It was an emotional day in Indianapolis with the return of coach Chuck Pagano, and the Colts gave him one of their best efforts of the season.
Andrew Luck played turnover-free football, and hit the biggest pass play of his career, which just so happened to come on a critical 3rd and 23 in the fourth quarter. That’s the story of the season for the Colts. Big plays in crunch time.
Despite all of Houston’s success and J.J. Watt’s dominance in Week 15, the Colts overcame the most aggressive opposing defense of the season to have one of their best offensive performances. In addition to scoring 21 points on nine drives (2.33 points per drive), the Colts held the ball for the final 9:46 to end the game, and closed out their 11th victory of the season.
Bring on the playoffs, but first let’s review how the Colts and Luck pulled this latest win off.
Drive No. 1
Drive Stats: 15:00 left (1st quarter), tied 0-0. 13 plays, 75 yards (1-yard TD pass to Coby Fleener).
Breaking the recent trend of starting with a three and out, the Colts may have had their best opening drive of the season. It had an ominous beginning though, as J.J. Watt was there in the backfield to tackle Vick Ballard for a loss of a yard.
Houston brought the blitz, but Luck stepped up and pitched to Reggie Wayne for 17 yards after a good run. Ballard picked up nine on a rare swing pass to the flat. Luck was off on a pass to Donnie Avery, then completed a bubble screen to T.Y. Hilton for 12 yards. Two plays later Luck used the hard count to draw Houston offsides.
On 3rd and 3, Luck found Dwayne Allen, who bobbled but caught the ball, and it was first and goal at the HOU 4. Ballard ran for three yards to the HOU 1. Luck went to Wayne in the right corner of the end zone twice, and the second play drew the flag for pass interference.
After Ballard carried for no gain, the Colts used play action and Coby Fleener was wide open for the 1-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone. The Colts had a lead, which they never had in Houston two weeks ago.
Drive No. 2
Drive Stats: 0:06 left, leading 7-3. 6 plays, 13 yards (punt).
Houston also had a long drive, but settled for a field goal. On the first play of the second quarter, Luck was ruled to have been sacked and fumbled the ball. Houston was going to have the ball at the IND 14, but after review, it was almost like a tuck rule situation. Apparently as long as the quarterback is hit with the arm going forward, it does not matter if the ball goes backwards (it did), which would be a lateral. Colts really got away with one here, but it was the best incompletion of Luck’s career.
If the “ball don’t lie” carries over to the NFL, it was legit as the Colts converted 3rd and 5 with Hilton gaining 12 yards on a slant-out route. Off play action Luck just threw his next pass away. On 3rd and 7 Luck was under siege from the six-man blitz and went down for the sack. Colts punted.
Drive No. 3
Drive Stats: 10:15 left (2nd quarter), leading 7-6. 7 plays, 37 yards (punt).
Watt was held without a sack this time, but he started this drive by deflecting Luck’s pass in the backfield. Wayne was the target on the next two plays, picking up gains of seven and 10 yards while working his familiar left side of the field. The Colts hurried up the next play, drawing the five-yard penalty for 12 men on the field. Just like old times.
Two plays later it was Luck’s hard count again drawing Houston offsides, and that negated the sack. But after Ballard only gained two yards on two carries, it was 3rd and 3, and Ballard dropped a good pass from Luck. Colts punted on 4th and 3 at the HOU 42.
Drive No. 4
Drive Stats: 4:05 left, leading 7-6. 6 plays, 39 yards (Vick Ballard 1-yard TD run).
After getting a rare takeaway and great field position at the HOU 39, the Colts went play action and threw it downfield to Fleener. The pass was on his hands, but with the defender tightly there, even holding onto Fleener, he could not complete the catch, and there was no flag.
Ballard ran for 20 yards on the delayed handoff; his longest carry of the day. A short pass to Allen only gained a yard, then a middle screen to Ballard went for no gain because Joe Reitz was beaten on his block.
You never see Luck with consecutive completions for next to no yards, but he made up for it on 3rd and 9. Hilton was open at the first-down marker, then broke a tackle and nearly scored. The play gained 17 yards.
Ballard finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, and the Colts led 14-6.
Drive No. 5
Drive Stats: 1:18 left, leading 14-6. 6 plays, 11 yards (punt).
Luck had 1:18 and all three timeouts left at his own 32. He threw low over the middle for Wayne with a crowded pocket. Mewelde Moore caught a check down for nine yards, and the Colts used a timeout. It was a bad spot, as it should have been a first down. Luck went on his fourth quarterback sneak of the season, and gained two yards for the third successful sneak he has had in the NFL.
Under pressure, Luck threw for Wayne, who fell down on the play and the pass went harmlessly over him. Wayne was the target again, but lost the ball even before the big hit, which did not draw any flag again. On 3rd and 10, the protection was good, but the pass was incomplete again to Wayne near the sideline. The Colts punted and took their 14-6 lead into the locker room.
Drive No. 6
Drive Stats: 9:18 left (3rd quarter), leading 14-13. 3 plays, 1 yard (three-and-out punt).
Houston scored a touchdown to cut it to 14-13. Ballard rushed for four yards, but lost three on another big tackle for loss by Watt. On 3rd and 9, Luck was drilled as he threw, but still delivered a good pass to Hilton, who could not make the catch with Jonathan Joseph draped around him. It was the first three and out of the day.
Drive No. 7
Drive Stats: 3:21 left, leading 21-16. 3 plays, 3 yards (three-and-out punt).
After losing the lead for just 12 seconds thanks to the 101-yard kick return touchdown, the offense was back on the field. Luck’s pass came out low again to Wayne after some clutter in the pocket. On 3rd and 7, Hilton had the catch, but as he was reaching to extend for the first down he lost the ball when hitting the ground, resulting in an incompletion and another three and out.
Drive No. 8
Drive Stats: 13:13 left (4th quarter), leading 21-16. 3 plays, 57 yards (70-yard TD pass to T.Y. Hilton).
Now into the fourth quarter, Ballard was buried for a loss of three yards by Watt. Trying a shotgun run, Luck had to help block for Ballard, who was lucky to get back to the line of scrimmage. There were concerns over getting conservative with the lead under Pagano early in the season against Minnesota and Jacksonville, and this half was looking a lot like that.
On 3rd and 13 Luck delivered to Wayne for 24 yards, but Anthony Castonzo was flagged for holding. That brought up 3rd and 23, which seemed hopeless. Emptying the backfield, the Colts sent all five receivers vertically, Luck looked it off, and threw a perfect pass to Hilton down the seam. He caught it at the HOU 36 and completed the 70-yard touchdown. It was the longest pass of Luck’s season, and one of the biggest.
It was just one of seven times all day the aggressive Texans rushed four, and they probably paid for that.
Drive No. 9
Drive Stats: 9:46 left, leading 28-16. 12 plays, 66 yards (end of game).
Getting the ball back after another interception by Vontae Davis, the Colts put together their longest drive of the season in terms of time. For the second time this year, Allen was given the handoff to convert a 3rd and 1.
After Ballard lost four yards (guess who?), Luck went downfield to Hilton, drawing 24 yards on pass interference. For the third time this game Luck successfully used the hard count to draw another five-yard penalty. On 3rd and 1, Luck used the sneak again for two yards and another first down.
Ballard then carried four times and Houston used all their timeouts. With a 3rd and 2 at the HOU 20, Luck finished his season with a 6-yard pass to Wayne to convert at the two-minute warning. A fitting end. After that it was just three kneel downs, and the Colts had their 11th win of the season.
Andrew Luck finished 14 of 28 for 191 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, and a 96.0 passer rating. Excluding kneel downs, he ran two times for four yards and was sacked once. Luck had 25 drop backs in the first half, and only six in the second half.
Despite the 50.0 completion percentage, Luck had a fairly accurate day. Here is the summary of those 14 incompletions:
- 3 passes defensed-dropped
- 2 passes dropped
- 2 passes overthrown
- 2 passes underthrown
- 1 pass defensed
- 1 intentional throwaway
- 1 pass batted at line
- 1 pass thrown wide
- 1 pass where Luck was hit as he threw (the one originally ruled a fumble)
Why was Luck more successful the second time around against Houston? That is simple. Despite an incredible amount of pressure dialed up by Houston, the Colts finally blocked most of it. Since we have not seen the full season stats in a while, here they all are.
Sensing their success at pressuring Luck last time, the Texans were greedy, sending at least five rushers on 22 of Luck’s 29 pass plays. That is 75.9 percent, and by far a season high.
Despite that, the pressure only reached Luck 31.0 percent of the time, which is basically the season average.
Sure, the nine pressures were rather successful, as Luck could not get much production, but it was the other plays that did the Texans in this week.
The receivers dropped five catchable passes, but it was the best YAC day of the season for the Colts at 60.2 percent. Hilton was a big reason for that with his 64 yards, though 36 came on the touchdown alone.
The play-action pass only produced four very short completions for eight yards, but it did lead to the opening-drive touchdown to Fleener.
Overall, you have to be very satisfied with how the offense played. They did not have many yards (265), but they were productive with their nine drives, and made big plays on third down.
Next week: Playoffs? Are you kidding me? The Baltimore Ravens are probably the best first-round draw the Colts could have hoped for. While it will be a tough game, it is definitely one Luck can pull out late with a game-winning drive, which I’m about to predict is exactly what will happen. It’s just been that kind of season. They have come too far to get blown out.
We will continue this series throughout the playoffs, and it will make an offseason appearance or two with some touch-ups, data refinement and perhaps even some more things we did not keep track of during the season.