All year long, we've been pretty brutal when it comes to criticism the Colts front office.
The decision to bash them, and bash them repeatedly, has been more than justified. The team is 0-12, and flirting with 0-16. Anyone who thinks the front office escapes blame or responsibility for this embarrassment is simply shilling for the Polian Family. That, or they are just mindless sheep.
However, despite years of poor drafting and a 2011 offseason that saw them utterly bungle the Peyton Manning neck surgery situation (along with the back-up quarterback issues), the Colts front office has pretty much avoided criticism from national media all year long. As much as I scream, howl, and jump around like a wild man, ranting at just how incompetent the Colts front office has conducted itself in 2011, most media have shrugged their shoulders and dismissed the losing as a result of Peyton Manning getting hurt.
Twelve straight loses later, people are beginning to wake up. ESPN.com's Howard Bryant is one of them, and in his latest column he holds nothing back:
In a game in which front offices routinely are lauded for their acumen, the Colts' management reacted to Manning's neck injury like a deer suddenly noticing a Jeep's headlights on a dark country road. Indianapolis' front office seemed paralyzed at first, then acted oddly by sending out cryptic tweets that foreshadowed the tanking of a season. The coaching staff, led by Jim Caldwell, was uninspiring. When the lockout ended, the players appeared unsuitably motivated to play football.
Yet the Colts have received a free pass and more. The conversation about their poor start morphed seamlessly into their likelihood of winning the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes as the team with the No. 1 draft pick next year -- an indication that organizations can quit but players cannot.
Howard also doesn't buy the lazy and simplistic excuse that 'Peyton being hurt' is the reason the Colts are the worst team in football. He also focuses the blame on two very specific people:
The worst offenders in the Colts' long list of suspects are owner Jim Irsay and general manager Bill Polian.
Bill isn't the team's general manager. That title is for his less accomplished son, Chris. But, in terms of 'he who controls the roster,' Bill is still in charge. He is also principally to blame, along with son Chris and owner Irsay.
After the jump, Bryant unloads on the idiocy in charge at West 56th Street in Indianapolis.
The Colts are an embarrassment. Perennial title contenders with nine consecutive 10-win seasons entering 2011, they are 0-12. Even beyond Peyton Manning, Indianapolis ostensibly enjoys Hall of Fame-level talent, including defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, wide receiver Reggie Wayne, tight end Dallas Clark and place-kicker Adam Vinatieri -- yet hasn't won a single game. The Colts have lost at home to such titans as Kansas City, Cleveland and Carolina. Their most recent defeat came at New England on Sunday, where they fell behind 31-3 in the third quarter before a garbage-time rally made the one-touchdown loss (31-24) appear more respectable
They have let themselves, and their fans, down.
Bryant then continues to fault Colts leadership, saying they (unlike the Denver Broncos) refused to change when it became obvious that they could not run their offensive and defensive schemes with the personnel they had on the roster. With Tim Tebow, Denver shifted from a pass-first offense to a run-only one. The results are five straight wins since Nov. 6th.
In Miami, after the Dolphins feel to 0-7, head coach Tony Sparano changed the practice and meeting schedules just to shake things up. The team was clearly in a funk, and something had to be altered. Miami has gone 4-1 since that change, and dominated opponents like the Raiders and Bills along the way.
Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, the Polian-fueled 'do things our way' mentality has resulted in an 0-12 record. Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer was fired last week and the Colts are now, according to Bill Polian himself, back to 'what we used to be' on defense.
FYI: The Colts surrendered 31 points in three quarters to the Patriots last week. They've given up an average of 29 a game all year, which makes them the worst scoring defense in the NFL.
More from Bryant:
Football, with its nonsensical paramilitary culture, is ostensibly the sport in which each member of the unit awaits selflessly for his turn to support the cause. But the leaders of the Colts folded up and surrendered.
Bryant doesn't let players like Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and Reggie Wayne off the hook either. At a time when each man was required to step up and take their game to another level in the absence of Manning, none have done so. All have been exposed as players who aren't quite as valuable as everyone thought, which is why we might see a substantial roster purge before the 2012 season begins.
You can also forget Freeney, Mathis, and Wayne ever sniffing Canton, or so Bryant seems to suggest.
Not everything in Bryant's column is gospel (signing Vince Young as a potential backup in Indianapolis is a silly suggestion on his part, and no one is going to seriously get on the front office's case for not doing that), but his flaying of Irsay, the Polians, and the entire Colts decision-making brain trust is a shift in the national media's perception of the powers-that-be in Indy.
I mean, It's one thing for me or Bob Kravitz to call out the front office and demand they be fired. It's quite another for ESPN to do it. ESPN carries NFL games. It gives owners money to carry those games (aka, it gives Jim Irsay money). It's also the place Bill Polian always runs to whenever he wants to talk with anyone who is compliant with his paranoid tendencies and his annoyance with questions that force him to, you know, defend his decisions.
The worm is turning, folks. As we've said all year, as the loses mount, it will be harder and harder for the Polians to justify keeping their jobs after 2011.
Caldwell might not survive in Indianapolis, and the Canton credentials of Wayne and Freeney and Clark have been diminished. But the responsibility for this winless season falls on the front office, which did not earn its keep.
Yeah. What he said.