Colts’ Frank Reich: Luck ‘playing good football’ despite lack of getting ball down the field

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 09: Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts warms up prior to the game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on August 9, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – There are reasons, or excuses, for the dink-and-dunk nature of the Indianapolis Colts offense after three games.

But let’s not ignore the reality: Andrew Luck most certainly is at the wheel of a Volkswagen Beetle, not a Ferrari. The offense is puttering along and only occasionally breaking the speed limit, not smokin’ its tires.

Through three games, Luck:

  •  is averaging 5.3 yards per attempt, a category considered a reliable gauge in determining a quarterback’s passing proficiency. He averaged a healthy 7.2 yards per attempt in his first 70 games, but has been at 6.0 or lower in all three games. Luck’s 4.1 at Philadelphia was a career low.
  • is averaging 7.8 yards per completion, and his receivers have averaged less than 10 yards per catch in all three games. It’s the first time in Luck’s career he’s experienced three straight games with sub-10.0-yard average receptions. For some historical perspective, consider the Colts have never had a season where their receivers/tight ends/running backs have averaged less than 10 yards per catch. The dubious team record low: 10.1 in 1991, when the Colts finished 1-15.
  • has completed only five passes that have gained at least 20 yards. He’s often had that many in one game. Since there aren’t too many, we’ll remind you of them: Eric Ebron’s 26-yard TD against Cincinnati, 22- and 29-yard receptions by T.Y. Hilton and 21- and 22-yard receptions by Ryan Grant. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Luck has attempted only eight passes that have traveled at least 20 yards in the air.
  • directing an offense that is averaging 4.5 yards per play. The only teams with less efficient offenses are Chicago (4.4), Buffalo (4.0) and Arizona (4.0).

Whatever the Colts’ offensive problems have been during their 1-2 start, Reich insisted Luck isn’t high on the list.

“He’s playing good football,’’ Reich said. “He made a lot of plays in this game that really gave us a chance to win. I’m happy with the way he’s playing.

“I know he’s like all of us. He’s like I am as the head coach and play caller. When you don’t win, you don’t ever feel like you were good enough at any position.’’

Luck’s arm strength has been questioned. He has underthrown Hilton twice on deep routes, and seemed to lack zip on a deep out to Hilton against the Eagles that nearly was intercepted. When the Colts needed a Hail Mary on the final play against Philly, Reich called on backup Jacoby Brissett.

Luck agreed with the decision.

“Look, Jacoby has a stronger arm than I do,’’ he said after the game. “I’ll keep working on getting my arm to where maybe it can hit an 80-yard throw from the minus-30.’’

Reich didn’t witness Luck’s arm strength prior to the January 2017 surgery on his right shoulder, but “from what I’ve seen, he makes all the throws. Look at the throw he made to T.Y. on the deep post-corner route. There have been plenty of throws he’s made down the field in my mind.

“What I’ve seen is a guy who’s really accurate, who can make all the throws. I have no concerns about velocity.’’

At the risk of making excuses for the constricted nature of the offense through three games, it’s worth pointing out the Colts are an absolute mess at offensive tackle, were without tight end Jack Doyle against the Eagles and have had starting running back Marlon Mack for just 18 of 202 offensive snaps.

Reich attributed the rash of check-downs and underneath throws in the loss to the Eagles to situations the Colts themselves in – a lot of time in the red zone that eliminates chunk-play possibilities – and the style of defense utilized by Eagles coordinator Jim Schwartz.

“A lot of three-deep zone and he plays this two-sky-zone,’’ Reich said. “They play deep. They’re not going to give up the big play. They put pressure on you with four and they play zone defense and keep everything in front of them.’’

Exclude Hilton’s 29-yarder and Grant’s 22-yarder and Luck’s other 23 completions averaged 4.9 yards. There were other deep possibilities, according to Reich, but either the Eagles disrupted the play or Luck opted to go elsewhere with the football.

“If it’s not there,’’ he said, “you check it down.’’

Haeg out

The Colts’ situation at offensive tackle worsened at Philadelphia when right-side starter Joe Haeg suffered an ankle injury.

“That’s going to be a few weeks,’’ Reich said.

Haeg was replaced by Denzelle Good, who had missed the first two games with wrist and knee injuries. Le’Raven Clark made his second career start at left tackle and was beaten by Derek Barnett for 16-yard sack of Luck on fourth-and-3 at the Eagles 4 with 1:13 remaining.

Reich was unable to provide an update on veteran left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who has missed the first three games with a hamstring injury.

Agholor play? ‘Optical illusion’

Upon further review, Eagles’ wideout Nelson Agholor appeared to step out of bounds while diving for a 10-yard reception on a third-and-9 play that kept alive a 17-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter. Philly went on to take a 20-16 lead on Wendell Smallwood’s 4-yard touchdown.

Had Agholor been ruled out of bounds, the Eagles would have faced a fourth-and-short at the Colts’ 27-yard line. They might have tried to convert, or turned to Jake Elliott for what would have been a game-tying 45-yard field goal.

“Nobody saw it,’’ Reich said. “I just looked at this a minute ago because I wasn’t sure.’’

The play happened in front of the Colts bench. The Eagles didn’t hurry to the line of scrimmage to prevent the Colts from possibly challenging and no one on the Indy sideline reacted to Agholor being out of bounds.

“Usually when something like that happens and somebody sees it, (it’s) ‘Hey, he stepped out of bounds! He stepped out of bounds!’’’ Reich said. “Then everybody is on the phone yelling, you see players pointing.

“I look at the tape and nobody saw it. Nobody.’’

Including the official, who “is standing right there,’’ Reich said. “So he has got a great look at it, obviously he didn’t see it either. So must have just happened so fast that it was so bang-bang that you know it was almost like an optical illusion, like he didn’t step out of bounds.

“We never got a replay of it.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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