Colts, Lions looking for fast starts; Luck returns to Indy

Posted at 12:35 PM, Sep 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-10 12:35:55-04
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Andrew Luck is tired of talking about the Indianapolis Colts' sluggish starts. It's time to fix it.
At training camp, coach Chuck Pagano changed the practice routine to emphasize the need to be ready from the moment they hit the field, to play faster and to get more physical. On Sunday, the Colts will find out if they've found a solution.
"Coach has done a great job of getting us to start aggressive and physical in practice," Luck said. "Guys have taken it upon themselves to make sure we are ready to go in practice, and we have to translate it into the game."
Perhaps nobody is more eager for the season opener against Detroit to arrive. Luck struggled early last season, then missed the last seven games with a lacerated kidney. He hasn't made a regular-season start since Nov. 8.
Luck was only part of the problem, though.
Eight times last season, the Colts trailed at halftime. Five times, the Colts failed to score a touchdown in the first two quarters. And three times, they went to the locker room with no points on the board.
Not surprisingly, they opened a second straight season at 0-2.
That was nothing compared to the Lions' plight.
In the midst of an awful start, Detroit changed offensive coordinators. After falling to 1-7, the Lions fired general manager Martin Mayhew and president Tom Lewand.
Yet somehow, coach Jim Caldwell righted the ship, leading Detroit to a 6-2 finish that produced hope brighter days were still to come. The next step is getting an opening-day win on the road.
"You want to start the season fast, you want to start the game fast, especially on the road. This year is no different," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "It's obviously a unique challenge, going and playing a good football team at their place. Got to go and start the season off the right way."
Stafford and Luck have plenty in common. Both were Texas high school stars who attended out-of-state colleges. Both were taken No. 1 overall in the NFL draft. Both are former Pro Bowlers, who have battled injuries, and now are after the same goal Sunday -- start this season fast.
"The stuff you can control -- the penalties, the sins as you call it, the don't dos. You have to be clean in that regard to give yourself a chance to execute," Luck said, noting the goal is always to score 50 or 60 points a game. "We just have to go out and try to beat a good Detroit team."
Here are some other things to watch for Sunday:
DEFENSIVE CHALLENGE: The Colts' maligned defense knows it must improve. But team owner Jim Irsay doesn't expect a lot in September because of missing pieces. Starting defensive linemen Henry Anderson (recovering from torn ACL) and Art Jones (suspension) won't play Sunday. Pagano remains hopeful defensive end Kendall Langford (knee surgery) will extend his streak of consecutive games to 129. Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis (ankle) probably will sit out, though the other starting cornerback, Patrick Robinson (groin), may play.
NEW LOOK: After Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator in November, he used the offseason to install his full system with the input of Stafford. The full unveiling comes Sunday. It's not just the Lions who have made changes, though. Stafford has already detected defenses playing less exotic schemes with the retired Calvin Johnson not around. Stafford said during the preseason the Lions faced "more traditional" defenses.
CALDWELL'S RETURN: Since Caldwell was fired by the Colts in January 2012, he has visited Indy several times for the NFL's annual scouting combine. But he hasn't worked a game at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the usually low-key Caldwell acknowledged this time will be different.
"It is going to be unique coming into the stadium to play the ballgame," he said. "It is going to be fun."
Caldwell went 14-2 in 2009, leading the Colts to the Super Bowl in his first season as coach.  He also was an assistant with the Colts in 2006 when they won the Super Bowl.
PATRIOTIC START: The Colts will hand out 60,000 American flags and will honor the 9/11 anniversary by paying tribute to first responders. Eleven first responders will run onto the field during player introductions, and another 200 will hold an American flag that stretches the length of the field as Indianapolis police officer Christopher Wilburn sings the national anthem. At halftime, the Colts will celebrate Indiana athletes who competed in the Rio Olympics.