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December 22, 2013

Colts GameDay: Luck still finding new ways to move the football

INDIANAPOLIS — Completing a pass in the NFL is a complicated process. The essential chemistry between the quarterback and his wide receivers begins taking shape with organized team activities in the spring and is honed through the heat of training camp in the heart of summer.

It often takes months to get everybody on the same page and fine-tune the engines to a point where the offense can execute seamlessly on Sundays.

After veteran Reggie Wayne went down with a season-ending injury Oct. 20 against the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had to start the process all over again. There were fits and starts along the way, but everything finally seems to be coming together.

Something clicked during the second half in Cincinnati, six weeks after Wayne’s departure from the lineup. And Luck’s been heating up since.

He has six touchdowns and just one interception in the past two weeks — including five to wide receivers LaVon Brazill, Da’Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen, each of whom has spent at least a portion of the season off the active roster.

“That chemistry and continuity and all those things, that’s starting,” head coach Chuck Pagano said, noting the connection his second-year quarterback is beginning to make with the young receivers. “Obviously, you saw it at Cincinnati, and it will only get better as we progress.”

The process got something of a jump start last week against the Houston Texans, when the Colts (9-5) opened the game with a no-huddle offense. A unit that had converted just five third-down conversions in the first halves of its previous six games went three-for-three on the opening drive. The result was an 11-play, 80-yard march that ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Whalen — Luck’s former roommate at Stanford.

Indianapolis offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said a number of factors — including the absence of fullback Stanley Havili — contributed to the decision to force the tempo early against Houston. But he hesitated when asked whether the Colts might repeat the tactic today amidst the epic crowd noise in Kansas City (11-3).

“It was great to start the game that way with 11 plays and finish with the touchdown,” Hamilton said. “But we’re going to do whatever it is that we feel is necessary to move the football. And being on the road factors into it, just being able to communicate.”

Almost to a man, the offensive players praised the decision to pick up the pace. But Luck seemed more concerned with the overall execution.

Indianapolis put 20 points on the board in the first two quarters, just four less than the combined first-half total of the previous six weeks. But the Colts still left points on the field, kicking field goals on two drives that began in Texans’ territory.

True to form, Luck is more concerned with ironing out the remaining kinks in his attack than with discussing the speed at which the offense is moving.

“No matter what tempo we’re going at or what personnel is in the game, we know if we can execute we have a good chance of making positive plays,” he said. “We do practice the no-huddle stuff, whether it’s two-minute drills, guys have a lot of experience at it. It worked. I think any tempo, any personnel, any situation, if we execute we have a good chance.”

With Luck playing the way he has in the past two weeks, the chances get even better.

He’s spreading the football around, completing passes to 10 different receivers in the past two weeks, and he’s not afraid to get out of the pocket when necessary. Luck rushed twice for 32 yards against the Bengals and five times for 29 yards against Houston.

For the season, he’s rushed for a first down 24 times on 31 third-down carries. That’s a conversion rate of 77.4 percent, and it adds another element to the Colts’ offense.

“Powerful, powerful, powerful,” Kansas City coach Andy Reid said of the 6-foot-4, 234-pounder’s running style. “He’s big and he’s fast and he’s powerful. People don’t realize how big of a man he is, how strong he is.”

Luck laughs off that type of praise, noting Indianapolis pays him to get the ball into the hands of athletes who can really run.

The only number that really seems to interest the rising star is wins. With two more of them, Indianapolis has a chance to leap frog Cincinnati and the New England Patriots and claim a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.

“Guys have always played hard and practiced well,” Luck said. “Coach Pagano has set a great work environment and I think sort of ethos for the team. We understand there are some good possibilities left.”

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