The Herald Bulletin

December 10, 2012

Colts' cardiac style contains plenty of substance

Arians: Team's success is more than 'smoke and mirrors'

By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — Jerraud Powers drew a few chuckles in August when he suggested the Indianapolis Colts’ goals had not changed this season.

Winning the division still topped the list, and the fourth-year cornerback even talked about Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans — despite the fact the Colts were just opening training camp following a 2-14 season.

Powers now is on season-ending injured reserve with a toe injury, but it appears as though he’ll have the last laugh.

Indianapolis (9-4) enters Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans still alive in the AFC South race. The Colts would have to win their final three regular-season games — including two against the top-seeded Texans — to claim the division title.

That might be a long shot, even in this charmed season in the Circle City. But it’s clear Indianapolis has far exceeded expectations.

The Colts were picked No. 32 — and last — in The Associated Press’ preseason power rankings. They were expected to be scouting college talent for another high draft pick next spring at this point in the season. Instead, they’re all but a lock to make the playoffs for the 10th time in the past 11 years.

Indianapolis needs one more victory to seal a postseason berth, but there are several scenarios in which the team’s season will extend into January even with three straight losses.

Many have pointed to a weak schedule — and the team’s 8-1 record in games decided by seven points or less — as evidence the Colts aren’t as good as their record indicates.

Interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians doesn’t buy any of that talk.

“You can’t win nine ballgames with just smoke and mirrors, not in this league,” he said Monday, following Indianapolis’ latest come-from-behind victory. “You can’t win seven of eight in the last minutes without having guys that pass protect, get open, get the ball back for you defensively and a quarterback that can sling it in there and get touchdowns.”

That quarterback is at the center of the “smoke and mirrors” discussion.

Andrew Luck surpassed Peyton Manning’s franchise record for rookie passing yards in Sunday’s 27-23 victory against the Tennessee Titans, and he’s on pace to take down Cam Newton’s one-year-old NFL record as early as this week.

But he completed less than 50 percent of his passes for the second straight game and threw for just 196 yards with one score and two interceptions against the Titans.

His overall completion percentage (54.9) and quarterback rating (74.5) rank in the bottom quarter of the league. And he leads the NFL with 18 interceptions.

But those numbers tell only part of the story.

He’s been perfect on his last five trips into the red zone, and Indianapolis is one of the league’s most efficient teams in third-and-long situations. Luck also has more pass plays of 20 yards or longer than any other quarterback this year.

“Situational football is where quarterbacks win games more than anything else,” Arians said. “Obviously, you didn’t have to bring up (the) two-minute (offense). He’s done a great job there. Overall, there’s so many ways to rate quarterbacks now. I see one paper, he’s the third or fourth quarterback in the league and the other one he’s last. It’s like which one do you want to use? I just know we are 9-4 because he’s had a lot to do with it.”

Part of the perception issue comes from a relative lack of statement victories.

The Colts have just one win against a current playoff team — an emotional 30-27 victory against Green Bay on Oct. 7 — and that’s why Sunday’s game against the Texans carries such weight.

Indianapolis has failed spectacularly in blowout losses against playoff teams at Chicago and New England. The trip to Houston is an opportunity to show the Colts have learned from those games, as well as keep their dark horse division championship hopes alive.

“We should have a perfect record in the division,” Arians said. “We gave a game away (a 17-16 loss against Jacksonville on Sept. 23). Houston won the division last year. Indianapolis won it seven out of the last 10. It is time to hopefully go back and re-establish ourselves as the dominant team in the division. That’s our goal.”

Arians is well aware those could be viewed as fighting words deep in the heart of Texas.

“There is no doubt that they’re the top horse right now,” he said. “We’ve got to go in there and knock them off.”