Frank Reich offers praise to Andrew Luck-led offense


Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass in the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Frank Reich hasn’t been averse to dishing out praise for Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts offense.

And why not?

During the three-game winning streak, the Luck-led group has taken productivity and efficiency to the extremes. Consider:

  • In wins over Buffalo, Oakland and Jacksonville, the offense has averaged 36 points and 401 yards. It’s converted 59.4 percent of its third-down situations and scored touchdowns on 9-of-12 red-zone trips, including six straight.
  • Excluding four drives at the end of the first half or a game, the offense has scored on 17 of 28 drives: 14 TDs, 3 field goals.
  • Luck has added further evidence for NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors with perhaps the most impressive three-game stretch of his career: 60-of-83 (72.3 percent), 680 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception, the latter the result of Mo Alie-Cox mishandling a pass against the Jaguars. That’s a passer rating of 131.0.
  • Luck has had a rating of at least 100 for three straight games for the first time in his 79-game regular-season career, and he’s blown pass the triple-digit mark: 131.5 (Bills), 125.6 (Raiders), 123.5 (Jags).

Reich has seen it all, been the architect of it all in conjunction with Luck and coordinator Nick Sirianni.

“As we’re installing things, there’s a lot of communication back and forth between he and Nick and I,’’ Reich said. “I can’t understate Nick’s contribution to this whole equation as well.

“For Andrew to be able to take that onto the field is . . . he’s just doing that at a level that is really, really high.’’

As well as Luck has played after missing all of 2017 with his shoulder issue – he ranks second in the NFL with 26 TD passes, and is on pace for 46 – he’s been particularly sharp during the Colts’ first three-game win streak since 2015.

“I’d say decision-making and elite accuracy are the two biggest factors,’’ Reich said. “And when he has to ad-lib and make a play and extend a play, he’s been elite at that as well.’’

But at the risk of tamping down the mounting enthusiasm surrounding Luck and the entire team as they’ve clawed their way back to relevancy following the 1-5 start, Reich doesn’t hesitate to do precisely that.

During his Monday conference call, he was asked if this was about as well as he could expect the offense to play?

“Well, that’s not a good question to ask a perfectionist,’’ Reich replied. “It’s never good enough, but it’s been pretty good.

“But you never take it for granted. It’s just funny how we’re wired in this business. This business can humble you in a second. The moment that we think we’ve got it wired and we can just roll out there and throw 30 points on anybody we want, that’s the moment we’ll get embarrassed.’’

Sunday’s 29-26 win over Jacksonville should serve as a teachable moment for Reich and Sirianni.

In the first half, the Luck-led offense piled up 306 total yards and 15 first downs on 35 plays. Its first five possessions netted four TDs: two Eric Ebron TD passes, a third to Alie-Cox and the first rushing TD of Ebron’s career.

The script was flipped in the second half: 17 plays, 60 yards, 2 first downs.

“We just couldn’t get into a rhythm,’’ Reich said after the game.

“A win, excited,’’ Luck said. “But also a little bit of angry on the mistakes I know I felt like I made and that our offense made.’’

On the Colts’ first offensive snap of the third quarter, rookie tackle Braden Smith was penalized for holding. On second-and-20, rookie running back Nyheim Hines dropped what probably would have been a big catch-and-run.

The second possession ended when Luck’s pass to Alie-Cox went off Alie-Cox’s hands and was intercepted by Telvin Smith Sr.

“We’ve just got to keep doing (it), stay committed to the process,’’ Reich said. “It all really starts with Andrew’s leadership, the way he prepares. It’s hard for me to totally do justice to the way he prepares, and it’s not a one-man show by any stretch of the imagination. He does such a phenomenal job the whole week of getting mastery over the game plan.

“Right now, we have some good momentum there, but we need to keep building off of that and not even for a second rest on anything that we’ve done.’’

Protection continues

The Colts are approaching rarified air in terms of their pass protection.

The offensive line and complementary components haven’t allowed a sack in four straight games for the first time since 2009. That’s tied for the longest streak in team history and tied for the fourth-longest in the NFL since the 1970 merger.

Miami set the record of – brace yourself – 19 straight games, a streak that spanned the end of 1988 (12 games) and the beginning of ’89 (7). Next in line are the 1991 Washington Redskins (8). Five teams have streaks of five with a sack, most recently the 2010 New York Giants.

Luck has attempted a personal-best 185 passes without being sacked, which appears to be the second-longest streak in team history (186, Peyton Manning in 2009).

“The line is doing a heck of a job,’’ Luck said after the game. “They’re largely responsible for anything positive in this offense.’’

Reich admitted the protection being provided by the offensive line “gives us a lot of confidence to call anything we want, to call stuff down the field.’’

Regardless of which play is called, everything begins with protection.

“There’s not a play that gets called that we don’t think ‘protection’ first,’’ Reich said. “We’re just cognizant of protection.’’

One interesting tidbit regarding Luck’s protection. During his first five seasons (2012-16) and 70 regular-season starts, there were only 7 games in which he wasn’t sacked.

Through nine games of this season, there have been 4.

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