After getting a chance to watch the tape, I came away with a few points of emphasis in four areas: Offense, Defense, Special Teams and Coaching.
Offensive Line Not As Offensive
One of the most talked about and besieged positional groups for the Colts since GM Ryan Grigson was put into power is the offensive line. In the past, I have been a voice of disdain after watching game film and seeing just how poorly the offensive line play truly was. However, after one game, against one of the better overall defenses the Colts may play this year, the traditionally offensive offensive line wasn't nearly as offensive.
Since Castonzo and Cherilus played up to their usual good but not great expectations, I'm only going to talk about the interior line positions. First and foremost, there is definitely improvement from last year's line. While I understand that is not really saying much given how terrible the offensive line was last year, it is still improvement.
OC AQ Shipley seemed a bit overwhelmed at times and had trouble adjusting to the blitz, but given he only had one week to prepare for this game, I'll give him a pass. In the run game, Shipley had difficulty getting to the second level and sealing off linebackers. On the second run play, it looked as if Shipley was supposed to chip and come off the DT to seal the LB, which would have given RB Trent Richardson a huge hole to run through. However, Shipley didn't get there, as noted by his arms flailing and his head whipping around in an "oh crap" kind of look, and the LB shot the gap causing Trent to take a loss of a yard. I've seen the picture floating around Twitter with the arrows showing the outside being open and the lane with the LB standing right there saying Trent chose the LB. That's not true. It looked as if the play was intended to be a cut-back run and when the LB showed, Trent tried to bounce it outside. Needless to say, there's a reason Shipley is a journeyman OC. He's not real mobile but did an adequate job outside of that play in both pass protection and run blocking.
To the Guards! Similar to Shipley, Jack Mewhort and Hugh Thornton seemed a bit overwhelmed when the Broncos sent extra men. In an unexpected move, it looked as though both players were allowed to go man on man with their respective rushers though. I expected Shipley to help a lot more than what he did, especially to Mewhort. Mewhort did seem to have a problem with the bull rush and quicker DT. However, in terms of overall technique, he was in the right position almost all of the time. Thornton was left more on an island than Mewhort but did very well considering his struggles from last season. The problem with both Mewhort and Thornton is that if they have difficulty sustaining their blocks in the passing game. That may become an issue if WRs aren't able to get open quickly. From the run game, I absolutely love how Thornton plays. He drove defenders off the ball and got consistent push. Mewhort was sporadic from this perspective. Neither player is especially adept at getting to the second level. This will cause issues for the Colts running game because to break off those longer runs, the guards or center need to seal at least a LB or catch the defense when they are blitzing.
I expect the interior will improve over the season. The hope is that Khaled Holmes will be healed and ready to go for Monday Night and that he's a marked improvement over Shipley. Until the interior of the Colts line can show they can hold up against blitzers, teams will continue to send guys right up the middle.
Linebackers and Safeties Are Becoming Offensive
Wow, was ILB D'Qwell Jackson and "FS" Laron Landry burned in coverage or what? When Jackson was signed, there were a number of us who questioned the move. He's an older LB on the downside of his career who didn't produce really at all last season and certainly not to the level his current paycheck would dictate. These facts were unfortunately made blatantly clear to Colts Nation when Peyton Manning decided to use D'Qwell as his whipping boy for most of the game. But that's alright because Jackson was signed to stop the run. Not so fast my friends! Jackson was dropped into coverage seemingly more often than he attacked the line of scrimmage while Jerrell Freeman and Josh McNary were tasked with attacking the line. That was a mistake. Freeman and McNary are much quicker than Jackson and would likely hold up much better in coverage. The problem is even when Jackson attacked the line, he didn't make the tackle. It's not that he didn't have the chance, there were several plays where he actually had the ball carrier lined up and either whiffed completely or arm tackled to allow positive yardage rather than a loss. I wasn't a fan of this signing when it happened, I'm less a fan of it now.
If any of you follow me on Twitter, @Reed_StephenT, then you know exactly how I felt about Landry's play. He may be the biggest bust of a signing in recent Colts history. When he was in Washington, Landry played FS and did it very well, but Landry weighed 213 lbs at that point. He beefed up to his current weight 226 lbs and moved to a SS role. He tore his Achilles tendon after gaining a substantial amount of muscle and losing a significant amount of body fat, in case you were wondering ruptured tendons are a common side effect from steroid use, and took a year to come back to form, when he signed with the Jets and again played SS. For some reason, Pagano and Grigson want Landry to play FS, which absolutely blows my mind. Pagano compared Landry to Ed Reed. That's a little rich but Reed played his entire career around 200 lbs, not the size of a power RB, like Landry is now. Landry simply can't move out there. Yes, he led the team in tackles against DEN. Part of that I'm assuming is because Manning couldn't wait to throw to whatever guy Landry was supposed to be on. He takes poor angles in making tackles, doesn't typically wrap up because he prefers the forearm method, and can't cover. I sincerely hope Landry proves all of his doubters wrong, but realistically, that's not likely to happen.
Special Teams are Special
I'll only hit briefly on special teams since it wasn't a huge concern on Sunday. Pat McAfee is a dangerous weapon as a punter and if Loucheiz Purifoy can keep up his great work as a gunner, punt returns may be a non-issue for the first time in a long time. Vinateri is Adamatic despite his kick that didn't count hitting the upright.
Coaching is Questionable
I've had this "discussion" with several people, I still don't think Pagano is a very good coach. I'm not calling for him to be fired or anything like that, I'm just not sure he should have gotten the job to begin with. He is an inspirational leader but you want a "rah rah" guy as your Defensive Coordinator, not your Head Coach. He seems to lack in-game management skills although has seemed to improve in that area. Pagano has consistently made questionable coaching decisions throughout his tenure. In Sunday's game, why kick a field goal on 4th and one at the Broncos 36 instead of going for it and saying you know what, we're here to score TDs, not kick FGs? Better yet, Vinateri had plenty of leg on the kick that didn't count, why not give him another go from 5 yards further instead of punt in an area where a touchback is highly likely?
Another thing that goes along with coaching is how in the world do the Colts always seem to start the game incredibly flat. As the renowned poet Mike Tyson said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." However, I'm not sure the Colts have a plan UNTIL they get punched in the mouth. It's insanely frustrating to see this team get ripped apart to start a game only to have Andrew Luck will them back. Why not accept that the no-huddle, two-minute offense is your best offense and start the game with it instead of running Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw into walls? Pep Hamilton did a much better job calling plays this week as opposed to last year but still confuses me as to why he and Pagano don't start the game with the no-huddle. While I think Mark Schlereth is wrong to say the Colts are "an average football team with an exceptional QB," I do think the Colts coaches do not utilize the talent on the roster to the best of its ability. That is a coaching issue.