NFL: Error-free football the key to Colts' early success
By TOM JAMES TERRE HAUTE TRIBUNE-STAR
Play smart. Protect the football.
If anybody is wondering how the Indianapolis Colts have gotten off to a 4-1 start this season, keeping penalties to an absolute minimum and not turning the football over to the opposition would be a good place to start.
Through the Colts' five games this season, the team has been penalized 17 times an average of 3.4 times per outing. Indianapolis has also fumbled four times, losing two while having two passes intercepted.
The 17 penalties ties the Colts with Minnesota and Pittsburgh for the fewest in the National Football League. Indianapolis' 147 penalty yards are the lowest in the league so far this season.
The team's four turnovers ranks second in the NFL behind the Tennessee Titans' three and is tied for the second-fewest committed by the franchise through five games (1964 and 2006). Interestingly, in both previous seasons, the Colts played for the league title.
An omen perhaps? It's probably a little early to make such grandoise prognostications. Still, Colts coach Chuck Pagano likes how his team has handled its business -- from a penalty and turnover viewpoint -- so far.
“Again, it goes back to what we always talk about is the enemy is always in your own camp. It’s hard enough to win football games without shooting yourself in the foot, without committing foolish penalties. Again, I think we had three [last Sunday against Seattle] and had one foolish penalty, [which] didn’t need to happen," Pagano voiced.
"Some of the other ones are going to happen from time to time. Again, our staff does a great job of educating these guys. We try to show them as many clips [of penalties and turnovers] as we possibly can. We talk about it a lot. We emphasize it a lot, no friendly fire, be disciplined with your fundamentals and techniques. Again, it’s too hard to win without shooting yourself in the foot and things like that. If we can avoid the friendly fire, obviously we’re going to keep emphasizing it because something’s working in our favor.”
In 2012, Pagano's first year as the franchise's head coach, Indianapolis fumbled 21 times and lost nine of them. Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck also threw 18 interceptions. The Colts were also penalized 94 times (an average of 5.5 per game) for 801 yards.
Heading into the offseason, playing smarter penalty-wise and doing a better job of protecting the football was a major point of emphasis for the Indianapolis coaching staff.
Luck admitted that all the work done last spring during organized team activity practices and during training camp is now paying huge dividends.
"[We're] taking care of the football. I think we're plus in the turnover-margin [plus-6] as a whole, which Coach Pagano preached about in the offseason. I think we're doing a decent job at it," the Colts quarterback said late last week. "But we can still improve a lot."
The Colts head coach is a stickler for the details. He doesn't let the little things slide by despite the time demands of practice and game preparation.
“We made a huge emphasis in training camp. We have officials, as you know, every day in practice, except Friday. We had them all through training camp, as you know. We show them a tape, I’ll show them a tape every week. The points of emphasis, the penalties that were called the previous week, we get a cut-up from the league every week, so I’ll go through that and I’ll pick out the ones that they need to see," Pagano explained.
"We’re always educating our guys on what the points of emphasis are, what they’re looking at, what they’re calling. So we’re constantly not only fundamentals, techniques and playing great situational football and giving them great examples from other games around the league week-in and week-out, but we make an emphasis to make sure that they know the game from a rules standpoint also.”
The extra work seems to have helped. Indianapolis has posted a 6-0 record in games under Pagano when the team did not have any turnovers.
So how much credence does the Colts coach give to the turnover question? It's one of the first things he checks out on the stat sheet after every game.
"Turnovers, first and foremost. That's the biggest tell [on a team's success or failure] other than the score. Turnover margin. And we're doing good there. Hopefully we stay that way," Pagano said. "Turnovers is huge. And week-in and week-out, if you looked at who rushed for more yards in a game, typically a lot of weeks its a real high percentage. The team that rushes for more yards generally wins the game.
"So it's turnover margin and then rushing would be two [of the things that he looks for]."