INDIANAPOLIS –Last Sunday at Chicago, rookie quarterback Andrew Luck hit 23-of-45 passes for 309 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions.
Indianapolis ran 63 offensive plays on the day, with 15 of those being rushes. Mathematically, it truly is skewed to show a tilted attack. The truth lies somewhere else.
Indianapolis did face a scoreboard that showed a 10-point deficit in the first half and after a push that cut the deficit to 17-14, Indianapolis again fell behind by double digits.
The offense rallied, but a missed scoring opportunity late in the half and 10 quick points by Chicago to start the third quarter made it a 34-14 game, and Indianapolis ended up throwing on 31-of-39 plays over the final 30 minutes in trying to catch up.
A mitigating circumstance beyond the scoreboard was an aggressive Chicago defense that helped force the issue, something Head Coach Chuck Pagano noted.
Pagano pointed out also that some of the pass attempts were short, quick routes that, in essence, served as extended handoffs. Considering that, the attack was more balanced than a study of the statistics would lead one to believe.
"We don't go into any ballgame scripting 45 throws. You get behind and you're forced to do some things to get back into the game," said Pagano. "I will say this, we had 15 runs. Our average was good. Donnie (Brown) had three long runs. He did a nice job on those.
"There are some plays that are called (that are changed at the line). When you see the quarterback throw quick to an uncovered receiver when they load the box, when they put the eighth man in the box and you don't have the (run) look, you'll tag a run play with a 'smoke,' or a 'now' or a 'hot.' You saw five or six of those. Those were all called runs.
"You can add those in and add five or six more called run plays. We call it a long handoff, so to speak. We made the most out of all of those. I know Donnie (Avery) got hit pretty hard (once) by Kelvin (Hayden) and it came loose on him. Other than that, we caught all the others. Those are long handoffs, and you're gaining five, six, seven yards on those. They're still effective runs."
Upon his hiring in January, Pagano indicated his offensive philosophy is grounded in the basics of the game. Though his first game presented a different result, Pagano is firm in wanting a blended mix.
"I know you have to run the football and you have to stop the run in the National Football League, in college football, in high school football, in Pop Warner," said Pagano. "I learned that all the way back growing up and watching my dad coach. You have to be able to run the football and stop the run. Having said that, there are going to be times when you have to be able to throw the football maybe 40 times or 45 times a game to win a football game. If that is what we have to do, we will be able to do that.
"Then there are going to be times that you are protecting a lead and you have to take the air out of a game and you have to make first downs and not let the other team back on the field and close the game out by running the football. There is a balance there."
There have been 117 times in the club's regular season or playoff history (overtime included) when quarterbacks have attempted 40 or more passes. The Colts were able to win only 38 of those games (32 percent). The club's post-season record when attempting that many passes is 3-6, including a loss in Super Bowl XLIV.
Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians helped direct an attack in Pittsburgh that was successful in blending the rush and pass. Arians knows the critical nature of the commitment to doing so.
"Balance. You cannot be one-dimensional," said Arians. "I like to go back and look at the statistics of when I called plays in Cleveland and Pittsburgh for eight years. I'm betting it's pretty close to 50-50 for the first three quarters of a ballgame. You want to stay balanced and I learned that from Tom Moore, who I think is one of the best ever.
"The fourth quarter dictates itself. If you are behind, you are going to throw more. If you are ahead, you are going to try and eat clock. Teams are eating clock by throwing the football now because they know they have a really good short passing game. (The Steelers) were second in the league in time of possession (last) year, but we threw more than we ran. We won a lot of games at the end running out the clock throwing the football. I've got no problem with that as long as the quarterbacks and receivers can handle it."
Last Sunday was not an instance where the club's offense was protecting a lead and trying to drain the clock to produce a win. That would be a target for the club as it matures. Before any conclusions are reached from the opener, Pagano and Arians are rooted in balance.
Luck was playing in his first game and faced an aggressive Chicago defense loading up the box while playing with the lead. He also was the one who directed a last-second drive in the first half that featured five throws trying to beat the clock. Luck noted the circumstances that led to a tilted stat sheet.
"I think what gets lost is that in some of those runs there are little one-step slants or other passes that I think five or six times I ended up throwing the ball on those," said Luck. "I think that creates a wider distance between the two in terms of numbers.
"I think the nature of how the game goes, too. Obviously in a two-minute drive, you're behind and you're going to be throwing. But running the ball is something that I think we're going to have to do, and it'll be a focus the whole season.
"Whatever Bruce Arians does (is best). I think you have to be able to run and pass the ball efficiently. If you're running 100 times for one yard per carry, I don't think that's very efficient. Same throwing, 100 times for five yards, not so good. I think being efficient in both areas (is important)."