At season’s midpoint, Colts are 3-5 and still searching for answers

Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts is chased out of the pocket during the fourth quarter of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts is chased out of the pocket during the fourth quarter of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – We’re no longer talking about a small sample size, a few games that can skew what we’re actually seeing.

The Indianapolis Colts are eight games into a Season on the Brink – sorry, John Feinstein, but it fits – and have exposed themselves as little more than teases. They give their fan base glimpses of what might be, then slap them across the face with four quarters of reality.

They head to Nashville and, by their standards, play reasonably well and renew hope with a 34-26 win over the Tennessee Titans.

Then they revert to form against the Kansas City Chiefs. The 30-14 loss was arguably the most comprehensive of a season teeming with underachievement and inconsistency. All three phases were culpable even though we insist on absolving Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee of any blame.

But rest easy, Colts Nation. Coaches and players spent Monday pouring over video of the game. They broke it down – frame by frame, mistake by mistake – and are hell-bent on correcting the correctable.

That might keep the angry mob, pitchforks and torches in hand, from storming West 56 Street if we were talking about a couple of shabby performances in September. We’re talking about a team that finds itself 3-5 after wading through the easier part of the schedule. The final eight games, beginning with Sunday’s trip to Green Bay, are against teams with a combined 33-26 record. Four lead or share their division lead: Pittsburgh, Houston, Minnesota, Oakland.

We remind you it’s Halloween. Tuesday brings November. If this group of coaches and players – and personnel experts – was capable of correcting the correctables, wouldn’t they have already done so?

A quick recap of what’s plagued the Colts on their spiral to 3-5:

Penalties:

Grading on a Colts Curve, Sunday wasn’t all that bad. Five penalties tied a season low, but were killers. Holding penalties on Anthony Castonzo and Denzelle Good negated Andrew Luck’s 40-yard completion to T.Y. Hilton and 45-yard TD to Donte Moncrief. Defensive holding flags were thrown at cornerbacks Patrick Robinson and Darius Butler on a pair of third downs, keeping alive drives that resulted in Cairo Santos’ field goals.

“We cut the penalties in half,’’ Chuck Pagano said, “but the five we had were all costly.’’

It’s one of the redundancies that’s maddening. The Colts are fourth in the league with 63 penalties – hey, at least they aren’t the flag-happy Oakland Raiders – and are on pace for 126. That would be the second-highest total in team history.

And here’s another penalty-related tidbit. According to Sportingcharts.com, Luck has lost 296 passing yards due to penalties. Next in line: Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz. With 137.

Pass protection:

The protection yielded six sacks for the second time in five games, matching Luck’s career high. It also allowed 12 hits on 12. And while he rushed for a career-best and team-high 60 yards, it was a result of Luck being flushed from the pocket nine times.

Yes, occasionally he holds onto the football too long, further compromising erratic protection. And yes, three of the sacks came in the game’s final 3 minutes when the Chiefs led by 13 and their sole objective was to meet at the QB.

But the eight-game numbers don’t lie. Luck has been sacked an NFL-high 31 times and, according to game books, hit on another 63 occasions. He’s been sacked on 9.1 percent of his drop-backs, tops in the league.

Defenses will continue to attack Luck’s protection “until you put the fire out,’’ conceded Pagano.

One category that’s telling to us is sacks allowed and sacks created. The Colts are a league-worst minus-17.

Defense:

Read ‘em and weep. The Colts rank  29th in total defense (402.5 yards per game), 31st against the pass (287.8) and 28th in scoring (28.75). It has allowed at least 20 points in the first eight games for the first time since 2011 – we all remember how that turned out – and just the second time in 35 years. Thirty. Five. Years.

In keeping with the team-wide trend, Ted Monachino’s defense teases. It kept the Chiefs game winnable until wearing down. Kansas City’s four second-half possessions generated one touchdown and two field goals. And remember, the guy doing the serious damage hadn’t stepped on the field this season. Nick Foles came off the bench for Alex Smith, twice, and passed for 223 yards and two TDs.

As the Colts prepare for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, they do so knowing they might be without top corner Vontae Davis, who’s in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

At the risk of piling on, the defense has produced just 7 takeaways, tied for 4th fewest, and has a league-low 2 interceptions. The latter is a byproduct of an unreliable pass rush (14 sacks).

During his Monday press conference, Pagano was asked to share the message he gave the team.

“Everything is still attainable,’’ he said. “We’re at the halfway mark, but we’re 3-5.

“It is what it is.’’

Yes, it is. And that hasn’t been nearly good enough.

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