In the offseason after their 45-7 AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts signed three accomplished veterans to fortify the offense around Andrew Luck.
They turned the page on the Trent Richardson era and added Frank Gore, hoping he could be the running back that could finally give them some semblance of balance. The grim reaper started following Reggie Wayne around on his routes, so they brought in Andre Johnson. And to shore up the line, they replaced guard Hugh Thornton with Todd Herremans.
It hasn't worked out well. Gore is ceding carries to backup Ahmad Bradshaw, Johnson didn't see a single target Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons until the fourth quarter and Herremans was benched after Week 2 and replaced by the player he was supposed to replace.
And Luck? He has continued to take a beating and will miss Sunday's game against the Buccaneers because of a lacerated kidney and torn abdominal muscle. After playing in 57 straight games to start his career, the 2012 No. 1 overall draft pick will be missing his second consecutive game and fourth this season.
The easy thing to do would be to criticize the offensive line, but it's not all on that unit. Consider Football Outsiders' "adjusted sack rate" metric — which is sacks per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance and quality of opponent. By adjusted sack rate, the Colts' pass protection ranks eighth.
Adjusted sack rate, through Week 11
|1. Oakland Raiders||13||3.1%|
|2. Baltimore Ravens||16||4.1%|
|3. New York Jets||13||4.1%|
|4. Chicago Bears||18||4.4%|
|5. St. Louis Rams||14||4.8%|
|7. Arizona Cardinals||16||4.9%|
|8. Indianapolis Colts||20||5.0%|
|9. Atlanta Falcons||18||5.2%|
|10. New York Giants||15||5.2%|
|15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers||17||5.9%|
|Source: Football Outsiders|
It's not a perfect measure of an offensive line's performance — it doesn't include hits, and since the Colts drafted Luck, they've finished in the top four in hits allowed every season. At some point, he has to adjust his style of play and release the ball before the last possible moment.
On Monday, he accepted some of the blame for his injuries.
"Part of me brought it upon myself by not sliding in certain situations," Luck said. "There's a time and place to taking a hit. I'm not going to apologize in that sense. Sometimes I feel it is appropriate. Sliding is something I still need to improve on. It's no secret."
Matt Hasselbeck and the Colts' passing game
Only the Denver Broncos have thrown more interceptions than the Colts, who have thrown 14. Twelve of those, however, are credited to Luck.
In Luck's place, 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck has gone 3-0, kept the Colts in the hunt for their third straight AFC South title and thrown interceptions at a lower rate (1.9 percent vs. Luck's 4.1 percent). By my count, 12 other teams have turned to their backup, because of injury or poor performance, and have gone a combined 11-24 in those starts.
|Starts||Record||Comp %||Yds/game||Yds/att||TD/INT||Int %||Sack %||QB rating||QBR||DVOA|
|Sources: Pro Football Reference, Football Outsiders|
Hasselbeck — one of only five quarterbacks in their 40s to win at least three games in a season — is not the average (or more accurately, below-average) backup quarterback the Bucs have faced the past two weeks. In his career, 87 of his 5,187 pass attempts have been intercepted, while 75 of Matt Cassel's 2,489 attempts and 84 of Mark Sanchez's 2,240 attempts have been intercepted. Basically, Hasselbeck has thrown about as many interceptions in twice as many attempts as Cassel and Sanchez.
Last Sunday against the Falcons, Hasselbeck was indecisive at times and generally not as sharp as he had been in his starts against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans (Week 4 and Week 5, respectively). While he led the Colts on a nine-play, 56-yard drive that set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal, he threw his first two interceptions of the season. The first appeared to be the result of miscommunication between him and tight end Coby Fleener; the second was a fourth-quarter rally killer.
The Colts were down 21-14 at the time and had just recovered a Tevin Coleman fumble at the Atlanta 21-yard line. On third-and-4 from the 15-yard line, Hasselbeck tried to look off safety Ricardo Allen, but he didn't bite and picked off the pass intended for Donte Moncrief. Instead of going for the touchdown, Hasselbeck could have hit Griff Whalen on a drag route across the middle and picked up the first down.
Hasselbeck also missed an open receiver for a potential touchdown on the Colts' previous drive. On the first-and-goal play, safety William Moore left Bradshaw alone in the right flat as he tried to get in position to break up a pass over the middle of the field. Hasselbeck didn't immediately see Bradshaw because the running back was not among his top three choices in his progression, he explained to the Indianapolis Star this week.
"It's play-action, and we're trying to hit Donte first, Andre (Johnson) second, and T.Y. (Hilton) third," Hasselbeck said. "Ahmad's sort of leaked out late and nobody went with him."
The Colts got the touchdown anyway when they sent Bradshaw out to the right flat again on the next play. Although the Falcons accounted for him, his head-fake froze linebacker Brooks Reed and created separation as he cut toward the sideline.
Frank Gore and the Colts' running game
Since 2012, the Colts have had only one running back rush for 100 yards in a game (Vick Ballard, 105 in December 2012), though Gore did rush for 98 against the Texans. So the lack of a 100-yard rusher is either telling or just merely interesting to a football writer who is paying too much special attention to round numbers. You pick.
Since Ballard rushed for 105 yards, the Bucs have allowed five players to rush for 100 yards (only the Ravens and Broncos have allowed fewer 100-yard rushers in that span). This season, they've allowed just one player — Alfred Blue in Week 3 — to do so and are allowing 3.7 yards per carry, fifth-fewest in the NFL.
More fun with round numbers: The Colts haven't had a running back rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Joseph Addai rushed for 1,072 in 2007.
Few backs have been as consistent for as long as the 32-year-old Gore, who hasn't missed a game since 2010 (74 regular season games). In each of his 10 seasons in San Francisco, he averaged more than 4.0 yards a carry, but this season, he is averaging 3.9. Over the past three weeks — against the tough run defenses of the Panthers, Broncos and Falcons — he averaged 2.9.
Poor Frank Gore. He thought he would come to Indy and see more open lanes as defenses focused on shutting down the Colts' passing attack. But even though he's gaining fewer yards per carry, he's still on pace to reach 1,000 yards for the fifth straight season.
Against the Jaguars, Hasselbeck released the ball in 2.37 seconds, ninth-fastest in the NFL in Week 4, according to Pro Football Focus. The following week against the Texans, he was even faster, releasing the ball in a Peyton Manning-like 2.12 seconds. That's the Hasselbeck — a quick decisionmaker and accurate thrower — I think we're more likely to see against the Bucs.
The offensive line didn't allow the Eagles to sack Jameis Winston, but it did allow 11 pressures, Pro Football Focus found. Tackles Donovan Smith and Gosder Cherilus, who were responsible for seven of those pressures, will have their hands full against a blitz-happy Colts defense.
Prediction: The Colts will keep Winston, 21, one win away from becoming the youngest quarterback in NFL history to win six games in a season.
My record: 6-3
Contact Thomas Bassinger at email@example.com. Follow @tometrics.