Good to return to practice Wednesday and get some snaps Saturday against the San Francisco 49ers.
However, it sounded as if Castonzo’s first game action will be in the Sept. 9 opener against Cincinnati, at the earliest.
“Would hope to get him some practice time before we get into week 1,’’ Reich said.
The extended absences of Castonzo and Good have played havoc with the tackle situation. Against Baltimore, rookie Braden Smith was the right-side starter and Le’Raven Clark his left-side bookend. Reich noted Smith “was solid,’’ except for a pair of holding penalties, that is.
Free-agent acquisitions Austin Howard and J’Marcus Webb ran with the second unit, and neither distinguished himself.
Reich lamented the inability of the offense – starting with Andrew Luck – to find its rhythm and sustain drives. Four of the Luck-led possessions were three-and-outs, including a poor decision/throw by Luck that resulted in an interception inside the Ravens’ 15-yard line. The run game generated just 52 yards on 14 first-half attempts.
In the short term – that’s the preseason – factors are blurring the image.
Along with the injuries, Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni are using only a small fraction of their playbook. Vanilla is the flavor of the preseason. After two games, Hilton has one catch for 8 yards and versatile tight end Eric Ebron four for 16. Ryan Grant, the No. 2 wideout behind Hilton, has yet to catch a pass.
In short, what you’re going to see isn’t what you’re seeing. Or so Reich hopes.
During training camp, the offense has been much crisper and more efficient. It’s featured the up-tempo approach Reich covets, and showcased the match-up problems Ebron presents with his size and speed.
We’re also still waiting for Luck to incorporate deeper passes into his repertoire. It’s a very small sample size, but he’s averaging 5.2 yards per attempt and 9.5 yards per completion, with a long of 26.
“I don’t want to make any excuses, again with players or schemes,’’ Reich said Monday evening. “Yes, we are playing it close to the vest, and there are a lot of things we are not doing for sure and we don’t do in the last games either.
“We are a new staff. We can have a competitive advantage by not showing some of the things that I feel like have looked really good in training camp and the ways that we are doing certain things. We are just not going to show those.
“That’s just a philosophical approach that we’ve always taken. I think that will pay dividends.’’
Whether that lowers the anxiety level of Colts’ fans is debatable. All they undoubtedly see is Luck and the offense producing three Adam Vinatieri field goals, three punts and the interception in seven possessions. Two of Vinatieri’s field goals have been from long distance: a 51-yarder at Seattle and a 57-yarder against the Ravens that would represent a career long.
Luck was efficient against Seattle: 6-of-9, 64 yards.
But he followed that by taking a step back: 6-of-13, 50 yards, the interception.
“We just didn’t get into a rhythm like we did last week in Seattle,’’ he said. “It just never happened.’’
Two of the drives stalled when Luck’s pass protection allowed third-down sacks.
“We did not run the ball as well as I think we would have liked,’’ he said, “and first- and second-down passing game was not as productive as you’d like. I don’t think it’s very complicated. It’s pretty simple. We’ve got some stuff to work on and we know we do, which is exciting.
“I’m not going to make any excuses for missing players or the playbook not being open. We all know the plays. We’ve been running them well in practice, and so we were sloppy. We’ll get better. We’ll improve . . . very encouraged.’’