Better starts could help Colts lighten workload for Luck

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Andrew Luck’s surgically repaired right shoulder
is being tested in ways even he couldn’t imagine.

The Indianapolis Colts quarterback threw 121 passes during a
five-day span last week – easily the highest total he’s ever
accrued in consecutive games.

Dropping back so frequently subjects Luck to more potential hits
and more potential injuries as well.

And it’s something the Colts know must change if they intend to
keep Luck on the field for the final 11 games.

”I think for us a big part of it is we need more success early,”
said coach Frank Reich, a former NFL quarterback.

”Let’s not get behind, let’s play good, sound football, let’s not
beat ourselves in all three phases. Let’s stay in the game, don’t
get behind, stay patient with the runs and then have some success
early with the run game that gives you the confidence to keep going
back to it.”

Circumstances primarily dictated the Colts’ play-calls against
Houston and New England.

Luck had to throw on nearly every play after the Colts fell into an
18-point, third-quarter deficit against the Texans. He led the
Colts to a late, tying score that forced overtime before Indy lost
37-34.

On Thursday, Luck helped Indy cut a 21-point halftime deficit to
seven in the fourth quarter before losing 38-24 at New England.

It’s been a recurring theme this season.

Luck also had the Colts (1-4) in position for go-ahead touchdowns
in the final two minutes against Cincinnati in the season opener
and at Philadelphia in Week 3, only to come up short both times.

But the expanded workload has shown up in the numbers.

Luck’s 245 attempts through five games lead the league and have him
on pace to throw 784 times this season, a number that would shatter
Matthew Stafford’s single-season record of 727 from 2012.

In the past two games, Luck broke the franchise’s single-game
record with 62 attempts against Houston and matched Jeff George’s
previous mark (59) against the Patriots.

It’s uncharted territory for Luck, who never threw more than 63
passes in back-to-back games at Stanford, never threw more than 99
passes in any previous two-game stretch in the NFL and can’t even
remember a time in high school when he threw so frequently.

So far, Luck’s arm seems to be just fine.

”Physically, I feel better and better,” he said Wednesday. ”I
think there’s been a concerted effort in this locker room so guys
continue to progress physically, stay strong, keep getting strong
and not to plateau. I subscribe to that theory and I think it’s
paying off in the recovery from games, the recovery from throwing a
bunch of throws and I’m excited to keep rolling.”

While game situations certainly have forced more throws than Reich
scripted, injuries to Luck’s supporting cast haven’t helped, either.

Starting running back Marlon Mack missed four of the first five
games with a hamstring injury. He hopes to return Sunday against
the New York Jets (2-3).

Backup running back Robert Turbin, Indy’s short-yardage specialist,
returned last week after missing the first four games for violating
the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancers.

Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton couldn’t finish the Houston game and
sat out against New England with a hamstring injury, and Pro Bowl
tight end Jack Doyle has missed three straight games with an
injured hip.

Indy’s starting offensive line also has been in flux. Left tackle
Anthony Castonzo (hamstring) might make his season debut this
weekend and the Colts already have used four different starters at
right tackle.

The good news is Denzelle Good returned to practice Wednesday after
missing the last week following the death of his brother, Overton,
in a drive-by shooting in South Carolina and could return Sunday.

But right guard Matt Slauson, who started each of Indy’s first five
games, will miss the rest of the season after breaking two
vertebrae against New England. Rookie Braden Smith, who started
last week at right tackle, could return to his more natural spot on
the interior line in Slauson’s absence.

”There are a couple of different options we’re looking at and
obviously we’re pretty geared into it,” Reich said. ”We’ll
evaluate that over the next few days.”

But through it all, Luck has provided stability and continuity with
an arm that appears to be getting stronger by the week.

”You have that weekend off, which is sort of nice especially in
the one sense if you win – not so much if you lose,” he said. ”We
have to run the ball a little more effectively to give ourselves a
consistent chance to win.

Notes: Indy has signed veteran safety Mike Mitchell, possibly to
replace starting safety Clayton Geathers, who went down with a neck
injury and entered the concussion protocol. Geathers returned late
last season after having neck surgery.

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