A balanced Andrew Luck-led offense is a productive offense

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Andrew Luck

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – On the heels of the Indianapolis Colts’ thrashing of the Minnesota Vikings, it’s worth considering the impressive and uncharacteristic offensive balance that overwhelmed one of the NFL’s stoutest defenses.

Of the 68 offensive snaps, 40 were Andrew Luck handoffs. That’s the Colts’ second-most lopsided run-pass split –  58.8 percent rushing attempts – since Luck’s arrival in 2012.

And the results can’t be ignored. Luck is 8-1 when the offensive game plan – more important, the execution of that game plan – results in more rushes than passes. Also, the Colts are 24-3 since 2012 when their commitment to the running game results in at least 30 attempts.

Look, we’ve never bought into coach Chuck Pagano’s rhetoric insisting the Colts need to be a power running outfit. That’s what wins in December, he recently insisted.

The construction of the Colts is all about maximizing the potential emanating from Luck’s right arm and surrounding him with the likes of T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, Dwayne Allen, Jack Doyle and, lately, Chester Rogers.

As long as Luck commands the huddle – remember, he’s under contract through 2021 and due to earn an NFL-record $140 million – the Colts will go as far as he takes them.

But it never hurts to offer helping hands, or legs.

And that brings us back to the manner with which Luck and the Colts dominated a Vikings defense that entered the game ranked No. 2 in fewest yards allowed (304.3) and No. 1 in scoring (17.3). The offense piled up more points in the first half (27) than Minnesota had allowed in any of its previous 13 games.

The Colts battered the Vikings senseless with balance. While Luck was throwing for 250 yards and two touchdowns on 28 pass attempts, his help came in the form of 161 rushing yards and two TDs on 40 attempts. Each tied a season high.

The end result begs the question: Did the Colts win because they established offensive balance, or did they realize balance because of the lopsided win?

“I don’t know. I wish I did,’’ Luck said Tuesday. “I know (offensive coordinator Rod Chudzinski has) been laying out great plans. When we can execute those plans, it involves balance. It involves big plays. It involves tough yards, tough runs. It involves all the good things.

“We did a better job of executing this past week and we’ve got to continue to do that.’’

Too often, either a lack of execution or decision to abandon the running game has led to the Colts being too reliant on Luck. They fed the Vikings steady doses of Frank Gore – 26 carries, 101 yards – a week after giving him just 10 carries in a crippling loss to the Houston Texans.

Two stats can’t be ignored:

  • The Colts are 10-27 when Luck has attempted at least 40 passes, including eight straight losses.
  • Gore’s teams are 17-1 when he has at least 25 rushing attempts.

Yes, it’s one of those chicken-or-the-egg scenarios. In most instances, especially involving the Colts, fat run totals come in victories and Luck finds himself throwing 40-plus passes because the team trails.

But no one should casually dismiss the importance of the Colts giving Luck a running game that at the very least is reliable when called upon.

Luck’s eyes brightened when asked about how the type of game Gore enjoyed against the Vikings impacts his effectiveness.

“One, it’s positive yards. It makes third downs more manageable,’’ he said.

The Colts converted 7-of-13 third-down situations against the Vikings, including 5-of-8 in the tone-setting first half. Seven were third-and-4 or shorter.

“Two, it’s going to tire out a defense,’’ Luck added. “It makes the pass rush tougher for the defensive guys. It sets up run-action, it sets up play-action, a lot of good things.’’

The Vikings entered the game with 35 sacks, third-most in the league. Not only did they fail to sack Luck, they were credited with only two hits.

The moral of the story: balance is never a bad thing.

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