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Colts Longstanding Defensive Concerns Are Still Concerns Despite Week One Win

Chuck Pagano's coaching left a lot to be desired in the Colts' Week One victory over the Raiders.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Let's get this out of the way: A win is a win is a win.

Doesn't matter how it's acquired. Wins are what keep people employed in the NFL, and if you earn a win your did your job. If you lose, you failed at your job and people can (and will) fire you. That's how this business rolls.

That said, even though Colts head coach Chuck Pagano should be happy with his team's 21-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders to start the 2013 season, he should not be pleased or feel as though he or his assistant coaches did an especially good job.

The positives to glean from this victory involve Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne, Vick Ballard, and the timely play-making of Robert Mathis.

The negatives are pretty much the effort, the play-calling, and the overall execution of the entire defensive unit as a whole.

Against a truly awful Raiders team starting a second-year quarterback who, just last year, could barely toss the football in a tight spiral, the Colts defense surrendered overall 300 yards of offense, along with a 14-0 lead, when Terrelle Pryor hit Denarius Moore on a five-yard slant for a touchdown with 11:12 left in the fourth quarter. The extra point after gave the Raiders a 17-14 lead, and beads of sweat were visible on Chuck Pagano's shiny forehead.

17 unanswered points had been given up. If you really think about it, it should have been 20, what with Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski missing a 48-yard field goal just before halftime. If not for yet another spectacular fourth quarter comeback orchestrated by Andrew Luck - whose 19-yard touchdown run with 5:27 left ended up winning the game - the job security of Coach Pagano would have been much more tenuous on the following Monday.

ChuckStrong would have been closer to ChuckGone.

I'm certain more than a few of you will hate me for pointing this out. You might even call it "bullsh*t." Honestly, I don't care what you call it, but the truth is the truth just as a win is a win.

The Colts have an owner who lost his mind when the team came out flat in a preseason game. If Pagano and the Colts had lost Week One at home to Oakland, Mount Irsay would have erupted and blown the roof off of Lucas Oil Stadium.

Sunday's game wasn't just an isolated contest were we saw conservative play-calling and outdated game management nearly costing the Colts a win. We saw this near exact script last season during Week Two against the Minnesota Vikings at home in one of the few games Pagano coached from the sidelines that year. The Colts jumped out to a lead, played conservative offensively, allowed the Vikings to get back in the game in the fourth quarter because of bad defense, and then got their asses saved by Andrew Luck's heroics.

Now, the quick, easy finger of blame could be pointed at offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, and I'm not saying he's above criticism for how inconsistent the offense looked on Sunday. However, I think the blame truly falls on Pagano and his coaching style because, when this near-exact same script played out last season against the Vikings, Hamilton wasn't the O.C. in Indianapolis. Bruce Arians was.

You know, the same Bruce Arians who, when he took over as head coach for a cancer-stricken Pagano last season, coached the team to nine wins.

Then there is the play of the defense, which I touched on earlier. As writers like Josh Wilson, Andrew Mishler, and myself have written over and over again, the pass rush is a concern. Pagano told the media the week before the Raiders game that, in preseason, the Colts played a lot of "vanilla" defense, which was why the pass rush was completely non-existent. Unless you're counting Caesar Rayford's five sacks against third and fourth string scrubs.

On Sunday, the Colts managed just one sack, though it was a timely one by Mathis on the Raiders' final drive. Still, for a team that invested over $21 million in guaranteed money this offseason to free agents and draft selections in an effort to transform the defensive front into something more formidable than last season's No. 31 overall ranking, that's not good.

In the end, it all comes back to Pagano. He was hired specifically to fix a notoriously bad defensive unit. He's had two offseasons to implement his "hybrid" 3-4 scheme, and this year the front office opted not to bring back Dwight Freeney, who was viewed as not being the right "fit" for that scheme.

The point is that the excuses are running out. The owner is on record. This defense better start improving.

If it doesn't, the blame will fall on Pagano. Sunday's win tempers things for the time being, but the thought around the complex and in most media circles is if Pagano can't stop a player like Terrelle Pryor, then he has no chance of scheming to stop Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and the gaggle of other mobile quarterbacks that his defense will face later in the year.