The Indianapolis Colts are reeling after another blowout loss at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars—despite an offseason of supposed improvements and vows that what shockingly happened during last year’s late season collapse wouldn’t ever again in franchise folklore.
Even after team owner Jim Irsay emphatically declared that ‘all chips were in’ earlier this past offseason—and the franchise scapegoating their former quarterback, Carson Wentz, for their late season failures in the process, the Colts once again mailed it in this past Sunday in North Florida. It may have been even worse than the last beatdown to the Jaguars (because the organization from top-to-bottom clearly learned nothing at all from that still very fresh wound).
That’s not a Florida tan, as...
No one should be feeling the heat more right now than head coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard because the results simply haven’t been good enough—in what’s a results driven business, bottom line. (Especially when other NFL franchises such as the Super Bowl winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams have instantly transformed into contenders over the course of an offseason or two, not taking the better part of a decade and still counting).
They’re both good guys (great, so was former head coach Chuck Pagano), but Ballard is beginning his sixth year—Reich his fifth, and the Colts have just one playoff win and 0 division titles to show for it between the top leadership pairing. Ballard is 41-41-1.
The Colts franchise can’t ‘slow play’ this thing forever. Building through the NFL Draft and retaining your own homegrown guys is a great philosophy to have sustained long-term success, but we’re in Year 5-6 now with this regime and where are the wins to show for it?
Heck, is there even progress anymore at this point?
The franchise appears to be sliding back into irrelevancy, mediocrity, and to losing ways—if someone doesn’t quickly take the captain’s wheel and right the ship in very stormy waters.
Who’s going to be that beam of light to avoid what appears to be otherwise dark days ahead?
Collectively, it hasn’t been nearly good enough, and the clock should be ticking for each:
Head Coach Frank Reich
Look, I like Frank Reich as an individual.
He seems like a genuinely good man, with clear conviction in his faith which carries over into his professional life, and is a gifted offensive play caller at times. (Reich has actually schemed to the Colts’ advantage in the past, something that Pagano never did).
However, too often than not as of late, his teams have been out-coached, out-game planned, and inexplicably gotten off to poor starts both to begin games, as well as to start the regular season as a whole.
It feels like the Colts are always playing catch up and exerting so much energy digging out of holes by getting off to such horrific starts respectively—that they eventually run out of steam late. (Although this past Sunday, there was no spirited comeback attempt by the Colts at all, as the squad was just lifeless in what was a putrid performance all-around).
Why can’t this team just play good, winning football from the start of things though?
There are some clear deficiencies with this roster (which we’ll get to), but for a head coach whose Colts teams used to be adept at the fundamentals, they no longer are good at much of anything.
What are Reich’s teams calling card anymore?
These Colts aren’t even doing the little things well anymore.
Too many ‘easy’ mishaps.
Too many coachable mistakes.
The Colts just didn’t get beat this past Sunday either, they got killed. Shut out and shellacked in what was an entirely uncompetitive football game to a divisional rival from start-to-finish, again.
It’s starting to look more and more with each passing day like Reich is maybe career offensive coordinator material—and maybe not the head guy you want leading along the sidelines anymore.
Even with veteran Matt Ryan’s big offseason addition, there appears to still be a lack of leadership and urgency with this squad—and maybe that starts near the top with Reich.
The coaches and players keep saying all of the right things publicly, but no one actually does anything about it when Sundays roll around.
Who’s going to light the collective fire?
You can’t keep saying, “We’ll get them next Sunday,” because you eventually run out of them—and your season is over, with a losing record, and no playoff berth to speak of.
Unfortunately for Reich, fair or unfair, his seat is the hottest of anyone right now.
General Manager Chris Ballard
I’ll say this for both Chris Ballard and Reich, when both accepted their positions a few years ago, I’m sure each fully expected that the Colts would have the starting quarterback position safely covered for the better part of a decade regarding Andrew Luck (in what’s the hardest position to find a great player).
The Colts have had major turnover with their fourth different starting quarterback in the past four years—now with veteran quarterback Matt Ryan at the helm (although some of that is clearly self-inflicted by their own actions, to be fair).
That being said, there have been at least a handful of young promising quarterbacks drafted (and not even #1 overall) such as Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, Justin Fields, etc., as well as traded, including Matthew Stafford, that the Colts could’ve otherwise acquired.
Simply put, while not easy to pull off such a maneuver, there’s been enough time for the Colts to find another long-term answer at starting quarterback after Luck’s retirement—if the team had actually wanted to take such a shot.
The Colts did attempt to in some capacity, swinging and missing on last year’s big offseason acquisition Carson Wentz, before following in the step of the Philip Rivers mold again, electing to go with the ‘former great in the twilight of his playing career’ theme again regarding Ryan (with so far muddled results this go around).
Point being, that Luck’s abrupt and shocking retirement can no longer be used as a crutch three years later for this current regime. He’s long gone, and they’ve had time to effectively audible and find a long-term alternative.
Like Reich, Ballard is a stand up guy, who’s consistently highly regarded for his candor, kindness, and how he treats the media.
He’s also a shrewd talent evaluator at times—as he absolutely crushed the 2018 and 2020 NFL Drafts with cornerstone Colts for what projects to be many years to come.
However, he’s built these Colts teams to win in the trenches on both sides of the ball. When Ballard arrived in 2017, he wanted teams that could win December and January football.
The Colts aren’t beating anyone in the trenches right now in September, so there’s no need to worry about playing in the late winter though.
They’ve been handedly dominated for 7 out of 8 quarters now in these same trenches.
The league’s highest paid offensive line, and a defensive line that features a former All-Pro, Pro Bowler, and first round pick haven’t earned anywhere close to their salaries or meeting the offseason hype collectively.
Ballard can’t necessarily be blamed for the regressions of offensive linemen such as Braden Smith or Ryan Kelly, the ‘hot and cold’ play of DeForest Buckner, or even Yannick Ngakoue’s surprising early season silence—but he can be blamed for not bringing in a more proven starting left tackle or right guard to challenge the current incumbents along the o-line.
Matt Pryor looks like a backup swing-tackle, while Danny Pinter is better at center. The problem, there’s no real proven competition to push or replace them right now.
There are just a few of the Colts deficiencies that were noticeable to even the casual fan that Ballard failed to address this offseason—believing the current guys were good enough (news flash: they still aren’t).
The other positions:
Those positions’ issues have already reared their ugly heads to begin the season, which has both cost the Colts games and significantly hindered their ability to ultimately win.
It’s not just that Ballard ignored the very obvious, but it’s fair to wonder whether the team he’s constructed—whose best player is a running back and among its highest paid players are an offensive guard and linebacker, is the smartest way to consistently win in today’s NFL.
Offensively, Ballard wants to win by deploying power, i.e., smash mouth football, by effectively running the rock. However, with a lack of clear and dynamic talent at his receiving skill positions (beyond clear stud Michael Pittman Jr.), it may be a playing style better suited for the 1930’s than the Year 2022—in what’s clearly a passing league now.
Right now, it’s a unit that simply isn’t good enough, and that’s with Ballard investing three former second round picks (Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell, and Alec Pierce) into the unit. (To be fair, Pierce is only a rookie, but that’s why immediate help was needed).
However, where was the veteran offseason addition this year at starting WR2?
When you watch some of these other prolific NFL offenses with impact speed and separation at their receiver spots (or I’d even take consistent production at this time), and it’s fair to wonder what exactly Ballard was thinking was going to happen this year with this limited group.
It’s an offense whose quarterback isn’t capable of carrying an offense at this late stage of his playing career and needs help from both his o-line (with a clear lack of mobility behind center) and his receivers, as he can’t consistently rip it and ‘throw guys open’.
Make it make sense!
Fortunately, the Colts’ top brass still has time to turn this thing around—after all, it’s still only Week 3, but their time is clearly running out.
It behooves Colts fans for them to quickly recover, but fans are rightfully running out of patience and are clearly frustrated regarding the lack of progress and meaningful results.