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Stampede Blue Tweetbag: Talking Chuck Pagano, Defense, and Colts vs. Patriots

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Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson answers questions about the Colts submitted via twitter.

Harry How/Getty Images

Answering your twitter questions about the Colts:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/Coltsfanwilson">@Coltsfanwilson</a> will the Colts be able to contain Patriots running game like they did the Broncos?</p>&mdash; Braden (@Braden1013) <a href="https://twitter.com/Braden1013/status/554821870642798593">January 13, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

This is a great question, because as we know the Patriots have run all over the Colts recently.  In the three games these Andrew Luck Era Colts have played against the Patriots, New England has combined to rush for 595 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards per carry - amounting to an average of 198.3 yards and 4 touchdowns per game rushing.  In each of the last two games the Patriots rushed for well over 200 yards.  Will the Colts be able to have more success against that run game this time around?  I think, first off, that the defensive performance against the Broncos is very encouraging in this regard as well: it was the first time all season that the Colts had stopped a good offense, particularly one that could beat you in a number of ways.  Against the Bengals in the Wild Card round, the Colts really only had to key in on the run game.  But against the Broncos, the Colts had to key in on both the run and the pass, which made what the Colts did even more encouraging.  The Patriots have run right at the Colts and then run at them some more in their recent contests and I would fully expect that to continue until the Colts show they can stop it.  And I think it's definitely fair to expect the Colts' defense to do better this time around.  If they play up to the level that they did against the Broncos, they'll be in good shape - they won't stop New England's offense completely, but limiting the run's effectiveness is important.  What this takes is simply players stepping up and making plays - notably, making tackles.  The defensive linemen and the linebackers have to do their job.  It's not really a case of the Colts dedicating more players to stop the run because of the threat the Patriots provide through the air too - Indy is going to have to do it by stepping up their game.  It's just that simple.  There are some things that the coaches could probably do to get the team in some better situations, but what it really boils down to is the Colts' defenders having to step up and make plays.  To be dedicated in their assignments.  To play good fundamental football and tackle.  They did that pretty well against the Broncos, and if they do that against the Patriots, I think we'll see them do better against the Patriots' run game - though I'd still consider that a big "if" at this point.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/Coltsfanwilson">@Coltsfanwilson</a> what has been the biggest difference on defence that has contributed to our post season success?</p>&mdash; Ʊ Chris Petrovic Ʊ (@RebornRonnie) <a href="https://twitter.com/RebornRonnie/status/554822094622826500">January 13, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

This might sound like a lazy answer, but the real answer to your question is pretty simple: it's just Colts' defenders playing better.  Yeah, on Sunday their gameplan against the Broncos was great.  But the biggest positives from that game were the solid tackling and the absolutely tremendous coverage by the corners.  The Colts played good fundamental football, wrapping up on their tackles (aside from that notable fourth down play).  Vontae Davis, Greg Toler, and Darius Butler truly dominated the game at the cornerback position.  Jonathan Newsome provided the huge pass rush spark that the team needed in his strip sack of Peyton Manning.  It's things like that which lead to a noticeable improvement in the Colts' defense, and what it really comes down to are the players making plays.  I do think that the Colts matched up pretty well defensively against both the Bengals and the Broncos, so that's certainly a part of it, and I think that Chuck Pagano and Greg Manusky's gameplans have been very good as well, but I think probably the biggest thing that has led to the Colts' improved defense has been the players stepping up and playing like they're capable of.  It's not like in 2006 when Bob Sanders stepped in for the playoffs and provided the huge boost - this year, it's not so much what the Colts are doing differently as opposed to what the Colts are doing better - which, in the two postseason games, has been pretty much everything.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/Coltsfanwilson">@Coltsfanwilson</a> do you see any way the Colts could possibly take advantage of the pats always zeroing in on TY? Who steps up?</p>&mdash; chris quindlen (@Qpac777) <a href="https://twitter.com/Qpac777/status/554822865946951681">January 13, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

This will be one of the big keys to watch during this Sunday's game, as the Colts offense needs T.Y. Hilton in order to function at it's best.  Without Hilton making some plays, I really don't think the Colts will be able to win in New England against the Patriots.  So firstly, let's talk about him.  I absolutely love what Pep Hamilton did on Sunday with Hilton in moving him around to create favorable matchups.  I still don't know what Jack Del Rio (Denver's defensive coordinator) was doing in leaving Aqib Talib on Hilton so long even when the receiver was burning the corner out of the slot, as Chris Harris is a much better slot corner than Talib is.  But Del Rio kept Talib on Hilton and so Pep Hamilton kept moving Hilton around (namely, in the slot) to create plays.  Hamilton helped to get Hilton into favorable matchups to get him going, and Pep will have to do the same thing this weekend.

As for what the Colts will do besides for Hilton, that's where it becomes a huge question mark.  Last time these two teams played, Darrelle Revis really shut Reggie Wayne down and made him not a factor.  At this point, Wayne can make some plays, but he's mostly just out there as a decoy for other receivers.  I think if Bill Belichick puts Revis on Wayne this time around, it would be a good thing for the Colts, as it would take the Patriots' best corner out of the game by covering a guy who's essentially a decoy player right now.  I think that the Colts really need guys like Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief to step up.  Nicks has really impressed in recent weeks and Moncrief provides a deep threat for the Colts that they really only have in Hilton.  So ultimately, yes, I expect the Colts to have to look at the combination of Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, and Donte Moncrief to make some plays opposite of T.Y. Hilton, but more than that I think that the tight ends (Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen) and Boom Herron will need to continue to step up in the receiving game.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/Coltsfanwilson">@Coltsfanwilson</a> What&#39;s up with Boom&#39;s shoulder/arm?</p>&mdash; JimSavage (@boileralum1) <a href="https://twitter.com/boileralum1/status/554823048214228992">January 13, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Boom Herron is fine.  He hurt his shoulder early in the game and appeared to re-injure it on his touchdown run, but he stayed in the game and played 68 of 75 snaps - an incredibly high percentage for a running back.  Chuck Pagano on Monday called him a "tough kid, great competitor" and it sounds like Herron will be fine moving forward.  Both Sunday after the game and on Monday during his press conference, Pagano said there were no injuries to report.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/Coltsfanwilson">@Coltsfanwilson</a> Do you believe that Pagano deserves lots of credit for these two playoffs wins?</p>&mdash; Henrique Stel (@HenriqueStel) <a href="https://twitter.com/HenriqueStel/status/554825377261318144">January 13, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Oh absolutely.  Without a doubt, Chuck Pagano deserves a lot of credit for where the Colts are right now in having won two postseason games and moving on to the AFC Championship game.  I think that Pagano's shortcomings are well known and I think that the criticism, while often justified at it's root, can get out of hand, and that causes many to miss games like Sunday when Pagano had a great gameplan and his team played great.  They came ready to play, they knew what they were doing, and they thoroughly outplayed and outcoached the Broncos.  Pagano's defense played what was quite possibly their best game since he came to Indy and they shut down the Broncos' powerful offense.  Their gameplan was similar to that of the Seahawks in last year's Super Bowl and to what the Colts did against the Broncos last year, and the Colts executed very well.  And that's the second game in a row in which the defense played great, which is very encouraging for the Colts.  Perhaps most importantly for a head coach, Chuck Pagano has this team believing in themselves.  The Colts came out on Sunday incredibly confident in their preparation and they went to work, and as we saw the results were tremendous.  I think what we all wanted to see from the Colts this year was a clear step forward - a clear improvement.  By beating the Broncos in the playoffs and advancing to the AFC Championship game, I think we've already seen it (regardless of what happens this week) and a big part of that has been Chuck Pagano and Greg Manusky's defensive unit.  To not give those two (and the staff) credit for these games is unfair.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/Coltsfanwilson">@Coltsfanwilson</a> Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, who is the current #1 Re-sign at this point?</p>&mdash; Michael N (@TheClique86) <a href="https://twitter.com/TheClique86/status/554829837345783808">January 13, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Well, pretty soon the number one priority will be quarterback Andrew Luck, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Colts lock him up long term this offseason.  So I think this conversation has to start with Luck when we're considering the number one priority to re-sign, but other than him there are a few guys that I think they should bring back, though no one that I would consider to be far and away the number one priority.  Defensive end Cory Redding, if he chooses to come back, should be re-signed.  Linebacker Jerrell Freeman should be brought back as well.  Cornerback Darius Butler has really earned another contract, too, and he is worth keeping around.  Then even guys like Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw, and a host of others might get smaller contracts (and we'll be waiting to see whether Reggie Wayne decides to retire or not).  So when talking about the Colts' number one priority to re-sign this offseason, I'd say they should focus on re-signing Andrew Luck (even though his contract isn't up yet) and then there are a number of other guys who won't command huge deals but who deserve to be brought back and who I think will be.

For a complete list of the Colts' 2015 free agents, check out this list from Spotrac.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/Coltsfanwilson">@Coltsfanwilson</a> do you agree with Wayne starting and playing so many snaps?</p>&mdash; Tiago Araruna (@tiagoararuna) <a href="https://twitter.com/tiagoararuna/status/554845838313525248">January 13, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Speaking of Reggie Wayne, let's talk about him a bit, since he didn't catch a single pass on Sunday and was targeted just one time.  Should he be starting?  Absolutely.  There's no question about that.  Reggie Wayne should absolutely, without a doubt continue starting for the Colts, and that's exactly what will happen as well.  But the question about whether he should be playing so many snaps is another question entirely.  He played 55 of 75 snaps on Sunday, which was 73% and the second most of any Colts receiver.  And I get why that was, too, but I do think the Colts might have to consider dropping those snaps a little bit.  Hakeem Nicks has really stepped up recently, and Donte Moncrief provides a deep threat that nobody on the team besides T.Y. Hilton provides.  I don't think it's really that terrible of a decision to continue to give Reggie Wayne so many snaps, as he can still make some plays and he plays incredibly hard (see his blocking on Sunday against the Broncos).  He does still have a role with this team, but he's become much more of an interchangeable receiver with Nicks and Moncrief.  And as long as the Colts continue to work all three in the offense and work with the matchups, then I don't have a problem with Reggie Wayne playing this much.