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Stampede Blue Tweetbag: Talking Offensive Line, Chuck Pagano, the Bengals, and More

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Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson answers questions about the Colts submitted via twitter.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Answering your twitter questions about the Colts:

Well, I think the Colts need to primarily focus on not beating themselves (like they have been with turnovers, penalties, and other mistakes), the biggest matchup is the Colts' run defense against the Bengals' two-back approach of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard.  I don't think Andy Dalton scares many people, but the Bengals are trying to shift their offensive focus away from Dalton - and it has shifted to Hill and the running game.  The Colts have shown that they are suspect against the run, and I would expect nothing less from the Bengals than a very run-heavy game plan this weekend.  If the Colts can stop the run game and force Andy Dalton to beat them, I'd feel very good about their chances.  So the biggest matchup will likely be the Colts' run defense versus the Bengals' rushing attack.

I imagine that Jonathan Newsome's snaps will only continue to increase.  I think we saw with the Colts giving him the start on Sunday how he's continuing to earn more time, and that should continue through the playoffs.  The Colts have managed to get pass rush on weaker teams by using creative blitzes, but against teams that know how to defend against it (and are equipped to do so), the blitzes don't really land.  So what the Colts need is a guy who can create pressure without relying on blitzes, and Jonathan Newsome is perhaps as close to that as the Colts have with Robert Mathis out for the season.  That's not to say he'll be great against a good team in the playoffs or that it will work out, but the Colts don't really have a ton of options - Newsome is one of the best pure pass rushers they have and they'll have to use him as such.  He's been very impressive in his rookie season and it will be very interesting to watch his development.

Yes.  All indications point to Reggie Wayne absolutely playing this Sunday - whether it's head coach Chuck Pagano, Colts radio announcer Bob Lamey, or Reggie Wayne himself - everyone expects Reggie back.  And that's really no surprise, either.  It's the playoffs and this is a guy who's been playing with a torn triceps for much of the season - he's going to tough it out.  Plus, there's a very real chance that this could be his last ever home game with the Colts, and there's no way he's missing.  Regardless of that last point, though, he'll be out there this weekend.

Yes and no.  Anthony Castonzo is a very good left tackle and very reliable, so the Colts can definitely count on him.  Jack Mewhort showed a lot of potential this season, especially in run blocking, and at left guard he seems like a guy who could play for a while for the Colts.  From there, however, things get a little less clear.  Gosder Cherilus can be a solid right tackle when healthy, but even then I don't think he's the long-term guy the Colts can count on there unless he takes a pay-cut.  The Colts had hoped that Hugh Thornton would be a dependable right guard, but he's been bad this season and there are question marks there.  And then the center position is really anybody's guess right now, though now it's Khaled Holmes' turn to show the Colts something.  All in all, the line has some pieces that they can work with and count on, but there's still plenty of work to be done.  As for Ulrick John, it's clear that Ryan Grigson is still high on him, but he always was going to be a project player.  I don't expect him to contribute right away.

This is a great question and very relevant considering Jack Mewhort made his first career NFL start at right tackle last week against the Titans.  The Colts had wanted to keep Mewhort at just one spot and let him develop there (left guard), but due to an injury to Gosder Cherilus and the terrible play of Xavier Nixon, Indy switched things up and played Mewhort at right tackle.  And all together, I thought Mewhort did a fine job there - especially considering it was his first start at the NFL level at the position.  He wasn't great and he wasn't terrible, and considering that it was his first start there I thought he did a solid job.  But is he the future there?  That's a lot less clear.  He showed promise at left guard and I think that's where he'll return in 2015, as I don't really expect Cherilus to be cut this offsesaon (the amount of money the Colts would save is minimal).  I would be very surprised if 2015 isn't Cherilus' last with the Colts, however, unless he took a pay-cut, as his cap hit will jump to nearly $10 million in 2016 (up from nearly $7 million in 2015 and nearly $4 million in 2014) - and by cutting him the Colts would save significant money.  At that point, they'll need a right tackle and Mewhort really might be the option there, though I think after his play at left guard this season the Colts will be forced to consider whether moving him to right tackle and adding a guard is the right path or whether keeping Mewhort at guard and adding a tackle is better.  Of course, let's not at all rule out the possibility that this future could be expedited to 2015 if the Colts do choose to part ways with Cherilus, but I see it as a more likely possibility in a year.

I took a look at some of the reasons for the Colts' recent offensive struggles a couple of weeks ago, but I'll briefly lay out a few of the main things that I think are contributing to the shortcomings.  Firstly, turnovers have been a huge issue.  On Sunday against the Titans, the Colts didn't commit a turnover - a very encouraging sign and a break in the trend, but the team has really struggled protecting the football recently.  Secondly, the offensive line hasn't done a good job protecting Andrew Luck or blocking for the running backs.  The unit has really struggled and as a result the offense has struggled.  Thirdly, I think this is a team still trying to recover from the loss of Ahmad Bradshaw.  It was after he was lost for the season that the Colts' offense began slumping, and with him out defenses can tee off on Luck and the passing game - including leaving the offensive line more suspect.  Even though Boom Herron has impressed, he's not Ahmad Bradshaw and the loss of the star running back has been yet another factor in the struggles for the offense.

I can't speak for the Colts on this particular issue, as I'm not sure of their exact plan, but I'll share my opinion: the Colts should bring back running back Ahmad Bradshaw and safety Mike Adams for another year and let wide receiver Hakeem Nicks walk in free agency.  Bradshaw, when healthy, was a huge difference maker and one of the most important players the Colts had on offense, and considering that he'll be pretty cheap because of his injury history the Colts should absolutely bring him back.  There's no guarantee how many games they'll get out of Bradshaw, but the upside they get with him makes it worth it.  With Mike Adams, he's been the biggest surprise for the team and has been one of the most important defensive players.  While it would probably be a bit unreasonable for him to replicate the best season of the career if he's brought back, the Colts should absolutely extend him for another year - especially considering the fact that they've got enough questions at the safety spot and the defensive side of the football in general without needing to replace Adams.  As for Nicks, he just simply hasn't reached the level we hoped he would this season.  The only reason I'd bring him back is if the Colts don't get another receiver who can produce right away, they really need one, and they could get Nicks for the minimum (or close to it).  Then I might consider it, but to keep it simple my answer on whether to bring him back is a no.

I'm assuming you meant to ask about whether anybody should be fired if the Colts are blown out by the Bengals this Sunday, and that's the question I'll answer.  But first, let me just state this: right now, this discussion is a moot point.  Nobody is going anywhere for the Colts at this point.  Chuck Pagano is safe.  Now, the only thing that could possibly change that is an ugly, embarrassing playoff loss like the one you described above.  In that case, not only would many be calling for Pagano to be fired but they also might have a case, too.  Even in that instance, however, I would fully expect Pagano to return next season.  It's really not even a question right now, though it might become one with a blowout loss.  Either way, I totally expect Chuck Pagano to return next season.  But if we're at this same point a year from now (with an 11-5 team that has struggled some and not expected to do much in the postseason), we'll likely be having a much different discussion.

For my most memorable story as a writer, this one is pretty easy.  This is my fourth season covering the Colts, and while the biggest story I've covered was the departure of Peyton Manning (both the events leading up to and the aftermath of one of the most stunning and pivotal points in recent NFL history), that's not the one I'm going to list here.  The most fun and memorable story that I've covered as a writer and analyst was easily the 2012 season.  A rookie general manager, a rookie head coach, a rookie quarterback, a team with major cap problems, and a number of young, inexperienced players, the Colts weren't expected to do much of anything - with many picking them to finish with the first overall pick a year for the second year in a row.  Then during the bye week, head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, and the Colts rallied around their coach and went on one of the most amazing runs in NFL history.  They mounted a massive comeback behind Reggie Wayne in the ChuckStrong game against the Packers and then went on to go 9-3 under interim head coach Bruce Arians.  Pagano then returned to the sidelines in the regular season finale to an electric atmosphere at Lucas Oil Stadium as the Colts defeated the Texans in a game that didn't mean anything to the Colts besides for getting a win in Pagano's return.  Andrew Luck, Bruce Arians, ChuckStrong, and an incredibly exciting team far exceeding expectations to reach the playoffs was really incredible to cover and super fun as well - one that I'll remember for a long, long time.