Let's just be honest: Despite a 5-2 start, when it comes to game management, Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano is not the sharpest tool in the shed. In fact, to put it bluntly, he kind of stinks at it. While not quite Jim Caldwellesque, he's close.
That said, Pagano is in no danger anytime soon of losing his job now or at season's end. No matter how many times he screws up the decision on whether or not to go for two, or if he calls in the punt unit on the opponent's 40, the win over the Broncos gave Chuck and his coordinators breathing room and shelter from any future Mount Irsay eruptions.
As I wrote earlier this season, had the Colts started 0-2, Pagano's job security would have been dicey. In the six games he'd coached up until Week 3, he'd blown double-digit leads in half of them. If they had started 0-3, whispers would have gotten louder. Perhaps not an in-season firing, but he would likely have been re-evaluated at the end of the year. If the Colts had been blown out at home by the Broncos, entering the bye week with a losing record, I think Pagano would have had to get the Colts to the playoffs to save his job.
Those were all hypotheticals, and none of them came to be.
The job security of coordinators Greg Manusky and Pep Hamilton would have been rocky as well. Manusky's defense entered the Denver game ranked 31st in the NFL in stopping the run. This despite the fact that both Manusky and Pagano scheme their entire unit to stop said run. Pep Hamilton's offense was ranked 26th in the league in passing entering Sunday night's game, and had just come off a 9 point fart fest against one of the league's worst defenses in San Diego.
With the Denver win, everyone can breath easier. Mount Irsay is appeased.
Make no mistake, Colts owner Jim Irsay was not going to settle for .500 ball by the bye week. He also wanted a victory over Peyton Manning, BADLY! For as crazy as Irsay sounds on Twitter, the fact is the boss made it clear very early on what his expectations were. Rich owners don't like spending buckets of their own money for mediocre football. If that's what Pagano had given Irsay, the coaches would have felt the heat and taken the blame.
Welcome to life in the NFL, kids. Win, or you're gone.
While it is evident that Pagano and Irsay care for one another - the head coach presented the Broncos game ball to Irsay in the locker room after the victory - life in the NFL does not afford anyone the luxury of being sentimental. Pagano is paid to win football games, not be a nice guy that everyone in the building likes. The team he's been handed this year is built to win right now, not in two or three years. Pagano knows this. Irsay knows this. Failure to deliver means questions about job security. How it goes.
So far, Pagano has delivered.
I also realize that many local media types scoffed and became defensive earlier this year at even the mention of Pagano's job security being threatened. No offense (because I'm sympathetic to their situation), but these people carry water for Pagano and the Colts. Without the critical access both Pagano and the Colts give them, their work isn't relevant.
I had more than enough people with access to the team tell me that Pagano and others would have been in jeopardy had things not started so well. Despite my personal dislike for his coaching style (too much running and defense, not enough passing and scoring) and his in-game management, Pagano is absolutely loved by his players. He is also a master at coaching defensive backs, as Vontae Davis and others will likely tell you.
For now, things are looking very good. Wins at San Francisco, and at home over Seattle and Denver are very impressive. The key going forward is Pagano making sure this team plays consistently. The trend I'm now seeing is that the Colts play up to their opponents, but also down to them as well. There's simply no excuse to losing to the Dolphins and Chargers if you're also blowing out the 49ers in their building and bludgeoning Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Sunday Night Football.
But, that's for later. Right now, these guys have done a good job, overall. They deserve a bit of praise.