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Are Pep Hamilton's Struggles Just Growing Pains or Legitimate Shortcomings?

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 24:  Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts walks off the field after being defeated by the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on November 24, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Colts 40-11.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Chris TrapassoAnalyst INovember 30, 2013

Pep Hamilton's honeymoon with the Indianapolis Colts is over. 

The first-time NFL offensive coordinator was supposed to be a godsend for Andrew Luck in his second NFL season. 

After 11 games, the Indianapolis Colts sit comfortably atop the AFC South with a 7-4 record, but the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft hasn't taken the large stride many expected him to in his sophomore campaign. 

While leading Hamilton's attack at Stanford in 2011, Luck completed more than 71 percent of his passes at 9.4 yards per attempt with 37 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. 

Efficiency was the name of the game for the Cardinals, as was running. Lots of running. 

As a rookie in Bruce Arians' downfield pass-predicated offense, Luck wasn't efficient. He completed only 54.1 percent of his throws and was sacked 41 times. 

Head coach Chuck Pagano wanted more methodical, streamlined, high-percentage play from his young quarterback. Therefore, quite logically, he turned to his college offensive coordinator. 

The idea behind Hamilton's approach is fine—control the line of scrimmage, run the football between the tackles and keep the quarterback out of precarious situations. 

Essentially, Hamilton wants to play old-school, smash-mouth football. 

While the Colts did their best to construct "Stanford Midwest" in one offseason they, unsurprisingly, fell short of acquiring the amount of specific personnel needed to make Hamilton's offense click. 

Offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus was signed in free agency. Guard Hugh Thornton was selected in Round 3 of the draft. Center Khaled Holmes was added a round later. 

Gritty running back Ahmad Bradshaw was signed to bring some tenacity to the ground game. A few weeks into the season, after he was injured, the Colts traded for power runner Trent Richardson.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 07: Bruce Arians the interim head coach talks with Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts before the NFL game against the Green Bay Packers at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 7, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyo
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The problem is, without a dominant, lane-paving offensive line, just about every running back will be rendered useless, which throws a wrench in Hamilton's philosophy from the start. 

Here's how Luck's been in 2013 compared to 2012:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Ahmad Bradshaw #44 of the Indianapolis Colts reacts after he rushed for eight yards during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on September 22, 2013 in San Francisco, California. The Co
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Sure, season-ending injuries to Dwayne Allen, Ahmad Bradshaw and Reggie Wayne haven't helped the Colts, but Luck doesn't need to be protected anymore. 

He needs to be highlighted.

Hamilton's offense is working through some serious growing pains right now, but does his classic style have long-term viability in the NFL? 

Despite living in today's passing renaissance, we've seen franchises like the San Francisco 49ers—a team with a group of former Stanford coaches—thrive with a run-heavy system. 

But there's just too many pieces that need to come together for that type of system to be sustainable. 

Andrew Luck's First Two NFL Seasons (Per Game Averages)
CompletionsAttemptsCompletion %Yards Per AttemptTD %INT %
201221.1839.1854.17.03.72.9
201320.5035.0958.56.73.91.8
Pro Football Reference

The offensive line must be imposing from tackle to tackle. A complementary stable of running backs must be healthy.

If the defense isn't sound, the ground-based offense isn't ideally suited to mount a comeback. 

Conversely, capable receiving weapons and a sound pass-blocking offensive line are needed in a pass-happy attack—football's an interconnected sport regardless of coaching philosophy—but it would make much more sense if Luck was the undisputed focal point, not the running game. 

Indianapolis is fortunate enough to have a (youthful) quarterback whom it can rely on even if the defense has noticeable deficiencies. Most teams don't have that luxury. 

But Luck can't reach his full potential if, by design, the offense he operates hampers his skills.

To some, the amount of adversity Hamilton's had to handle during his debut season as an NFL play-caller should give him a pass.

Nov 24, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; The Indianapolis Colts offense lines up against the Arizona Cardinals defense during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

That's true to a certain degree, meaning the former Stanford offensive coordinator shouldn't be outwardly bashed for the Colts' inconsistency and Luck's only minimal development. 

However, this season—still a successful one—has proven that Chuck Pagano's team wasn't exactly ready for a fundamental change on offense just two years removed from a 2-14 record. 

It's pretty uncommon for rebuilding teams to change philosophies on either side of the ball after one season.

September 22, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton watches from the sideline during the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The defense has its fair share of holes, the offensive line isn't nearly as dominating as it needs to be, and the collection of running backs are subpar. 

Unfortunately for Indianapolis, because of its instantly steadfast dedication to Hamilton and belief in his traditionalized ideologies, it sent its 2014 first-round pick for Richardson, a pick that could have been used to strengthen another weak spot not easily found later in the draft like a running back is.

The Colts invested in Andrew Luck, one of the cleanest quarterback prospects in the past quarter century. 

They should be building an offense that prominently features his passing proficiency, not one that purposely reins in the impact he can have on a game. 

 

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