This morning at the annual NFL league meetings, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said that quarterback Andy Dalton is being compared to Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said that newly acquired quarterback Matt Schaub is "on par" with the other quarterbacks in the AFC West - which includes Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers.
As absurd as those statements sound, the words that came out of Colts head coach Chuck Pagano's mouth were almost equally as laughable. Pagano said over breakfast with several reporters this morning the same thing that he has been saying ever since he was hired, and that is that, "from a mindset standpoint, it all starts with running the ball and stopping the run." He later added something that he has been saying for a while, and that is that the Colts will be running the ball "until they run me out of there."
This wasn't Marvin Lewis or Dennis Allen talking up their quarterback who clearly isn't at the level of a Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning or Phillip Rivers. But a coach who's quarterback is certainly on that level - or very close to it - is Chuck Pagano, yet he maintains his emphasis on running the football. Pagano acknowledged that, saying, "we do have a great quarterback, with a great arm and he has weapons to throw to. Certainly we understand that and we know that."
One important thing to keep in mind is this: clearly, not everything coaches say is true. Nobody believed Lewis or Allen when they made those statements about their quarterbacks, so it shows that what coaches say isn't Gospel. Our job is to report what coaches say, but that doesn't make it right, nor is it the best way to evaluate him. I honestly don't care much about what Chuck Pagano says, as ridiculous as it sounds. I care much more about what actually happens on the field. Toward the end of last season, Pagano continued to maintain in his press conferences that his emphasis was on running the football but on the field the Colts let Andrew Luck loose and transitioned to a passing offense. I know that in an ideal world Chuck Pagano would absolutely WANT to run the football, but this isn't an ideal world and easily the biggest strength of his football team is his young quarterback. If the Colts utilize his strengths and let him throw the ball in a passing offense - like we saw toward the end of last season - then there will be nothing to worry about. But if the Colts try to run the football even when it's not working - like they did for much of last season - then it certainly is reason for concern. Chuck Pagano's comments today don't make him look very smart and can be troubling for some fans, but it's nothing new whatsoever and we just have to wait and see what actually happens on the field in September to evaluate it. If it's a passing offense, then great. If it's not, then that will be a big problem.
The Colts will have another problem this fall as well, but this one is a good one to have and one that I'm sure offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton isn't complaining about - the Colts have too many weapons on offense. Number one wide receiver Reggie Wayne is returning from a torn ACL, and while he might not return to his previous form (one of the top receivers in all of football), he should still be good enough to be a threat and be a very reliable receiver for Andrew Luck as the top route runner in the league. T.Y. Hilton returns for his third season after a breakout sophomore season that saw him emerge as a star in the absence of Wayne and this year the speedster should be even better. The Colts added Hakeem Nicks in free agency, and while Nicks has struggled with injuries the past two seasons it seems like he will be healthy for the 2014 campaign and the Colts are hopeful that he can return to his form from a couple of years ago, where he was a top-ten receiver. Tight end Coby Fleener is much closer to a wide receiver than a tight end and he had a very good sophomore season last year and he should be much improved heading into his third year as well. Dwayne Allen, the other tight end on the roster, will return from an injury that kept him out for all but part of one game last season and he will look to improve on a rookie season in 2012 where he emerged as a Pro Bowl caliber tight end with both his blocking and receiving skills and he was a safety blanket of sorts for Andrew Luck. Additionally, the Colts don't want to give up completely on guys like Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill, so they want to get them a little work as well - though that's not as big of a priority as the other guys.
Whether the Colts maintain a run emphasis (which would make this "problem" worse) or not, they still have a "problem" that they need to work through as to getting their weapons playing time - as I didn't even mention the running backs (Trent Richardson, Vick Ballard, and Ahmad Bradshaw), all of whom could be weapons in the offense and then of course the all-important fullback, Stanley Havili. It's unlikely that the Colts will move away from their two tight end offense, and that isn't a bad thing anymore with two very good tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen - in fact, the two tight end offense should work well. And if the Colts do opt to use a fullback, Allen could fulfill most of the functions that they want their fullback to do (as it's more of a receiving role than most fullback positions other teams use). Stanley Havili won't go away, but we'll likely see more Allen and less Havili - and that's a good thing. But what about the wide receivers? Last year, the Colts played Reggie Wayne and Darrius Heyward-Bey in their two wide receiver base offense, and that limited T.Y. Hilton's snaps. It was a big issue then, but if they try to do the same thing this year - limit Hilton's snaps - it will be inexcusable. While his rookie season was great, his sophomore season was on a different level and he emerged as the Colts best playmaker and a star. There will be no excuses for not getting T.Y. Hilton on the field this fall. Certainly, Reggie Wayne will continue to see playing time and there is no doubt that Hakeem Nicks will get his fair share of targets too, as he's a big upgrade over DHB. I doubt Hilton will get the 138 targets that he got last regular season, but he absolutely needs to be on the field. The good thing about the Colts offense next season is that it looks to be loaded with weapons for Andrew Luck. It makes for a bit of a problem for offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton as he tries to get all of them playing time, but it's a problem that the Colts are absolutely glad to have.