Frank Reich: Colts’ dropped passes an issue, not a fluke

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 14: Head coach Frank Reich of the Indianapolis Colts looks on against the New York Jets during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium on October 14, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Regardless the topic, Tony Dungy usually was able to provide context.

So, we’ll remind everyone of one of Dungy’s responses to whatever was ailing his Indianapolis Colts back in the mid-2000s and apply it to what’s contributing to the current team’s four-game losing streak.

Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend.

Thanks, Tony.

We detect a trend with the Colts’ offense.

No longer are dropped passes a fluke or a two-week coincidence.

They’ve morphed into a serious issue.

“It’s been an issue and it’s past the point of, ‘OK, that was a fluke,’’’ coach Frank Reich said Monday evening.

Whatever problems pestered the Colts during the first two weeks of the season – and let’s be honest, there were plenty – dropped passes weren’t among them. By and large, Andrew Luck’s passing targets caught what was thrown to them.

But that was then, this is now. Beginning with the overtime loss to the Houston Texans, dropped passes have reached ridiculous levels.

It’s difficult to get an accurate number of drops. Did the receiver flat drop the pass? Did a DB close and contribute to the incompletion? Did the quarterback make the catch tougher than he should have with an errant throw?

It’s been casually estimated the Colts have suffered 18 drops in the past three games. Pro Football Focus lists them with 17 all season, and 15 in the past three.

Let’s not quibble with the total. Let’s just agree it’s gotten downright counterproductive to running a consistent or efficient offense. And to be honest, the season opener against Cincinnati offered a hint of what was to come. In the third quarter, Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton flat botched what would have been a 35-yard completion.

A few of the prominent, crippling drops:

  • Marcus Johnson’s on a third-and-2 slant in overtime against Houston. It stalled a promising drive that had reached the Texans’ 25-yard line and forced the Colts to settle for Adam Vinatieri’s 44-yard field goal rather than continuing for a game-winning TD. Vinatieri’s kick wasn’t enough. Houston would escape with a 37-34 win on two subsequent Ka’imi Fairbairn field goals.
  • Eric Ebron and Chester Rogers failing to secure three end-zone passes from Luck in the 20-16 loss at Philadelphia . Ebron had two opportunities. Each was contested, but catchable. Rogers was unable to pull in a Luck pass that was a tad high, but, again, absolutely catchable.
  • Roger mishandling what would have been a 30-something-yard gain in the third quarter at New England.
  • Zach Pascal bobbling a fourth-quarter Luck pass that careened to Jonathan Jones for an interception. The Colts trailed 31-17 at the time, but were driving. On the first play following the interception, Sony Michel gashed Indy for a 34-yard TD and a 38-17 lead.
  • Flubs in Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets by Rogers and running backs Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines. Rogers set the tone for yet another careless day by dropping a pass on the game’s first play. On the second play, a Luck screen went through Mack’s hands and was intercepted by Morris Claiborne, who returned it 17 yards for a touchdown. With the Colts trailing 10-7 in the second quarter and facing a third-and-goal at the 3, Hines dropped a Luck pass in the end zone. Vinatieri, again, was brought in to clean up the mess.

There have been more, but you get the point.

Luck steadfastly refuses to call out his receivers, even though so many of the drops have been glaring and costly.

“I’ll be concerned about drops when I throw the perfect ball every time I drop back,’’ he said after the Jets’ game. “Those guys are going to keep grinding. I’m proud of them. I love going to work with them every day.

“It’s a great group.’’

But it’s a group that’s got to get its act together.

There’s no question injuries have impacted Luck’s reliable options. Hilton has missed two games with chest and hamstring injuries while a hip injury has kept tight end Jack Doyle out of the last four games.

That has forced others with less experience and proven reliability to play extended minutes.

And things might be further complicated heading into Sunday’s home game with the Buffalo Bills. Ryan Grant (ankle) and Johnson (ankle) were unable to finish the Jets game, and Johnson was on crutches in the locker room. The team might have to elevate a receiver from the practice squad this week, either Reece Fountain or Steve Ishmael.

“We feel like we’ve got good depth and we rotate guys around and we spread the ball around,’’ Reich said. “We’ll continue to do that.

“But you still have limited guys on the roster. We’ll just keep working through it and trying to get better.’’

It’s not as if the Colts aren’t addressing the problem.

“What we are saying is just more time on the JUGS, more time in throwing circuits,’’ Reich said.

Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni aren’t advocates of screaming and yelling to get their point across.

“The coaching point of, ‘Hey, catch it,’ isn’t a great coaching point,’’ Sirianni said. “Sometimes it’s just focus.

“We always say to ourselves as coaches, ‘These guys want to catch the ball  more than we want them to catch it.’ And we really want them to catch it.’’

At some point – and perhaps we’re at that point – dropping passes can become more mental than physical.

“I have seen it happen where it’s mental,’’ Reich admitted. “I won’t go into specific names in the past of guys who I have played with or coached with. But I have seen players go into a little bit of a, for the lack of a better word, a funk for a few games. I’ve definitely seen that happen. And I’ve definitely seen guys get out of the funk and go on to have great years and great careers.

“So even though three games is way too much, it’s not at the point where it’s like, ‘OK, let’s throw in the towel. We’ve got to find a bunch of new guys.’ I don’t feel like that at all.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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