Colts’ offensive coordinator: Rare shutout loss was as bad as it looked

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s one of those time-tested assessments so many coaches have offered after reviewing video of what transpired the previous day.

You’re never as good as you thought when you won, and never as bad as you thought when you lost.

We give you Nick Sirianni, roughly 48 hours after the Indianapolis Colts saw their five-game winning streak snapped Sunday because Andrew Luck and their white-hot offense were no match for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“I think any time you don’t score any points, it’s definitely as bad as it looks,’’ the first-year offensive coordinator said Tuesday.

A Luck-led offense that had averaged 34.6 points over the previous five games was shut out for the first time since his prep days at Houston’s Stratford H.S. Had never happened in 81 starts with the Colts. Had never happened in 39 starts at Stanford.

And then there’s this statistical nugget from Football Outsiders: Luck set a dubious NFL record with the most completions (33) for a team that failed to score.

“Any time you get shut out and don’t put any points on the board,’’ Sirianni said, “it ranks up there as one of the worst feelings you can have as a coordinator or even a position coach or quality control . . . I know we’re all feeling that.

“But they’re not going to stop next week’s (game). They’re going to ask us to play that one, so we had to get over it quick. We had to fix the mistakes and move on and not let the same mistakes happen again.

“It was definitely frustrating. A frustrating day.’’

Before we pile on Frank Reich, Sirianni, Luck and the rest of the offense, let’s extend some credit to Jacksonville’s defense. While the franchise is dealing with a lost season and has no long-term answer at quarterback – seven consecutive losses before smothering Indy – it possesses a defense teeming with playmakers.

Even so, zero points is unacceptable and a rarity in today’s NFL. Of the 192 games played through week 13, there have been exactly three shutouts.

As the Colts put their lost weekend in Jacksonville behind them and turn their attention to Sunday’s rematch with the Texans in Houston, they must determine whether it was an aberration or a precursor.

The question that begs an answer: Does this offense miss Jack Doyle that much? The Pro Bowl tight end suffered a season-ending kidney injury in the week 12 win over Miami, and everyone conceded it would be difficult to adequately fill his void. He was the complete player at his position – an accomplished blocker in the run game and pass protection, and an ultra-reliable target for Luck, especially in third-down situations.

Here’s where we remind you the Colts are 5-1 with Doyle in the lineup, 1-5 without him.

“We’re always going to miss Jack,’’ Sirianni said. “Jack’s going to give you the high-end of both the run game and pass game. We’re gonna miss him, there’s no secret about that.

“We’ve just got to find ways to do it without him.’’

The initial response wasn’t encouraging, which also was the case when the Colts had to adjust after Doyle sustained a hip injury week 2 at Washington that would force him to miss five games.

At Jacksonville, the passing game lost some of its diversity and, perhaps as a result, some of its efficiency without Doyle. Consider 44 of Luck’s 52 passes and 29 of his 33 completions went to four players: Ebron (16 targets, 10 catches, both career highs), T.Y. Hilton (13 and 8), running back Nyheim Hines (9 and 9, the vast majority of them check-downs) and wideout Dontrelle Inman (6 and 2).

It wasn’t as dramatic in week 3 at Philly, but Luck still leaned heavily on Hilton, Ebron and Hines, who accounted for 26 of his 40 pass attempts and 15 of his 25 completions.

The statistical bottom line from those first two games without Doyle are downright chilling:

  • 265 yards on 71 plays (3.7 per play), 5-of-18 third-down efficiency (27.8 percent) and 0-of-2 in the red zone at Jacksonville. Luck averaged 4.8 yards per attempt and 7.5 yards per completion, his second-lowest figures of the season.
  • a season-low 209 yards on 56 plays (3.7), 2-of-12 third-down efficiency (16.7 percent), 1-of-5 in the red zone. Luck averaged 6.0 yards per completion and 4.1 yards per attempt, his lowest figures of the season.

Coincidence, or the consequence of Doyle’s absence?

Along with missing Doyle in Jacksonville, the offense was without tight end Mo Alie-Cox (ankle). Erik Swoope had one catch for 4 yards – you remember the game-ending catch when he was driven out of bounds, right? – and Ryan Hewitt, essentially a block, wasn’t targeted.

“We always want to get Eric the ball,’’ Sirianni said. “We always want to get T.Y. the ball. We usually have a plan for Nyheim.

“We do spread it around and we want to spread it around.’’

The overriding problem, he noted, was the ability to sustain drives.

“We never got into a good enough rhythm, whether it be running the ball or throwing the ball,’’ Sirianni said. “We didn’t find a rhythm. Jacksonville has good players. We didn’t play our best game, that’s for sure, too.

“Again, some of that’s because how good Jacksonville is on defense and some of that is because we didn’t play our best game.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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