HOUSTON — The Indianapolis Colts are painfully inconsistent, and the question is whether quarterback Andrew Luck has the willingness at this point to fix it.
That’s the view shared by numerous NFL sources as they examine the problems that have plagued the Colts for the past two seasons and particularly this year as the team has gotten off to a 2-4 start.
"They are schizophrenic," one source said as he detailed the inconsistent way that the Colts play.
The chief issue, the source described, is the Colts have talked about trying to play as a stout team that runs a power offense and stops the run on defense while often reverting to being a passing team in critical moments.
The end result is a team that doesn’t seem to have direction and is coming off a brutal overtime loss at Houston on Sunday. While many players expressed their support for coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson after that game, there is an understanding that the situation needs to be fixed.
And Luck may be the best person to do that at this point, if he understands the nature of how much leverage he has in the situation.
"From what I know of Andrew from the times I've talked to him, I'm not sure that's in his personality, but it will be interesting to see," one source said. "Certainly, he has that kind of power within the team if he wanted to use it."
At 2-4, the Colts have played their best when they have allowed Luck to direct an uptempo, no-huddle attack. That showed itself in wins against the San Diego Chargers and Chicago Bears, as well as in losses to the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars.
At the same time, Pagano and Grigson have wrestled with the concept of how to build a rugged, run-based offense. The result has been a philosophical conflict.
No play defines that conflict more than a 4th-and-1 in the third quarter Sunday night. The Colts led 13-9 with 53 seconds left in the quarter at the Houston 8-yard line. They carefully considered their options, and even called timeout to make sure they got the decision on the play call right.
That’s when the Colts’ dire condition showed itself. A team with a power running back in Frank Gore, a 240-pound quarterback in Luck and an offensive line that features five men who weigh no less than 310 pounds and top out at 355 pounds came out in shotgun formation.
The Colts, who talk about wanting to be a power football team and have designed themselves as such, came out in a passing formation in a part of the field where throwing the ball is made tougher by lack of space.
Instead of lining up Luck under center with Gore behind him—thus making both of them threats to run—the Colts telegraphed to the world that they were throwing or, if they were going to run, it would be a draw. The result was a sack as the Houston defensive line took off after Luck.
Even Colts owner Jim Irsay said this week at the NFL owners meeting that he would prefer the follow-through on the team's plan to be more rugged, even at times it wants to throw.
"I go play action on 3rd-and-inches and then take the field goal if you don’t get it, but that’s just me," said Irsay, who also preached patience with the setup he decided upon in January that kept Pagano and Grigson together.
"Sometimes as an owner, you can’t lead with your emotion," he said. "I have patience, and nothing has changed from when I made the decision in January."
That may be all well and good, but there is no question the Colts have regressed from the team that lost in the AFC Championship Game at the end of the 2014 season. Injuries to Luck were to blame in 2015.
This season, however, Luck is healthy, and the Colts are again struggling. While there are injuries on defense, the lack of a consistent offensive approach is perhaps the bigger issue.
It's also the issue that Luck can impact through his own power on the team. Armed with a five-year deal that pays him more than $24.5 million per season on average, Luck is by far the most powerful player on the squad.
"Sometimes you have to demand that things be done a certain way," a Colts source said. "Quarterbacks are not all nice guys who just go along with the program. They demand that things get done a certain way, and frankly, there are times that we should all do that."
There is certainly plenty of precedent for this in Indianapolis. Peyton Manning did it whenever he thought it was necessary.
Fortunately for Manning, it wasn’t necessary very often. Between coach Tony Dungy and general manager Bill Polian, the Colts had the answers to most problems. But even when there was a small issue, Manning wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion.
Such as the clock story. At one point, Manning went to management and asked that the team buy high-grade synchronized clocks for the entire facility. Manning wanted his teammates to be on time for meetings. He didn’t want the typical office-supply store wall clock to be an excuse.
Luck played down the idea that he has the power to change the team after the game on Sunday. People in and around Indianapolis feel differently.
They believe that Luck can tell the coaching staff what he wants to have change on offense.
He could even tell Irsay he wants a change in the coaching staff and likely get what he wants, whether that be somebody such as Sean Payton, Jon Gruden or Jim Harbaugh.
The question is whether Luck will use that ability.