Colts’ offense ‘has to get better’

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 24: Jacoby Brissett #7 of the Indianapolis Colts looks to pass against the Cleveland Browns during the first half at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 24, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The raw numbers are unsightly and very un-Colts-like, but to a degree easy to rationalize.

First, the numbers. After four games, the Colts offense ranks 31st in yards per game (265.8), 32nd in first downs (15 per game) and 25th in scoring (18.8). The last time things were so meager? That would be 2011, when Peyton Manning was dealing with his neck issues and everything was a struggle.

Easy to explain the frequent ineptitude? Of course.

With Andrew Luck still in rehab mode, Scott Tolzien started the opener against the Rams in Los Angeles and promptly played his way out of the lineup. With no other options, the Colts turned to recently-acquired Jacoby Brissett in week 2 against Arizona even though he had three legitimate practices with the first unit.

With Ryan Kelly also sidelined, undrafted rookie Deyshawn Bond started the first four games at center. When he suffered a season-ending quad injury on the second play of last Sunday’s lopsided loss at Seattle, another newbie – Adam Redmond – replaced him. Redmond had appeared sparingly in the first three games, and all of his 18 snaps came on special teams.

And let’s not forget Denzelle Good. The starting right tackle in the opener suffered a season-ending wrist injury against the Rams.

“There’s a lot of moving parts right now that we’re working through,’’ offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said Thursday. “I have never gotten into stats. The most important thing is whether you’re winning and losing and for us to find ways to get that done.

“The biggest thing for me is you see good stretches of football. You see us be able to do it. If you didn’t ever see that, that would be a problem.

“We have to improve. We have to get better.’’

There have been a few occasions when the Brissett-led offense has been more than adequate. During a 17-minute stretch of the first half against Cleveland, it churned out touchdowns on four consecutive possessions. In the first half at Seattle last Sunday, Brissett was sharp (142 passing yards, one TD) and the running game was effective enough (17 carries, 66 yards, one TD).

Too often, though, it’s painfully obvious Luck needs to return sooner rather than later, and the running game is going nowhere until the Colts fix what has been unfixable since 2012. And that would be the offensive line.

“We need to play better up front. We know that,’’ Chudzinski said. “We’re not making excuses; we need to play better.’’

A measure of help should come Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers visit Lucas Oil Stadium. Center Ryan Kelly returns after missing the first four games with a broken bone in his left foot.

“He’ll bring us stability and experience and a comfort level,’’ Chudzinski said.

However, Chudzinski was quick to praise the performance of Bond. The Warren Central High School product wasn’t a weak link. He might have been the unit’s consistent player before going down.

Any upgrade must start up front, and on all fronts. The Colts rank 31st in rushing yards per attempt (3.0) and 30th in sacks per pass attempt (1 for each 11 dropback).

Chudzinski didn’t hesitate when asked his assessment of the offense after four games. The negatives included:

Turnovers

The Colts’ 7 are tied for 5th-most in the league, and they’ve been crippling. Four have been returned for touchdowns: two pick-6s by Tolzien against the Rams, a pick-six by Brissett and Brissett’s sack/fumble returned for TDs against the Seahawks. A Marlon Mack fumble against the Rams resulted in a safety.

“We can’t turn the ball over,’’ Chudzinski said. “Everybody knows that. That’s something we preach. They’re going to happen (but) you want to get guys on the ground and give your guys (on defense) a chance to stop the other team when they happen.’’

The running game

It’s been hit and miss, and more miss than hit. Consider an unsettling breakdown. The Colts have 114 rushing attempts, and excluding quarterback kneel-downs, nearly 23 percent have resulted in zero yards (9) or lost yardage (17). Of their 191 rushing yards, 36 percent has come on three rushes: a 25-yarder by Brissett, a 24-yarder by Mack, a 21-yarder by Gore.

Excluding his rookie season, Gore’s 191 yards rank 21st in the league and is the third-lowest four-game total of his decorated 13-year career.

“The offensive line is trying their best. I’m trying my best to make things happen,’’ he said.

“There’s not been a lot there for him,’’ conceded Chudzinski. “I think he’s made what he’s been able to make.

“I haven’t sensed the frustration. I like where he’s at right now.’’

Gore needs 4 yards to move past Eric Dickerson (13,259) into the No. 7 slot in career rushing. Using the first four games as a yardstick, that’s two carries.

Protection

Don’t look now, but the Colts are on pace to yield 56 sacks. That would be the most since they gave up a club-record 62 in 1997.

“We’re working to . . . try to find ways that we can allow those guys to play at their best,’’ Chudzinski said. “That’s what my job is, to try to do that. It falls on everybody.’’

Until it’s fixed, we’re talking about fallen QBs. The protection has allowed 14 sacks and 17 hits, according to game books.

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