There might not be a more pressure-packed first couple offensive series for the Indianapolis Colts than the ones coming Thursday night in Tennessee.
To say the Colts need a fast start is the overstatement of the season.
There's a temptation to say the Colts got off to slow starts against the Houston Texans and St. Louis Rams, but a more accurate description would be they got off to no start.
“There is a lack of execution,” quarterback Andrew Luck said. “Offensively, when you're putting drives together to start off, if you can get a good 10-, 12-play drive and get points, I guess that constitutes a fast start. We'll look to do that. We're working at it.”
The Colts (6-3) play the Tennessee Titans (4-5) at 8:25 p.m. Thursday at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. It will be televised on NFL Network.
A win for the Colts would erase the hangover of losing 38-8 to the Rams last Sunday and put the Colts three games ahead in the AFC South division. No one wants to think what a loss might do.
As adept as Luck has been in engineering comeback wins (10 in his young career), the Colts cannot afford to wait for that to happen Thursday. They need to establish some offensive production early, not only to set a tone for the game but to regain confidence within the offense.
“Certainly we've shot ourselves in the foot plenty enough to not give ourselves a chance,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “It looks lethargic, it looks like a slow start, but …you don't win games in the National Football League, you lose them. We're doing everything possible to put ourselves in these holes.”
There have been plenty of suggestions from analysts and fans about how the Colts might go about changing their slow starts. Among the suggestions:
* Come out throwing right away. The Colts have tried to establish the run, but it's inconsistent and the offensive line hasn't been strong at blocking for Trent Richardson.
* Go no-huddle from the start. Allow Luck to attack without letting the defense have a chance to regroup after every play. One of Luck's best moves early against the Rams was a play where he called an audible and hit T.Y. Hilton with a pass.
* Find some way to generate a sense of urgency. The offense has seemed too content to ease into games. Maybe that's a false perception, but it's one that many people sense. Even Pagano used the word lethargic.
“We've got to find a way to start fast,” Pagano said, “and to start fast, I mean if we come out and we play our game like we've done in the past. We've beat some really good football teams. And we've lost some football games where we've been out-executed and whatnot and done things to hurt ourselves.”
One issue, of course, is the Colts continued adjustment to life after Reggie Wayne. If nothing else, Wayne's importance as the glue to the offense and a major third-down option has been magnified in the first two games since he went down with a season-ending knee injury.
“Each week, I would expect guys to be more comfortable and have a better understanding of the offense,” tight end Coby Fleener said. “But it's one of those things where you can't ask guys to just pull out Reggie Wayne and plug in another guy and expect it to be exactly the same.”
Fleener, Hilton and some combination of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Griff Whalen, LaVon Brazill and David Reed have to step up. The Colts promoted Da'Rick Rogers from the practice squad to try shaking things up.
Indianapolis was 4-of-13 on third-down conversions against Houston and 2-of-12 against the Rams.
Converting 6 of 25 third downs in two games is about as bad as it gets. In the Colts' three losses this season, they are a combined 11-of-37 on third-down conversions.
“We know third downs are huge,” Luck said. “Getting drives going, usually if you're converting three or four third downs, it means you're at least in field-goal range and get points. We'll work at it. We've got practice. I'm not worried. I don't think anybody's having a freak-out session, in a sense. We'll work at it and hopefully get better.”