"The Colts suck!" "The Colts aren't going to win another game!" "The Colts are going to miss the playoffs!" "Fire Chuck Pagano!" "Fire Pep Hamilton!" "Fire Greg Manusky!" "Fire everybody!" "Tweet away, Mr. Irsay, they deserve it!"
I just made up all of the above sayings, but they might as well have been said by Colts fans in the past 36 hours. On Sunday, the Colts were absolutely embarrassed by the Arizona Cardinals, losing 40-11 in a game that wasn't even that close. After that game, honestly, I'm holding back from my usual "don't overreact" statement. I think that everybody is fair game for criticism now: Chuck Pagano, Pep Hamilton, Ryan Grigson - everybody. The Colts need to fix things, and fast. In the last four games they have been outscored 93-9 in the first half combined. Ninety-three to nine. I mean, that's unspeakably bad. Twice Andrew Luck has pulled them back and won the game, which is the only reason their record right now isn't floating right around .500. Right now, it's hard to find a team playing worse than the Indianapolis Colts (not even the Houston Texans have been this bad the past few weeks), and this coming just a month after the Colts were ranked either first or second in pretty much every power ranking and were being described as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The drop off has been stunning. The Colts went from one of the best teams in the league to one of the worst in less than a month. You can't underestimate the impact that the loss of Reggie Wayne had on this team, but still - a saying many have said recently is that "I didn't realize that Reggie Wayne played defense too!" The issues go far beyond just the loss of players, which the Colts have certainly had. The issues go way beyond that.
In recent weeks, we have seen a team that has been poorly prepared coming into games and a team that has been confused and just plain beat. Pagano and his coaching staff have failed their players in the past month, and their players have failed them. Everyone is equally to blame for the atrocious football for much of the month of November. Aside for about 3.5 quarters, the Colts have stunk and have been outplayed in the past four games. That's 3.5 out of 16 quarters of good football. That's unacceptable.
But everything I'm saying right now is something anyone would tell you. Everybody realizes the major issues the Colts have right now and the major drop off that has occurred. Everybody can see that. The big question that everyone is wondering is what the Colts can do to try and fix things. And that's really the big question, and nobody seems to know.
Chuck Pagano looked shocked on Sunday after the game. On Monday he seemed more confident, but he maintained the fix was to keep doing the same things:
"I think it'd be really easy, you come in after a huge win and everything's hunky dory, your issues are still there but we know winning cures all, and we can sweep whatever we want to sweep under the rug. So whether we win or whether we lose, it doesn't matter. We stay right here, we stay steady and we stay the course and we stick to the process. We're up front about everything. We point out the good. We point out the bad. We point out the mistakes. We just tell it like it is, man-to-man. Come in and try to rule with an iron fist after a loss, they're sitting there waiting, expecting to see who's going to show up. We certainly want to show up as the same people after a win as you do a loss. A whole different vibe in feeling, but again, point out the mistakes, where we got to get better and then we move on."
Pagano and the Colts maintain that it will continue to be business as usual and that they will continue to do the things they have been doing, only do them better and execute well like they were early on in the season.
I don't think that will work. I mean, just based on the fact that the Colts don't have Reggie Wayne in the offense anymore means that what they were doing early on won't work. But, alas, Pep Hamilton hasn't changed. He has kept running the same offense that he ran with Reggie Wayne, and it has had terrible results. The Colts don't have anyone to step up as another receiver outside of T.Y. Hilton, and he can't do it on his own. But instead of getting creative with his play calling and game planning, Pep Hamilton has for the most part stuck with the same offense, thinking that some no-name from the Colts bench or practice squad (or even Darrius Heyward-Bey...) could step up and fill the role of one of the league's best receivers right now, and in history at that. Sorry, Pep, but that won't work.
And another thing - the offensive line has been terrible. It has been all season long, but the issues have been magnified in recent weeks, with no performance worse than the Arizona game. And Pep Hamilton still tries to run the same offense that he ran at Stanford behind a completely dominant offensive line. I would have understood a bit if he came to the Colts, tried his Stanford offense, realized the personnel along the line wasn't there, and then changed it. That would have been understandable. But instead he has continued a power run game right into the heart of the offensive line and has continued dropping Andrew Luck straight back, and the only reason the defense doesn't drop him more is because he has such an incredible pocket presence and knack for escaping pressure. Why doesn't Pep roll Luck out? Why doesn't Pep get more creative with the run game? Why doesn't Pep realize the offensive line issues and game plan accordingly instead of hoping they'll be someone that we all - including Pep - know they're not?
And Chuck Pagano and Greg Manusky's defense? Even worse than Hamilton's offense, because at least Pep has had to deal with legitimate and simply crushing injuries, especially to Reggie Wayne (likely the team's second best player behind Luck) and Dwayne Allen (who according to various reports was going to play a HUGE role in the offense this year and be a focal point). The defense? They've just been plain beat. The run defense hasn't been good all year long, and the pass defense has fallen apart in the past month. Anybody watching the film on the Colts knows just to run crossing routes over the middle and that the secondary can't stop it, and then they've been beat on deep routes often too. The run defense has yet to show up for pretty much the entire season. There has been no consistent pass rush outside of Robert Mathis. The players have missed a ton of tackles, especially on Sunday. They've taken bad angles to the ball. They've played a route wrong in coverage. I mean, all of the little things seem to have led to the Colts falling apart at the seams.
So what can they do about it?
Honestly, not much they can do will bring about a huge change or lead to a major revival in Indianapolis. People who want guys fired or players benched don't seem to understand that it almost never works. Almost every time we see the reasons why a player wasn't starting in the first place rather than see a noticeable upgrade. I don't think any move like that would be the sole reason for a turnaround in Indy, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't try it. I'm going to list several things I think the Colts need to do, and understand that I don't think any one of these things is the main fix. But I think that by trying several or all of these things, the Colts would find added motivation, a spark, and by combining them could help patch up a few of the leaks in order to keep the ship afloat. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Let's start with the very thing I just said won't make a huge difference - changing up the lineup. Changes need to happen. Things aren't working right now. The Colts would be wise to at least try some other players at some positions to see what they can do. Bench Samson Satele, shift Mike McGlynn over to center and play Jeff Linkenbach at right guard. Or, why not play Khaled Holmes for Satele and at least see what the rookie can do? They really don't have anything to lose right now.
- LaVon Brazill needs to be more involved in the offense, and Da'Rick Rogers needs to be active at the very least - and preferably integrated into the offense and getting a real shot.
- Cut David Reed. He has done nothing for the passing game and has hurt the return game more often than he has helped it. If for no other reason (like, say, his play on the field), cutting Reed would give Pagano and the team more credibility. As long as Reed is on the team, people will second guess Pagano for that, even if it's not a huge deal. Cutting him would at least show that Pagano realizes Reed's failures and show that if you don't perform, you won't be on the team.
- The Colts need to consider playing Delano Howell more. Seriously. I know that he showed some limitations when he was playing, but at least he held his own most plays. LaRon Landry has been bad this year and this past Sunday was the worst game yet. And Antoine Bethea? He hasn't been much better. Playing Howell would not only help the secondary this year but it would also give the Colts a better opinion on whether or not he could be the eventual replacement for Bethea, who I doubt will be re-signed after this season.
- Brad Wells had an interesting suggestion that I hadn't really thought about. He said that Trent Richardson needs to be benched too. I hesitated to say that because the Colts absolutely cannot give up on him yet, but I do think that Donald Brown needs to start. That doesn't mean stop playing Richardson and in fact they can still play him a lot, but send at least a little message that players who don't perform - no matter who they are or what the team gave up to get them - aren't guaranteed of their spot. The Colts need to keep giving Richardson opportunities, but perhaps just starting Donald Brown for the first series instead of Richardson would light a small fire. Anything that would work is worth a try.
- I mentioned earlier some of the things that Pep Hamilton can do to get the offense going. He needs to play to his offense's strengths. DHB has been bad, but one thing he still has is his speed. Get him the ball on screen plays, and if he catches it (not a given even on screen passes) perhaps he can utilize his speed. Factor in Brazill and Rogers more. Mix up the run game and especially utilize draws and running plays out of the shotgun. Roll Andrew Luck out more on purpose instead of leaving him to do it as a result of the pressure. He's going to roll out anyways one way or the other because of the offensive line, so why not have it be according to the plan? Get better in short yardage situations. It's clear that the Colts don't trust the run game in short yardage situations, and I don't blame them. They have been throwing in these situations, but if they're going to throw then they need to work on short yardage passing plays - a screen to T.Y. Hilton. A stick to Coby Fleener. A screen to Trent Richardson or Donald Brown. Anything designed to pick up a few yards a high percentage of the time. I'm ok throwing there, just call better plays. And lastly, go no huddle out of the shotgun, running three wide. This is where Andrew Luck is at his best. Luck has been very good running the no huddle this year, and the Colts have seemed to run it sparingly until they get behind and need to. Against the Titans, they should open up the game running no huddle right from the start.
- On defense, simplify things and get back to the basics. The Colts right now aren't just confused - they're sloppy. Their fundamentals suck right now. As I already wrote, they're missing tackles (and many of them), they're taking poor angles to the ball, they're misplaying coverages, and they're abandoning their assignments and responsibilities early. The best thing Chuck Pagano and Greg Manusky could do is go back to the basics. Get them refocused. Something is wrong, and it's not the coaching in this case - the players just simply are making bad plays that they normally wouldn't make, or at least not regularly. Pagano and Manusky need to go back to the basics, get them refocused, and get them ready to come out and play football next week. Even if they're still unprepared (which would be totally on the coaches), if they would just play fundamentally sound football, this defense would make giant leaps forward compared to how they have looked the past few weeks.
- Score. First. It's as simple as that, really. These Colts need confidence. Imagine what goes through their head when they get in a very early 7-0 hole. "Here we go again..." It is absolutely imperative that the Colts score first. Even a field goal is better than nothing. Do whatever it takes to score first. And this includes electing to receive the opening kickoff when winning the coin toss. I hardly ever criticize a coach's decision at the coin toss before games, but Pagano keeps deferring and putting his defense on the field, who have been surrendering an opening drive score. I really think a lot of this is in their minds and that an early defect now becomes immediately demoralizing and people think they need to do too much just after the game started. If the Colts scored first, I bet they would play with a newfound energy and confidence. So I say that is absolutely crucial for the Colts to score first against the Titans, and if Chuck Pagano wins the coin toss he absolutely MUST take the ball. Normally I don't think it's that big of a deal either way, but right now, I think they need to do whatever they can to take the lead early.