There's a fascinating story on Peyton Manning by writer Lee Jenkins in this week's Sports Illustrated, accompanying Manning's “Sportsman of the Year” honor. It's heart-wrenching if you're an Indianapolis Colts fan, but a great read nonetheless.
One part stood out as relevant to today's Colts. Here's the passage:
“When Manning was a rookie, the Colts installed a no-huddle package called Lightning, which they deployed when they trailed. One day, around 2000, (offensive coordinator Tom) Moore asked Manning, 'Why are we waiting to be down 10-0? Why don't we start in Lightning?' That question changed football.”
I hope Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton read the story.
To be clear, Andrew Luck is not Peyton Manning. No one is. Luck is learning, growing and becoming a player who can be one of the top in the game.
It's way past time for him to use his own version of Lightning.
We saw it to open the Houston game last week, with the Colts running an uptempo offense, using no-huddle, setting a tone. The result, you'll remember, was an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. It had Hamilton's favorite balance, with five passes and six runs. But it also had urgency, inventiveness and best of all, the use of Luck as the centerpiece of the drive.
The Colts play the Kansas City Chiefs at 1 p.m. Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City.
I don't know what Hamilton's “Lightning” offense is called, but they should fire it up some more.
Maybe it's not every series. That's too tough on an offensive line. But the Colts should use it early, use it often and take advantage of having Luck on their side. I realize it's tougher to run the no-huddle on the road, where crowd noise makes it harder to communicate. So maybe they use it less on the road. But they shouldn't drop it.
Take this for what it's worth: Hamilton agreed this week with the premise that the no-huddle came about against Houston because fullback Stanley Havili was out with an injury.
“We didn't have a fullback available, so we had to do what we had to do, and it worked out,” Hamilton said.
OK, that doesn't sound much like Moore's thoughts with Manning back in the day.
One factor to consider is that Moore was an established NFL mind. His job was to develop Manning and, in conjunction, the Colts offense. Moore knew he'd have a job somewhere in the league if his stint with the Colts didn't pan out. Hamilton has a bit more pressure, coming from the college ranks without the same established career that Moore possessed.
However, Hamilton knows his long-term success is tied to the Colts' offensive prowess and I don't care how many running backs weave through the roster, the offense will rise or fall with Luck.
The more Luck's skills and Manning-style intelligence are put to use, the better.
“There's been a few games where we started the game in an up-tempo type of offense,” Hamilton said. “And when we move the ball and when we convert third downs, it's great. But if we don't do that, if we don't convert on third down, then our defensive head coach is looking at me like, 'That was quick.' We played better on third down in the first half, I think we converted five third downs, and that plays a big part into us starting fast.”
At this point of Luck's time in Indianapolis, with 30 regular-season games under his belt, there's no reason he shouldn't be able to run an uptempo – quick huddle if not the no-huddle – offense on the road. Most of the offensive lineup has played with Luck for an extended period, including Coby Fleener and Griff Whalen dating back to Stanford.
There should be able to communicate, even in a loud road environment.
“No matter what tempo we're going at or what personnel is in the game, we know if we can execute we have a good chance of making positive plays,” Luck said. “We do practice the no-huddle stuff, whether it's two-minute drills, guys have a lot of experience at it. It worked. I think any tempo, any personnel, any situation, if we execute we have a good chance.”
Luck should have most of his skill players available, including Havili. Running back Donald Brown returned to practice after leaving the Houston game with a stinger. Whalen was a bit banged up, but he practiced. T.Y. Hilton has a shoulder issue, but is expected to play. The offensive line remains in limbo depending on some health issues, and that could affect whether the no-huddle approach is a wise one this week.
The Chiefs had one of the NFL's best defenses during the first half of the season before tailing off a bit once they ran into some more skilled quarterbacks, including two games against Manning. Kansas City relies on putting major pressure on the quarterback. Luck tends to hold the ball longer than Manning or San Diego's Philip Rivers, who also had success against the Chiefs.
So maybe some hurry-up offense should include a little hurry-up throwing by Luck, just to be safe.
Whether the Colts use more no-huddle this week, or revert to the more deliberate, less dynamic attack, they need to find a way to score early. It'd be a huge bonus to see first-quarter lightning strike twice.