INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts talk incessantly about protecting their biggest investment.
Andrew Luck is still getting hit far too often.
Five games into his fifth season, Luck already has been sacked a league-high 20 times, knocked down 41 other times and finds himself on a dubious franchise-record pace — if he can stay healthy for 16 games.
“We’ve got to be better,” coach Chuck Pagano said Monday. “You never want to give up sacks, obviously. We’ve got to get it corrected. But there is improvement and there will continue to be improvement.”
Right now, it’s hard to see.
The Bears (1-4) entered Sunday with six sacks in four weeks and nearly doubled that total with five sacks in the Colts’ 29-23 victory .
At this rate, Luck will go down 64 times. If that happens, it would be the fourth-highest single-season total in league history behind only David Carr (76 in 2002 and 68 in 2005) and Randall Cunningham (72 in 1986).
Indy’s franchise record for sacks allowed (62) came in 1997 with the totals split among three players — Jim Harbaugh, Paul Justin and Kelly Holcomb.
The real concerns emerged last season when Luck missed nine games with an assortment of injuries and the Colts needed five quarterbacks, including Luck to finish the season.
Indy actually finished in the middle of the league with 37 sacks allowed, but the injuries were enough to send the offensive line overhaul into overdrive .
Team owner Jim Irsay called it the top offseason priority. General manager Ryan Grigson used half of his eight draft picks on linemen. Pagano hired former Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin to fix the offensive line, and the expectation was that things would improve.
So far, they haven’t and there’s plenty of blame to spread around.
Rookie right tackle Joe Haeg allowed three sacks Sunday. Second-year right guard Denzelle Good allowed two more. Luck bobbled two snaps from rookie center Ryan Kelly, and the previous week against Jacksonville, it was veteran left tackle Anthony Castonzo who struggled.
The linemen aren’t exclusively to blame.
Indy’s coaching staff has spent countless hours working on Luck’s footwork, his ability to get rid of the ball quicker and throwing the ball away more frequently. But there are still times he holds the ball too long, and it has produced mixed results.
“Andrew created a lot of (the downfield throws) by extending plays and that’s something obviously he can do,” Pagano said.
“When things aren’t there initially, we count on him to do that and we count on the receivers. We made some huge, huge things happen on extended plays.”
The problem is he also goes down on some extended plays, and Luck isn’t about to blame that on the guys trying to keep him upright.
“I thought our guys up front battled their butts off all day,” Luck said Sunday. “By no means was it perfect. By no means was I perfect. Shoot, I feel like the delay of the game at the end, you feel like you’re trying to lose the game.”
So can the Colts find a fix this season?
Pagano insists that they will continue looking to upgrade the roster, continue coaching those already in town and continue working to eliminate the ugly numbers and even uglier images of Luck taking all those hits.
“It’s obviously a big concern for all of us,” Pagano said. “You never want to get your quarterback hit and sacked and all those types of things.”
Notes: Cornerback Darius Butler was diagnosed with his third injury this season — a fractured finger that will require surgery. Pagano said they would put a plate in the hand and did not provide a timetable for Butler’s return. Butler missed the season opener with an ankle injury and the second and the third and fourth games with a hamstring injury. … Starting cornerback Patrick Robinson is listed as day to day with groin and knee injuries. … Pagano said inside linebacker Josh McNary (stinger) might be able to play Sunday at Houston (3-2).