Colts must improve NFL-worst red-zone offense

Frank Gore #23 of the Indianapolis Colts runs the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second quarter of the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 29, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The difference between where the Indianapolis Colts are and where they could be is a play here, a play there.

Too often, those critical plays and game-determining opportunities have been wasted in the shadow of the opponent’s goal line. Jacoby Brissett and the Colts offense have been at their worst in the NFL’s money district, the red zone.

“We’ve got a lot of room to improve,’’ Chuck Pagano admitted Wednesday.

In fact, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Contributing to the 3-7 record the Colts take into Sunday’s rematch with the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium has been the offense’s utter lack of competency inside the 20-yard line. Over the last six games, they’ve generated just three touchdowns on 14 red-zone opportunities (21.4 percent).

On the season, the Colts have managed a league-low 10 TDs on 24 red-zone excursions. That’s a league-worst 41.7 percent, and a dramatic drop from a year ago when the Andrew Luck-led offense scored TDs on 66 percent of its red-zone drives, fifth-best in the league. The percentages in Luck’s first three seasons: 54, 56 and 55.

“We’ve got to produce down there,’’ Pagano said. “You can’t settle for field goals.’’

There’s no time like the present to buck the trend, and no better opponent than the Titans to drive home the importance of being more effective as the goal line approaches.

“It’s one of the major points (of emphasis) this week,’’ Pagano said. “We just talked about it in the team meeting as far as the formula and keys to this game. It’s red-zone efficiency on both sides. We’ve got to score touchdowns and we’ve got to force field goals.’’

In the first meeting Oct. 16, the defense did its job in the first half by limiting the Titans to three field goals, one after they had a first-and-10 at the Indy 19.

But the offense couldn’t fully capitalize.

The Colts’ opening drive penetrated Tennessee’s 20-yard line, but they settled for Adam Vinatieri’s 36-yard field goal after Donte Moncrief dropped a perfectly-thrown third-down pass by Brissett in the end zone. A second red-zone trip resulted in Brissett’s 8-yard TD to tight end Jack Doyle.

However, a major opportunity to create separation…

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