INDIANAPOLIS – Until two weeks ago, the Colts had allowed the same number of touchdown passes as they had made interceptions – eight.
The past two games have posed problems as Houston's Case Keenum and St. Louis' Kellen Clemens combined for five scoring strikes while not losing an attempt to the Colts.
What jumps out is four of the five touchdown passes have been longer than 40 yards.
The Colts survived 62-, 41- and five-yard connections from Keenum to Andre Johnson in a 27-24 comeback win, but 57- and 81-yard scores from Clemens to rookie Tavon Austin last Sunday put Indianapolis beyond any reasonable chance to rebound in an eventual 38-8 loss.
"We've got really good football players back there," said Chuck Pagano. "Now it's about being consistent."
Houston struck deep quickly with Keenum targeting Johnson on the team's third and 12th scrimmage plays.
The third score came in a hurry-up mode in the final seconds of the first half. Keenum had scrambled 22 yards to the Colts' five and looked to be ready to spike the ball, but connected instead with Johnson over cornerback Vontae Davis.
Davis this past week was the closest defender on Austin's 57-yarder. He lost coverage on the second one early as Austin went shallow across the field and underneath coverage to complete a long scoring play with about 70 yards coming after the catch.
After seeing his team play well in big wins earlier this year, Pagano thought Sunday's performance lacked communication and coordination seen previously. Davis concurred.
"They moved him (Austin) around a lot, put him in mismatch situations using his speed to run away from coverage," said Davis. "They executed better than we did."
Indianapolis intercepted two passes off Oakland's Terrelle Pryor in the opener, with Antoine Bethea sealing the 21-17 win with a late red zone theft. Greg Toler, who has missed the past two games along with secondary mates Delano Howell and Josh Gordy, ended the Raiders' first drive with an interception.
Davis and Gordy had thefts at Jacksonville. Those came after Darius Butler helped spark a 37-3 victory with a 41-yard scoring interception return, the club's first touchdown of the day.
At 6-3, the Colts have done far more right than wrong. A two-game division lead benefits the Colts as they face Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Titans in Nashville on Thursday.
Six of the last eight quarters have not yielded the cohesion Pagano, a former defensive back and 10-season NFL secondary/coordinator strategist, seeks.
"We win as a team and lose as a team, and that whole unit back there – the secondary and linebackers – it's all tied together," said Pagano. "Eleven guys got to be singing out of the same hymnal down after down. We say a lot of times, 'If you're all wrong, you're all right.' So even if we're all playing the wrong coverage, we're all on the same page, we'll still be okay."
"Collectively, we've got to find ways to get back to playing the way that we played earlier in the season as a unit, individually."
Pagano was firm Sunday that competing was not the issue. His team empties its bucket 60 minutes each week. What is needed is fine-tuning the details.
"You got to trust your technique, trust your fundamentals," said Pagano. "You got to play with great discipline back there. We know how hard that job is. We'll try to get ourselves back to the level of play where we were at."
As for Davis, his position is played on an island. A pass-happy league with talented performers means one more thing is needed in competition.
"Short-term memory," said Davis. "There's no pressure. We got to forget about that game (St. Louis) and move forward. If we worry about that game, it's going to affect us moving forward."