Westside Rob asked me a question on Thursday afternoon.
"Would you rather Fleener be gone when the Colts pick and live with doubt about the new regime, or do you want him to be available and have them pass on him?"
I didn't hesitate.
"I hope he's there. I hope they take him. I refuse to give up hope."
Rob asked me the question because he knows full well I've been despondent over the direction of the team thanks to ominous comments made by Chuck Pagano a few months ago. I had grave concerns about the future of the team. The modern NFL is built on the passing game, and only fools and the Cleveland Browns think otherwise.
While the first pick on Thursday was the one that will ultimately define the future course of the Colts franchise, the first pick on Friday was the one that will most influence the short term. Coby Fleener represented a fork in the road. Would the Colts take a dynamic receiving weapon or go with Courtney Upshaw, a dynamic defensive weapon?
As Coby Fleener sat on the draft board, we all wondered the same thing: Will they take him?
When the Colts moved on Fleener, there was euphoria in Indianapolis, but some doubt still lingered in my mind. After all, taking a tight end doesn't exactly portend a modern passing offense. I'll grant you that Fleener is about as modern as a tight end gets (that means he can't block for crap), but whatever. There was still room for doubt.
After the pick of Dwayne Allen, however, I was positively giddy. Allen was the second ranked tight end in the draft, and many had him graded higher than Fleener. His selection instantly gave the Colts an identity. I always felt that the move away from two tight ends after the 2006 season was a huge mistake. The Colts during the first eight years of Manning's career were always a two tight end team.
In just two picks, the Colts had managed to create an offensive identity, and instantly provided Andrew Luck with someone to throw the ball to, but it got better from there. They moved up in the end of the third round to land T.Y. Hilton, a slot receiver.
There was no question about what the Colts were trying to do: build a passing offense.
They finished out the best first five picks possible by taking Josh Chapman, a credible nose tackle. As much as fans worried about corners (and I worried about safeties), nose tackle was the one position where the Colts had no options at all. At every other position, they could at least 'fake it', but none of the nose options on the roster made any sense.
While the last five picks didn't wow me, it really doesn't matter. The first five were solid gold and revealed a team that has its head screwed on straight. Offense, particularly passing offense, is the way to build a consistent winner. The Colts last decade was built on surrounding Peyton Manning with as much offensive talent as possible and maximizing his skills. It would have made no sense at all to take Luck and then neuter him by selecting a gaggle of guards and fullbacks.
The defense will obviously need help before the team becomes a contender. This is still just a four-win roster, despite a good draft. However, with one more draft and a solid free agency period next year to plug some holes, and the Colts will be on their way to a competitive season.
I still have deep, deep concerns about Chuck Pagano, and I have reason to believe that he very much meant what he said about 'run the ball and stop the run'. However, I'm not worried about Ryan Grigson at all anymore. He's obviously bright and in tune with where the NFL is going. He's taken a major step toward building the Colts the right way, the way they were built before. Coaches come and go, but the front office is where success is born. Chuck Pagano can be an offensive neanderthal for all I care. I survived Jim Mora; I can outlast Pagano too.
This draft gave me hope for the future, and I'm thrilled to say I was wrong. When you watch the shenanigans of the Browns, you realize how hopeless things are when you have a terrible front office.
It's probably too much to ask for another offensive golden age in Indianapolis, but it looks like we are about to embark on the Silver Age of football in Colts country.
I was wrong, and I couldn't be more thrilled.
The interesting thing about all of this is that Grigson and Tom Heckert (Browns GM) are both from the Eagles' scouting department.
I've probably harped on this too much, but I'm not and won't be sold on the offensive line options that are out there. Even if Justice AND Ijalana (which I would not bet on) pan out and Reitz turns himself in to a starter, there's not enough depth to credibly weather a couple injuries. Going in to the draft, I was of the opinion that the only necessary step to take for the team was to protect Luck at all costs. Weapons would be nice and defense could probably wait, but protection was a must. Obviously they didn't do that.
That being said, if they had to do what they did, taking Fleener and Allen at least moves them in a direction. I love the idea of having Allen off tackle and splitting Fleener out wide or putting him in the slot and watching some silly nickel try to cover him. Thought Dallas Clark was a mismatch? Yowza. And then you still have a guy like Allen working the actual tight end spot. He might not be the speed mismatch that Fleener is, but he can beat linebackers. Of course none of that will matter if Luck is constantly under pressure. I just don't see how Grigs can be satisfied with the offensive line situation, even for just one season.
Why are you so down on the line? Castanzo and Ijalana were hurt last year, but for the periods they were not injured, they actually showed some good promise. In Ijalana's case, it was enough to convince the then regime that he had what it took to stay at right tackle instead of moving inside as a guard.
Joe Reitz may not have been outstanding at guard, but he wasn't incompetent.
A lot of the problems on the line are now gone. Diem, as good as he used to be, was in sharp decline, and he's retired now. Saturday was also beginning to not be able to handle his assignments (although if you watch game video, you'll notice that much of that was having to shade towards Pollak to cover for that guy's problems), and he's with the Packers now. And the aforementioned Pollak was taken out of Indy's hands, thank goodness. Yes, there is such a thing as addition by subtraction, and getting rid of Pollak is an example of that.
I'll agree without hesitation that there's not a whole lot of depth there, but as far as the state of the starting lineup goes, I think you're being too pessimistic. The pieces are there. As long as Castanzo and Ijalana handle both ends, that takes care of the edge rush. Reitz didn't fail on the inside, so that handles the interior left side penetration. I have no idea how good or bad Justice is, so I'll defer to you on that judgement, but that right there sounds like a decent amount of the O-line equation being in place already, and without even considering Satele at center (who I don't know a whole lot about, but who reads as competent, if not outstanding).
The line won't be a hall of fame one by any stretch, but you're making it sound as if Luck is going to be running for his life .8 seconds after the snap. And I submit that that's an overly pessimistic view of the situation. I think he'll be fine, good enough to not be David Carr'd that first year, and even good enough to develop properly.
We'll see. Come the start of the season, we'll all see how it works out.
@AJ_ I wouldn't say I'm down on the line. I'm not sold on the line. I know Justice has had some good years, but generally strong offensive linemen can't be had for a 6th round pick, even if they're just bailing salary. And yes, Polian and Caldwell saw enough out of Ijalana to keep him at RT, but these are the same guys that worked Ugoh in at LT and didn't replace Diem as he declined. That move might have been more out of lack of other options. I'm not saying that Ijalana can't do it. Heck, I'm not even saying that he'll be bad. I'm saying that I don't know that he CAN do it. Same with Justice. And Satele. And Reitz.
My point here really is that we know the Colts are a rebuilding team. I have no inflated expectations for next year or even the year after that. If they are competitive both of those years, awesome, but as a fan, I'm not going to be upset if they aren't. We've had some ridiculously good Luck with the Manning years, and most rebuilding plans don't turn around that fast (3-13 to 13-3). So, in the meantime, the most important thing to me is making sure the team's biggest investment doesn't get banged up, like Sam Bradford did. Or Matt Stafford does. A franchise QB is worthless if he can't stay on the field.
Given that NFL talent evaluation is just slightly more predictable than a total crapshoot, I just think that Grigs should have brought in more talent to insure that enough guys would pan out to build an above average offensive line early on and hopefully a good one down the line. I don't know that these guys WON'T do it, but statistics say that some probably won't pan out. Bringing in some extra talent would mitigate that.
@AJ_ I agree, but unless Anderson is better than most seem to think (not outside the realm of possibility), I do wish we had spent one more pick on an o-lineman at least. Right now, the depth chart is McGlynn, Shipley/Kirkpatrick, Linkenbach, and Anderson (Note: Seth Olsen is not that good.... uh, well, not as good as those above). One of those getting in at a time is OK. Multiples of these guys at the same time will be wretch worthy. I would love if the colts took a flyer on Eric Steinbach.
Also: I know you really want Ijalana to be the starting RT, but that spot is Justice's through next season at least.
@gbearrin Justice nailed down that spot? Huh. I didn't know that was already determined.
Well, my point is less about Ijalana being at RT and forget all else, and more that he'll be available to play and (hopefully!) healthy and ready to go. If they move him inside to guard, at least he'd still get some playing time. I'd think he deserves a shot at RT, but if it takes him a season or two to develop that, then that's all right. And even if he doesn't, well... as long as he functions well at guard, that'll be all right too.
@Factor I agree with your priority. I think the Colts priorities in this draft and off season should be offensive line, offensive line, offensive line, weapons (pass and run weapons), defense. I'm just not a good judge of the current offensive line so was hoping they had done that in free agency.
@Nate Dunlevy I agree that a good QB can make a line look better than it is. We have to look no farther than #18 for that. But you can't ignore the benefits to an offense, not just a QB, gets from having an above average to good offensive line. Better running game, more time in the pocket, taking fewer hits . . . I'm not sure how you can make an argument AGAINST it.
@Nate Dunlevy @Ubeor There are only two ways an O-lineman can affect the game: A really terrible player can be a negative and a really good pulling guard is a major positive. Again, though, if a pulling guard is worth a high end pick for you, you probably need to rebuild because you waisted a first round pick on Tim Tebow.
@Ubeor I can't remember a study on it off the top of my head, but my impression is not much. Manning, Warner, Roethlisberger, Rodgers all had horrific lines recently and had big YPA seasons.
Manning's YPA issues in 2010 had way more to do with high volume throws to bad receivers. O line was dramatically worse in 2009, but YPA was higher.
Near as I can tell, the line does not affect the passing game much at all.
@Nate Dunlevy You, and others, have proven time and again that the sack rate is owned by the QB, not the line. But, conversely, how much does line play affect Passing Yards per Attempt? Giving the QB more time in the pocket should lead to more time to find the open receiver, and fewer short-yardage dumps. I know in 2010, it felt like Manning was dumping the ball a lot due to poor coverage. Likewise, how much does the line play into interceptions, as the QB tries to force throws due to the rush?
@rogcohen this isn't my theory. Everyone who has looked at the issue has come to the same conclusion. Manning skews the numbers more sharply than anyone, but it's bigger than just him. His brother has the same exact effect, actually.
Here's some good reading on the topic. These were just some quick hit ones I had lying around. There's volumes of research on the subject.
Quarterbacks are responsible for sacks.
@Nate Dunlevy I disagree about sack rate and QB. They are correlated, but the only player I've ever seen truly skew the numbers was Manning. The Colts had less sacks than the Packers last year (and the Steelers, and the Lions, and only three more than the Patriots). Disregard the Steelers cause Ben holds onto that ball like it's made of gold, but I would argue the other QBs on those teams are much better than any Colts QB last year.
However, I do think the Colts O-line last year was the best we've had since 2006, and I think next year's o-line will be significantly better than anything Manning had since the Super Bowl win.
A line is fine, and in a league with unlimited resources, you would worry about it. But the run game has a low correlation with winning, and sack rate is almost entirely dependent on the QB.
It's not like you want a bad line. It's just that there are more important places to invest resources. Lots of awful lines are winning and making Super Bowls.
Both 2008 and 2010 Super Bowl teams had putrid, truly terrible Olines.
The most sensible I've heard to your argument is to look at what St. Louis did when they drafted Sam Bradford.
After taking Bradford #1 overall, Stephen Ireland immediately spent the 33rd pick on a LT (after taking a RT #2 overall the year before), then in round drafted a CB. A WR was taken in round 4, and 2 TE's were taken in rounds 5 and 6. None of these weapons panned out, Bradford struggled, the Rams struggled, and the GM and HC were fired 2 years later. Let's hope the "Weapons first" approach works better for Grigson and Pagano.
TL;DR: Protection first failed Sam Bradford and the Rams.
@trentdowney1 That's fair, but guys can not pan out in the opposite direction, too. If the Rams had gone defense first, or weapons first, those plans could also have failed. You can't knock the strategy just because the picks were bad.
Is Bill Polian still on the competition committee? It might not be a passing league forever... if the rules for defenders get any stricter, the game will be like the pro-bowl, and they just canceled the pro bowl. Things will start to swing the other way in the next 5 years.
Knowing how little we do about Chuck Pagano's character as a HC, what is the likelihood that he will just hand the keys of the offense over to Bruce Arians and say, "Do what you do, I'll handle the defense" ? Is it likely he'll stick to his specialty and let the offense run itself?
Well, this blows my theory that Nate was actually Brad Wells, using a nom de plume. Brad would never apologize. :-)
Am I crazy for hoping (thinking) we may actually have a decent season coming up. I don't mean we'd win the division, but we'd have a respectable 8 and 8? Or I am just talking crazy (,Ren)?
@buymymonkey I think you're probably crazy. The offense will be very talented but a work in progress at best. Even if Luck comes in and puts up a Cam Newton situation and Fleener and Allen somehow manage to approximate a slightly weaker Gronk/Hernandez tandem, this is still a one dimensional offense being run by a rookie QB. No matter how talented, they'll take their lumps. And I think that people drastically underestimate how bad a defense full of misfit toys will be. There's too many guys out there that just won't fit their position well and almost all of them will be playing at a lesser percent effectiveness because of differences in the system. And don't even get started on the secondary. It's going to be raining passing yards. So although I admire your spirit, I think that 8-8 would be beyond a best possible case scenario.
@buymymonkey A lot would have to go right for that to happen. Unless Pagano somehow manages to scheme the hell out of opposing offenses and somehow makes our D much better than it would seem to be with a secondary like to that of Detroit several years ago, I doubt we win more than 5, no matter how prolific our offense is. Luck might win more than Manning did his rookie year, but even with options to throw the ball to now, there are still a lot of rookies in key positions (and some players you don't want anywhere on a starting roster, defensively). With a perfect season from Luck, we might get 6. I just want to compete in games and see the young players improve. That's my only hope for this season, and I can't wait to see the Colts play.
@7IHd @buymymonkey I will always cheer for wins, but going 8-8ish this year would be the worst thing we could have happen. We need another year with a top 5 draft pick (I am convinced the Raiders go 1-15 this year and get pick 1) just to stock up the needed top end talent to create a long term successful franchise.
Well said and valid points. Look at what shitty front offices like Thomas at the Knicks and Jordan with Bobcats can do to dismantle a team. You could even make that argument for shitty owners like Brown in Cincy, but it appears he may have finally got his shit together now
@mattshedd @7IHd @buymymonkey This is a fallacy based on the NBA. You don't need a top draft pick to get franchise-changing talent. Look at teams like Cleveland or Oakland who constantly picked in the top ten. Heck, look at the Colts before Bob Irsay died. It's no coincidence the Colts didn't improve until ownership and the front office improved.
You build a strong team by drafting smart and getting a solid and non-risky prospect when picking in the top 15 or so. You don't need a top 10 pick two years in a row to get back to the playoffs.
@flores_salicis @7IHd @buymymonkey Those ranks (14 and 22) were both better than their conventional points allowed ranks for those years. I did forget to mention their field position edge. Overall, the Patriots defense is better than what was, conventionally, the 31st ranked defense in the NFL in 2011. Maybe not by much, and certainly not good, but I would take their defense over teh Colts defense of 2011, especially the Coyer version.
From this post: http://smartfootball.com/stats/a-closer-look-at-the-new-england-patriots-defense, it doesn't sound like the Patriots have had a very good redzone defense in the past few years. 14, 22, 21, 31 ranked red zone defense sounds pretty lousy to me. Apparently, their opponents also start with very bad field position to begin with, so the sample size is fairly small.
@buymymonkey Well, the difference was always obvious to me. When Nate wrote doom & gloom, he always gave reasons. Even if you disagreed with them, you knew the reasons. Brad, on the other hand, just blasted and employed the "douche" label in place of actual argument.
I still have some concerns over Grigson. Not the strategy (I love that), but the talent evaluation. Fleener and (to a lesser extent) Allen were good picks, and from what I see I like Hilton (although it does concern me that Irsay referred to him as "the kick returner" instead of "the wide receiver," I hope that's not all they drafted him for). However, the latter half of the draft was very questionable in talent evaluation. Was Ballard really that fantastic that they passed up on secondary or wide receiver talent to get him? What the heck was up with the Mr. Irrelevant pick? Was it really worth spending a pick on him?
I don't know. The scouts certainly know more than I do. But with the knowledge available to me, it didn't seem like they got much value at all with their day 3 picks (outside of Chapman, I love that pick).
@Kyle Rodriguez Michael Lombardi believes Ballard will be the starting RB by the end of this season...
@Kyle Rodriguez Ballard is being listed as one of the major sleepers in the draft (just like Hilton). He's a strong runner who has the speed to get back linebackers. He hasn't been worn down by overuse in college and looks like a strong one-cut runner between the tackles. He's not a burner on the outside, but that's Don Brown's role. If Ballard learns to utilize that big 5'10 frame of his and learns to run behind his pads a bit more (easily accomplished with a little coaching) then he could turn out to be a real find essentially in the sixth round. I've gone back and looked at the wide receivers and defensive backs taken in the 10 to 15 picks after Ballard, and none of them offer the same upside he does. I was a little confused at first, but the more I think about it the more I like the pick.
@Kyle Rodriguez I loved the Harnish pick...by the 'eyeball' test, he's better than any of the QB's we carried last season. He has potential, he has confidence unlike CP7 who just always looked overawed. Now, the eyeball test doesnt mean spit, my eyeballs may be as worthless as my spit so take that as you will. I had no problems with that pick though and like gbearrin said, at that point of the draft, if you hit, then great but dont expect to, there's a good reason those guys are 7th rounders and UDFA's. I'm glad we got a bunch of UDFA cornerbacks though...
The latter half wasnt as 'rockstar' as the first 5 picks but I think it may end up being as important...If Vick Ballard turns out to be Arian Foster part II, I wanna be the first guy who said "I told you so"!
@Platinum @Kyle Rodriguez So yeah, heard the Harnish pick was the Colts really liked him and wanted to sign him as a UDFA, but he already had a deal set in place with SD so his agent told the Colts if they wanted him then they better draft him with the last pick. I think he has potential and I am growing to like the pick more, but I still wonder who they would have targeted if they could have got him as a UDFA.
I think he fits the team good as a backup QB for the future. He has similarities to Luck and bringing he two of them of them along together should turnout to be helpful, I guess now Luck has a study buddy to go over things with, pretty sure he will be on the practice team this year coming up.
@Kyle Rodriguez Well, I understand your concerns a bit. However, I have made it a rule to never care about 7th round picks because the returns are essentially random. Having said that, I liked the Fugger pick after talking to a friend of mine. The Lavon Brazill pick was a good one. One of the picks I questioned-- and still do-- was the Ballard pick, but I see him as a solid third down back in that he's OK in pass pro and has good open field speed and hands. The other pick was Anderson, but like I said: If he makes the roster and sticks for three years and doesn't embarrass himself, then it will be a positive. So I would agree, it wasn't great, but its hard to know anyway.
Completely agree with you; I was TERRIFIED of the new regime when I heard "run the ball, stop the run." This draft more than quelled my concerns. Grigson knows what he's doing, at least when it comes to what pieces are needed offensively (we'll see if the players he drafted actually pan out).
The play-calling and big-time decisions (4th and inches, 4th down within the 50 yard, play-calling with the lead, etc) will go a long way towards showing us what kind of coach Pagano is.
So what, what if we focus on running the ball and stopping the run oh well, we are in a division that is controlled by top rushers. This does not mean that we will not have any focus on the stopping the pass but we need to make sure our priority is stopping the run. I could see how this would be a serious problem if we were in a different division but we are not, we will be going against Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and T.J. Yates since Schaub will be hurt before the last 3 weeks of the season. Ofcourse we will play other teams but I am sure that we will make adjustments during practice for different teams we will be competing against.
Also just because we are focused on the run does not mean we can not have a decent to strong pass game, I would not worry too much about what his philosophy is too much, I would more rather worry about how it is executed. During the first year I am sure we will have times when we will see that something is working good or bad and make adjustment, no need to worry about the guy before he has even coached a preseason game or went through a full training camp.
I now have deep, deep concerns about Chuck Pagano, and I also have reason to believe that he very much meant what he said about 'run the ball and stop the run'. At first I thought it was coach speak, but he said it again the other day and it made me cringe.
I was never worried about Ryan Grigson, as he came from the Philadelphia Eagles. Andy Reid was way ahead of his time. Back in the day, people questioned why the Eagles threw the ball more than they ran it.
I just hope that Pagano uses these offensive pieces correctly. I have visions of the movie Moneyball, where old curmudgeon coach Art Howe and new age GM Billy Beane weren't on the same wave length. The hiring of Bruce Arians gives me hope, but Pagano is going to have some influence on the offensive game plans.
We might be able to pass, but the "stop the run" portion of Pagano's statements might still be the mantra, because we sure can't stop the pass. I like that NT, and thought he was good valiue, but I would have gone with a CB or NT (Thompson?) instead of Allen. I am ecstatic that the Colts are obviously going to give Luck all the targets he needs, I just wish they drafted more for the defense, but hopefully that is the MO for the 2013 draft.
@dmstorm22 Grigson has said they had some defensive players targeted at 64 but they were taken before they got back around. I think that means Casey Heyward, the corner from Vandy to who went to Green Bay two picks earlier. Chapman is a better fit as a NT than Thompson, who looks better in the 4-3.
I think the Allen pick is a great pick. He reminds me a lot of Ken Dilger. It'll be nice to see two strong tight ends in the dome again.
I am just waiting to hear that Luck has flown out all the TE's and WR's to California to do some serious reps at a high school field.
Oh, Peyton Jr, make us proud!
I mentioned to you on twitter also that I was absolutely thrilled with the first five selections as well, especially the two tight ends. The effectiveness of running a 2 tight end set is insane, especially if you have a well rounded one who can block (allen) and a pure receiving threat who is a willing blocker. At some point you may get a nickle set to combat the receiving the the mismatches Allen and Fleener may have on LBs. which means you have a clear size and strength advantage with those TE's on a safety or CB. Thats when you hit them with the run.
As Nate said, Once the Colts went away from this offense, the offensive production, particularly in the running game, went down, which also lead to a less effective playaction game.
I think Pagano will be fine, he is in a learning process I expect him to grow as the team grows, he already said that he is willing to do whatever is best for the team.