With little room for a misstep, Colts must take advantage of looming QB match-ups


Andrew Luck (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Under normal circumstances, there’s reason for encouragement as the Indianapolis Colts head into a make-or-break December.

With little room for another misstep in pursuit of an AFC South title and playoff berth, they face something far less than a murderer’s row of opposing quarterbacks in a quarterback-driven NFL.

That begins Monday night against the New York Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick. And follows with a Dec. 11 rematch with the Houston Texans and Brock Osweiler. And let’s not forget the regular-season finale against Jacksonville and Blake Bortles.

In the 32-team NFL, Fitzpatrick and Osweiler are the two lowest-rated QBs at 72.2. Bortles ranks 28th (80.6). They’ve combined for 42 touchdowns, but suffered 39 interceptions. They’ve completed just 59 percent of their passes – the league average is 63.4 – and averaged a meager 6.2 yards per attempt.

Clearly, we’re not talking about Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Dak Prescott standing in the way, although the Colts must deal with Minnesota’s Sam Bradford and Oakland’s Derek Carr in consecutive road games.

But neither are we talking about a defense that has shown consistent resistance against the pass.

“There’s really no excuse; we expect to play better,’’ coordinator Ted Monachino conceded. “We haven’t done a very good job of tying the rush together with coverage at times. Sometimes we’ll have a good matchup up front in the passing game where we can win some singles, and then we struggle covering in the back end, or vice versa.’’

The byproduct of an erratic pass rush – 8 in the first seven games, 14 in the last four – and spotty coverage is a pass defense that ranks 30th in yards per game allowed (278.7), and a deeper look reveals a very serious area of concern. Consider:

  • 3 interceptions. That’s tied with Jacksonville for the fewest in the NFL, and threatens the club record for fewest in a non-strike season – 8 in 2011 and ’98. Eighteen players in the league have at least three interceptions. Safety Mike Adams generated five and cornerback Vontae Davis four in each of the last two seasons.
  • A 104.9 rating by opposing QBs. Only Detroit (106.4) has been more vulnerable. The club record, again, is at risk – 103.9 in ’11. It would mark just the third time in team history the defense has allowed a triple-digit passer rating. The other two occasions: the forgettable ’11 season, and 1981 when the Colts trotted out one of the worst defenses in NFL history.
  • 7.87 yards per pass attempt, routinely considered a major indicator of passing efficiency. Only winless Cleveland (7.9) and Oakland (7.9), 9-2 in spite of its No. 30-ranked defense, have allowed fatter totals.

Safety Mike Adams shook his head in disgust as he attempted to digest the numbers.

“Yeah, it’s been frustrating,’’ he said. “It’s frustrating from the standpoint we are better than all of our numbers. It goes back to what I’ve said before, that inconsistency has been a problem.

“We’ve played some pretty good quarterbacks, and they’re going to get theirs. Give them credit. But our own inconsistency and some self-inflicted things have been a problem.’’

The self-inflicted issues include the Colts drawing 13 pass interference penalties, tied with Houston for the most in the league. Davis is a two-time Pro Bowler whose effectiveness has been impacted by a concussion as well as groin and ankle injuries. He’s picked up a team-high three interference penalties and was beaten twice for touchdowns by Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown before exiting the game in the second quarter with a groin injury.

Monachino has little use for the various per-game averages and league rankings.

“I started throwing those stats in the garbage a long time ago,’’ he said.

Instead, he’s fixated on “situational stuff more than anything.’’

That includes tightening the screws when offenses reach the red zone – limiting the damage to field goals or getting a takeaway – and getting off the field on third down.

“Those are areas that we’ve met expectations in some games and some games we haven’t,’’ Monachino said.

His defense is tied for 12th in the red zone, allowing touchdowns 54.1 percent of the time (20-of-37), but is 26th on third downs, allowing conversions at a 43.1 rate.

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