INDIANAPOLIS – Colts coach Chuck Pagano laid it on the line Monday.
Andrew Luck needs to be protected better than he was in the first half against Jacksonville.
"It's pretty plain," he said roughly 24 hours after watching his franchise quarterback trying to flee from the Jaguars' continual pressure. "It was pretty obvious what we needed to clean up."
Indy's halftime adjustments made a big difference.
After Luck was sacked a season-high five times and fumble three times, losing two, in the first 30 minutes Sunday, he was barely touched in the second half. Luck led the Colts to two third-quarter touchdowns. He methodically put the game away in the fourth period.
If the Colts intend to make a deep playoff run, they know they must keep it up. And Luck upright.
Sure, there were explanations for what went wrong against the Jags (1-10).
Injuries knocked two starters, right tackle Gosder Cherilus and tight end Dwayne Allen, out of the lineup. The Colts lost a third starter, right guard Hugh Thornton, with a knee injury during the game.
Pagano said he expects Cherlius to play this weekend when Washington (3-8) comes to town. Allen is listed as day to day with a sprained right ankle, and Thornton's status is even more uncertain after doctors found a sprained medial collateral ligament. Pagano called Thornton week to week, meaning it's probably unlikely he'll play against the Redskins and that the line dance will continue this week.
"We're going to continue to talk about that as a staff in the next 24 to 48 hours," Pagano said when asked about Thornton's potential replacement. "We know that we've got a bunch of guys that are more than capable. We know A.Q. (Shipley) can play, we know Xavier (Nixon) can play. It looks like we're going to get Gos back, so we've got some flexibility with Joe (Reitz)."
Reitz, the Colts' most versatile lineman, replaced Cherilus at right tackle Sunday and struggled early against Chris Clemons, who had three sacks and a forced fumble in the first quarter.
But it's not as if this is new territory for Indianapolis.
A year ago, the Colts used six different offensive line combinations over the second half of the season and still wound up winning the AFC South and a first-round playoff game.
Still, nobody in the organization wants Luck taking so many hits. After drafting Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012 instead of Robert Griffin III — in part because team owner Jim Irsay thought Luck would hold up better in the NFL — Irsay made it clear to general manager Ryan Grigson that the No. 1 priority was protecting his quarterback.
In 2013, the Colts invested heavily in two veteran free agents. Cherilus has usually played well. Guard Donald Thomas missed most of last season with an injury and all of this season because of another injury.
Now, the Colts expect to see results.
"They (the Jaguars) have a good football team and got a defensive front that's loaded with a bunch of game-wreckers, and they played extremely well," Pagano said. "Obviously the No. 1 thing is ball security, so we've got to make that a point of emphasis moving forward."
Especially when it comes to taking care of Luck's blind side, something the Colts did not do particularly well Sunday.
Pagano believes his players got the message loud and clear at halftime. He just hopes it continues to resonate.
"I think we had six fumbles total out during the course of that game. You're not going to win many games doing that," he said. "The bottom line is we won the game and that was our main objective."
NOTES: Pagano said linebacker Andy Studebaker (hamstring) is day to day and cornerback Darius Butler, who left the game late, will be fine. ... Cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who passed a concussion test Sunday, could miss some time. Pagano said he returned to the team complex Monday complaining of a headache after not sleeping well. Purifoy will now go through the concussion protocol this week.
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