David Carr: don’t be surprised if Colts end up playing for AFC championship

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) runs off of the field after the team’s win over the Houston Texans in an NFL wild card playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) runs off of the field after the team’s win over the Houston Texans in an NFL wild card playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith) ASSOCIATED PRESS

It took a while to warm up to the Colts just because of how badly they started, even before losing five of their first six games this season.

I remember talking all summer about Andrew Luck and his shoulder, then watching him in the preseason. I was asked to analyze his throwing motion and what, if anything, looked different — and it didn’t look healthy.

David Carr

He was throwing a smaller football, just to save his arm. He was taking days off in training camp. It was really an unsettling time for Colts fans. I think one of the main reasons Josh McDaniels backed away from that job is he was uncertain about Andrew Luck and what his future might hold.

But don’t be surprised if Indianapolis ends up playing for the AFC championship.

This weekend at Kansas City will be interesting. You have the Chiefs, who are ridiculously talented, can score at will and can make big plays seemingly out of nothing. But you also have a team that has struggled in the playoffs, especially at home. There have been some interesting scenarios that have kept the Chiefs from moving on, and you know those demons are going to be there.

When I look at the matchup and what can put the Colts over the top, it really comes down to red-zone efficiency on both sides of the ball.

The Colts have been top five in the league in scoring touchdowns in the red zone, mostly because they can run the football. Luck makes good decisions, gets the ball out of his hand. Frank Reich does a good job designing the plays.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) celebrates with tight end Travis Kelce (87) after throwing a 67-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill in a victory over the Oakland Raiders in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018. Colin E. Braley ASSOCIATED PRESS

And the Chiefs are one of the worst teams in the league at stopping teams from scoring down there – they’re 31st in the NFL allowing touchdowns in the red zone.

The thing I like defensively about the Colts (in addition to young linebacker Darius Leonard, who is leading the league in tackles) is they do a really good job flying to the football. They’re fast, and they don’t give up a lot of big plays.

They’re not going to be intimidated by Tyreek Hill’s speed, even though most people are. They have guys who can cover Travis Kelce.

They’re not going to be at a disadvantage there.

They also do a good job keeping teams out of the end zone – they’re tied for third in the league allowing only 1.4 red-zone touchdowns per game.

When you’re an underdog and going against a team like the Chiefs, the expectation is they’re going to score touchdowns in the red zone. So if they end up kicking field goals, that’s when there’s going to be that sense of, “Oh man, here we go.”

If the Colts can find a way to score one or two touchdowns while holding the Chiefs to a couple of field goals, then it’s close in the second half and then the momentum shifts to the Colts and all the pressure shifts to the Chiefs.

If we know anything, Patrick Mahomes can flip those stats instantly. He could go out and throw five touchdowns and nobody would be surprised.

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) hauls in a 50-yard pass in second half of a 28-27 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. Sam Riche TNS

But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I see a resilient team that has a lot of belief and a lot of hope, a quarterback who has a tremendous amount of confidence. It’s going to be a good one. I’m not going to say the Colts are going to walk away with it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they advance.

I guarantee Reich is telling them, “If we can just be there in the fourth quarter, we’re going to win the football game.”

That whole dynamic with how bad they started and how hot they’ve been lately is interesting, and Reich has done an outstanding job.

It looked like he inherited a disaster with a quarterback who is falling apart. They started slowly, but then started to figure it out. That young offensive line with Quenton Nelson took it to another level. When he started to understand he can be dominant at this level, that’s when it just took off for them. Their run game started improving with Marlon Mack, and then everything else went from there.

Going into the playoffs, they were going to play a division rival in the Texans. They had scored the same number of points against each other in the first two meetings – 58; the Texans won the first game in overtime 37-34 and the Colts won the second game 24-21.

But if you’ve listened to Luck talk at all the past couple of weeks, he’s always saying his team is steadily improving every week. They just keep finding different ways to push each other and motivate each other, and they’ve got it figured out.

This weekend against the Chiefs, I think they’ll make it very interesting.

Question of the week

From Allan Shapet: It seems that the growing trend for successful NFL teams is having QBs who can scramble and run out of the pocket. Where does Coach Gruden’s Raiders offense fit in with this trend and do you feel that Derek’s abilities are being too restricted by Gruden’s offense?

It’s interesting, and I buy into it also a lot of times. I see quarterbacks that can move and escape the pocket and buy time, and it’s a plus. But I also look at guys like Phillip Rivers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees. I mean, those guys can’t break five seconds in the 40. There’s a field generalship that you have to have. The best example right now is Russell Wilson. Russ is as dynamic as any player moving around in the pocket and buying time, but he also has developed the ability to really beat you down the field with some throws. I would argue that they didn’t do enough of it against Dallas, and that’s why they lost.

I think there’s something that can be said for the guys that can run. But look at Lamar Jackson, as talented as he is what did he really need to do against the Chargers? He needed to make some throws. In 20 years it’s going to be the same thing. I like where the league is going. I like some of the stuff that is coming in from the college game. I think it’s fun. It’s exciting. I think it’s the reason points are being scored at a higher rate. But there’s never going to be a time where you’re not going to need a guy like Tom Brady or Drew Brees.

The one area some of these offenses have benefited from the college game is some type of run action, an RPO or traditional play-action pass.

That’s a real weapon – you have to have that. If you look at the Raiders, in Derek’s case, I think they can move the pocket more. I think he can do more outside the pocket and they can utilize that aspect, because he works his butt off and he’s not slow. I’ve raced him. He beat me. It happens. But he has that ability.

I would think in the offseason they’re going to utilize that a little more. It’s hard to create big plays down the field just from drop-back passes. You’re not gong to fool defenses. If you’re just running straight ahead at guys, they’re going to see your route concept and be able to cover you. But if you can play-action pass, move the pocket, bring some guys coming across the field, that’s where you get big plays in the league. I think they’ll do more of that as they progress and as they get maybe better in the run game.

David Carr is a former Fresno State quarterback, NFL No. 1 draft pick and Super Bowl champion. Now he’s an analyst for the NFL Network and writing a weekly column in collaboration with The Bee’s Robert Kuwada. The column is sponsored by Valley Children’s Hospital.

David Carr answers your questions

Each week, David Carr will answer a reader’s question in his column. Submit your questions by email to (please put “David Carr” in the subject line)