Win over Texans on Sunday essential to playoff hopes.
A column by Reggie Hayes, email@example.com
Saturday, December 10, 2016 12:15 AM
The Indianapolis Colts of 2016 are a tough team to appreciate.
They’ve been erratic. They’ve been above average at times, darn good for short stretches. They’ve been awful at other times. They’ve nearly blown or completely blown leads, most memorably in a meltdown loss to the Houston Texans.
In short, they haven’t been a lot of fun to watch.
That might be about to change.
The Colts (6-6) have won three of their last four as they face the Texans (6-6) at 1 p.m. Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium in a battle to see who stays in first place in the AFC South.
Losing linebacker D’Qwell Jackson to a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy is a blow to the Colts defense. The linebacker corps is not deep with talent. What’s the opposite of deep? Deathly thin. That’s it, for sure. "Antonio Morrison to the rescue" does not engender confidence.
But, if we’re going to appreciate this year’s Colts, and enjoy watching them, it’s going to be up to the offense. If they’re going to win and the season salvaged, it’s because of the offense.
Despite the team's .500 record, there’s some real talent on the offensive side, and it’s a pleasure to watch when it’s clicking.
Colts fans have been spoiled by the offense of the Peyton Manning era, which was one of the best in NFL history. It’s hard to match that. But this current group has its assets.
Luck missed the Thanksgiving night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers because of a concussion. Otherwise, he’s in the midst of his best season. His completion percentage (64 percent) is his highest in a season, he has 23 touchdowns (tied for his second-most) and eight interceptions (nine is his career low; he had 15 in seven games last year).
“This league is a quarterback-driven league, so when you have a guy like Andrew, it gives you a chance and an opportunity,” Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said.
Luck has weapons, too.
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton ranks second in the league in yards (1,088) to Atlanta’s Julio Jones (1,253), despite being 11th in total receptions. Hilton seems so fragile at times and yet he's out there game after game making big catches. Dwayne Allen, coming off a three touchdown-game against the Jets, teams with Jack Doyle for strong tight end production. Donte Moncrief has caught touchdown passes in five straight games, a streak tied for second in Colts history.
Frank Gore (749 yards rushing) brings an intangible toughness to the offensive unit.
And that much-maligned offensive line? It allowed Luck to be sacked only once against the Jets. Luck, the most-hit quarterback all season, has been sacked only five times in the last three games. No sacks would be preferable. That’s unrealistic. Allowing fewer than two sacks per game is acceptable.
“When 12 is playing, it’s a big difference,” Gore said. “Everybody is up and everybody is playing as one.”
The Colts will win the division and earn the automatic playoff berth if they win their final four games. They would own a tie-breaker with Tennessee, which also enters this week with a 6-6 record.
That’s a lofty goal, especially considering the Colts haven’t won more than two consecutive games this season.
Houston is just as desperate as the Colts, if not more so. The Texans have lost three straight and the offense behind struggling quarterback Brock Osweiler ranks 29th in scoring.
Luck’s play, and the contagious effect it seems to have, is the overriding reason for optimism that the Colts can continue their newfound winning ways Sunday.
“He understands this game, he understands the playmakers around him and I don’t feel as if he is forcing things,” Allen said. “It’s hard whenever you are the quarterback of a team and (you’re) told to go out there and win a game. You are going to do some things uncharacteristically to try to win that game and I believe that is where we and Andrew have gotten into trouble.”
Trouble over? Maybe.
“As of late," Allen said, "he has been doing a great job of playing under control and playing his game."
You could almost say it makes the Colts fun to watch.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes on Twitter at reggiehayes1