INDIANAPOLIS — As Frank Reich studied the stat sheet immediately following Sunday's narrow Week 2 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, one theme stood out like a sore thumb.
"We're 1-for-4 in the red zone. That's basically the story," Reich told reporters. "Every other area was pretty equal. We've just got to play better in the red zone."
For a second straight week to open the season, the Colts' offense finds itself looking for answers after struggling to turn red zone opportunities into crucial points. The team converted just 2-of-4 red zone trips to touchdowns in last week's 28-16 season-opening loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and on Sunday against the Rams, that figure decreased to just 1-of-4.
In goal-to-go situations, the Colts scored touchdowns in 2-of-3 such scenarios against the Seahawks, and just 1-of-3 scenarios in their 27-24 Week 2 loss against the Rams.
"That stings," Colts center Ryan Kelly said after Sunday's game. "It's on all of us."
Following an inconsistent performance in Week 1, the Colts' offense appeared to be a much more confident bunch to start Sunday's game against the Rams. After a solid 41-yard return on the game's opening kickoff by Isaiah Rodgers, Indy methodically drove the ball down the field, getting to the Los Angeles' 1-yard line in seven plays thanks to a 13-yard run by Jonathan Taylor.
The Colts would try to will Taylor in from there with three straight run plays up the gut — all of which were stuffed by a talented Rams defensive front, led by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who had a hand in stopping Taylor on first and second down.
Reich elected to go for it on 4th and Goal from the 1, this time trying to utilize a play-action look the Colts hoped would give quarterback Carson Wentz enough time and room to properly maneuver to somehow get the ball into the end zone. The Rams were ready, however, as Leonard Floyd brought Wentz down for a sack and a loss of nine yards. Turnover on downs; no points for the Colts.
"Very disappointing," Reich said when asked for his reaction to the that first offensive series. "We didn't do a good job on offense. I say offense collectively. We've got the ball on the 1-yard line, and we didn't gut it in. We called three runs and we don't get any of the runs in and the last one is a roll-out pass. We had a little trickery in how we called it with the play before. They were ready for it, so it wasn't coached well enough. We got to get it in from the 1-yard line. That hurt us. I didn't call the right play and we didn't execute well enough, so that's on all of us."
Now down 7-3, the Colts faced their second goal-to-go situation early in the second quarter. Trying to cash in on the momentum after an interception by safety Khari Willis, the Indy offense eventually faced 1st and Goal from the 10-yard line. Wentz found second-year wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. for a gain of seven yards, and then handed it off to Taylor for no gain on 2nd and Goal from the 3.
On 3rd and Goal from the 3, the Colts lined up with Wentz in the shotgun and Taylor to his right. On the snap, Wentz and Taylor took off to their right; the quarterback then quickly looked inside, using his left hand to flip a shovel pass towards tight end Jack Doyle. Right as Wentz was about to let go of the ball, however, Doyle collided with Donald, and the short pass attempt was picked off by Rams linebacker Troy Reeder. One again, no points for the Colts.
"It's a bad feeling," Wentz said when asked to describe that play. "I thought when I went to flip it I thought we had a walk-in touchdown, and he just ran into the guy. I don't really even know what happened, I just know that it didn't end up in Jack's hands. Wrong guy so bad, bad feeling for sure.
"What happened on the shovel pass was Aaron Donald made a great play," Reich said. "He gets penetration and Jack is supposed to come behind the line of scrimmage and be able to go past Aaron Donald and then be 1-on-1, catch a little shovel pass and have the safety come down. It's going to be a blow up at the end zone and we have a big tight end and he's going to get in the end zone. Aaron Donald got penetration, knocked Jack off his path, right at the time Carson was letting it go."
The Colts are confident that they can turn around their early-season struggles in the red zone. Through Sunday night's Week 2 matchups, Indy ranks third in the NFL in total red zone plays (29), and first in goal-line plays (from the 5- to the 1-yard line; 11). That's a lot of tape to correct heading into next Sunday's divisional road matchup against the Tennessee Titans (1-1).
"It's a long season," Colts guard Quenton Nelson said after Sunday's loss. "I've been a part of a season where we started out 5-2 and then lost a bunch of games. I've been part of a season where we were 1-5 and then we went on a 10-game winning streak. What happened? You learn from the first game, the second game and you move on. You go to practice with the thoughts of what you did wrong in the game and what you need to improve and you get better in practice. Every single guy executing — that's what we need to do. We are calling good plays. We have good game plans. We need to execute each play called. All 11 (players) against their 11 (players)."