NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - INSIDE SLANT
The Indianapolis Colts will wrap up the 2014 regular season Sunday with something to prove in a road game against AFC South rival Tennessee.
Titans have struggled this year. Tennessee, 2-13 overall and 1-4 in the division, would like nothing better than to end the season on a positive note. And what a better way to do it than beating the nine-time AFC South champion on its home field.
The Colts need to rev up for the playoffs after coming off their worst performance of the year, a 42-7 drubbing by the Dallas Cowboys. But with the playoffs starting next week, is there a chance that the Colts will overlook Tennessee?
Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano says no. In the wake of the loss at Dallas, Pagano knows that his team needs to come out and play well against the Titans. There's a lot to clean up after the Cowboys game.
So what does the Colts need to do against Tennessee? What does Pagano need to see this week?
"Efficiency," he said. "Great execution in all three phases. Play with great fundamentals and technique. Eliminate turnovers. Eliminate penalties. Sustain drives. Great situational football. Third down, convert. Get off the field on third down. Control the ball.
"When you look back at the games that we've won and when we've played extremely well, third down's been big, we played physical in all three phases, big plays. We were one or two in the league for a long time in hitting big plays. Didn't give up big plays; if we did give up a big play, it wasn't for a touchdown on defense. We won our matchups. You could have matchups all over the place. Our corners are going to be matched up on wide outs, offensive linemen blocking pass rushers, and so forth. Those are the big things that we're looking for."
Indianapolis also needs to get is turnover issues taken care of. The Colts have fumbled the ball 30 times this season, losing 15. Quarterback Andrew Luck, meanwhile, has thrown 16 interceptions. And then there's also the problem with dropped passes. The team has a league-leading 40 this year.
Penalties have also been an issue. Indianapolis has been penalized 101 times through the first 15 games of the season.
If the Colts hope to have any kind of sustained success in the post-season moving forward, those problems have to be taken care of. And quickly too.
"If you look at the number of passes we've thrown to date, and I think when you drop back more and you throw more passes, you might have a few more interceptions. You don't want them, but the volume probably is a little bit of a byproduct of that," Pagano explained.
"Just go from one year to the next because a lot of the penalties, the ones that are called every year and the most-called ones are the ones that are focus stuff a lot of the times; the false starts and illegal formations, and things like that that really shouldn't happen. The guys know that and we all know that, but there's some that guys are straining their guts out to make a block, finish a play and end up getting called. Part of it too is with the emphasis every year changing from an officiating standpoint, I think from a defensive standpoint, illegal contact, defensive holding, all those things are probably up just because of the points of emphasis are changing every year."
Luck is his own worst critic. He knows that he has to play better than he has in recent weeks. And that includes not turning the football over.
"I think what I need to see from myself is a clean game, no turnovers, productive drives, points," he said.
"I think as an offense, the same thing, no turnovers, no penalties, not shooting ourselves in the foot, high effort, which has never been a problem. I'm excited for [the Tennessee game]. It should be fun. It's going to be fun."
The third-year quarterback doesn't shy away from accepting his share of the blame for the rise in fumbles by the Colts.
"I think turnovers you can put on me really, the interceptions, the fumbles. There's a simple answer," he said. "Penalties, it's hard to pinpoint. You can say lack of focus, but that's such a broad, broad term. I guess lack of focus."
That focus needs to return this week against the Titans.