All is not lost when your favorite team gets blasted in the season opener, and for a team like the Colts (who should be approaching 2010 as a Super Bowl or bust year) it's important to know that the 2001 2002, 2003, and 2007 champions started their seasons 0-1 as well.
But, right now, that's not necessarily comforting to Colts fans, many of whom see the exact same problems that were supposed to have been 'fixed' last year creep back into the fabric of the run defense. We also saw a four-time MVP quarterback, Peyton Manning, get knocked around like a rag doll because his porous offensive line could not contain the Houston Texans who were playing without the 'roided up wonder known Brian Cushing for the entire game and defensive end Connor Barwin for much of the game (broken ankle).
The loss was not a 'shock' or anything like that. The Texans are a good team. They were good last year. However, the way the Colts lost was the most shocking, and the blame for this falls squarely on the shoulders of Jim Caldwell, who did a terrible job getting this football team ready to play in their opener.
On Sunday, it was clear that the Colts were not ready to play, mentally or physically. Without question, that responsibly falls to the head coach. He's paid lots of money to get these guys ready. Not having them primed for performance in the season opener is unacceptable.
Then, at some point in the fourth quarter, I got the distinct impression certain Colts players quit. Don't know who they were. I need to re-watch the game to find out. But, unlike last year against the Dolphins 'Wild Cat' offense, the Texans weren't doing anything different that the Colts had not seen before. Cut back runs. Zone blocking. Nothing tricky.
Yet, all throughout the third and fourth quarter, the Colts defenders simply forgot how to play basic, fundamental football. The turning point in the game was after Austin Collie's fumble, though it was not the fumble itself. After collecting the turnover on their own nine yard line, the Texans needed to run only four plays to score a touchdown of their own and put the game out of reach for the Colts.
Four plays. All were runs.
On that drive, I saw Colts defenders quit. Again, don't know who they were, but I hope Jim Caldwell finds them and removes them from the football team. Then, after doing so, Jim Caldwell needs to sit down and take a good, long, hard look at himself. It was his decision, and his alone, to start Fili Moala on Sunday over Antonio Johnson. The decision was not made because of an injury to Mookie. In fact, no one knows why it was made. Mookie was the rock from this d-line all last season. Games like yesterday's simply did not happen when Mookie played. All afternoon, Moala was manhandled by the Texans.
Obviously, not all notes in this game are negative, just most:
- Before I slice into the incompetence of other players, take a moment to relish the general awesomeness of Peyton Manning. With a run defense so putrid it made any kind of chance to win the game minute, Manning goes out there and completes a career best 40 passes. He threw the ball 57 friggin times for 433 yards and 3 touchdowns, no turnovers. Brilliant. The reason Manning is an all-timer is his never quit attitude. Even with 1:11 left in the game, and the Colts having not converted the onside kick, Manning was seen on the sidelines, huddling the offense, talking about when they get the ball back.
- The Colts lost this game because of their run defense. Everything else is secondary or simply people looking to assign blame to players they already dislike. Obviously, Pierre Garcon dropping easy passes on third down and Anthony Gonzalez not knowing how to drag his feet along the sidelines were plays that hurt, but the game was simply not winnable with this run defense. Expecting the offense to play perfect in order to prop up a horrid run defense is an unrealistic and unfair expectation. 257 yards rushing, over 6 yards a carry. In the past, this kind of stuff was supposed to be because our DTs were too small and our system to 'vanilla.' OK, with larger DTs and a more blitz happy system... we still get run over. At some point, fans are going to stop listening to the excuses coming from West 56th street and will start booing the team at home.
- 'Past is prologue.' Remember that gem? Well, prologue to this game was Bill Polian calling out his offensive linemen after the Super Bowl. The words were not well received, because they were inaccurate and unprofessional. However, despite clearly stating that his line was not good enough to win a Super Bowl, Polian spent the off-season doing very little to actually fix the supposed problem. On Sunday, we saw the fruits of Polian's (lack of) labor, which resulted in the surprise starting of Mike Pollak and the emergence of Jamey Richard. Both were terrible on Sunday. Utterly and completely terrible. Manning was sacked twice, knocked to the ground on several plays, and finished the game with a mysterious sleeve around his left arm. Oh, and the backs had nowhere to run except straight down into the turf. Once again, we still have no answer as to why Ryan Lilja was cut or why Charles Brown was not drafted. Both players would have helped on Sunday. 'Past is prologue.' You know what else is 'prologue?' Bill Polian can't draft offensive linemen.
- Joseph Addai is a stud. Without any blocking, he managed 44 yards on 11 carries. He also caught 6 balls for 29 yards, and his pass blocking was excellent. Maybe Caldwell should play Addai at guard.
- When they did pass, Houston played scared. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis each had sacks, and those sacks pressured Matt Schaub into a poor game. Had the Colts been able to stop Houston rushing attack, Schaub's day (67.5 QB rating, including a pick) would have been worse.
- Killing Austin Collie for that fumble is useless, folks. The kid made a great grab and then got crushed between two defenders. It would have been a 'WOW!' play if he'd held onto the ball. He didn't, but it isn't his fault and getting mad at him is like getting mad at a bee for stinging you after someone else has shot you in the gut. The reason the Colts lost was their run defense. Nothing else. Not even their putrid o-line play.
- Bob Sanders injured himself in the first quarter and did not return. Anthony Gonzalez was injured in the third quarter, and did not return. Cue the screamers who enjoy arguing as to whether or not these two players are 'injury prone' or not.
- Rumor is that Sanders is done for 2010. If so, Bob NFL career is over, and Bill Polian should be held accountable for giving him $20 million in guaranteed money.
Just like LovinBlue, I too am concerned. However, as with all things, certain problems with the Colts are correctable. My issue is they are problems that should not be problems anymore. With all the money tied up in players like Dwight Freeney, Gary Brackett, and Antoine Bethea, seeing no-name backs like Arian Foster run all over the Colts is supposed to be a thing of the past. With newer, bigger DTs and an aggressive blitzing system, seeing backs gash us for 25 yard gains on cutback runs was supposed to be Ron Meeks' fault.
Things change. Things remain the same.
As a fan, I'm now numb to seeing the run defense play this way. Quite simply, I do not trust anyone on it. How, in god's name, can a defense that completely stoned the Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, and New Orleans Saints rushing attacks in the playoffs last year allow the Houston friggin Texans (30th in the NFL last year in rushing) to bulldoze them? Whatever excuse made is likely an unacceptable one. Aside from Fili Moala (who clearly was not ready to start, and Caldwell has egg on his face for that dumb decision), the defensive personnel is exactly the same as the one which played so well in the playoffs last year.
Next week against the New York Giants, Jim Caldwell had better have made some 'tweaks' to this defense. If the Giants run all over the Colts next week like the Texans did this week, fans will indeed boo the team at home. You'll also hear grumblings regarding Caldwell's job security. Count on it.