Published October 17, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts look competitive and tough one week, inexperienced and out of sync the next.
The learning curve for a young NFL team can be steep.
A little more than one month into the first season of a massive rebuilding project, Indianapolis' biggest battle is getting everybody to play at the same level all the time.
"To me, it's more about confidence in themselves and doing their job," center Samson Satele said Wednesday. "They're young guys, but they play good. It's just learning the process."
Honestly, things aren't that bleak in Indy (2-3) compared with last year's 2-14 debacle.
Andrew Luck is the NFL's first rookie to top 1,200 yards passing and win two of his first four games, and he's still on pace for a record-breaking rookie season. Reggie Wayne is sixth in the league in receptions and third in yards even though he's already had his bye week. Indy's pass defense is ranked No. 3 in the NFL.
A win Sunday over Cleveland (1-5) would not only put the Colts back at .500, but also would surpass last season's victory total.
What has raised eyebrows, however, is the disparate performances the Colts have had.
At home, Luck is a solid 73 of 132 for 899 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. In two road games, he is 45 of 89 for 589 yards with one touchdown, five interceptions and two lost fumbles — three of those turnovers coming in last weekend's 35-9 blowout loss to the Jets.
That's not good enough, and the No. 1 draft pick knows it.
"We're trying to find a level of consistently playing well," Luck said.
The Colts are one 80-yard TD pass away from being 3-0 in Lucas Oil Stadium, where they have outscored opponents 70-69. On the road, they've been blown out twice — 41-21 at Chicago and last week.
Indy's defense limited its first two opponents, Chicago and Minnesota, to a combined total of 209 yards rushing. Over the last three weeks, the Jaguars, Packers and Jets averaged 192.7 yards per game.
And those dramatic shifts have not just shown up in different games, but also different halves and different series.
Initially, there were questions about Indy's slow second-half starts. Everything changed against Green Bay when the Colts put themselves in a 21-3 halftime hole and then could almost do no wrong over the final 30 minutes as they rallied for a shocking 30-27 win.
Part of the explanation may be the continually evolving roster.
"The challenge (for consistency) is the difference in the faces, guys having to learn to different jobs," offensive coordinator and interim head coach Bruce Arians said. "If we put the 11 guys we started with out there, it wouldn't be much of a challenge."
Indy has certainly had its share of injuries, especially on defense.
Cornerback Vontae Davis has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Inside linebacker Pat Angerer has yet to play a down after fracturing his right foot in the preseason opener. Defensive tackle Brandon McKinney tore his ACL in the preseason and went on season-ending injured reserve in August.
Pro Bowlers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, now converted linebackers, have been on the field together for exactly two series this season. Freeney hurt his ankle in the season-opener and didn't return until the Jets game. Mathis sprained his left knee late in the Packers game and didn't even travel to New York.
On Wednesday, the Colts added another new name, signing Lawrence Guy off the Packers practice squad.
Davis and Angerer are both listed as questionable this week along with Mathis, who is healing faster than anybody anticipated.
"Actually, it was supposed to be three or four weeks," Mathis said when asked about the initial prognosis ruling him out two to three weeks. "But I don't take it too well when people say I can't be on the field."
Mathis didn't like watching the Jets game on tape, either.
While Arians acknowledges getting everybody on the same page for every play takes time, he's hardly the patient type. The 60-year-old longtime NFL assistant has repeatedly said he doesn't intend to spend years fixing the offense, he wants to win now — a line that has often been uttered by the likes of Freeney, Mathis and Wayne.
So instead of waiting to get it right, Indy is trying to find ways that will smooth out this bumpy early season ride.
"It really boils down to the details and just doing your job," Mathis said. "Whatever the coaches put forth, you have to do. If they're putting forth a game plan, you have to understand that it's really to let you know if you do this this weekend, you'll win."