The Indianapolis Colts lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars 51-16 on Sunday. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the team "learn" loosely):
If you're playing the blame game, the answer is "yes"
I can't count how many times I've been asked some variation of this question: "who's fault is it for the Colts' struggles?" Is it Chuck Pagano? Yes. Is it Ryan Grigson? Yes. Is it the offense? Yes. Is it the defense? Yes. Is it the special teams? Yes. In other words, there's not just one person or group to blame for the Colts' struggles, their 6-7 record, and their back-to-back 35 point losses. At this point, I'm not sure how much value there is to debating which one deserves to go more, Pagano or Grigson. Why not both? Have either of them done their job this year? (In case you need help here, the answer is no.) The players haven't played well, the coaches haven't coached well, and the acquisitions haven't all worked out well. It would be nice and simple if there was an easy fix or one specific area that was struggling. Then, perhaps, the team could turn things around. Then, perhaps, Chuck Pagano's comparisons to the 2006 Super Bowl team could be accurate, as Bob Sanders coming back was the missing piece that team needed. This year, the team has struggled in so many different areas that the return of any one player might not make the crucial difference (more on the injured players in just a moment). But the offense has managed just 26 points combined in the past two weeks against two defenses that have given up plays and opportunities. The defense has given up 96 points combined in the past two games. The special teams unit has given up two punt return touchdowns. There has been a lot going wrong this year for the Colts, so when someone asks you some variation of this question - "who is most to blame, Chuck Pagano or Ryan Grigson?" or "who is most to blame, the offense or the defense?" - you can answer yes, because it's a team-wide issue.
The Colts need their injured players back
I know, I know - I just said that the Colts getting an injured player back won't be the magic answer like it was in 2006, and that's true, but at the same time we can recognize that this team is missing some of their most important players. On Sunday, they were playing without starting cornerback Greg Toler, starting outside linebacker Erik Walden, and starting inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, which obviously hurt the unit. The necessity of getting the injured guys back was even more apparent on the offensive side of the football, however. Matt Hasselbeck has had two rough games in a row, making questionable decisions, making bad throws, and misfiring often. And, mysteriously, everyone who thought the Colts should stick with Hasselbeck as their starter have grown quiet, not wanting to admit their mistake. Because we have seen very clearly in the past two weeks this one thing above all others: the Colts need Andrew Luck back.
With it being Star Wars week (that's what I'm unofficially naming it, by the way), let's use a Star Wars illustration. This is the Colts' message right now: "help us, Andrew Luck, you're our only hope." If the Colts hope to have any - any - chance at making noise in the playoffs (or, perhaps, even making the playoffs), they'll need their franchise quarterback back on the field and playing well. If there is a Bob Sanders to be found this year (and I'm not sure that there is), it would be Andrew Luck. The Colts desperately need Luck back, and while Hasselbeck has done a solid job overall while filling in, the last two games have shown very clearly how much the Colts have been missing their starter. At the same time, though, the offensive line has not done Hasselbeck many favors the past two weeks, and the Colts need to get Anthony Castonzo back - especially if they want to put Luck back behind that line. The Colts' offensive line has actually been solid this year, but in the past two weeks they have really struggled. They have had to shuffle their line and there has been confusion, and while getting Castonzo back in there won't solve the issues of the other players, it will get the Colts back to the line that was doing a fine job earlier this year - the best option the Colts have.
The Colts are in trouble
Last week, when the Colts were blown out by the Steelers, I urged Colts fans not to overreact, despite how ugly it was. It was a game the Colts were expected to lose, and with three of their final four games against the AFC South, the Colts were still in good shape. Then, the Colts were blown out by the Jaguars 51-16 and all of the sudden things aren't looking so promising anymore. That's not to say the Colts won't make the playoffs, but it leaves them even less room for error. Next week's game against the Houston Texans in Indianapolis will be MASSIVE. Absolutely huge. If the Colts win out, they will win the division - but that would include a win over a tough Texans team next week (and then two more wins after that), which is no guarantee. And if the Texans win for the first time ever in Indy, then the Colts are in much, much bigger trouble even than they are right now. Because as it stands, the Colts are at 6-7 and three teams in the running for the wild card are 8-5 (with two of them holding victories of the Colts this year). In other words, the Colts are going to need a lot of things to go right for them to make the playoffs without winning the division, making next week's game by far the biggest of the season. Ideally, we thought the Colts might have a cushion coming into the game thanks to a win over the Jaguars a week earlier. Instead, the team is reeling after back-to-back 35 point losses with a 6-7 record with three games left to go. The season isn't over by any means, but the Colts are in a bit of trouble right now. They still control their own destiny, but they have almost no room for error from here on out.