What couldn’t be more obvious after five games is the Indianapolis Colts’ success when they turn up the tempo and go no huddle.
After being forced into the hurry up and scoring three fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 30-27 loss to Jacksonville in London nine days ago, the Colts concentrated on developing their no-huddle rhythm in practice. And it showed Sunday when quarterback Andrew Luck drove the offense to four first-half scores for the first time in two years.
The Colts scored 16 first-half points, their highest season output before intermission after averaging just 8.7 first-half points in the previous four games. When the Colts decided to huddle up and slow it down, the offense managed just a field goal in the third quarter. A return to the no huddle culminated in Luck’s game-winning, 35-yard TD pass to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton with 3 minutes, 43 seconds remaining in a 29-23 home win against the Chicago Bears at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Luck corrected an inquisitor about the mode of attack, pointing out the Colts (2-3) mixed no huddle with normal huddle situations to keep the Bears (1-4) off balance. But it’s fair to say the Colts moved the ball more effectively because of the no-huddle approach, or at the very least, the threat of going up tempo on any play.
“The full first half was not in no huddle, but we did a nice job with the no huddle,” Luck said. “We got some tempo going. We got some rhythm. In the second half, we did maybe a little less and I don’t know if that was necessarily the reason why we weren’t playing as well as we did in the first half for that third-quarter stretch. I’m sure there are a bunch (of reasons). I’ll have to go back and watch, but it worked out in practice and it managed to do well for us.”
It begs the question: Why don’t the Colts stick with the no huddle?
The best explanation is probably what could happen should the Colts not move the ball so well and their defense has to be on the field for more plays. A sobering reality not lost in victory is the fact the Colts allowed 522 yards to a Brian Hoyer-led offense. They didn’t sack the Bears quarterback and rarely hit him as he completed 33 of 43 passes for 397 yards and 2 scores.
The Colts have sunk to 30th in yards allowed at 410.6 per game, are tied for 30th in points allowed at 29.6 and tied for 27th in sacks with just seven. This team is mindful of the catch-22 — Luck pushing the action doesn’t allow the defense to substitute, but if it falters the Colts’ porous defense gets exposed the more it plays.
“When you do it, you still have to make first downs,” said head coach Chuck Pagano. “We were able to make first downs. The whole idea is to keep (their) defense out there. From that standpoint, we generated a touchdown and 3 field goals in the first half, which was good. You want to come away with touchdowns. We have to eliminate the friendly fire and stop shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Luck finished an efficient 28-of-39 passing for 322 yards with 2 touchdowns and a 113.4 passer rating. He didn’t have a turnover, which is perhaps the all-important stat, considering 2 of his fumbles and 1 interception have been returned for scores this season.
Despite taking 20 sacks, including 5 against the Bears, Luck’s 1,469 passing yards tie San Diego’s Philip Rivers for fourth in the NFL. Sacks have been a continual issue. In addition to subjecting the NFL’s highest-paid player to punishment after he missed nine games due to injuries last season, those important defensive plays typically end drives.
“It’s obviously a big concern for all of us,” Pagano said. “You never want to get your quarterback hit and sacked and all those types of things. Again, we have guys straining on that offensive line.”
Colts tight end Dwayne Allen said the no huddle flourished because Luck’s supporting cast stepped up and made plays. In a performance reminiscent of when he caught the game-winning TD pass in a Week 3 home win against San Diego, Hilton finished with 10 receptions for 175 yards and the all-important score. The final touchdown marked the 16th time Luck has driven the Colts to a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in his five-year career.
“The tempo is always a part of our game plan,” said Allen, who caught a season-high 6 passes for 50 yards and one score. “We started with it a little earlier. The fact of the matter is, the guys around him, the guys around T.Y. Hilton stepped up and were able to make plays and that was the difference.”
Running back Frank Gore, who moved past Jim Brown for ninth on the league’s all-time rushing list with 12,368 yards, ripped off a 16-yard rush with his second carry in the no huddle. He finished with 75 yards rushing on just 14 carries.
“It was great. We switched it up, showed them different looks by going fast and slowing it back down, getting them tired,” Gore said. “Luck is a beast. T.Y. Hilton, he is one of the best at his position. When his number gets called, he is going to step up and make plays.”
Luck completed 10 of 14 passes in the no huddle for 140 yards and 1 touchdown against the Bears. In the previous four games, he completed 11 of 14 passes in the no huddle for 170 yards and 1 touchdown.
“It helps us. It slows the defense down,” Hilton said. “They don’t know if we are running or passing and it also tires them out. We are a conditioned team and we showed that.”
How much the Colts can count on the no huddle becomes one of the most intriguing questions as they prepare for an AFC South showdown against the Texans (3-2) in Houston on Sunday night.