Colts' offense finally starts strong

INDIANAPOLIS -- The fourth receiver was out after spending the week with a walking boot on his right foot. The starting fullback was also out with a knee injury. The offensive line was dealing with its own injuries, too.

Those issues, to go along with a sputtering offense, weren't a good combination for the Indianapolis Colts.

It turns out it caused the Colts to go away from how they've been doing things on offense this season. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton improvised by opening up his playbook and calling his best half of the season in their 25-3 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday.

The Colts opened the game in the shotgun and used that formation 10 times on their 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Andrew Luck finding his former teammate at Stanford, receiver Griff Whalen, for a 14-yard touchdown. Indianapolis also used the no-huddle four times on the drive.

It's OK if you sat back and scratched your head before belting out "Finally!" after watching the Colts easily move the ball down the field on their first offensive series.

You were probably not the only person who did that.

"Just looking for a spark," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "Obviously going down the field and having a score on the opening drive, I think we did, right? That obviously was a big bonus and a confidence builder and all that stuff."

That was more than a confidence booster for the Colts. Scoring a touchdown in the first quarter was a must for them. Sunday was the first time they accomplished that feat since doing it against Denver on Oct. 20.

The Colts were the furthest thing from a predictable team -- a downfall of theirs -- in the first half.

They had receiver T.Y. Hilton line up on different sides of the field. Running back Trent Richardson was not strictly used as a runner, he was also used as a pass catcher. And more importantly, the Colts converted on third down.

They started the game 5-for-5 on third down, which was a drastic change from when they were 0-for-6 on third down in the first half against Cincinnati the week prior.

"We know if it's no huddle, or not, or three people or four, it's all just about execution," Luck said. "When we can execute and not shoot ourselves in the foot, we give ourselves a pretty good chance of winning games."

The Colts' newfound offense allowed them to gain 207 yards, go 5-of-8 on third down and have a 20-3 halftime lead.

Hilton had his best game in more than a month when he caught eight passes for 78 yards. Richardson, getting more snaps because of an injury to Donald Brown (stinger), rushed for a season-high 64 yards to go with four catches for 38 yards in his most complete game since being acquired from Cleveland on Sept. 18.

"For the offensive side, we got in a good rhythm," Richardson said. "We did good on third downs. Third down was big for us. We just capitalized on all ends. Andrew did a real good job managing the game. Pep did a really good job of calling plays."

The strong start allowed the Colts to run the ball more instead of having to rely on Luck's arm to get them back in the game. They finished with 152 rushing yards, their highest total since gaining 157 against Jacksonville on Sept. 29.

Not all is well with the Colts. They may have started the game 5-of-5 on third downs, but they failed to convert their final 10 attempts, only gained 124 yards and scored just five points in the second half.

"We left some points out there, but yeah, we needed (the victory)," Pagano said. "With these last three ballgames, even though we had won the division, clinched that, our first goal, we wanted to start building and gain some momentum, get a spark, whatever you want to call it. And so this was certainly something that's very positive for our football team, our organization moving forward into this next game against Kansas City on the road and then the last one here and then the playoffs."