Let's give credit where credit is due: the Indianapolis Colts coaching staff has done a tremendous job the past two weeks.
We've been critical of the coaches in the past, and this season as well - most notably after the week two loss to the Eagles, when I wrote that they cost their team a win. The past two weeks, however, there haven't been many reasons to criticize the coaches. Sure, there might be something here and there that you might disagree with, but the significance is that those criticisms are nit-picking rather than major concerns. Because in the Colts' current two-game winning streak, the coaching staff deserves a lot of credit.
Sure, they were playing the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans. That's not exactly a tough stretch by any means. But firstly, those are the teams that were on the Colts schedule, and their job is to prepare for the opponents that they will play. Secondly, we've seen the Colts lose to bad teams like those before, especially in division games. Thirdly, often a mark of a good team is that they take care of the games they should win. That's what the Colts have done. And fourth and most significantly, it hasn't just been that what the Colts are doing has worked, it has been that what they're doing is much better.
Let's take a look at some of the areas where I think the coaching staff has shown improvement the past couple of weeks:
One of the biggest causes of frustration to me with Chuck Pagano has been his lack of aggressiveness in play calling. In this area, he is improving, and I hope that it continues. Ever since the first half of week one against the Broncos, I feel like it has been getting better (although not at times in the Eagles game). Pagano has talked a lot about the team needing to put together a 60-minute game, and I want to see him call the game with an aggressive approach from start to finish. He's begun to do that more and more, and we're seeing progress from him in this area. Whether it be going for it on fourth-and-one from the Jaguars five yard line later in the game or whether it be a surprise onside kick in the first half against the Titans, Pagano has been showing more of a tendency to be aggressive, and I think that has helped the team. I'm going to be interested in seeing whether the aggressiveness continues when the Colts begin playing better teams, and I hope it does. That doesn't mean it will work out all of the time (that fourth down call I mentioned earlier didn't), but I would rather him be aggressive than not. I feel like Pagano has been growing into a nice balance of traditional, playing it safe attitude with a new approach to aggressiveness that has added a boost to the team the past couple of weeks. It's not over the top, but it's improvement, and I hope it continues.
Before the season, I mentioned that I thought a turning point this year for the Colts would be after week two. I predicted the Colts to lose the first two games, and I said that after that I expected Pep Hamilton to begin to adjust to letting Andrew Luck to do more. That's exactly what has happened, and the only question I now have is whether it will keep up moving forward (I hope it does). Pep put the ball in the hands of his running backs near the end of a tied game against the Eagles, and that was a major, major reason why the Colts lost. When the game was on the line, he took the ball out of his best player's hands. Since then, however, Pep has coached to that 60-minute mantra and has put the ball in Andrew Luck's hands from the start. Whereas last year most Colts games saw the team try to run, realize the run wasn't working, then turn to Luck to comeback, the past two games the Colts have reached the balance that they should want and have put the ball in their star's hands. Instead of running to set up the pass, they have passed to set up the run. The Colts run game has been doing a decent job this year (although they struggled on Sunday), but Andrew Luck is playing incredible football and has been playing as good as anyone in the league at the position. The biggest criticism many had with Pep Hamilton was that he was limiting or hindering Andrew Luck, but the past two weeks you can say that definitely hasn't been the case. We know that Pep is big on changing up the offense for each game, so I guess it just remains to be seen whether he's really embraced passing to set up the run, but the past two weeks have been exactly what this offense should be.
This one is the one that I'm least sure about, as I know that a lot of this has been because of playing the Jaguars and Titans, but I've thought that Greg Manusky has dialed up some good blitzes the past couple of weeks to get sacks. He's been handed a very limited cast of players to rush the passer this year with Robert Mathis out for the year, Bjoern Werner not producing, and then Ryan Grigson not adding much help at the position this year, but the past two weeks Manusky has managed to get some pressure with the talent that he does have. Against the Jaguars the Colts recorded 4 sacks and against the Titans the Colts notched 3 sacks. In the first two weeks combined, the Colts managed just 1 sack. The Colts have been sending linebackers, safeties, and others trying to get pressure, and Greg Manusky is getting creative trying to create pressure. This is one example from Sunday, when Cory Redding ran a stunt and ran around the edge of the defensive line to get to the quarterback (screenshot from NFL Game Rewind).
This one I'm not sure about, as I'm not sure how much of it is just the opponent and how much is actually the scheme, but I think that Greg Manusky has done a good job the past two weeks generating pressure with a team that just doesn't quite have the pass rush talent to get it done.
Basically, the last two weeks have been great from the coaching staff, and there's optimism about that. There's some caution to that, however, since the Colts were in fact playing the Jaguars and Titans. I think quite a few of the things we've looked at (and there are more) can translate, if only the coaches are willing to do so against better teams. We'll have to see how the coaching staff does moving forward, but I think the past two weeks has been very encouraging improvement, and let's be sure to give the staff credit for that.
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