BY JACK KIZER | BALL STATE SPORTS LINK
“Why can’t they just play well early? Will they ever blow a team out? How in the world do they keep coming back?”
These are the questions many Colts fans ask themselves constantly.
Coach Chuck Pagano has called for his team to show more of a sense of urgency at the beginning of games on countless occasions. Well coach, it looks like that’s just not going to happen.
I could dive into why the Colts never seem prepared to gain a lead early in games and why they are never able to be on the good side of a dominating score, but that would take months to write. What I can dissect, however, is how they are able to keep coming back despite early and late deficits.
There are three traits the Indianapolis Colts possess that fuel this culture of comeback.
Without leadership, no comeback is remotely possible. The leaders of the team keep the players calm, positive, and maintain their sense of belief. The latest edition of one of these comebacks was this past Sunday against the Chargers.
Despite the team contradicting the trend by grabbing an early 10-0 lead, Indianapolis once again found themselves down with only a few minutes remaining. An offensive drive lead by Andrew Luck and T.Y Hilton gave them the victory for their 15th game winning drive since 2012.
Luck was the driving force behind this past Sunday’s come from behind triumph and the main influence in leadership.
Other than this goofy, loveable guy running around on the sidelines high fiving teammates and clapping, the other main leadership figure present is Chuck Pagano. He’s not a fan favorite by any means and may not be the best NFL coach with X’s and O’s (that’s a generous statement), but he is constantly imploring his squad to keep fighting.
That positivity and encouragement displayed by Luck and Pagano keeps the team believing, which is the most important aspect in a comeback.
A prime example of losing belief and how that completely eliminates the validity of a comeback is here in the state of Indiana. Notre Dame recently dropped to 1-3 after losing to Duke at home.
Looking down at the sidelines and reading comments from players on that team proved my theory that there is no belief in that locker room. An Irish team with superior talent lacks a vocal leader right now with positivity and encouragement, which is why they have the record they do.
Now if you compare that to the Colts, you may say, “the Colts have a poor record also.” Well in their respective leagues, Notre Dame is far more talented than the competition they are playing while the Colts are far less talented relative to the competition. A sub-par offensive line (another generous statement), solid skill position core, average defensive front seven, and completely depleted secondary are what the Colts are composed of. The leadership alone of Luck and Pagano, however, have and will continue to give Indy a chance to make a realistic comeback in any game.
The second reason why the Colts are able to come back so often is the continuous presence of explosive receivers. When a team falls behind, they need big chunk gains to move down the field as quickly as possible and using the least amount of time as possible. It’s common sense. But without receivers (and a quarterback) that can take the top off of a defense and provide those long yardage receptions, comebacks become far less likely.
Keep in mind, this is all referring to the modern era Colts since 2012. Peyton’s time with his receivers is a different story, but looking at the past four seasons Indianapolis has had the playmaking receivers that are necessary for these situations.
The first that comes to mind is clearly Hilton. He’s been Luck’s prime “toy” to play with in the passing game and has been vital for offensive production. Hilton has 301 receptions for 4707 yards in his career, more importantly averaging 15.7 yards per reception, with a 16.3 yard average the past two seasons. If you want big chunk yardage, this is your guy.
Other receivers such as a declining Reggie Wayne, rising star in Donte Moncrief, big play tight end in Coby Fleener, and many others have all produced long yard receptions or at least have been a threat to do so. The capability of the Colts to go downfield leads perfectly to my final key as to why Indy has their culture of comeback.
3. Opposing Teams’ Prevent Defense and Conservative Play Calls
The concept of “conservative play-calling” and especially playing “prevent defense” absolutely baffles me. When a team is up by a significant amount of points, it seems that most of them go into a defense late in the game that tries to prevent the big play from happening. It is human nature to let up.
When someone looks at the Colts, they may initially think this is smart due to the presence of those explosive receivers I just discussed. All this actually does is make it easier for the Colts, and all teams facing prevent defenses, to move down the field with lots of 15 to 20 yard gains instead of rare 30 to 40 yard plays.
When a common viewer or fan looks at Indianapolis, it’s clear that they do not handle pressure or blitzing defenses very well. This is often a big reason as to why they dig themselves a hole in the first place.
When opposing defenses switch to the “prevent” style, that plays right into the Colts’ hands. They may not take the big shots down the field, but Andrew Luck is finally able to play pitch and catch with his receivers in intermediate routes without the same pressure they had been facing all game.
As I mentioned, the tendency to become conservative applies to the offense. Running the ball to use as much clock as possible and straying away from their initial game plans are what teams have done after grabbing big leads. This allows a poor Indianapolis defense to get stops, and give their offense more time on the field, simply because it’s easier for them to shut down the other team’s offense.
In the games that the Colts have ended up losing by extreme amounts, the other team has been pedal to the medal the entire time. If this was the case in all games, we wouldn’t have seen nearly as many exciting finishes for Indy.
There are many other factors as to why the Indianapolis Colts are able to come from behind and win so many games. These three reasons are simply the most apparent as to why “The Culture of Comeback” is so prevalent in Indianapolis today.