There are no excuses this time, Chuck. I'm not defending you this time.
Last week, I wrote "a defense of Chuck Pagano." This week there will be no such thing.
Today, there will be no excuses: this one, while the game was composed of 46 players getting outplayed, absolutely should fall ultimately on Chuck Pagano and his coaching staff.
Andrew Luck played by far his worst game as a pro. The offensive line was worse than you could imagine. Vontae Davis imploded and Robert Mathis was the only one who could bring any sort of pressure on Kellen Clemens. The special teams units couldn't cover at all. David Reed was bad enough that he should have been cut at halftime. Understand, this was a TEAM loss. Putting it solely on Chuck Pagano's shoulders is unfair.
At the same time, however, this blame for this loss should go primarily to Pagano and his coaching staff. The Rams entered this game better than their record of 3-6, but they aren't this good. This isn't to take anything away from the Rams, who played a great ball game. But the Colts were unprepared, outplayed, outcoached, and overwhelmed.
Chuck Pagano stood on the sidelines watching his team implode in front of his eyes, and nothing he did could stop that.
Chuck Pagano and Greg Manusky's defense was torched today. Pep Hamilton's offense was awful. Tom McMahon's special teams were awful. There's no hiding behind Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton this week - the failures of the coaching staff today were exposed, and it wasn't pretty.
I cautioned against overreacting last week, and I'll do the same here. There is a huge difference between saying that "the coaches are terrible" and "the coaches were terrible today." I'm not ready to say that any of these coaches are terrible coaches yet.
But I'm absolutely ready to say that they were terrible today.
It's a coach's job to get the team ready to play. It's a coach's job to have them prepared. It's a coach's job to make the in-game adjustments needed. It's a coach's job to keep his team motivated. It's a coach's job to keep his team from falling apart.
Chuck Pagano can't help it that his offensive line was beyond terrible. He can't help it that the defense was torched or that the special teams were awful. Most of all, he can't help it that his quarterback played the worst game of his NFL career. But while the players deserve plenty of blame, so do Chuck Pagano, Pep Hamilton, and the rest of the coaching staff.
The Rams came out and started fast. That has happened way too much this year, and in the last two weeks the Colts were outscored by a combined score of 49-3 in the first halves to teams that were a combined 5-11 entering the games. That's on Pagano. The Colts weren't prepared at all. It's happened often this year, too. But up until now, it has largely been masked by great quarterback play and comeback wins. Not so today.
Pagano's pass defense - just a few weeks removed from their most impressive performance of the year in "stopping" Peyton Manning - was torched today for the second straight week. And you can't blame it on the loss of Greg Toler, because Vontae Davis was just as big of a problem as Cassius Vaughn, maybe more so. Last week, the Colts' coaches made adjustments to take away the deep pass from the Texans. There were no such adjustments this game.
The Colts run defense played very well, but look how that turned out? You see why I haven't considered it as big of a deal that Pagano's run D was struggling? It's because it often doesn't matter - passing wins.
The offensive failures should fall on Pep Hamilton's shoulders alone. His play calling was bad yet again. His 3rd and 10 handoff to the fullback Stanley Havili early on kind of set the tone for the rest of the day, and that was this: conservative and settling for mediocrity. The offensive line was terrible, but Pep didn't do much to help it out. Last week he made adjustments to help protect Luck after the line was bad early on, and at times he brought Trent Richardson and Stanley Havili (both good pass blockers) in the backfield to protect Luck, giving him a 7-man protection. From my initial viewing of the game, it didn't seem like he did this week. Pep got T.Y. Hilton (the only real receiving threat) going on the first drive with some great play calling, but after that first drive Hamilton pretty much forgot about T.Y. until the second half.
You could pick almost anything to criticize and blame for the loss today, and you'd be right. But that's also why I place the blame on the coaches. You don't have a roster filled with several talented players all have bad days on the same day like this. This wasn't just a combination of bad individual performances, this was a bad team performance led by the Colts' coaching staff, starting with Pagano.
The Colts weren't prepared for this game. The Colts didn't make the in-game adjustments we're used to. And Andrew Luck didn't mask the issues like he usually does. And the Colts overlooked the Rams while looking forward to another game in just five days.
Thursday night games just don't give coaches much time to prepare. It's normal for them to begin working on the Thursday night opponent before the week of the game comes. But this team wasn't just preparing for the Titans - they were ignoring the Rams.
The Colts this year have played twice on a short week - a Monday night contest against the Chargers just six days before the Broncos game and then this Sunday game just four days before a Thursday night game against the Titans. In those two games, the Colts are 0-2 and have lost by a combined score of 57-17, and they have scored one touchdown combined in the two games. That's on the coaching staff.
Look, I'm not about to overreact or treat this game as anything more than that - just one game. This doesn't mean the Colts are doomed or anything, it just means that for one game they stunk. As my friend Tom James, the Colts beat writer for the Terre Haute Tribune Star, pointed out, this feels a lot like the massive loss to the Jaguars during the 2006 season. As you all know, the Colts went on to win the Super Bowl that year.
Don't give up on this team or this coaching staff. The fire Pep Hamilton crowd was out in it's largest force yet today. Hold off on that. This one loss doesn't mean anyone should be gone (other than David Reed) or that any of these coaches are terrible coaches overall. But what it does mean is that this coaching staff just laid a complete egg and everyone saw it.
We also see that this isn't just a one game issue but that the Colts have struggled with inconsistency. I said as much in my defense of Pagano. This team has had too many bad games (or too many bad halves, I guess) and that is unacceptable. Usually, the coaching staff and Andrew Luck have been able to get things fixed enough in the second half and that has led to wins and it somewhat masked the issues. But Halloween is over. There are no masks anymore. We've seen the failures of this coaching staff on full display, and there is no excuse for this performance.
I still think Chuck Pagano has a chance to be a good head coach. I still think Pep Hamilton has a chance to be a good offensive coordinator. I still think Greg Manusky is having an underrated year. And I still think that Tom McMahon has done a good job with his special teams unit. But for this one Sunday in November, the Colts were completely unprepared and outcoached.
There are issues that need fixed. But perhaps the most worthwhile use of the coaches' time during this week would be to take a serious look at each other and determine what needs to be changed. We can't overreact to just one game, but we can't ignore it either. And there are definitively things that need to be changed, and that starts with the coaching staff. They need to prepare better, call plays better, and be more open to change when it's needed. They were none of those on Sunday.
I don't expect Pagano, Hamilton, or any of the other coaches to be perfect. But I absolutely expect them to do better. Because that performance was embarrassing.
They have another game in just four days to prove that this was an aberration. The coaching staff especially will be under scrutiny from us.
I'm not overreacting - I'm keeping this one in perspective in that it's only one game. I'm not giving up - I still really like Pagano the coach and Hamilton the coach. But I am being realistic, and I see that there are issues to be addressed.
If the coaches address the issues, I'll be the first one to give them credit. But Chuck Pagano, I'm done defending you for these kind of performances. I won't do it. This loss belongs first and foremost on the shoulders of yourself and your coaching staff, and the responsibility to get things fixed belongs first and foremost on you and your coaching staff.
I have faith that they will fix things - at least as much as they can with a team that played awful as well and is clearly lacking in talent in areas. It wasn't just their fault, but the blame lies firstly on them.
I still have faith in Chuck Pagano and his staff. But on Sunday, they were just as awful as their team. And I'm not defending them for that performance.