By now, you all probably know the drill. I'll hit on one or two points of emphasis in each phase of the game.
Side note: From now on, Special Teams and Coaching will be grouped into a single category cause it's really tough to come up with something new for special teams every week.
Where's Gosder?; #FeedMoncrief; #StarveFleener
Colts starting RT Gosder Cherilus performed admirably in his first season with the Colts but has seemingly fallen off the map this year. However, this shouldn't come as a surprise to some. Cherilus has always had a "yo-yo" career, where he'll perform well one year but sub-par the next. This pattern goes all the way back to his time with the Detroit Lions. He doesn't seem to move well in space and has never proven to be a terrific run blocker. In Cherilus's last year in Detroit, he had a PFF grade of +14.5 in pass blocking and a +3.8 in run blocking, with his run blocking score never going above +2.0 for any game. In fact, he's only been +2.0 in a single game with the Colts. In general, with a right-handed QB, teams want an extremely solid run blocking RT who is adequate in pass blocking paired with an extremely solid pass blocking LT. Cherilus is just adequate at both, which is a problem given his top level RT contract. I find all this interesting given GM Ryan Grigson and HC Chuck Pagano focusing on running the ball every week. If that's the goal, why sign a pass blocking RT who doesn't move well in space and has trouble sustaining his run block. Realistically, there likely aren't any better options on the roster or in free agency at this point so there's not a whole lot that can be done other than pray Cherilus becomes more consistent.
Just like our beloved GM, I sometimes miss when evaluating line talent. However, I have been spot on for three straight years about the wide receiver position. In 2012, I screamed at the TV when Grigson passed up on WR Alshon Jeffery at the top of Round 2. In 2013, I got even more upset when Grigson decided to draft OLB Bjoern Werner in Round 1 rather than do the more prudent move and drop back into Round 2, then select WR Keenan Allen. Thankfully, in 2014, Grigson took one of the most physically gifted WRs in the draft in Donte Moncreif. After watching the tape, you can't help but love what Moncrief potentially brings to this team. He's got tremendous speed and makes tough catches. He only had a handful of touches last week but showed just a glimpse of his potential. His deep speed will cause defenses to have to be honest in defending WR T.Y. Hilton instead of allowing them to pull the safety over. If OC Pep Hamilton is true to his word about the offense being play maker driven, Moncrief should be getting the ball at a much higher rate.
So if T.Y. is healthy and the Colts play Moncrief more, who does the team sit? My vote: All-GQ TE Coby Fleener. Yes, Fleener's dropped passes can be and usually are drive killers. People have talked about that ad nausea. Equally concerning though is Fleener is beyond useless as a run blocker. There are plays he's clearly supposed to chip the DE but just puts a single hand on the guy then runs away yelling, "No tag backs!" If the draw play, play action or stretch plays where RBs Trent Richardson or Ahmad Bradshaw have the option to cut back are going to work, Fleener has to sustain a block. The problem is, he hasn't seemingly shown any interest in blocking. While there are several plays that very clearly show this, one play in particular sticks out. It was an outside run and Fleener was down field "blocking." If Fleener holds his block for even a few seconds, the ball carrier walks into the end zone. Fleener obviously didn't hold his block and the defender brought down the runner short of the goal line. Other times when Fleener is in-line, he has missed his block allowing his defender to hit the RB in the backfield while Fleener throws his hands down in some form of disappointment. So while I never thought I'd say this out loud, I'd rather the Colts play with the more consistent TE Jack Doyle in 2TE sets, than the erratic Coby Fleener.
Inconsistency Kills; Blitz the "A" Gap
The Colts DBs, especially CB Greg Toler, played a much better game this week. I'd take that with a grain of salt given the opposing QB but still, better is better. There are still some head scratching plays but if he can come up with an interception or two, Colts fans can live with it. The focus today though is tackling and awareness with regards to the LB unit. Often discussed ILB D'Qwell Jackson was average in pass coverage last week but again terrible in run defense. Now, I've heard the argument that Jackson wasn't brought in to be a great run defender and I get that. However, there were several plays where Jackson had the ball carrier lined up in the hole, just the two of them, and he missed. Like, missed badly. Once again, I know he's not a run stopping ILB, but missing that tackle on anyone not named McCoy or Sproles is inexcusable. When ILB Jerrell Freeman is healthy, ILB Josh McNary should play over Jackson. He's just been better this year. Moving on to OLB Bjoern Werner, statistically speaking, Werner had one of his best games as a pro. However, similar to Jackson, Werner has trouble finishing plays. As most have seen, Werner had Jaguars QB Blake Bortles dead to rights in the backfield for an easy sack. Somehow, Werner didn't finish. Bortles made a great throw. Jaguars got a first down. In games against better opponents, that cannot happen. The Colts cannot allow offenses to sustain drives by missing easy sacks or tackles. There must be more consistency.
A brief point here. The Colts need to blitz the "A" gap more often. The "A" Gap is right up the middle on either side of the center. I've harped on this for a while now, against most QBs putting pressure in their face is the only thing that will rattle them. It's what teams do to Peyton, Brady, Brees and Rodgers. When the Colts blitzed the "A" Gap, Chad Henne and Blake Bortles usually made mistakes or at the very least took a hit. Now, against more mobile QBs, it doesn't work as well. However, the Colts don't play many more mobile QBs this season, so without OLB Robert Mathis creating pass rush from the outside, it might as well come up the middle.
Better Game Plan and Play Calling
I'll start with this. I didn't hate the play calling this week. I actually thought Pep did a fairly good job of getting his best players the ball. I still question having Fleener in on running downs when Doyle has proven to be a more reliable option in both run blocking and pass catching. Also, I'd like to see the base personnel be 3WR, 1TE, and 1RB. That personnel package was used on Trent's 27 yard run. The Colts don't necessarily need 3TEs and 1FB to be effective running the ball, they just need to block better and more consistently.
Pagano and DC Greg Manusky get credit for creating a solid defensive game plan. I've said it before, these guys are very good at manufacturing QB pressure with the blitz. By this I mean they call plays where a DL will slide right or left to take the offensive lineman with him, then the free blitzer will come through the gap that's been created. This was the case on most of the sacks and QB hits/hurries. Realistically, it's tough to criticize the coaching too much in a blowout win so I won't bother.