Tell me if you’ve heard this one before...
A guy comes out of the gate swinging and lands some heavy blows. The opponent is on the ropes. Then, for some unknown reason, the guy lets off the gas. He stops being the aggressor. The opponent gains momentum and almost delivers the knockout blow but loses by split decision. The fight should not have been close but it was because of poor fight management.
Sadly, this boxing analogy is all too familiar to Colts fans. That’s because the Colts almost always fit into one of these two roles in practically every game. They either come out hard and lose steam after halftime or come out soft and somehow pull out a win or close loss. Neither situation bodes well for Pagano.
This week was one of those weeks. The Colts came out on fire, going up 28-7 at one point in the first half. The offense was rolling. The defense was playing well. Then something all too familiar happened. Chuck Pagano let off the gas. Why, you might ask? Well, that’s a great question that Pagano would answer with some nonsensical analogy that leaves you asking even more questions about power tools, grinders and food processing than you ever thought were possible.
It echos back to Pagano’s inability to adequately manage a game. As pointed out by Tony Romo in the Green Bay broadcast this past weekend, the first 20-30 plays are scripted specifically for that week’s opponent. This is actually more telling than you might think. Say the Colts scripted out their first 30 plays. The first three touchdowns were scored within the first 29 offensive plays.
But.. but.. Stephen, the Colts still scored another touchdown after that so why doesn’t Pagano get credit for that one? I’m so glad you asked that exact question.
If you look at that last Colts touchdown drive, they got the ball on a short field at the Cleveland 45 yard line. The play calls from there on out were as follows: Gore up the middle for no gain. Defensive Pass Interference for 34 yards to the Browns 11 yard line. Gore up the middle for 7 yards. Gore up the middle for 4 yards and a touchdown.
Seems rather predictable, right? Seems awfully old school, right? They’ll just run up the middle three out of four times with a deep ball sprinkled in there. Also, TY Hilton was not getting to that ball regardless and the Colts got bailed out by Jabrill Peppers, one of my least favorite players from last year’s draft.
In the second half, the Colts had seven offensive drives that resulted in 3 points. They earned three first downs on those seven drives. The drive that led to the field goal was initially another three and out but the Browns were called for a neutral zone infraction on 4th and 2 that gave the Colts a first down.
I’ve heard of prevent defense before but never realized Pagano was actually a proponent of the prevent offense as well. Needless to say the Colts went ultraconservative in the second half with primarily predicable runs or short passes in long yardage situations.
Speaking of ultraconservative, let’s discuss my intense hatred of the prevent defense. A defense it appeared the Colts slipped into after going up 28-7. A defense that allowed the Browns to score and build momentum heading into halftime.
The Colts defense was playing well by being aggressive. Why Pagano and the coaching staff decided to let off the gas is beyond me? If this were a rookie head coach, I might chalk it up to a lack of experience. However, Pagano has been the Colts head coach for 5+ years now so that excuse doesn’t hold any weight.
Even Vegas doesn’t believe in Pagano with the Colts being a home underdog to the Browns. Yeah, you read that right. The Browns almost came back and won this game. The Browns, who lack talent at almost every position aside from All-Pro offensive lineman Joe Thomas, almost came back from 28-7 deficit on the road to win the game with a rookie QB.
Let that all sink in.
The real question Colts fans should be asking is how long can Jim Irsay and Chris Ballard accept this substandard level of coaching? The answer, sadly, is that it depends. It depends on if Irsay is willing to fire Pagano mid-season, which I doubt happens. It depends on if the team is actually seeing how Pagano develops players to determine his fate, which I hope is not the case because it is all too clear to anyone following this team that Pagano is an below average NFL coach in almost every respect.
In a prior piece, I mentioned I thought the team may be being ultraconservative with Andrew Luck in order to truly gauge Pagano’s actual ability to coach. As a wise fellow Stampede Blue writer said to me, and I’m paraphrasing here, if not for Luck saving the Colts with spectacular comebacks over the years, Pagano’s coaching inadequacies would be that much more glaring.
Channeling my inner Herman Edwards, “You play to win the game!” Sadly, it’s becoming clear Pagano simply coaches not to lose. This philosophy is unacceptable and in most circumstances, it will get you beat.
The Colts and their fans deserve better.
They deserve an actual NFL head coach, not Chuck Pagano.