INDIANAPOLIS –In a matter of seven days, Indianapolis went from failing in a major category to succeeding in it and while there are many factors in earning a victory, the ability to keep away from turnovers is essential.
Perhaps no other statistic can be skewed in fewer ways than the turnover margin. Winning that particular statistic typically has a direct result on the scoreboard.
In the opener at Chicago, Indianapolis had three interceptions and lost two fumbles. Though the defense rallied by limiting the Bears to six points off of the miscues, the damage was done.
Possessions were ended and field position was altered. Indianapolis took the ball away once and though it accounted for seven points, Chicago clearly won the category. It won the game, too, 41-21.
Last Sunday at home, the tables turned in the Colts' favor. Leading 7-6 late in the first half, Indianapolis created the only turnover of the game. It had a direct effect on the scoreboard, and it also had a likely off-shoot that helped, too.
From his 42-yard line midway through the second quarter, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was leveled by linebacker Jerrell Freeman. Freeman separated Ponder from the ball, and defensive end Cory Redding recovered for Indianapolis.
The Vikings went from one point down with a chance to flip the scoreboard to being down by four points when Indianapolis moved for a field goal and a 10-6 lead with 1:49 to go until halftime.
A kickoff return from eight yards deep in the end zone then put Minnesota at its 15 and after a three-and-out, the Colts had possession at their 36 with 1:11 left. The Colts navigated the distance with their two-minute attack, scoring 10 points in the closing seconds of the quarter.
The turnover helped greatly, and Indianapolis was able to avoid losing the ball itself in a 23-20 victory.
In earning his first career win, Head Coach Chuck Pagano was pleased with triumphing in the turnover battle. Stressing it to the players is a normal part of the week for Pagano and his coaches.
"One of the major points of emphasis going into every week is win the turnover battle and ball security. When we go in on Wednesday mornings and we talk about the next opponent, the first thing we talk about on offense, you talk about ball security," said Pagano. "Protecting the football is paramount. Forcing turnovers is paramount.
"We were plus-one (against Minnesota) and any time you're plus-one, statistically you're probably going to win I think 65 percent of the games. Plus-two or plus-three it gets into the 80s and 90s as far as win percentage. It was a great job by our guys on offense of protecting the football."
The turnover category has been a reliable barometer for wins and losses for Indianapolis since 1998.
The Colts have earned a 39-3 record in regular season games during that time when they did not turn the ball over. The team also has averaged 30.7 points in those outings.
Pagano embraces basis tenets of the game like controlling the running game on both sides of the line. They are beliefs deeply held. When it comes to things that directly impact a game, he feels turnovers have a greater bearing on the outcome of a game than anything else that can happen during it.
"They can sure flip (a game) in a hurry. You saw what happened in our opener when we had five of them and we got beat by 20 points. I would have to say (yes)," said Pagano of turnovers playing the biggest role in a game's outcome.
Having error-free games are tough commodities by which to come. In doing so 42 times over the past 14 years, Indianapolis has played a total of 226 games. With an offense that produced 5,000 net yards annually from 1998-2010, Indianapolis was aggressive in nature.
The Colts had no turnover-free games in 2001 and 2002, while doing it but once in 2000 and 2011. As the Colts' offense matured during the decade, it was able to have six turnover-free games in 2008, five in 2003, 2004 and 2010 and four in the 2006 and 2009 Super Bowl seasons.
Indianapolis yesterday was playing with a rookie quarterback, two rookie tight ends, a free agent wide receiver in only his second game with the team and with only one offensive lineman – left tackle Anthony Castonzo – playing his usual position.
Andrew Luck directed the turnover-free attack against Minnesota by avoiding pressure in the pocket, as well as running four times when the situation demanded. He saw a number of teammates protect the ball as well, and it was something he enjoyed seeing.
"I think that was big. It was much-improved on the Bears game, obviously," said Luck. "I think it shows when you do take care of the football regardless how tight the game is, you're going to have a chance to win. I'm glad we did it."
Perhaps the most impressive display of execution under pressure was the last drive for the Colts. The offense took the field in a moment that could determine the outcome of the game either way. On its 20 with 31 seconds to go and two timeouts left, Indianapolis attacked.
Luck hit consecutive 20-yard passes to Donnie Avery and Reggie Wayne, chunk plays that positioned Adam Vinatieri for a game-winning kick. Wayne has seen aggressive offenses during his career, and he was pleased with the decision to play for the win.
"I would say yeah (I was surprised), but I think we've got some coaches who like to let it ride," said Wayne. "(I think) 365 days ago, I would have said we probably would have gone for overtime, but this coaching staff, we like to gamble. Whenever they call that, you want to come through for them. You want to go out there and show up and do something big for them to prove their judgment right."
INJURY UPDATE – On Monday, Pagano said linebacker Dwight Freeney, guard Joe Reitz, wide receiver Austin Collie and tackle Winston Justice remained day-to-day with injuries. All four missed the Minnesota game. He said center Samson Satele will have an MRI on his knee that was hurt in yesterday's game, but that the injury news appears positive for the team.