After the Colts allowed 87 points in two playoff games this year, the group of fans that wanted defensive coordinator Greg Manusky to be fired greatly increased in number. And I agree - the defense was TERRIBLE in the playoffs and that is unacceptable. I would have completely understood if the Colts fired him.
But I also completely understand them not firing Greg Manusky, and in fact, I think it's probably the right move.
Head coach Chuck Pagano was asked yesterday in his press conference if he expects more stability out of the coaching staff this offseason after an offseason of change last year. Pagano replied, "absolutely."
I don't expect Greg Manusky to be fired. And here's why that's perfectly fine with me:
The biggest reason why keeping Greg Manusky makes sense is because it really is Chuck Pagano's defense. I've been saying it for a while, and several people have questioned me and doubted that. But I can assure you with absolute confidence that this defense is largely Chuck Pagano's defense. The follow up question people usually ask me is, "well how do you know?!?" Well, I saw it first-hand in training camp how involved Chuck Pagano was with his defense. In fact, had I not known better, I might have confused him with the defensive coordinator. Plus, I've talked to several people in the know about how the Colts defense operates and they've said the same thing. Once people hear that, they then ask these two questions to me: "well does he actually call the plays? And how involved is he in the game plan?" Here's how the defense works for the Colts, and trust me on this: Greg Manusky calls the plays during the game on the defensive side of the ball, but of course Pagano has veto power as the head coach. I'm not sure how much he actually did that, but I know it wasn't often. In-game, the Colts resemble a traditional system where Pagano fills the head coaching role and Manusky fills the defensive coordinator role - Pagano is still involved but he's not acting as the defensive coordinator. During the week before games, however, in the preparation of the game plan, Chuck Pagano is heavily involved. In other words, the specific calls are Manusky's but Pagano and Manusky both work on the game plan, and Pagano is very involved in the affairs of the defense overall. The scheme is Pagano's and the game plans are greatly influenced by Pagano too.
So what does that all mean? Well, if you remember carefully, you won't find one time where I've gotten super upset about a single play call on the defensive side of the ball. I've never bashed Pagano nor Manusky for a play call. I understand there will be a few bad calls. I get that. What I have bashed Pagano for is 1) game plan, and 2) scheme. The first one is the one that I most often criticize of Pagano if I do criticize him at all. So, if the things that I have a big issue with actually trace back to Pagano, why should I call for Manusky to be fired unless I just want a scapegoat so I'm not calling for Pagano to be fired yet? I've made it clear that I do not want Pagano fired and do not think he should be, so I'm not going to call for Greg Manusky to be either because I understand that this is largely Chuck Pagano's defense. Don't get me wrong, Manusky has influence and should be held to some degree of accountability, but that accountability starts and ends with the one really overseeing the defense, and that is head coach Chuck Pagano. The only legitimate reasons Chuck Pagano has to fire Greg Manusky are: 1) he didn't perform well; 2) the two disagreed on defensive philosophy; 3) as a scapegoat. If Pagano fired Manusky because he didn't perform well, that's essentially admitting that Pagano failed too, because Pagano was the leader of that defense. The two don't disagree on defensive philosophy, and you can see the problems of firing him as a scapegoat. That's why I actually believe the best thing to do would be to keep Greg Manusky around. Here are some other, smaller reasons why:
In his season wrap-up press conference on Monday, Chuck Pagano said that the biggest thing the Colts need to work on is becoming more consistent. There could be two trains of thought here, as some might suggest that the best way to improve consistency is to fire Greg Manusky. But in my opinion, that's the opposite of what I think Chuck Pagano is trying to say. Firing your defensive coordinator is not promoting consistency, no matter what you may say. Sure, you can say that in the long run it will, but I'm almost positive that's not at all what Pagano meant in his press conference. Pagano wants his team to become more consistent, and to do so the best thing would be to maintain consistency with the coaching staff first and foremost - and that means keeping Greg Manusky.
Another part of the equation is that Ryan Grigson failed the team in a way last offseason. His worst signing, in my opinion, was safety LaRon Landry. Another signing, cornerback Greg Toler, couldn't stay healthy and wasn't that great anyway. Defensive linemen Ricky Jean Francois and Aubrayo Franklin were ok but nothing special. First round draft pick Bjoern Werner and free agent signing Erik Walden handled the outside linebacker spot and neither were impressive. Sometimes, no matter how good the coach, his unit is still bad because he doesn't have enough good players. I don't know if Manusky can turn the Colts defense around, but I know that he needs better players than he has now. Because as much as I'm not going to carry any water for the coaches, I'm not going to carry any water for the players and some of them really didn't help the defense at all. That's on Grigson, not Manusky.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
As bad as the defense may have seemed in 2013, there still is some reason for optimism - they made some improvement. They held opponents under 20 points in 8 different regular season games and only allowed more than 30 points in 4 games (6 including the playoffs). They intercepted more passes and allowed fewer total touchdowns than last year. They were equal to or better than last year's totals in yards per play, yards per rush, and yards per pass. They allowed just 37.6% of 3rd down attempts against them. There were many times also where the defense was on the field much more because of the offense not being able to sustain drives. That will drive the stats up, too. They had very impressive showings against the 49ers, Texans, Jaguars (twice), and Chiefs. Even their game against Peyton Manning could be considered a success to some degree just considering how other-worldly Manning was this year. The last three weeks of the regular season showed how good this defense really can be, but at the same time the two playoff games directly after that showed how bad they can be. As Pagano mentioned, consistency is the key. In no way am I trying to make any case that the Colts defense was good in 2013 - it wasn't. But what I am saying is that you could see improvement and that it wasn't all bad. In other words, if Manusky's defense has another year like this, he probably should be fired, but it's borderline enough right now that I'm ok keeping him for a third season.
Greg Manusky wasn't great this year, and I would have understood if the Colts had fired him. But I also understand keeping him and I think it's the right move, based on what I mentioned above. There's no doubt that Manusky will be on the hot seat entering 2014, and we'll really need to see significant improvement in year three. If we don't, it's possible that it won't be just Manusky who is in trouble.