INDIANAPOLIS –The Colts had a successful season that was achieved while bucking a key principle of the game – protecting the football.
The Colts were minus-12 in turnover ratio, the seventh-worst total in franchise history and matching the number of 2011 when the club finished 2-14.
Turnover troubles started with four in the opener, and the Colts had seven outings with multiple miscues.
In the club's five losses, the ratio was minus-14, and the Colts won the turnover battle only four times. Two of those were in season-ending victories over Kansas City and Houston.
"We've had one turnover in the last three games, knock on wood," said Head Coach Chuck Pagano. "We know that winning the turnover battle, when you look at all the stats, it's probably the biggest indicator that you can look at, other than points. You win the turnover battle, you've got a great shot at winning."
Indianapolis had 20 of its 27 turnovers on the road, and they will be playing Sunday against a Baltimore unit that finished strongly down the stretch.
In the final six weeks, the Ravens allowed a 299.0 average to opposing offenses, the NFL's fourth-most stingy yardage total, ranking third in third-down conversions (28.2) and first downs allowed (98). For the season, Baltimore tied for the second-fewest touchdown passes allowed (15), while ranking second in touchdown percent in the red zone (43.4).
Indianapolis was in good shape in the AFC playoff hunt after a 23-20 victory over Miami put the team at 5-3. Indianapolis never fell back after creating separation in the race, but it did so while turnovers persisted.
At minus-16 entering the December 9 Tennessee game, Indianapolis had two first-half interceptions to fall to minus-18.
The first interception was returned for a touchdown, and the Colts trailed at intermission, 20-7.
Since then, there has been one turnover and Andrew Luck has thrown 106 passes without an interception. Luck indicated this week there has been a concerted effort to secure the ball.
"I guess it was a sore spot," said Luck. "I know a lot of games, I felt like those interceptions, fumbles really killed any momentum we had, or killed our chance to win.
"It's something you focus on as a quarterback, limiting turnovers. I wish maybe it could have come a little sooner, but (I'm) glad to stay away from the interceptions the last few weeks.
"What a challenge this defense presents this week in that department. We'll have to be on it. I'll have to be on it for us to have a chance."
Luck pieced together one of the most successful rookie seasons ever, leading an attack that took its shots downfield.
The Colts had a 12.9 completion average, third-best in the league and exceeded only by Carolina (13.8) and Tampa Bay (13.3). Only five other teams topped a 12.0 average.
Luck (339-of-627 passing for 4,374 yards) ranked fifth in attempts, 10th in completions, seventh in yards and 17th in yards per attempt (6.98).
According to Advanced NFL Stats, Luck was third in the league in percentage of deep attempts at 27 percent (passes where the targeted receiver is greater than 15 yards downfield), ranking behind Jay Cutler (28.6) and Colin Kaepernick (27.5).
Dwayne Allen cites Luck's determination to protect the ball.
"I count that to Andrew," said Allen. "Andrew has done a great job of tackling that problem head on. He knew he was a little loose with his ball handling on the road in certain situations. He wanted to correct that. In practice (and) walk-throughs, he was mindful of taking care of the ball and putting it away."
While part of success is protecting the ball, Luck says the instruction he receives from Bruce Arians is to be aggressive, not cautious, as well as to feel the game and not play robotic.
He loves the tutelage and can process the instruction which could seem contradictory. Doing so is necessary in balancing the demands of sport's toughest position.
"I think (it's) just knowing when to take your chances," said Luck. "I think that's something that I've got a little bit better at this year. Then is just being accurate with the football. I wish I could be more accurate. I've got a lot to improve in that department. (It's just) tempering your chances, knowing when to take them."
ARIANS ABSENT -- Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was not at the club's practice on Thursday. Arians was ill and hopes to return tomorrow.