On Monday night, Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton made a couple of questionable calls. Yesterday, his boss Chuck Pagano met with the media and took responsibility for play calls that everyone knows were Pep's. I was impressed with Chuck Pagano yesterday. He didn't throw anybody underneath the bus but at the same time didn't cover over mistakes or the fact that he needs to be better. Today, Pep met with the media, and while he tried to answer the soft ball criticisms lofted at him, I don't think he did so adequately. A lot of this might be nit-picking, but the underlying issues are certainly ones to consider.
Pep Hamilton was talking today about how he thought Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw ran well overall and how the team passed the ball well overall. But directly after saying those things about his players, he also said this: "But at the end of the day in this league, you guys all well know it always comes down to one, two, three or four plays that can make the difference in a game." In other words, Pep thought that his players played well overall but that just a few bad plays can be the difference.
Just a few minutes later, Pep Hamilton was asked about his coaching and how there are two big plays that fans are talking about (the pass on third down that was picked off and then the run on second down). Pep said that he was certainly disappointed that the Colts didn't win the game, but that: "I think it's a lot more to the end result of that game than two play calls." In other words, Pep didn't think he had a great game overall but doesn't think that just two "bad" play calls by him makes a big difference in the game. He has a point that there's much more to the end result than that, but contrasted with what he said just minutes earlier about the players and it sounds a bit like excuse making.
In the effort to have total transparency, Pep Hamilton did take responsibility. "There were some calls early in the game that I wish I could have back," Pep said, "where we had opportunities to score points or hit big chunk plays in some other situations. But that's just the nature of the beast, I understand that. It's our job as coaches to put our players in the best position to be successful, and we're looking to do that this Sunday against a division opponent."
Alright, Pep, so even though those couple of playcalls supposedly won't make the difference in the game, what were you thinking on that third down pass attempt that was picked off? "Well I'll give you the short of it," Pep said Thursday. "We were hoping that we could throw a touchdown or convert the third down situation, and it didn't happen. I mean that's the bottom line. I would like to have called in hindsight a play that would have been successful in that situation. Moving forward, we're sure that we're going to protect the football and make good decisions in situations like that, and that starts with myself."
What a concept. Pep wanted the play to work, and since it didn't, he's saying that he wished he called a play that did. That really doesn't give us anything new. Look, I am totally fine with that play call. Completely fine. You need to trust your best player in those situations, and the Colts did. There's nothing wrong with that, and I won't blame him at all for it. But I find his reasoning for calling the play lacking - anybody could have told you that Pep would have liked for the play to have worked or to have the ability to call a play that did. That's obvious.
But enough about the play calls. Apparently two calls don't determine the game, so let's talk scheme overall. What's Pep's scheme? "Score first," Pep said, laughing. I don't find it as funny. I thought it was a great line when he first said it this offseason, but that was before we saw what the "score first" offense actually looked like. And at some point, fans want answers more than the "score first" thing Pep has been saying. As if Colts fans didn't actually know their team wanted to score (well, actually, considering the playcalling on the final drive, that might be a fair question). But if that's all Pep can tell us about his offense, then I could find thousands of other people who would run the same offensive scheme. Everyone wants to score first. If that's the only thing Pep is bringing to the table, then there are plenty of others who can do his job.
I know his system is about much more than scoring first, because he's shown as much. And it's true that the Colts use different gameplans in different games, but they're still trying to be a running football team while they have the generation's best quarterback prospect. At some point, the "score first" answer isn't going to cut it. But wait, there's more about Pep's scheme. "I feel like our scheme is comprehensive enough," Pep said. "Once teams adjust to try and take away one component or one person in our offense, we have other guys around that will make plays. The NFL season is a long season. We have 14 more games to go and it's the ultimate chess match. Over the course of time, you'll find out that there'll be enough opportunities for guys to make plays throughout the offense."
And here's something I think we've seen from Pep Hamilton: he loves the chess match aspect of it, probably too much. Take Monday night, for example. There were times when the Colts went with just one receiver or several. There were times when the Colts went with an unbalanced line or a line with extra players. The Colts went with three different tight ends more than they went with their third wide receiver. And did anyone else notice T.Y. Hilton in the backfield as a fullback? What was that? Pep is getting so into his scheme and his formations that sometimes I think he's going overboard. There's definitely a benefit sometimes of just playing your game. While confusing opponents is a part of it, so is just outplaying them. Instead of trying to confuse the opposing defense, perhaps Pep should spend more time on improving his offense.
Or get this quote from Hamilton today. "When they have to put the extra guys in the box to defend the run," Pep said, "it opens up the opportunity to run a play-action pass or to release your tight ends or receivers down the seams and run four vertical concepts against one high safety coverages. When teams pack the box, we feel like we have the weapons on the perimeter along with the quarterback to effectively pass the football." First of all, the Colts have hardly taken any shots down the field this year. So Pep can say that about running four verticals concepts all he wants, but he kinda should do it too. Oh, and just a tip Pep, from one of the fans that you obviously want to just believe whatever you say and do is right: if you have the weapons on the outside and the quarterback throwing the ball, perhaps you should actually use them!
Look, I like Pep Hamilton. He's a class act and a good guy to talk to. I still think he's a much better offensive coordinator than he's shown so far, and I also think that a lot of his system and scheme comes from Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano. I don't think that Pep has been placed in a prime position - but at the same time, I don't think he's handled it as well as he could, either. I know that I might be nit-picking with his press conference today, but regardless, I think more and more fans are questioning him as an offensive coordinator, and he can either keep shrugging it off or owning up to it and working to improve. I want him to succeed - but still I'm not convinced yet.