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Behind Enemy Lines 2014: Colts Edition

The Redskins on Sunday take on the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.'s Kevin Bowen (@KBowenColts on Twitter) gives us an insider's look at the major storylines for the opposing team heading into the matchup.* The Colts have featured the league's most potent offense the entire season, and are doing a great job mixing in the league's best passing game with a running game that certainly gets the job done. Andrew Luck is obviously a huge part of this — and I'll ask specifically about his season later — but what, in general, about this offense has been so good this year?

Bowen: "I point to a pair of specific areas for the offense making a significant jump in so many categories this year. First, is the health of the skill position players. Last year, tight end Dwayne Allen, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and wide receiver Reggie Wayne all missed more than half of the season. Up until the Patriots game on November 16, the skill group (four receivers, three tight ends and two running backs) was entirely healthy

The best of the Redskins-Colts preseason game on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012.

for all but one game in 2014 (the loss to Pittsburgh). The skill group is extremely talented, and versatile. Couple that with Luck not being afraid to distributre the ball anywhere, and the offense has flourished. Now, Bradshaw is on injured reserve and Allen remains a question mark to play this weekend due to an ankle injury. Wayne is dealing with an elbow injury, too. The offense is having to adapt their skill group for really the first time all season long and the interior of the offensive is dealing with some different faces. But to get back to the offensive success, the second year in offensive coordinator's Pep Hamilton's system is another major reason why the unit is one of the best in the league this year. Hamilton has used the unique skillsets of his tight ends a lot this season and the backs out of the backfield have benefited from the extra attention to T.Y. Hilton, Wayne, etc.", back to Luck. He's done nothing but improve since he was taken No. 1 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. I think everybody could point to his talents as a can't-miss type guy coming out of Stanford, but what aspects of his game have Luck worked on specifically to become an MVP candidate this season? Bowen:"For Luck, it goes back to being in the same system for another season. He hasn't played under the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back seasons since 2010 at Stanford. You are also seeing Luck do a better job (for the most part) of knowing when to take his medicine. The check downs and occasional scrambles have been a great outlet for Luck, although he would tell you that the turnover numbers still need to come down (his interception rate isn't that bad considering the amount of pass attempts). Lastly, I think Luck just has a better grasp of what to expect from NFL defenses. He now is starting to see schemes/personnel/coordinators two and three times. His football IQ is well documented so being able to see those tendencies from certain teams have helped the third-year quarterback. Again, I can't emphasize enough what the health of a complete skill group has done for Luck and the offense. That will now be tested without Bradshaw, and with Allen/Wayne banged up." was inspired by Chuck Pagano's fight — and ultimate victory against — leukemia a couple seasons ago, and since that time, this guy has certainly proven himself to be one of the best coaches in the NFL. What is it about Pagano's approach to the game and to his players that has made him so successful since he took over as head coach of the franchise?

Bowen: "I know it's cliché to say but effort is never a problem with this team thanks to Pagano's passion and his ability to relate to the entire roster. His energy at practice is evident beginning with the first part of stretching. Players routinely talk about how much of a player's coach Pagano is and how they feel any issue can be talked about with their head coach. Pagano has never waivered from the mantra of 'sticking to the process' and playing 60 minutes. Again, that might sound cliché but this team walks Pagano's talk. The Colts have lost back-to-back games just once under Pagano (13-1 in those games), a number that leads the NFL.

A look back at some of the top images in games between the Washington Redskins and Indianapolis Colts.

Pagano's players never deviate from his message and that's why they are looking at a third straight playoff appearance." Colts started off hot, winning their first four games before the train kind of came off tracks against the Steelers Week 5 in their 51-34 loss. The Indianapolis offense has stayed relatively consistent each week — that's what a No. 1-overall ranking will do for you — but it seems as though the defense hasn't been able to find that same brand of consistency week in and week out. What problems have plagued this defense at times, and do you think that Jacksonville game came at the right time?

Bowen: "The Jacksonville game definitely came at the right time for this team, and particularly the defense. The Colts allowed just 92 total yards on the Jaguars' first 11 drives on Sunday. The three points scored by the Jaguars came off a short field (following a Luck strip/sack). Now of course, the offensive talent takes a leap this weekend with the proven talents in Morris/Jackson/Garçon. Against the Jaguars, the Colts were stout in shutting down Denard Robinson and that was a clear focus after the Patriots chewed up 244 rushing yards the previous week. The Colts came into that New England game ranked 9th against the run so that served as a major wake up call for the unit. One direct correlation in wins and losses this season has been the Colts pass rush. In the four losses, the Colts have recorded just one sack. In their seven wins, the Colts have piled up 26 sacks. Of course, this has been a major area to watch all year long with Robert Mathis' injury. The Colts secondary has been very solid all season long with the lone exception being the Pittsburgh game where cornerback Vontae Davis was banged up." Redskins do a solid job against the run, allowing just more than 100 yards rushing per game — ranking ninth in the league in this category. The Colts, meanwhile, have turned to Trent Richardson with Ahmad Bradshaw out for the year with a fracture fibula. Richardson, obviously, is trying to regain the form he had his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns, in which he was a huge threat both running and catching the ball. After simply trying to learn and master the Indy offense a season ago, how has Richardson grown as a player this season?

Bowen: "While Richardson's yards per carry has risen from 2.9 yards last season to 3.4 this season, the Colts are still hoping for more out of the run game. Physically, Richardson has battled a hamstring injury this year dating back to Training Camp but he admits that mentally he feels much more comfortable. Getting traded midweek in the NFL rarely happens to a player that many thought was a franchise piece the Browns were building around. Last year, it was simply learning specific game plans from week-to-week for Richardson. He doesn't have that worry this year and now it's seeing what Richardson can do without Bradshaw. The duo was effective all season long before Bradshaw went on IR last week. Daniel "Boom" Herron had a very nice debut last week in extended first team duty. College football fans might remember Herron from his days at Ohio State. Washington should expect a pretty even split from Richardson/Herron with both guys being able to catch the ball out of the backfield."


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