With their 27-23 victory over the Tennessee Titans, the Indianapolis Colts moved to 9-4, taking a giant step towards earning a playoff berth, and securing their first winning season since way back in 2010. Like so many of their victories this year, it wasn't pretty. In fact, it was the Colts 8th victory of the season by 7-points-or-less (the Colts were 1-5 in one-score games in 2011).
If the NFL playoffs participants were determined by some BCS-style system, you get the feeling that the Colts would be seeded closer to top-5 in the draft rather than the playoffs. But this isn't college, and there's not some archaic system determining the Colts post-season fate. Wins, ugly, pretty, or otherwise, are wins, and 9 of 'em, whether they come against the NFL elite or not, are impressive, especially for a team with 60%+ roster turnover and all of the extenuating circumstances surrounding the team.
"Quick Thoughts" edition of the Monday Musings, share your nuggets of gold in the comments!
Quick Thoughts, the Good:
- As mentioned in the opener, the Colts have 8 wins in 1-score games. They are 8-1 overall in such games this year. Andrew Luck has scored in every opportunity in those late-game situations. Their only loss in 1-score games came against the Jaguars in week 3. You'll remember, however, that Luck's "Game-Winning Drive" WAS successful, it was just undone by Cecil Shorts' 80-yard touchdown catch-and-run.
Last year, the Colts were 1-5 in 1-score games, and 8 of their losses came by 10 points or less. It was a horrible year, but I don't think people realize just how close that team was to winning more games. Which leads us to...
- Andrew Luck is good. I know that some people want to be on this roller coaster of coverage - every great throw makes him the best, every bad throw makes him Curtis Painter. The truth is, you can't analyze football - or life - that way. Andrew Luck is either good or he's not. Good players make bad throws. Good players make bad decisions. A bad throw, a series of bad throws, doesn't make someone not good. I often wonder if people who judge someone on this play-by-play basis are serious, or just desperate for attention.
More about Luck: he plays in one of the most demanding offenses in the NFL - more down field throws than any QB, very few check downs, not max-protection plays, and a limited running game. If you put Luck in this offense WITH a dominating OL, his completion percentage would likely top out at around 65%. He would still throw interceptions, he would still make mistakes. Putting him in this offense WITHOUT a dominating OL?
What he's done in this situation - converting on 43.2% of 3rd-downs, throwing for nearly 3,800 yards, leading one of the top NFL offenses, and winning 9 games - is remarkable. Is their 8-1 record in 1-score games a sustainable feat? No, it's not, but here's what people keep forgetting: this NFL season is almost over. Luck and the Colts roster will almost assuredly improve and progress over the off-season. Can you say the same about the Jaguars, Titans, Bills, Browns, Jets, Raiders, Chiefs, and Chargers?
- I've been hard on Vick "The Lounge Singer" Ballard, saying that he's very good at gaining the yards that are blocked. Yesterday he did more than that. He gained 94 tough yards on 19 carries, on a day in which the Colts OL was, more often than not, dominated by the Titans DL. One of the questions I get asked the most is: "Is Donald Brown back, and if not, do the Colts draft a RB next year?" The first answer is no, I don't think so. As for the second question, probably, because they'll need depth, but I believe Ballard has shown enough to be the starter going forward next year. And please, Ryan Grigson, no more 1st-round running backs, if Ballard has shown us anything, it's that you can find quality NFL RBs in the later rounds.
- The OL sucks, but Anthony Castonzo does not. The 2nd-year player out of BC has a lot of doubters out there, questioning his size, toughness, and ability to be a stud LT. I don't know if Castonzo will ever be a stud, but he's very good, and the Colts are better for having him.
- TY Hilton is super fast and is quickly becoming must-see TV. He's a threat whenever he touches the ball, whether as a WR or a PR. I think Hilton's ceiling as WR is high, but even if he tops out at what he is now: a dynamic #3 with huge down-field playmaking potential, his skills in the return game are invaluable. In a draft full of great picks, Hilton may be Grigson's 2nd-best (
CHAPMAN Luck is first, obviously).
- That's about all the good you can say for the offense. The real goodness came - surprisingly - on the other side of the ball. First let me say that I've been a fan of what Manusky and the defensive coaches have been doing for a few weeks now; you may remember that I praised their scheme after giving up 30-something points to the New England Patriots. Nothing has happened since then to make me change my mind: I love the scheme, I love the disguises, and I love the way the defensive has been aggressively attacking opposing offenses. Again, they don't have all the players they need to run this scheme as well as they'd like, but they are doing a good job with what they have.
- I was a big detractor of the Vontae Davis trade, but I believe he's had two good games since returning from injury. Sure, he's given up two big passes (the long TD to Calvin Johnson, and the long pass to Kenny Britt yesterday), but both of those were, in my opinion, tough plays to defend. On the play yesterday, Locker made a perfect throw to the far shoulder, and Britt made a spectacular catch. Those things happen. If you're going to judge a cornerback's ability to cover perfect throws and spectacular catches, you're going to be disappointed in just about all of em. Is Davis worth a 2nd-round pick? I'm not sure, but I'm a lot closer to saying yes now than I was 10 weeks ago, and I believe he's show flashes of being the kind of player they can build a secondary around.
- Speaking of cornerbacks, Cassius Vaughn was doing Cassius Vaughn things, for 2 quarters anyhow. After halftime, I was ready to drive Vaughn to the NFL city of his choice, as long as that city didn't start with India and end in napolis. But for one stretch in the 3rd quarter, which included a pick-6, a tackle for a loss, and a huge pass defended on 3rd-down, Vaughn showed a glimpse of why the coaching staff keeps trotting him out there. If Vaughn could find a happy middle ground - we don't need pick-6s any more than we need 32-straight completions on a simple comeback route - he'd be a perfectly good #2/#3 cornerback. And I'd be happy to celebrate his plays right along with him.
- Somehow LB Pat Angerer has gotten the label of being a bad player. Much like the play-by-play roller coaster criticism of Andrew Luck, the criticism of Angerer was unfair and, more importantly, untrue. Angerer has been, and is still, a good player. He showed that in the second half of yesterday's game, coming up big in both run and pass defense. If Kavell Conner's hamstring injury is serious, the Colts will need Angerer to step up and fill that void, and I believe he'll be great.
- Let's give some love to some Guy! Lawrence Guy, that is. I have no clue who that Guy is, but I saw #67 make a few plays - enough that I had to go to the internet and look him up - in the backfield yesterday. With the injuries to Chapman, Nevis, and Moala, the Colts are dangerously thin along the DL, and will need big contributions from players like Guy. Also, his last name makes him an easy target for crappy puns! Some Guy played with a little bit of skill and a lot of Luck yesterday! You get the idea. I suck at this.
- Some love for the D as a whole. They were a bit shaky in the first half, but after the initial drive which yielded a TD, they surrendered 6 legitimate points (sorry, I don't count the last field goal which was heavily aided by referee incompetence). They stifled Chris Johnson and the Titans' running game all day long, and were very good against the pass in the 2nd half. Colts fans aren't used to this. From 1998-2010, they got by on an offense that did amazing, unprecedented things. While Colts fans were falling in love with Peyton Manning's air show, this is how the rest of the league was winning: ugly games with big plays from the defense. That's not a bad thing, it's a good thing. It's nothing to be ashamed of, really.
- Finally, let's all heap some praise on P Pat McAfee. His booming punts and deep kick-offs have saved the special teams all year, and his coffin-corner punt in the 3rd quarter changed the complexity of the game. McAfee should make the Pro Bowl this year - I would say it's a joke if he doesn't, but the Pro Bowl is already a joke - and is one of the big reasons the Colts should make the playoffs. So yea, go on the twitters and send the BoomStick some love.
Quick Thoughts, the Offensive Line
- They suck.
Quick Thoughts, the Referees
- Sunday's game may have been the most poorly officiated game I've ever watched, and I'm including all of Ron Winter and Walt Coleman's masterpieces. From the obvious pick-6 that wasn't, to the Titans drive aided by multiple phantom penalties, and all of the missed holdings and false starts in between, both teams had legitimate gripes with the guys in stripes.
I don't know else there is to say about it: The NFL refuses to have full-time officials. They refuse to fine and/or suspend refs for doing a bad job. They refuse to be open and honest about the performance of the officials. They refuse to have rules that aren't open to interpretation (someone define holding and pass interference to me). They refuse to take the on-field officials out of the replay process - basically giving them the option of covering up their own mistakes. After yesterday's pick-6 wasn't overturned, I'm left joining the chorus asking, "What's the point of replay?"
If I were in charge, Pete Moreli and company wouldn't be working another game this year.
Also, to everyone in the media who was all "lolz replacement refs suck, lolz" please, go away. NFL officials, in general, are bad. They've always been bad. Your crusade against people who were put in an impossible situation was the most disgusting form of mob mentality. You're bad and you deserve bad things
Oh and while we're bashing the replay system... here's the explanation given for the missed replay on the pick-6
Soooo.... as Greg asked... why have the replay?!?!
All the Angerer nay-sayers just don't know what's going on!
He came off a foot surgery, it's not completely healed, he's likely going to have another surgery on it again over the offseason but didn't want to miss playing and helping out this team however possible.
If he's fully healthy, the Indy ILB position matches up to some of the best in the league (especially the way Freeman has been playing).
I can't even imagine having to play a position like the LB position with an injured foot! And the way he played yesterday just shows how awesome he is.
I'm kinda giddy about seeing him and Freeman starting at ILB next year!
Quick thought, so Baltimore is not really standing out, they could easily lose hold of the conference to Cincy, especially seeing their schedules, would not be surprised if Baltimore lost 2 or 3 games straight
I think Luck is an incredible QB and, as soon as Peyton and Brady retire, will instantly become the best QB in the NFL (even ahead of Rodgers). Yes, he makes mistakes, but Peyton threw 28 interceptions as a rookie. 28! A record that will likely never be broken. Luck deserves offensive rookie of the year hands down.
Here is my question for you guys. Given how unbelievably well Peyton has been playing this season (5th MVP trophy is absolutely his to lose right now), do you think the Colts should have kept him for Luck to learn under ala Rodgers under Favre? Or do you think it worked out best for both parties since Peyton has a top 5 offensive line and a top 5 defense at his disposal now, not to mention a receiver that is rapidly becoming top 5 in the league in Demaryus Thomas?
Ugly wins are indeed still wins. And ugly writers...
... What? <i>Indict authors on this site? <b>Meeee</b></i>??? Never! ;)
Good stuff as always, Greg. I, too, feel good about Castonzo and Angerer. It is strange to me that so many have already given up on Angerer. I also like how Ballard is developing. I'm not sure what to think about Brown at this point. Every time he starts to look like he is solidifying his position as the #1 back, he gets injured.
I have to admit, there were some points in the game yesterday where I was kinda wondering if the Colts would be better off if BA moved on to another head coaching job. Maybe not (who would replace him?), but I do worry about this offense not using TEs and RBs on short routes and check downs with such a bad offensive line. I'm not sold that this offense will continue to work against good teams. Luck has just been, as you said, remarkable.
I like how the defense played the run all game and then took away much of the passing game in the second half. Manusky has been very good at disguising the defense, but a good chunk of the Colts' opponents have been mediocre to bad offenses with young QBs. Elite QBs, like Brady, are a different story. I would have liked to see Manusky make better adjustments in that game. Yes, the Colts beat Rodgers and the Packers. However, I think we would all admit that if that game were played now, the outcome might be very different. I will continue to worry about how Manusky adjusts to elite passing offenses. I would like to think a talent infusion is the answer but I would prefer the Colts be able to get pressure with four pass rushers as opposed to sending five or more so often.
The officiating...was terrible.
I think the real value of the Davis trade will play out next year (one way or the other). I'm not sure I would have given up a second for him regardless, but at least that pick is worth less and less as the season goes on...
@paulcareyjr If either the Bengals or Steelers had won yesterday, I would have picked them to win the division, Baltimore is in a free fall. It's fascinating.
@hankster From the moment I heard Vick Ballard's name, I thought it sounded like the name of a Vegas Lounge Singer from the 50s. It's a term of endearment from me to him.
@productive11 I don't like the idea of keeping both. The higher the 1st round pick, the more value it holds. Sitting Luck on the bench for year(s) to develop would have been a waste of the most valuable pick the Colts had had in 14 years. Peyton doesn't want to mentor and Luck doesn't want to be mentored.
The Colts, imo, went about drafting Luck in the best way possible. If they had kept Manning, I believe the best option would have been to trade the pick and rebuild the team on the fly (which would have been doable because Manning is so good).
And this is why I never bought the comparison between the Colts situation and the Favre-Rodgers situation: Rodgers was picked like 24th overall, much less franchise-altering.
@productive11 I might be wrong, but I thought the big reason to trade Peyton was that he cost too much. Or at least more than the team could afford if it was going to rebuild elsewhere.
As for "letting the rookie learn behind the master" I'm don't know how much there is to it. Different players obviously take different amounts of time to hit their stride, but I think the only way you get better is by playing. Not by backing someone up. Yes you may learn the offence and you may be able to further develop your technique while being a back up. You will not, however, get the experience of making decisions under stress nor will you be able to develop into a team leader.
I would argue that decision making and leadership are the two most important qualities for a truly good QB and I think playing is the only way to develop (discover?) them.
Having a QB in waiting behind your stater might ease the transition, but it can also break up locker rooms and damage careers. I would argue that Grigson did the right thing from a rebuilding stand point, but that is open to debate.
@bradicus18 thanks, Brad.
I'm really liking the defense. They've allowed random big runs, but by-and-large they've been really good against it, and they are missing a lot of their key DL guys. Even if they didn't improve the DL and simply got their injured guys back, I expect their front 5 (3 DL and 2 ILB) to be very good next year.
As for the Colts against elite QBs, yea, they see through the disguises easier, they make quicker decisions... basically, they neutralize the strengths of the Colts D. I think a better secondary and hopefully a better pass rush will help.
If you're going to force quick throws, you have to make quick tackles. Outside of Davis and the injured Powers, the Colts don't tackle very well.
Also, regarding the Patriots game specifically, I'm not saying they can shut him down completely, but an upgrade at S would go a long way towards helping contain Gronkowski.
@bradicus18 What do you think about Nate's argument that BA's offence is good for Luck since it allows (forces?) him to take on the game and make mistakes?
Personally, I'm also baffled by the lack of TE and RB check downs or quick throws to help Luck avoid pressure, but it is an interesting theory.
@Heracleitus I hope so, as I said, I was very against the trade when it happened, but the more he plays (and if he can stay healthy), the more I'm warming up to it. I still value the 2nd round pick quite a bit, but if he develops into a legit starting CB, it's more than a fair price to give up.
@Heracleitus it's also important to note that there has not been a single report of attitude or work ethic problems since he got to Indy.
@Robson2013 Thank you! I appreciate it.
I think both sides can be correct. Arians' offense is good for Luck and is in the neighborhood of the kind of offense I want the Colts to run, but I think they would also be doing themselves and Luck a service by finding middle ground. Shorter plays as a change-up, not a rule, aren't a bad thing. I'm not asking that they run the redskins offense, just something a little more QB-injury-friendly.
@hankster I have read that article by Nate and it is excellent. He points out exactly why Luck's stats look like they do. He points to the fact that in Arians' offense, there are no checkdowns. It's a high risk/high reward offense. Luck is smart enough to work with this offense but the option to check down needs to be there against good defenses. Especially considering the O-line.
@GregC I was against the trade too, but more because we only get two years of his nice cheap rookie contract. However, that was back when everyone thought this year was pretty much a loss (I mean, the Colts still probably won't win the SB, but getting to the party is... wow.) and that 2nd round pick was looking like #35 or #36 overall rather than closer to #60.
If he continues to do well and the Colts are able to sign him to a reasonable deal before/early next season OR if he makes the jump to the next level next year and the Colts end up with a shutdown corner even with a hefty price-tag, I could definitely see it being worth it.
Still... if we had got him for a third, I would have loved the deal a lot more.
@GregC @bradicus18 I think part of what we are concerned about is the seeming lack of cohesiveness or completeness in BA offence. To me it stems as much from how BA calls play as the play he calls. BA doesn't seem to use what Smartfootball calls constraint theory. Running one play to set up an play later or running different plays from similar schemes to punish the defense for cheating towards the run or pass.
I'd say part of our gripe is that we were spoiled by watching Manning use this approach to perfection. But I also think BA has a problem adjusting to what defense is doing to take advantage of it.