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Pagano wants focus on rough stretch ahead

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The Sports Xchange

INDIANAPOLIS — Focus on the matters at hand. That’s what Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano is telling his players as they begin preparations for Monday night’s nationally-televised road game at Carolina.

Following Sunday’s 27-21 loss to New Orleans, there’s plenty of frustration on the coaching staff and in the locker room as the Colts dropped their second straight home game and fell to 3-4 overall on the season.

If there is a bright spot, it’s that Indianapolis remains in first place in the struggling AFC South. The Colts have a one-game lead in the division over both Houston and Jacksonville. They also hold the tie-breaking advantage after posting wins over both teams earlier this season.

But that news is taken with a grain of salt. Everybody associated with the Colts are acutely aware that the team has been playing way below expectations through the first seven games of the season. And that has to change very quickly.

The combined record of Indianapolis’ next three opponents is 18-1 (at Carolina (6-0) Monday night, host Denver (6-0) and then travel to Atlanta (6-1).

So what’s been the problem for the Colts this year? That’s easy enough to decipher – self-inflicted issues.

“Frustrating. Turnovers, penalties, miscues on special teams. (We’re) finding ways to shoot ourselves in the foot,” Pagano said Monday.

The New Orleans game was a perfect example of Indianapolis’ woes. A fake punt set up the Saints’ first touchdown, an Andrew Luck interception led to another TD and then a fumbled kickoff by wide receiver Griff Whalen put New Orleans in prime position to score its third touchdown of the first half.

Later in the game, as the Colts were attempting to rally from a 27-0 third-quarter deficit, a holding penalty on tackle Anthony Castonzo nullified a pass that was enough for a first down.

“We have video of this football team playing good football in all three phases – offense, defense and special teams,” the Colts head coach said. “We also have video of this team playing the way we have been playing here recently.”

Luck’s struggles this season are also a concern. But the issues are fixable, according to Pagano.

“You get down, get behind, start pressing to make things happen. Just need to methodically stick to the fundamentals,” the coach said. That advice is also being imparted to the team’s offensive line, which has had issues with ill-timed penalties.

So looking ahead to preparing Carolina, what can the Colts do to work their way out of their current doldrums? And how is Pagano handling Indianapolis’ on-field struggles?

One thing is certain. He is not concerning himself with outside chatter about his job performance.

“Not at all. I’ve got another day,” Pagano said. “So it’s a good day. Can’t wallow around in self pity. Gotta grind. Keep moving forward.”

REPORT CARD VS. SAINTS

–PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus. Yes, QB Andrew Luck completed 23 of 44 passes for 333 yards and three touchdowns. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Luck threw two bad interceptions, including one on the team’s final possession of the first half with the ball at the New Orleans 18-yard line. He was also sacked four times. WR T.Y. Hilton caught four passes for 150 yards and two TDs, including a franchise-tying record 87-yarder. He also had a 46-yard scoring catch. WR Donte Moncrief also had a TD catch in the game.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: C. The game plan called for RB Frank Gore to get a lot of carries against the Saints. But after falling behind by a 27-0 score, the Colts went to the passing game almost exclusively. Gore ended the game with nine total carries for 43 yards. RB Ahmad Bradshaw had one rushing attempt for five yards. As a team, the Colts averaged 5.8 yards per carry. But that was only on 13 total attempts.

–PASS DEFENSE: C-plus. QB Drew Brees was masterful for most of the game, connecting on 28-of-44 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown. Brees was sacked twice and had one interception. WR Brandin Cooks had six receptions for 81 yards. TE Michael Hoomanawanui added a 16-yard TD catch. Brees, though, hit a perfectly thrown 47-yard pass from his own 3-yard line on third down to keep one drive going. Later in the game, he added a 20-yard catch again on third down to help run down the clock.

–RUN DEFENSE: C-minus. RB Mark Ingram had a field day against Indianapolis, picking up a game-high 143 yards on 14 carries. He had a long run of 44 yards. Ingram also had a 1-yard touchdown run. RB Khiry Robinson had two touchdown runs in the game. The Saints rushed for 183 yards as a team, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus. K Adam Vinatieri has gone two straight games without a field-goal attempt. That speaks volumes for how the Indianapolis offense has performed the last two weeks. P Pat McAfee continues to have a Pro Bowl season, averaging 45.3 yards net and 51.7 yards overall on 10 total punts. He had one punt downed inside the Saints’ 20-yard line. McAfee added three touchbacks on kickoffs. WR Griff Whalen had an up-and-down afternoon, averaging 7.6 yards on five punt returns and 22.8 yards on four kickoff returns. He also fumbled, and lost, one kickoff return. The Colts’ kick and punt return coverage units did a nice job.

–COACHING: C. The pressure is mounting for Colts head coach Chuck Pagano and his coaching staff to get the team out of its current funk. Especially on offense, which has struggled all season long with consistency along with far too many turnovers and penalties. Fans are getting restless and the rumors that have been percolating about a possible post-season coaching change are becoming much louder. The Colts fell behind 27-0 to a New Orleans team that has had its own issues this season. While the final 27-21 score looks a lot more respectable, Indianapolis lost a game that many had figured would be a much-needed win.


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