Colts looking for solutions to inconsistency

MICHAEL MAROT (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Colts coach Chuck Pagano keeps seeing the same problems on tape.

The offense can't convert third downs. The defense can't get off the field. The slow starts have stalled Indy's ground game, and the Colts are continually trying to dig themselves out of big holes.

It's a mess.

''Everybody we play is good, you know that. Every team that you play is good, they've all got great players and so forth, so the margin for error is minute,'' Pagano said Monday. ''But that doesn't mean that we're going to go out there and play cautious and those types of things. I think we've just got to get back to playing football and playing better fundamentals and techniques and doing the things that we did early in the season.''

Playing Colts football would be a start. Lately, nothing has gone right.

Indy (7-4) opened this season talking about power running and protecting Andrew Luck. But Luck has been sacked 24 times, and when Luck's rushing stats are subtracted, Indy has averaged 4.1 yards per carry. Fans are growing increasingly concerned after losses of 29 and 30 points in two of the last three weeks, and four straight first halves that have been nothing short of dismal.

But it may not be as bad as it seems.

The Colts (7-4) still have a two-game lead in the AFC South over Tennessee (5-6) and could virtually wrap up the division title and a home playoff game with a win Sunday over the Titans. Indy hasn't lost back-to-back games since Pagano took over last season, a span of 26 consecutive games, although a bunch of those wins were with Bruce Arians serving as interim coach while Pagano battled leukemia.

Somehow the Colts have managed to go 4-1 against teams currently in playoff position, with wins over Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and the Titans. Yet they are 3-3 against the rest of the league, and with a little help could be in position to earn a first-round bye - if they can pull themselves out of this tailspin.

What will it take? That's not entirely clear, either.

Nothing has looked the same since the Colts lost Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne with a torn ACL late in their surprising Oct. 20 win over Denver.

Luck has struggled to complete even 60 percent of his passes, and when the Cardinals took away receiver T.Y. Hilton on Sunday, it took Luck almost three full quarters to top 100 yards passing.

''We knew people were going to take him out of the game, and you knew yesterday who shadowed him,'' Pagano said. ''We knew exactly going in what they'd probably do and they did it, they put Pat (Peterson) on him and that's what we can expect from here on out. He's a game-wrecker, so to speak. If we were playing ourselves, we'd identify T.Y. as a guy that we can't let wreck the game for us, and so we'd try to plan accordingly.''

Defensively, however, the problems have been just alarming.

Once ranked among the league's best units in points allowed, Indy has given up 24 or more points six times in the last seven games and 93 points in the first half of the last four games.

Some of what's going on can be explained away as the effects of losing five key offensive players (Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw, Donald Thomas and Wayne), none of whom will return this season. Losses of guys such as cornerback Greg Toler and even linebacker Erik Walden, who served a one-game league-imposed suspension Sunday, have hurt.

Twice Luck has still bailed out his teammates with incredible second-half comebacks during this stretch, but he failed to do that against St. Louis and Arizona in two of the last three weeks.

And while players and coaches know this cannot continue, they stay calm.

''There's no panic button at all,'' inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. ''All you got to do is look to the locker next to you and know who you're playing for out here, and just know that we're going to pull it together. We'll be all right.''

The good news is that the Colts' schedule will give them a chance to build some momentum for a playoff run. They have December home games against the Titans, Houston and Jacksonville, with road trips to Cincinnati, which hasn't looked the same since Geno Atkins went down with an injury, and Kansas City, which has lost two straight after starting 9-0.

But first, they have to find some solutions to all this inconsistency.

''We just got to play better,'' cornerback Vontae Davis said. ''We can't really say anything else, just play better football. That's it.''


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