When we saw a completely healthy Colts team take on a completely healthy Packers team in the third pre-season game in August 2010, it was clear that the Packers were very good and the Colts were very, very flawed. People can make whatever excuses they want about 'preseason games being meaningless,' but the third game featured the starters for both teams going at it for three quarters.
Indy lost that game 59-24.
After the game, as per his style, Colts coach Jim Caldwell offered excuses over reasons as to why the Colts were blown out in an important 'dress rehearsal' game:
It wasn’t 59 points against our starters, it was 59 points overall."
The halftime score was 28-17, Packers. The starters for both tams played that entire half. I guess that if the Colts starters had remained in the game Green Bay would have only hung 56 points on them.
The Colts had built a 17-7 lead only to see it fade away behind a litany of turnovers, inconsistent special teams, and bad, bad, BAD defense. When you really look at it, that game was pretty much a representation of the entire 2010 season for the Colts. Keep in mind, they were healthy playing in that third preseason game.
As the season progressed, both the Colts and Packers started losing players. The Pack placed 15 players on IR in 2010 while the Colts listed 17. This doesn't include players like Clint Session, who was never IRed but should have been considering he broke his forearm in Week 8 and never saw the field again in 2010. According to Football Outsiders, the Colts starters missed 89 games in 2010, the most of any team. Meanwhile, the Packers starters missed 83, second most behind Indy.
Yet, despite the injuries, the Packers have made a dominant march to Super Bowl XLV while the Colts fizzled out in the playoffs yet again. How was Green Bay able to get to the big dance while the Colts failed yet again?
Simple: Green Bay didn't bust it's first round picks the last four years while the Colts did.
Now, before we get into comparing draft records, let's acknowledge that the Colts making the playoffs and winning the AFC South with their starters missing 89 games is indeed an accomplishment. Yes, our coach was a moron in the playoff game against the Jets, but players like Peyton Manning, Antoine Bethea, Pierre Garcon, Jacob Tamme, and Gary Brackett shouldn't be lumped in with Jim 'Time Out' Caldwell. The players who anted up and got Indy into the post-season deserve much respect. Yes, the season was a failure (any season that doesn't include a Super Bowl trophy is a failure as long as Peyton Manning is the QB), but that doesn't mean there weren't positives.
That said, from an injury standpoint, the Packers were hit just as hard as the Colts. Like Indy, Green Bay lost their big play tight end. They lost their starting running back for the season in Week One. But, despite losing important skill position players, Green Bay had enough 'trench players' to keep the season alive. Then, when the playoffs started, those same trench players, especially on defense, allowed the Packers to thrive.
When you compare this to the Colts, it's enough to make you depressed if you're an Indy fan. As always, it goes back to the draft.
Green Bay's first round picks since 2006 include: A.J. Hawk (5th overall, 2006), Justin Harrell (16th overall, 2007), B.J. Raji (9th overall 2009), Clay Matthews (26th overall, 2009), and Bryan Bulaga (23rd overall, 2010). I'll also throw in Jordy Nelson, taken in the 2nd round of the 2008 NFL Draft seeing as Green Bay had no first round pick that year.
Of this group, only one player (Justin Harrell) was a bust. Everyone else is either a star player, a solid starter, or a very significant contributor in certain packages, like Nelson. In 2010, non of these players missed much time, and all were available during the playoffs. Raji and Matthews in particular were dominant in 2010. Nelson was huge in the NFCCG yesterday, catching four passes for 67 yards. For the season, he had 45 catches for 582 yards and 2 TDs. Bulaga and Hawk are reliable starters at their respective positions.
Now, compare this to the Colts draft selections since 2006: Joseph Addai (30th overall, 2006), Anthony Gonzalez (32nd overall, 2007), Tony Ugoh (second round, 2007), Mike Pollak (second round, 2008), Donald Brown (27th overall, 2009), and Jerry Hughes (31st overall, 2010).
Of this group, two players missed much of the 2010 season with injury: Addai and Gonzalez. However, Gonzalez was no longer a starter when 2010 began. In fact, he was the team's 4th wide receiver, and wasn't happy about it. Addai was the starting runningback, and missed eight games with a shoulder injury. He did, however, play in the playoff game against the Jets.
The other players listed are enough to drive a man to drink.
Busted picks include Tony Ugoh, Mike Pollak, Donald Brown, and (so far) Jerry Hughes. We all know the circumstances around which these players have failed to live up to expectations. Ugoh was cut from the team prior to the start of 2010 after losing his starting job in 2009. Mike Pollak has been benched twice do to ineffective play. Donald Brown did not make much of a leap from his first year to his second year, eventually getting benched in favor of re-signed veteran Dominic Rhodes, who Brown was drafted specifically to replace. Meanwhile, Jerry Hughes was so bad in 2010 he barely got on the field as a special teams player, and when he did, he cost his team games.
I cannot stress enough the importance of the NFL Draft, especially for a team like the Colts. Injuries were indeed a major reason why the 2010 season was such a disappoint, but one of the points we Stampede Blue editors and writers will continue to harp on this off-season (much to some people's annoyance) is that poor drafting and player evaluation is just as much to blame for the 2010 as injuries were.
If Brown, Ugoh, Pollak, and Hughes were not busted picks, and instead were starting caliber players, the Colts likely have one or two more wins in 2010, possibly a playoff win or two. The line is literally that fine between winning and losing, and the reality is the Colts have always been an injured team. Since 2005, they have never been considered 'healthy.' This puts added emphasis on younger players developing, since Colts management has avoided veteran free agency as if it were the plague.
Now, I'm not saying the Colts would have been in Super Bowl XLV had they drafted better from 2007-2010. However, I am saying, and proving, that had they drafted better they likely would have won more games in 2010 even with starters missing 89 games. As a fan, I am always appreciative of Bill Polian for what he and his staff have done from 1998-2006. However, since then, the Colts personnel department has been down right terrible at supplying Peyton Manning and Dwight Freeney with the players (and coaches) they need to win another Super Bowl.
Indeed, if you read the recent ESPN report by Chris Mortenson and Adam Schefter, the Colts are now apparently changing course and looking to sign some veteran free agents in 2011 once the new collective bargaining agreement is signed.
Regardless of whatever free agents the Colts might target in the 2011 off-season, the 2011 NFL Draft is, for me, a make-or-break draft for Bill Polian and his son, Chris (who is the team's GM). Jim Irsay has dished out nearly $17 million dollars in salaries to Gonzalez, Ugoh, Pollak, Brown, and Hughes the last four years (yes, I did the math). $7 million in guranteed money went to Jerry Hughes in 2010, a kid who was deactivated for five games for non-injury-related reasons and contributed a grand total of six tackles when he did play.
That's a lot of money wasted on people the Polians said were worth such money. I cannot imagine Irsay is happy about that.
The Colts have the 22nd pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. The Polians better hit a home run with that pick, because if they don't I cannot for the life me see how they can look Jim Irsay in the face and say their salaries and titles are justified.
Meanwhile, the Packers are the favorites heading to Arlington, TX for Super Bowl XLV due in large part to their personnel department doing well in the draft. Hats off to them. I, personally, will be rooting for them over the Steelers.