By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
The question is both simple and complex: What's wrong with the Indianapolis Colts' offense?
And the answers run a gauntlet through all levels of the unit. Some place the blame on the absence of wide receiver Reggie Wayne and four other key contributors. Others look toward a leaky offensive line that has surrendered seven sacks and 18 quarterback hits in the past two weeks.
Some question the play calls and experience of first-year offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Even second-year quarterback Andrew Luck — who has completed 54 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and three interceptions the past two weeks — can't escape the blame.
Head coach Chuck Pagano isn't pointing fingers. But he has an idea of where to start fixing the problem.
"We got to run better," Pagano said Monday, one day after his team gained 18 rushing yards on 14 attempts in a 38-8 loss to the St. Louis Rams. "We got to block better. We got to be on the same page. We got to execute. And then we certainly can't fall behind by 21 points because it makes it hard to stick to the running game. But we've got to be able to run the football, and we've got to get back to doing exactly that. Somehow, some way, we have to be able to run the football."
Former first-round pick Trent Richardson has been a bust since arriving in a September trade with the Cleveland Browns. He hasn't gained more than 60 yards in a game for Indianapolis, and he had just two yards on five attempts against St. Louis.
But the blame doesn't fall solely on the former Alabama star's shoulders. The offensive line has struggled to open running lanes, and Luck even took some of heat after turning the ball over four times as the Rams stretched out to a 38-0 lead Sunday.
"I feel fully responsible for getting in that position, turning the ball over," Luck said after throwing three second-half interceptions and losing a fumble in the first half. "Sometimes, that's the way a ballgame goes. You do realize looking back how important it is to establish a running game."
Luck was the Colts leading rusher with 17 yards on four carries. He also contributed the team's only points, throwing a 13-yard touchdown pass to running back Donald Brown in the third quarter and connecting with tight end Coby Fleener on the 2-point conversion.
Indianapolis racked up 406 yards of total offense and gained 21 first downs to St. Louis' 12. But the Colts were an abysmal 2-of-12 on third down and 1-for-5 in the red zone.
Luck threw for a season-high 353 yards, but 260 yards came in the second half with Indianapolis already trailing 28-0. Two of his three interceptions were in the end zone, and his fumble was returned for the Rams' first touchdown.
The miscues weren't limited to Luck. The Colts had five turnovers overall — with backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck also throwing a fourth-quarter interception in the end zone — and the defense allowed touchdown passes of 81 and 57 yards on third-and-long to wide receiver Tavon Austin.
Austin also returned a punt 98 yards for a touchdown.
"Certainly, we've shot ourselves in the foot plenty enough to not give ourselves a chance," Pagano said. "It looks lethargic, it looks like a slow start, but you just can't ... we talk all the time, you don't win games in the National Football League, you lose them."
Sunday's game was an aberration, and the Colts (6-3) have managed not to lose their fair share.
But there's no denying something needs to be done to get the offense back on track. Two weeks ago, Indianapolis fell behind 24-6 at Houston before rallying for three touchdowns in the final 15:11 and escaping with a 27-24 victory.
The Colts know they can't rely on a miracle comeback every time out.
Pagano preaches playing a full 60 minutes at maximum effort, and Indianapolis fell well short in Sunday's debacle.
"I think all we want is to never play like that again," Fleener said. "We'll know more when we meet with the coaches and go over the film specifically as to what we don't want. But the feeling after that game was just disgust."