Houston at Colts
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
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In light of the Washington Redskins shutting down Robert Griffin III, the Indianapolis Colts should do the opposite with their franchise quarterback: Turn Andrew Luck loose.
The Colts are 8-5 with three games left already in the playoffs with an AFC South division title.
Forget resting starters or being conservative with play calling, it's time to open up the playbook for Luck and experiment.
What's the downside, a risk of starting slow? The Colts have been outscored 114-24 in the first halves of the last six games. I don't think additional boldness is going to set them back.
The Colts host Houston (2-11) at 1 p.m. Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Maybe Luck has some reinforcements at receiver now, with Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill helping put 28 second-half points on the board at Cincinnati last week. Maybe that was an anomaly, attributable to the Bengals going soft on defense with a big lead.
Either way, Luck has to go back to Rogers and Brazill early and often this week. The Colts need to see whether they have possible staying power because there's no way they'll win a playoff game without more than the threat of T.Y. Hilton. Darrius Heyward-Bey might still be in the mix, but he's had ample chances to step into a major role and hasn't done so.
Let's see what Rogers and Brazill do with several games' worth of opportunity.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano wouldn't say Rogers and Brazill have passed Heyward-Bey on the depth chart, but he said they have earned more playing time. The receivers had two touchdowns apiece at Cincinnati, with Rogers impressing with his speed and Brazill with his strength and ability to shed tacklers.
“It was great to see them make those plays,” Luck said. “It will definitely help the team. I don't know if it's going to change things wholesale, but it's great for them to build that confidence. It will help T.Y. It will help DHB. It will help the run game. So (I'm) happy with that.”
Regardless, it all goes back to Luck. The offensive line – and Luck, with his ability to escape would-be tacklers – ended a streak of 25 consecutive games allowing at least one sack. That's a good sign for a somewhat makeshift line.
“There was pressure here and there, but zero sacks,” Pagano said. “Again, (that's a) pretty formidable front that we went against. …Moving forward, it's going to hopefully pay dividends.”
Despite the occasional choice to throw the ball into traffic rather than take a sack, Luck's decision-making has improved his season. He has a better touchdown-to-interception ratio (19 and 8 this season compared with 23 and 18 last season) and his completion percentage is up. He is averaging fewer attempts and total yards per game under offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, but that reflects Hamilton's system, right or wrong.
The Colts are 0-3 in Luck's top three passing-yardage games this season (353 vs. St. Louis, 326 vs. Cincinnati and 321 vs. Miami). But that has more to do with throwing while trying to catch up, especially in the Rams and Bengals games, than with passing more being a losing strategy.
If Hamilton is ever going to explore some changes in the offense, and some new ways to use Luck's skills as a passer and even as a runner, these last three games represent the opportune time.
Houston enters the game with interim coach Wade Phillips at the helm, so there may be some tweaks, but it's too late for wholesale changes. It'll be interesting to see how Luck deals with the Kansas City Chiefs' defense on the road, and who knows what the Jacksonville Jaguars will present. They're playing better as the season progresses.
The Colts seemed to have begun the idea of exploring some offensive tweaks last week, not only with Rogers and Brazill, but in using tight ends Jack Doyle and Weslye Saunders.
I don't think that Hamilton's job is in trouble, as some have fans have speculated on Twitter. There have been too many injuries to key players to blame the Colts' offensive shortcomings solely on his play calling. But this would be a great time to try some new variations and at least put more to consider on future opponents' film study.
Luck has shown through his first two seasons that he's able to handle a heavy load. Why not make it heavier during three games that won't likely mean much in the playoff picture? Catching the Bengals for the No.3 seed appears unlikely, but the Colts can grow, particularly on offense, these last three games.
Teams with momentum, however it's generated, have the best chance to make a playoff run. Baltimore had a better defense last season than the Colts do this year, but the Ravens got hot at the perfect time for a perfect postseason storm.
Turn Luck loose. See what happens. The Colts might surprise themselves.