INDIANAPOLIS – Let’s agree on one thing: the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive approach against the New England Patriots, while effective, was abnormal.
Or, as Carson Wentz described it, “kind of an outlier, different. Every aspect of the game was very unique.’’
Especially the passing aspect.
While Jonathan Taylor was adding fuel to his MVP fire with 170 yards and the game-sealing 67-yard touchdown and the running game was pounding the Patriots’ No. 1-ranked defense for 226 yards, the Wentz-led passing game was puttering along: 5-of-12, 57 yards, one touchdown, one interception.
Puttering along at a historic rate. The completions and attempts are tied for the 3rd-fewest in a win in franchise history while the gross yards are tied for 5th-fewest.
It was a perfect example of doing whatever it takes.
Remember, the NFL is a week-to-week, game-to-game proposition.
“Every game’s different,’’ Wentz said. “Some games we pick up full steam in the run game, especially in those games when we have the lead and we’re able to sustain the lead and the defense has been playing the way they’ve been playing as of late.’’
So, stick with Taylor.
As defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said Tuesday: “I mean, he’s a walking touchdown. J.T. for MVP.’’
Or as Frank Reich noted, the Colts will go with the “hot hand.’’
But as much as Reich and his offensive staff are committed to Taylor and a running game that ranks 2nd in the league in yards per game (157.0) and 1st in yards per attempt (5.2), they realize there will be occasions when Wentz and the passing game must do more.
“I think for us to go where we want to go,’’ Reich said, “there are going to be games where Carson will be the quote-unquote star of the game.
“I think that’ll have to happen.’’
Wentz has more than lived up to the team’s expectations following the February trade with Philadelphia that cost a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 first-rounder; he has played enough to trigger the conditional aspect of the ’22 pick.
“I do think Carson’s had many good games,’’ Reich said.
Wentz set a career high with 402 yards and a 128.5 rating in the overtime loss at Baltimore, then pushed his career-best rating to 134.3 with 272 yards and three touchdowns against the New York Jets. He’s tossed 23 TDs and suffered just six interceptions, set a franchise record with 212 consecutive attempts without an interception and tied a career high with seven games with a 100-plus rating.
Lately, though, the passing game has waned as the running game has hit its stride.
Over the last six games, Wentz has averaged a pedestrian 179.8 yards per game and 6.6 yards per attempt. In his first eight games, he averaged 240.8 and 7.1, respectively.
The Colts are averaging just 204.4 passing yards per game, 23rd in the NFL. The last time they reached the playoffs with such a meager average: 1996 (206.0).
One of the contributing factors? A dramatic switch in offensive focus. In the last six games, the Colts have run the ball 55.4% of the time – it was 42.1% in the first eight – and gotten the desired results.
During that stretch, the running game has churned for 203.7 yards per game and 5.8 per attempt. Taylor has been a beast: 144.8 yards per game, 5.8 per attempt, 11 rushing TDs.
When the time comes, will Wentz and the passing game be able to flip the switch?
Reich argued with the characterization.
“You can’t just turn it on,’’ he said. “You’ve got to execute. You’ve got to earn it. All these teams are good.
“What I really mean is I’ve just got a lot of confidence in Carson. I have a lot of confidence in our skill players and I have a lot of confidence in the way we protect the passer. And I have a lot of confidence in our offensive coaching staff the way we scheme things up to help the players.’’
Wentz is confident the passing game will be on point when the time comes.
“We are,’’ he said. “It’s something we’ve talked about and we’ve shown that in some games where teams want to stack the box. ‘All right, let’s throw ‘em out of it.’ And we have done that effectively.’’
When Tampa Bay proved difficult to run against – Taylor averaged 3.1 yards on eight first-half attempts – Wentz dropped back on 26 consecutive plays. In the second quarter, he completed 13-of-18 for 176 yards and three TDs.
“Every week’s going to be different in how teams prepare for us and want to stop us,’’ he said, “and we’ll have answers for that.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.