ATL: What We Learned  

 

Colts must place offense in Andrew Luck's hands

The Indianapolis Colts got what they deserved in a 19-9 loss to the San Diego Chargers on Monday night.

For just the third time in 23 career starts, Andrew Luck was kept out of the end zone. If he were the type to assign blame, he could start with the five Colts who dropped easily catchable passes at crucial points in the game.

Darrius Heyward-Bey mistimed a potential long touchdown, Reggie Wayne couldn't reel in a key third-down pass and Coby Fleener's slippery mitts made an appearance in a similar situation -- followed by a T.Y. Hilton muff on the next play.

After Trent Richardson lost a screen pass to sabotage a late fourth-quarter drive, overly conservative coach Chuck Pagano opted to punt on fourth-and-2 and down seven.

Needless to say, the Colts' chances of picking up the first down were greater than their odds of stopping the Chargers and keeping enough time on the clock to go the length of the field for a touchdown.

For all of those physical and mental errors, though, it is offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's insistence on clinging to a dysfunctional, old-school power running attack that is preventing Luck from reaching his potential.

There's a method to Hamilton's madness. He wants to create high-percentage passing opportunities against boxes loaded up to stop the run.

This is not an offense that abides game-changing mistakes.

It works best when blockers blow their men off the ball, allowing the power back to sustain drives, move the chains and punish tacklers. It doesn't work when the offensive line lacks the talent to open holes for an indecisive back.

The Colts' personnel falls into the latter category, which has the effect of playing keep-away from the best young no-huddle passer in NFL history.

It's time for Hamilton to go back to the drawing board, devising a fresh plan to put the offense in Luck's capable hands.

Here's what else we learned in Monday night's game:

1. We talked about the Chargers' impressive young receivers after last week's late-night game against the Oakland Raiders. Touted by many as a first-round talent, Keenan Allen already has earned Philip Rivers' trust and is emerging as the veteran quarterback's favorite target over the past three weeks. Allen is a savvy route runner, physical at the point of the catch, a strong runner with the ball in his hands and a viable deep threat. Vincent Brown showed once again that he can high-point the ball with the best of the NFL's young wideouts. Tight end Ladarius Green will make it a trio once the Chargers start using him in the passing game.

2. The Bolts have a complementary backfield tandem in physical, north/south runner Ryan Mathews and matchup problem Danny Woodhead. They need to put Ronnie Brown out to pasture, though. Mathews' enigmatic four-year career was perfectly encapsulated in one outstanding 15-yard run in which he ran out of bounds when his team was trying to bleed the clock late in the fourth quarter. All things considered, it still was his best game of the season.


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3. The Chargers' offense is the destitute man's Broncos offense. Rivers excels at pre-snap adjustments, spreads the ball around to his varied weapons and controls the clock with what has been an efficient attack for the majority of the season. During one stretch Monday night, Rivers ran more than 29 minutes off the clock and gassed the Colts' defense with four consecutive scoring drives averaging 14 plays apiece.

4. Trent Richardson continues to break tackles at a rate that compares favorably to any back in the NFL. It takes more than one tackler to bring him down. He's still not generating big plays, however, which speaks to a lack of vision behind a poor run-blocking offensive line.

5. Indianapolis sorely misses injured tight end Dwayne Allen. He's simply a better player than Fleener.

6. Reggie Wayne joined Marvin Harrison in the 1,000-catch club, leaving the Colts as the only franchise with two members.

7. The Colts' leading tackler, Jerrell Freeman, was forced from the game with a concussion. It would be a big loss if Indianapolis was forced to turn to backup Kelvin Sheppard on a short week versus the Denver Broncos.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" recapped every Week 6 game.

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