If you had to check the calendar during last night's Colts vs. Patriots game, I don't blame you. Was it really November and not January? Had there really been an entire offseason passed? Was this really happening - again?
As you may recall, earlier this year, on January 11, 2014, the Colts traveled to New England to play the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. Everyone was concerned about Tom Brady and his passing offense. And then the Patriots dominated the Colts on the ground. New England ran for 234 yards and 6 scores on 46 carries. LeGarrette Blount rushed 24 times for 166 yards and 4 touchdowns as the Patriots beat the Colts by 21.
So Ryan Grigson, the Colts' general manager, set out to improve the run defense. That's exactly what Chuck Pagano and co. had been preaching since they arrived in Indianapolis - the need to stop the run - but now the fans were on board too. The playoff loss was unacceptable, so if the Colts wanted to invest money into stopping the run fans now saw the reason why. The Colts were completely embarrassed on national television by the Patriots' run game, and that couldn't happen again.
So Ryan Grigson signed linebacker D'Qwell Jackson to a 4-year, $22 million deal. Grigson signed defensive lineman Arthur Jones to a 5-year, $33 million deal. This after an offseason where he signed LaRon Landry to a 4-year, $24 million deal and Erik Walden to a 4-year, $16 million deal. There's last year's first round pick out there (Bjoern Werner) and then Vontae Davis at corner, who the Colts re-signed to a 4-year, $36 million extension. This Colts defense has a lot of money invested in it, including money spent in this past offseason.
Make no mistake: the Colts were building to beat the Patriots. The Broncos? The Colts beat them last year. The Seahawks? The Colts beat them. The 49ers? The Colts beat them. The Chiefs? The Colts beat them - twice. The Bengals and Ravens? The Colts beat both of them this year. But the Patriots? They're the standard against which the Colts are measured, and this offseason they went about building to beat them. And with an impressive secondary against the pass combined with the league's most prolific offense, it looked like perhaps they had a team that could do it.
And then, on November 16, 2014, the Patriots traveled to Indianapolis to play the Colts in their biggest regular season game of the year. Everyone was concerned about Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and the passing offense. And then the Patriots dominated the Colts on the ground. New England ran for 244 yards and 4 scores on 45 carries. Jonas Gray rushed 38 times for 199 yards and 4 touchdowns as the Patriots beat the Colts by 22. Sound familiar? That's because it was an exact replica of the playoff game. And it revealed just where this Colts team really is.
Now make no mistake - I'm not saying that all of those contracts were bad. The Davis deal was a good one. Walden is stepping up, at least in terms of pass rush. And Art Jones hasn't really had the chance to prove himself due to injury and wasn't out there again last night. This isn't an indictment about any one particular deal but rather the defense as a whole: there is a lot invested there, and they fell flat. Again.
The Colts have played six games against teams with winning records so far this season. In four of the six games they've given up 30+ points, with the only outliers being against teams quarterbacked by Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton. Under Chuck Pagano, the Colts have given up 40 or more points in eight games (out of 45). That's bad. This run defense that was supposedly such an emphasis in the offseason by Ryan Grigson? It was embarrassed on national television by the Patriots. Again.
I mean, this wasn't Barry Sanders. It was Jonas Gray. I don't want to take anything away from the back at all, who certainly had a very great game, but it's not like the Colts' defense - with all of that money invested in it - should get run over by a guy who had 131 yards and zero career touchdowns entering the night. But unfortunately, that's where this Colts' team is at. Ryan Grigson went into free agency and bought a $100 million roll of duct tape. He was quick to dismiss any fan questioning by suggesting he knew what he was doing, all the while patching up the roster with duct tape instead of something more firm and reliable. And on a night just 310 days after getting embarrassed by the Patriots run game, it happened again.
I'm not going to lie and say that last night was some huge revelation. We knew the run defense wasn't great, we knew the run offense wasn't great, we knew the offensive line wasn't great. I'm not quite sure what it was, but perhaps getting beat in the exact same way they did less than one full calendar year earlier was enough to fully reveal the state of the Colts. And it's this simple fact: it's all about Andrew Luck. Again.
Really, what's different about this Colts team this year after an entire offseason of work? An improved Andrew Luck. The addition of Ahmad Bradshaw, but he's likely gone now with an injury. The addition of Dwayne Allen (and he's also injured). An improved T.Y. Hilton. A healthy Reggie Wayne. An improved pass defense with an improved Vontae Davis. You could throw the addition of Mike Adams in there. And an improved special teams. Notice a theme? None of those have to do with the real huge issues the Colts had in the offseason (other than Adams). Last year, it was all up to Andrew Luck. This year, it looks like it's the same thing - just with an improved Luck.
We didn't really "learn" anything from the Colts last night that we didn't already suspect, but perhaps here's why it feels so much worse: the Colts spent their offseason building to beat the Patriots. Instead, the same exact thing happened this year that happened last year. And that just makes the loss much more embarrassing - first and foremost for Ryan Grigson.
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