For most of the game on Thursday night, it was easy to see why Chuck Pagano made a change at the center position. Jonotthan Harrison looked good, and everyone knew all along that he had much more potential to be the long-term answer at the position than A.Q. Shipley. Harrison didn't have a good debut, but in his second career NFL start he looked good in his blocking.
And then the fumble happened.
A miscommunication between Harrison and Andrew Luck resulted in a fumble recovered by the Texans' J.J. Watt, and then the league's best defensive player took the fumble back 45-yards for a touchdown. All of the sudden, the Texans were within five points of the Colts early in the fourth quarter, as the Colts lead was cut to 33-28.
Ultimately, it didn't come back to hurt the Colts, and there has been disagreement about who was at fault (whether it was Harrison or Luck). It appeared that Luck was looking at the play clock when the snap came, hitting him in the hands but which he couldn't haul in. The snap clearly caught him off guard, but had he already signaled for it to be snapped and Harrison was just a bit late? Was Luck just making an error by looking at the play clock when he called for the snap? Did Harrison just snap it early? It's hard to tell.
Jonotthan Harrison blames himself. Andrew Luck blamed himself. Chuck Pagano blamed the crowd noise. But regardless of the one to blame for the exchange issues, the fact remains that it's something that must be figured out. It's not the first time that Jonotthan Harrison has struggled with the snap.
Last week, a botched snap from under center killed a Colts drive, as all Luck could do was grab the ball and try to dive forward for a first down (which he didn't get). Another snap out of the shotgun was high (though probably could have been caught by Luck), and all the quarterback could do was fall on it and have another play (and Luck managed to keep the drive going after the bad snap). Then there was the time when everyone on the offense remembered the snap count except Harrison, leading to a penalty.
And if you remember back to the preseason, on the Colts' very first drive of the very first preseason game a bad Harrison snap killed a shot at a touchdown for the Colts, and later in that game Harrison had another bad snap, this time to Matt Hasselbeck. At the time, it was chalked up to it being his first NFL game. He played the final three preseason games without much of an issue, but then they resurfaced last week. Regardless of whether the snap against the Texans was the fault of Harrison or Luck, the reality is that the center has a history of making bad snaps in games while with the Colts and the issues weren't present when A.Q. Shipley was the center.
Now, with all of that said, I am adamant about the fact that I think the Colts should continue to start Jonotthan Harrison at center. He blocked well enough Thursday night to easily warrant it and his potential is hard to ignore. But the botched snaps simply must be worked on. If one occurred late in a close game (which the Bengals game in just over a week will probably be), the problems would only be magnified. As of now, those issues have been mitigated because of the Colts winning. But better to work on those issues now instead of waiting until they actually cost you a game, and Chuck Pagano knows it, too.
While Pagano was clear that he didn't think it was necessarily either his quarterback or his center's fault, saying that, "you can't pin it on the quarterback and you can't pin it on the center. I credit Houston's fans for that one," he also was clear that they need to work on it.
"Yeah, we certainly don't want to have an issue," Pagano said Friday. "Any quarterback exchange problems, you should never have them. We'll continue to look at it and address it."
Jonotthan Harrison looked good once the ball was snapped and I thought he played well. The lingering problem has been those snaps, and regardless of who's "fault" it was on Thursday, it's something that is inexcusable and must be fixed before it occurs in a more crucial spot.