Sunday’s showdown with division rival Tennessee (5-6) provides Indianapolis (7-4) with the opportunity to "put a nail in the coffin" for the only team with any real chance of challenging the Colts for the division title in the AFC South.
To say this is a big game for head coach Chuck Pagano and his staff in Indianapolis is like saying Pompeii was a minor earth tremor. Since defeating the Denver Broncos in Week 7, the Colts have played more like a cellar dweller than a division leader.
Indy narrowly won against division rivals Houston and Tennessee on the road while also getting blown out at home against the lowly Rams and on the road to the Cardinals. If not for the second half heroics of quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts could very well have gone 0-4 after their Week 8 bye, which not only would have put their playoff hopes in jeopardy, but Chuck Pagano’s job security as well.
Following the recent loss to the Cardinals and head coach Bruce Arians - who replaced Pagano as the head coach of the Colts last year while while he was undergoing cancer treatments - Jim Irsay erupted on Twitter, upping the pressure by saying:
Must find a way 2 win Division,no excuses,no explanations..hide weaknesses,accent strengthens/We gotta get our heads out of r butts-WAKE UP!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) November 26, 2013
Is Pagano coaching for his job? Maybe. If the Colts blow their lead in the AFC South and miss out on the post-season, then yes Pagano's job is in jeopardy at season's end. I really don't see him surviving a meltdown like that.
Pagano’s inconsistency and general incompetence as a coach has been a hot topic locally in Indianapolis. National media don’t quite see it yet because, in the four nationally televised games the Colts have played, the team has looked reasonably good under Pagano’s direction. They also went 3-1 in those games. Local media seem less willing to criticize Pagano because, for a variety of reasons, it’s easier for them to carry his water than it is to hold his feet to the fire.
We’ve written a ton on Pagano’s failings as a coach. For me personally, he’s simply not very good at the job he is paid very handsomely to excel in. Sunday’s home game against the Titans is yet another test for Pagano as both a leader and a strategist. His philosophy of "run the ball, stop the run" simply isn’t working, and his strict adherence to it is a big reason why his team is falling behind early in games. For the Colts to get back on track, the emphasis must shift from being a "tough, physical" team to a team that scores points.
Tough and physical doesn’t win in modern football. A team must score, score, and score some more if they want to win. It’s no coincidence that the Saints, Broncos, Patriots, and Seahawks are the top teams in the NFL. All are in the top 10 in terms of scoring offense. The Colts are currently ranked 17th.
Pagano will need to adjust his team philosophy if he wants to bury the Titans and win the AFC South. The reality is the Colts’ defense is ranked one of the worst in the league at stopping the run while his offense does not have the interior offensive linemen capable of establishing a "power running game." Trent Richardson is not running the ball well, and utilizing Donald Brown as a workhorse back simply isn’t an option. Brown still cannot pass block, and his running success seems to only work if the Colts use 50% of their carries bashing Richardson into the opponent’s defensive line.
A big positive in Pagano’s favor is he seems to finally realize that sticking with bad talent is hurting his chances to win games. The Colts FINALLY released underachieving kick returner David Reed this week. Reed had been so bad that the home crowd was giving him the "Bronx cheer" every time he took a knee in the endzone. Former Steelers running back Chris Rainey will replace Reed on kickoffs.