Colts still can’t get out of their own way with crippling turnovers


Cornerback Morris Claiborne #21 of the New York Jets runs the ball 17 yards for a touchdown after making an interception against the Indianapolis Colts in the first quarter at MetLife Stadium on October 14, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The mistakes have been glaring, constant and, at their core, counterproductive. The triggerman, a contributor to the carelessness, has described them as “silly’’ and “stupid.’’

They’ve been a major factor as the Indianapolis Colts, a team with a small margin for error during their youth-based rebuild, are dealing with a four-game losing streak and take a 1-5 record into Sunday’s suddenly-critical meeting with the Buffalo Bills at Lucas Oil Stadium.

This from Andrew Luck after three turnovers aided New England in their 38-24 drubbing of the Colts: “We’re not going to win consistently until we learn how to get out of our own way.’’

And this from Luck after four turnovers made things so much easier for the New York Jets en route to their 42-34 win: “We’re six games into this now. No one is young in the NFL anymore. Before we can learn how to win, we have to learn how not to lose. We have to take that step.’’

At the risk of over-simplifying things, the primary step is taking better care of the football. Ball security has been an issue. A debilitating one.

Statistics can be massaged and misleading, but there’s no debating the enormity of the Colts’ proclivity for making things much harder than they need to be.

In the influential takeaway-giveaway category, read ‘em and weep: the Colts are a minus-3 in turnovers (10 takeaways, 13 giveaways), and a league-worst and staggering minus-34 differential in points scored off turnovers.

Opponents have capitalized on 13 turnovers by the offense, including eight Luck interceptions, with a league-high 60 points.

Sixty points. That’s one third of the 180 allowed by the team. The Jets manufactured 20 points on four takeaways last Sunday.

There’s plenty to complain about with Matt Eberflus’ defense. It’s allowing quarterbacks to complete 73.1 percent of their passes, average 7.9 per attempt and muster a 99.5 rating. But offensive sloppiness is inflating the numbers.

For those with short memories, the more significant missteps include:

  • Marlon Mack mishandling a Luck screen pass on the second play against the Jets and cornerback Morris Claiborne returning the interception 17 yards for a touchdown. Twelve seconds into the game, the Jets led 7-0.
  • Robert Turbin not only failing to convert a third-and-1 at the Indy 44 in the second quarter against the Jets, but losing a fumble and suffering a shoulder injury. The Colts led 13-10 at the time. The Jets cashed in eight plays later with a go-ahead TD, the first of eight consecutive possessions that resulted in points.
  • Center Ryan Kelly botching a snap at his own 2-yard line against Houston and Jadeveon Clowney recovering it in the end zone for a touchdown. That enabled the Texans to tie things at 7-7.
  • Luck’s protection breaking down at the Indy 12 in the second quarter against the Texans and J.J. Watt getting the trifecta with a sack, strip, recovery. Houston scored two plays later for a 21-7 lead.
  • Jack Doyle losing a fumble as a potential game-winning drive in the final minute of the opener had reached the Cincinnati 15. Safety Clayton Fejedelem returned the fumble 83 yards for a sealing TD.

There have been more, but you get the idea.

Luck was asked his week if most of the turnovers were simply a byproduct of sloppy play.

“A lot of turnovers I think are an indicator, a metric of sloppy,’’ Luck said this week. “Define sloppy . . . we could sit here for a while. But yeah, turnovers, certainly too many of them.’’

Luck is on pace to set career highs with 42 touchdowns and 4,778 yards, but also for what would be a career-high 21 interceptions.

“I can tell you this, a number of them are not on him,’’ Frank Reich said. “Some of them are tipped. Some of them, it could’ve been a protection issue (with) a guy in your face. Then there are one or two that are on him.

“I always feel like every time we throw an interception, I always feel like, ‘Was that the best play call?’ I would say there is one or two that I didn’t like the play call and I put him in a bad position. I think that’s why we look at those as kind of a shared burden.’’

Despite the early-season mistakes, don’t expect the Colts to rein in their aggressiveness.

“No one on this team is going to go out with a sort of harness on them and say you can’t go play full speed,’’ Luck said. “I think our coaches do a great job of allowing us to play free and fast and loose.’’

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