INDIANAPOLIS –Last week in preparation for Detroit, Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians directed the offense in a bit of extra work designed to help a young unit be more efficient.
Arians said teams usually get 10-to-15 snaps in the red zone in practice, but that he was having his young offense take about 10 extra to help production.
"I still think that's the hardest place for young players to learn how to play," said Arians last week. "Everything is confined. Each week, teams have little nuances that they do in the red zone."
Not only was timing and spacing among quarterbacks and receivers a bit of an issue, so was the ability to run effectively down deep.
Sunday paid results for the Colts. Indianapolis took its first lead of the game, 7-3, on its second drive when Andrew Luck hit Donnie Avery on a 17-yard touchdown pass. The connection came on third-and 11 after an incompletion and a rush that lost a yard.
Detroit went on a 20-point spree in the first half after that Colts score, and Indianapolis was down, 23-14, when it reached the red zone on its first drive of the second half.
That balanced drive saw the Colts reach the Detroit 22, and Vick Ballard rushed for seven, four and 11 yards (along with a Luck incompletion) as Indianapolis tallied again. Ballard's 11-yard run cut the score to 23-21.
Prior to the game, the offense had performed only to a 48.6 touchdown percentage on 35 seasonal trips to the red zone, the NFL's 23rd-best mark.
The Colts scored on an 85-yard drive to cut the deficit to 33-28 with 2:39 to go, and they got the ball back one more time.
Without timeouts and at its 25 with 1:07 left, Indianapolis marched for the winning score. After crossing midfield, Luck scrambled for 16 yards to the Detroit 24. Two plays later, he hit tight end Dwayne Allen to the 14, and 18 seconds remained.
Luck misfired twice to Reggie Wayne once to Avery before cashing in for the win. With five receivers in the pattern and three seconds to go, Luck hit Avery crossing the defense. After the catch, Avery scooted the final nine yards to complete the win.
Now with 20 touchdowns on 38 red zone trips, the Colts rank 17th in efficiency at 52.6 percent.
The Detroit game was the first since the New England outing on November 18 when the Colts were perfect on red zone opportunities. Indianapolis was two-for-two to open that game.
It marked the first time since the 30-27 victory over Green Bay on October 7 that the Colts have scored three red zone touchdowns in a game.
Every bit as important, Indianapolis limited Detroit to two touchdowns on four red zone visits.
Twice the defense kept a potent Lions offense out of the end zone and to only field goals. The first time came after a Colts turnover in the second quarter, and the second came after a 67-yard run in the fourth period.
Having Jason Hanson score points on those occasions spelled the difference in the game.