Starting the season 0-2 absolutely sucks. Despite the bad start, the Colts still are considered the favorites to win the AFC South and advance to the playoffs. Playoffs?!? Yes, I said playoffs. Here are some quick points of emphasis on Offense, Defense, Special Teams and Coaching, I noticed following the game.
Offensive Line didn't look terrible; Why is Jack Doyle on the field?
While this isn't a glowing endorsement of the OL, it is better than the past two years where the OL was downright awful. Mewhort and Thornton played much better in my opinion than last week. Mewhort on several occasions drove his defender into the ground showing that ginger fire that we all expected to see. Thornton, despite receiving a lower PFF grade, played better in both the pass and running game. Luck had a much cleaner pocket and ample time to through all the short and intermediate routes he wanted. Yes, I'll hit on the play calling later. Also, RB Trent Richardson finally started to show some promise behind the improved OL until his costly fumble late. Overall, I really like how Mewhort and Thornton are developing and think he will be a promising addition for the future.
Why in the name of anything holy is TE Jack Doyle seeing the field more than WR Hakeem Nicks or WR Donte Moncrief?!? OC Pep Hamilton said during training camp this year's offense would be playmaker driven. So Doyle is a better playmaker than Nicks and Moncrief? Ha! Pep's got jokes people. Pep has got jokes. I'm sorry but I'll say it again, the Colts best combination of talent is 3WR (Wayne, Hilton, Nicks/Moncrief), 1TE (Allen) and 1RB (Richardson/Bradshaw). It is honestly that simple folks. That should be the base offense and adjust from there. I'm not sure why Pagano and company seem to enjoy bashing their heads into the wall by not putting the best guys on the field. If Einstein's definition of insanity is correct, i.e., "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results," then Pagano and Pep are certifiably insane.
Defensive backfield is a mess; Josh McNary is better than you think
As we all know by now, Laron Landry playing is an eye sore. He can't cover. He can't tackle. However, I harped on Landry last week so I'll move on this week to another DB. CB Greg Toler is maddeningly inconsistent. According to ProFootballFocus (PFF), Toler graded out a team worst -3.0 grade and that's not even accounting for the random but legitimate penalties he keeps getting. Toler shows some great skills, like his diving interception late in the first half, but for every tremendous play, there are six to seven really, really bad plays. He can't seem to keep his hands off WRs down field and as the year goes on, the penalties will only get worse as officials keep a closer eye on him because Toler is beginning to garner a negative reputation for illegal contact. I hope Toler can turn things around but I have my doubts. Personally, I would much rather Ryan Grigson just admitted signing the inconsistent, injury-prone Toler was a mistake and cut him last off season when the Colts would have saved a little over $4 million in salary cap space. If he's cut after this season, the Colts will save over $4.5 million in cap space. At this point though, the Colts are stuck with Toler for the rest of the year or until he gets hurt, so I'm hoping he fixes his technique and can be more consistent.
Josh McNary started at ILB in place of injured ILB Jerrell Freeman and received a shockingly team low -3.3 grade from PFF. While people will look at that and say he played terrible, I ask you to take a closer look. In run defense McNary earned a -1.0 grade, better than S Mike Adams, DT Montori Hughes and the lovable ILB D'Qwell Jackson, who mind you was the worst on the team in run defense, but I digress. Needless to say, McNary can improve there. What really brought down McNary's score though was his -2.3 grade in pass coverage. This looks really bad, especially since Jackson had a higher grade in coverage. Not so fast my friends! If you look deeper into that number, McNary allowed nine completions on nine targets. Yah, that's bad. But eight, yes eight, of those completions were to All-World RB LeSean McCoy and Colt Crusher Darren Sproles. First off, why in the world is the defense schemed to have an ILB covering arguably the two fastest and shiftiest RBs in the league?!? Why isn't a safety coming over and McNary running with the TE? Admittedly the other completion was to TE Zach Ertz so it may not have made a difference in his PFF score, but seriously Pagano and Manusky? That's just bad coaching. Regardless, this only shows the importance of Jerrell Freeman to this defense. When Freeman is healthy, the Colts should start McNary in place of the aging and non-productive Jackson.
McAfee is a weapon
P Pat McAfee is a dangerous weapon for the Colts. He's had two great games where he's shown vast improvement on his directional punting. This in itself has helped the coverage units, which on both KO and PR have been much improved. This is directly related to Ryan Grigson adding quality ST talent at the bottom of the roster. So while Grigson misses on his higher profile signings, his ability to drum up talented guys from seemingly nowhere is arguably best in the league.
Play Calling Paranoia
I do not understand why Grigson, Pagano and Pep insist on running the ball between the tackles about every second or third play. The Colts best talent is at the QB and WR positions. That's not even an argument so why not pass the ball more often? The argument for running the ball is to protect QB Andrew Luck. However, taking a look at the PFF grades, the Colts run block rating was a -0.4, with negative scores from LT Anthony Castonzo, RG Hugh Thornton and RT Gosder Cherilus, and an overall OL score of -3.3. To counter that, the Colts had a pass block rating of +4.2, with the only negative score coming from 3rd down RB Ahmad Bradshaw, and the OL receiving a +4.5 score. For those that say this is an aberration, the Colts had a +5.4 rating in pass blocking and a -2.1 rating in run blocking against the Broncos. Thus, the argument that Luck is in grave danger when the Colts pass doesn't hold a lot of weight so come on Coach, just chuck it!
To go a little further regarding the play calling issue, when the Colts do pass, the question becomes why didn't the game plan call for more down field throws to challenge a notoriously weak Eagles secondary? To drive this home, 40 of Luck's 53 pass attempts were either behind or within nine yards of the line of scrimmage. To counter that, only 4 attempts were beyond twenty yards. Yes, the Eagles were rolling coverage over on WR TY Hilton to limit his deep play ability, but Hakeem Nicks and especially rookie Donte Moncrief could have been utilized on the opposite side to keep the defense somewhat honest.
In reality, Pagano and Pep had no interest in challenging the Eagles secondary, which was all too evident in the team lining up in "13" personnel, i.e., 1RB and 3TEs. That baffled me and makes me seriously question how Pagano and Pep come up with a game plan. In general, you game plan to exploit a team's weakness, i.e., Peyton Manning burning D'Qwell Jackson and Laron Landry repeatedly last week or Chip Kelly getting LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles out in space against a poor tackling secondary while simultaneously running WR Riley Cooper down the field to keep the secondary's only solid tackler, CB Vontae Davis, occupied. The Eagles posted an astronomical +14.8 grade in run defense against a better running team in Jacksonville the week prior, yet Pagano and Pep thought going against a stout DL was better than challenging a weak secondary. I'm sorry but this simply blows my mind.
I won't really get into the questionable play calls down the stretch because I felt they were good, aggressive calls aside from the obvious mistake not to throw the ball on second down on the final drive.