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Struggling Colts still have 'positive outlook'

By Phillip B. Wilson, The Sports Xchange
Struggling Colts still have 'positive outlook'
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck calls out a play against the Washington Redskins during their game at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on Sept. 16, 2018. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

INDIANAPOLIS -- His team is mired in a four-game losing streak, so the noise in the outside world couldn't be more negative about the Indianapolis Colts.

First-year head coach Frank Reich has seen this before, from his playing days as a Buffalo Bills backup quarterback to his NFL days as an assistant coach. He was quick to reiterate on Monday, a day after his team dropped to 1-5 with a 42-34 road loss to the New York Jets, what the Colts need to do to reverse course.

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"A lot to correct, a lot to correct," Reich said. "Like I said (Sunday), I fully understand we are a 1-5 team and we have to own that and get these mistakes corrected, but really just feel strongly about the chemistry of this team. And sometimes adversity can drive you apart or pull you together and I really think it will pull us together. I think we got good guys, good players and good leaders in that locker room who will help get this thing turned around."

Although the Colts have been losing, they've been in each game they've played. They've led in five of them, which suggests to Reich that fixing a few of the continual mistakes can make a difference, starting with Sunday's home game against the Bills (2-4) at Lucas Oil Stadium.

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"I think the mentality is right and I still have a very positive outlook in spite of the circumstances," he said. "Been down this road before -- you are in this league long enough you have been a part of teams and seasons and games where you face difficult circumstances and you know in each one of those times what you do is you circle back to your core beliefs and what you do best and then you just try to do what you do and just do it better and that's our plan."

Although quarterback Andrew Luck is putting up record numbers in pass attempts and completions, he laments too many mistakes he's made as "stupid" and accepts blame that the offense isn't doing enough.

"Football is the consummate, greatest team game there is. It's never just one guy. It never is," Luck said Sunday. "Your win/loss probability percentage is directly related to your turnover margin. Our defense is doing a decent job of getting that ball away, and we're certainly as an offense not holding up our end of the bargain. And we have to. If we want to give ourselves a chance to win consistently, I've got to do a better job of taking care of the ball. We all have to chip in on that and need to improve."

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While Reich's offense has generated points and continually moved the ball, the Jets loss was another lesson in the importance of minimizing turnovers. The Jets scored on an interception return on the game's second play when running back Marlon Mack couldn't catch a screen pass and batted the ball into the air to a defender.

That was the first of three Luck interceptions and the Colts also lost a fumble. Those mistakes continually put a young Colts defense, which is 30th in points allowed at 30 per game, in adverse field position.

"Don't lose faith in us," Mack said Sunday. "We are going to get this thing rolling, and once we do, we will be OK."

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Not surprisingly, the first question Reich was asked pertained to the Colts' recent penchant for dropping passes. The Colts were among the league's best through three games, but have since become one of the worst with at least 20 drops in the past three games.

"Yeah, it's been an issue and it's past the point of, 'Okay, that was a fluke,'" Reich said. "We just have to keep working, catching balls. I mean we feel like we got good depth and we rotate guys around and we spread the ball around.

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"I have seen it happen where it's mental, I won't go into specific names in the past of guys who I have played with or coached with, but I have seen guys, I have seen players go into a little bit of a, for lack of a better word, a funk for a few games. I definitely have seen that happen and I have definitely seen guys get out of the funk and go on to have great years and great careers. So even though three games is way too much, it's not at the point where it's like, 'Okay, let's throw in the towel. We got to find a bunch of new guys.' I don't feel like that at all. There are plenty of examples of guys who have struggled for a couple games and then snapped out of it and played well."

While the Jets offense moved the ball with far too much ease, the home team was able to settle for seven field goals, especially after turnovers created ideal field position.

What bothers Reich just as much is Luck and the offense have failed to finish drives when in excellent scoring position. The Colts wasted a first-and-goal situation at the 1 in settling for a field goal. Instead of scoring touchdowns on two early drives, the Colts settled for field goals, squandered opportunities that loomed larger as the game progressed. On two occasions, the Colts defense came up with turnovers to give the offense excellent scoring chances.

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"We have an opportunity there if we turn that into 14 points rather than six to really put a lot of pressure on them and we didn't do that," Reich said. "So I thought that was really good by the defense. Their offense, they did get on a little bit of a roll and our defense -- they moved the ball, but we gave them some short fields as well.

"We preach this all the time and every team I have ever been on, all that matters is that we win the game as a team. So whether it's a high-scoring shootout, whether it's a 42-40 game, then you say to the offense, 'I don't care how many points you scored, you need to score one more than the opponent.' And when it's a low-scoring game you tell the defense, 'I don't care that you play good. If you got to shut them out to win,' that's really the mentality that you want. So that's what we are shooting for, to play complementary football like that."

Reich reflected on his playing days with the Bills, when the team struggled early on before becoming a four-time AFC champion and qualifying for four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993.

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"Yeah, I saw it as a player in Buffalo. I saw it really in Philadelphia in the last two years as a coach that it doesn't take much," Reich said of turning things around. "It doesn't take much even within a season where we go -- when I was a player, I think we went from 2-14 to 4-12 and then I think we were 8-7 and then 12-4. Then we were rolling. Then in Philadelphia, we were 7-9 and then won the Super Bowl (last year).

"It's two things. It's playing good football, playing good football and establishing your identity and then just building the core players. So what happens when you build your identity and the process in which you do things, you just play better football. You play good football. You make less mistakes and you find a way to be aggressive, but still play good football. Then that leads to better playmaking. And then in that time period as well you gain another player or two as you're building and get better that way as well."

--The season debut of left tackle Anthony Castonzo signified the fifth different offensive line combination in six games. Luck wasn't sacked once. It's just the night time in 76 regular-season starts that he hasn't been sacked. And yet the Colts are 2-7 in those games. "No one wants to hear the positives when you're 1-5," Reich said, "but the pass protection is a positive." Despite the O-line shuffling, Luck has taken just 10 sacks when attempting a league-high 289 passes. The sacks per pass attempts percentage ranks third best in the NFL.

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--The Colts have amassed more than 400 total yards in offense in three consecutive games, the first time that's happened since 2014.

--Quarterback Andrew Luck has the most completions (186) and pass attempts (288) of any player in NFL history through six games. Luck has thrown a touchdown pass in 29 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the league, the second-longest streak in franchise history and 11th overall in the league.

--Tight ends Eric Ebron and Erik Swoope have a combined eight touchdown passes. Both added another against the Jets. Ebron leads all NFL tight ends with a career-high six TDs. Swoope has caught TD passes in each of the past two games.

--The Colts offense leads the league in third-down efficiency at 49.4 percent (44 of 89). The defense ranks just 26th in stopping opponents on third down at 43.6 percent (34 of 78).

--Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard returned from missing one game with an ankle injury to share the team lead with nine tackles. The second-round selection's 63 total tackles lead the league.

--Since 1994, just three Colts have had more tackles in the first six games than Leonard: Pat Angerer 72; D'Qwell Jackson 71; David Thornton 69.

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--Cornerback Pierre Desir shared team-high tackle honors with nine, eight of them solos. He also forced a fumble.

--Safety Mike Mitchell had six tackles in his first Colts start after being signed last week.

--The Colts have allowed 30 points per game, which ranks 30th. In the last three losses, opponents have averaged 39 points per game.

--Defensive tackle Jihad Ward had his third sack. He had only one sack in 21 games the previous two seasons with Oakland.

--Second-year running back Marlon Mack had a career-high 89 yards on 12 rushes. It's the most rushing yards for a Colts back in a game this season for a rushing offense that ranks 30th.

--Kicker Adam Vinatieri is 10 points away from surpassing Morten Andersen (2,544) to become the NFL's all-time leading scorer. With his second of four PATs on Sunday, he passed Gary Anderson (820) for third on the NFL's career list.

--Linebacker Skai Moore, who was waived before Sunday's game to make room on the roster to fill another position, was re-signed to the practice squad on Monday.

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