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Wicked week for Colts, Hamilton, Luck

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tuesday was a tough day for the Indianapolis Colts’ coaching staff.

And it will be a tough week for quarterback Andrew Luck and his teammates as they prepare for a visit by the unbeaten Denver Broncos and former Indianapolis icon Peyton Manning.

With the team’s offense struggling and Luck off to the worst start of his NFL career, head coach Chuck Pagano knew that a change was needed.

Gone is former offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who was with the team since the start of the 2013 season. Taking over the controls of the inconsistent offense is associate head coach Rob Chudzinski.

Chudzinski, who served as the Cleveland Browns’ head coach during the 2013 season, is in his second season with Indianapolis. He was added to the Colts’ coaching staff in 2014 as a special assistant to Pagano. His job title was changed to associate head coach last summer.

Now he will be the man in charge of trying to straighten out an Indianapolis offense that has underperformed all season. And with an undefeated Denver team coming to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, Chudzinski doesn’t have a lot of time to prepare for one of the best defenses in the league.

“(Making the change) is not an easy thing to do,” Pagano said Wednesday. “You make decisions based on what gives you the best chance to win.”

The decision to go from Hamilton to Chudzinski was a long time coming.

“The timing is very, very difficult,” Pagano said. “I’m very grateful that Chud would take over and do this. I don’t think everybody would.

“The offensive coordinator change was not a knee-jerk reaction. Nothing other than we felt we needed a change. Pep is a good coach, a great man. He has our respect. Did a good job. Grateful for everything he did.”

The move was especially shocking for Luck and tight end Coby Fleener, who were players at Stanford when Hamilton was an assistant coach there. When Hamilton signed with the Colts, there was a lot said about how reuniting him with Luck and Fleener would be great for all concerned.

Apparently it was not. And Pagano was mindful of how firing Hamilton might impact Luck and Fleener, but the good of the whole team took precedence.

“You worry about everybody, not only the QB, other players in there had relationships with him back at Stanford,” Pagano said. “You worry about the entire locker room, worry about the coaching staff. Not an easy thing to do, obviously.”

Having Chudzinski already on staff and being around helps in the transition.

“I feel like Chud brings fresh perspective,” Pagano said. “He knows our strengths, weaknesses, and understands the talent.

“At the end of the day, my responsibility as the head football coach to make this call. I know I’m responsible for what we do, and I accept that responsibility 100 percent.”

As for the offense scheme, don’t expect to see a lot of changes against Denver.

“Not going to put in a new offense,” Pagano said. “Wouldn’t be fair to the players and coaches. Just going to try to clean things up, fine-tune and simplify.

“As far as putting in a whole new offense, that would be ludicrous to say the least. (We) simply want to give these guys a chance to go out and execute at a high level. Just go out and play.”

It certainly will be a tough test for Chudzinski and the Colts offense on Sunday. Pagano compared the Denver defense to the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. High praise, indeed.

“When you put a tape of Denver’s defense on, it’s like a scary movie,” Pagano said. “They’re as good as any defense we’ve faced from front to back.”

And then there’s the specter of facing Manning once again. Indianapolis opposed the franchise icon three times already since Manning signed with Denver prior to the 2012 season.

“He’s still a huge challenge,” Pagano said. “He’s still playing at a high level. Got to make him uncomfortable. But it’s hard to sack him.

“When they say (Manning isn’t as good), I say put the tape on. It’s Peyton. He’s one of the best ever, if not the best.”

SERIES HISTORY: 22nd regular-season meeting. Broncos lead, 12-9. Indianapolis, however, is 3-0 against Denver in the postseason. The Colts posted wins in five of the past six regular-season meetings. Denver did win last year’s regular-season matchup 31-24 at Mile High Stadium. The Colts turned the tables in the playoffs, posting a 24-13 victory in an AFC divisional game, also at Mile High Stadium. Indianapolis’ other postseason wins came in AFC wild-card games on Jan. 4, 2004 (41-10) and Jan. 9, 2005 (49-24). Denver lost in its last trip to Lucas Oil Stadium, with the Colts posting a 39-33 win on Oct. 20, 2013. QB Andrew Luck and former Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning dueled, with Luck throwing for 228 yards and three TDs. OLB Robert Mathis had a pair of sacks and a forced fumble. Colts coach Chuck Pagano has a 2-1 career record against Denver. Broncos coach Gary Kubiak is 4-12 in his career against Indianapolis.

GAME PLAN

–Get some rhythm established on offense. Indianapolis has not started fast enough this season and has allowed teams to build early sizeable leads. That can’t happen this week against Denver.

Will the Colts go to a quicker tempo in an effort to help themselves against Denver? It is a very strong possibility.

On defense, the Colts have to be able to generate more of a consistent pass rush. Indianapolis can’t allow Denver quarterback Peyton Manning to sit in the pocket and find open receivers downfield. The Colts have to be much more aggressive this week.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Colts QB Andrew Luck vs. Broncos pass defense.

Luck is off to the worst start of his NFL career. He leads the league in interceptions. Now he gets to face a Denver defense that is ranked first in the league against the pass, allowing just 171.9 yards per game.

–Broncos QB Peyton Manning vs. Colts pass rush.

Manning has been sacked just 12 times this season. He still has a quick release and a sixth sense of knowing just when to get rid of the football. Indianapolis, meanwhile, has sacked opposing quarterbacks only 12 times through eight games. OLB Robert Mathis leads the team with four despite seeing limited playing time to begin the season.


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