Over the last two weeks, the Indianapolis Colts have struggled as a football team. Sure, coming back in the second half again a decimated Texans squad was inspiring and fun to watch, but being in that position at all was entirely unnecessary. In the last four halves of football, Indianapolis has looked like a team that has lost its identity and is unsure of what new face it should put on itself.
The reasons the Colts are struggling are numerous, and for fans most certainly frustrating. But fans need to be careful not to become overwhelmed by the emotions that are caused when the Colts look terrible, as they did at home against Saint Louis, and need to rationally take a look at what is causing their team to struggle.
There is no denying that the Colts offensive line is in shambles. Losing a veteran player like Donald Thomas -- who GM Ryan Grigson brought in via free agency -- is the kind of thing that can have a lasting impact on an offensive line. Understand that losing Thomas and gaining rookie Hugh Thornton does not mean a one-for-one trade has happened. Thornton doesn't look to be a huge problem for the offensive line in terms of his individual assignments but he is NOT a verteran NFL offensive lineman who is capable of leading this group and his required place at LG means that when players like McGlynn or Satele get hurt, a less capable player has to step in and fill the RG spot.
Of course Samson Satele has been extremely inconsistent, and more often bad. McGlynn has looked good at center, doing what is required of NFL centers by calling out adjustments and ensuring everyone is on the same page. He is Saturday-esque in this nature and that kind of ability is absolutely NOT OPTIONAL for good centers at this level. Why the coaching staff has not accepted this reality and placed him at center is not entirely known but the observation is hard to ignore watching tape. That McGlynn also struggles at RG makes the reason for the move even more apparent.
Recently, partially due to the complete lack of the Colts to establish a running game (partially because they've stopped calling them after getting into big scoring holes), left tackle Anthony Castonzo's weaknesses against speed rushers have been exposed. While this is a frustrating thing to watch, Castonzo is not a "bad" tackle in the NFL. Most teams have the luxury of helping their tackles against the league's best pass rushers with other offensive players. The guy who would be in place right now to fill that role? Dwayne Allen. Out for the year.
The loss of tight end Dwayne Allen to start the 2013 campaign could be the biggest blow to Indy's offense, and that includes losing Reggie Wayne. No other offensive player on the Colts, other than Andrew Luck, has a more dynamic impact on the offense. Allen blocks as well or better than most of the offensive linemen on the team, he has excellent hands, great size, is a miss-match against any defensive position, and is strong enough to be a goal line and third down juggernaut. His absence is felt every day and makes running the offense immensely more difficult and complex.
Compounding the offensive line woes and the loss of Allen is an insistence on the part of the Colts coaching staff, namely Pep Hamilton, to telegraph his plays. People want to bash the daylights out of the Trent Richardson trade, just as they did years ago when Donald Brown struggled to get anything going in the running game, but like then the reason Richardson has been so woefully ineffective has MUCH LESS to do with his abilities and much more to do with the fact that he gets drilled immediately after the handoff on the majority of his plays.
Fans will point to Donald Brown's success running the football and generating offense and say, "but Brett it's clear thar that Richardson is a bust and Brown is better, how can't you see that?" The answer is simple. Brown is being used right, for the first time in his career. He is catching passes in space, running through open lanes on trap plays, and is benefitting from the very complaint I made earlier regarding the very vanilla offensive play-calling that telegraphs what the offense is going to do. When Brown gets the ball, it's a surprise to just about everyone -- including people watching the game. And he and the offensive line use this element and Brown's fanastic speed and surprising balance and strength, to punish opponents who have been lulled to sleep by the predictable. By the way, one other name that is a reason for Brown's success in this facade is Richardson -- whose presence on the field forces defenses to think run and absence leaves them back on their heals.
Now before we consider what Indianapolis could do to help their offensive struggles it's also absolutely crucial to realize that losing a player like Reggie Wayne is a crushing blow to any team. Wayne is a team leader on the field, is a wise and savvy veteran who can punish defensive weaknesses in his sleep. He has rare hands and reliability when the team needs offensive production and is the tried and true number on receiving option on the team in clutch and third down situations. Losing a player with that kind of impact hurts A LOT.
Now we know where we stand offensively. Our offensive line is a struggling group that has been inconcistent and has struggled through injury. Our two biggest weapons on offense -- Allen and Wayne -- are out for the year and that has a huge impact on how our offense will need to create yards moving forward. Our running game is stalling and our "big name" trade acquisitions Trent Richardson is getting blown up immediately after touching the football or at the line of scrimmage is the vast majority of his carries. Our offensive coordinator plays who is often either a stubborn offensive game plan or one that telegraphs his intentions so much that it makes opposing defensive players and coordinators jobs' much easier.
If we as fans and if the team accepts these realities we have a starting point of where we can turn things around.
1) Stop telegraphing plays. The element of surprise and a little bit of unpredictable will go a long way in loosening up opposing defenses and getting some big plays from players and in ways that Indy has not in a long time. The run game cannot be predicated on "smash mouth" "power running" when there is very little smashing going on by your offensive line and it clearly lacks power. Run when they don't exect, in a way they don't expect, and with people they don't expect. Misdirection plays, designed cut backs, pitches, delays, and more screen plays can be a huge boon to getting this area of the game going.
2) Consider removing the fullback and getting your playmaking running back on the field more often. Why not get Trent Richardson and Donald Brown on the field together more? Who would a defense target then? Maybe a read option style game with both running backs crossing the quarterback with Luck handing the ball off to the running back with the best chance for success can create a defensive problem. If your offensive weapons are dropping, you need more offensive weapons on the field at one time. Brown has been a weapon. Get him on the field. Create confusion for the defense. Give them something to think about.
3) Improve playcalling in general. On a third and long, handing the ball off to your fullback is asinine. I get it, this is not predictable or telegraphing. After all, WHO DOES THAT? But the reason it isn't done is because very few -- if any -- fullbacks in the NFL have a realistic chance of rumbling for 10 yards through the heart of a defense. If you want to continue using Havili in an effective way, he is much better as a security valve releasing and catching a pass for 3-5 yards than as a 3rd and 10 rusher.
4) Let Andrew Luck run the ball more. Look, I understand that he is the present and long-term future of the franchise. I get that putting him in harm's way is undesirable. But I also get it that HE IS IN HARM'S WAY BEHIND THE OFFENSIVE LINE. Anyone who is immensely more confident that Luck is less likely to get hurt in the middle of the meat grinder that occurs behind the Colts offense line in the pocket is seeing something I'm not.
This teams NEEDS offensive production and needs offensive weapons. Luck has one of the best young arms in the league but he is also extremely smart and an incredible athlete. If the defense wants to drop back and smother his passing options and try to play "take away," let Luck punish them. He can generate yards and DICTATE to defenses that they have to honor his presence on the field and rushing ability or get smacked in the face with it. Get one part of the offense going and the team will open up another part.
The reality is that the Colts offense is going to have to become more creative to find success. The style of offense Pep Hamilton wants to run is not the type of offense his players are able to run. There is still a TON of talent on the Colts offense that can be utilized to generate points and remain competitive against anyone in the league. Figuring out how to best utilize that talent and get it on the football field in ways that give the offensve the competitive advantage is the key.
Injuries hurt but they're a part of the game. The Colts aren't nearly as bad as they looked against Saint Louis and it's probably not time to start calling for anyone's head just yet. But it is key that those who are in charge of the Colts do what it takes to figure out how to make the most of what they are putting on the field. This is still a very good football team. It is time for some smart changes to make the good translate to the football field.
Regarding the Richardson situation, I just came across this on ESPN.com regarding Cleveland's run game fortunes after TR left: "The Browns rank 27th in the league in overall rushing with 734 yards in nine games, and they rank 27th in yards per carry with 3.7. Just about two-thirds of their offense comes via the passing game. They have one rushing touchdown, which ranks last.
In their last game, a win against Baltimore, Willis McGahee led the team with 31 yards on 21 carries. Since running for 72 yards on 26 carries in a win against Buffalo, McGahee has rushed for 37, 39, 28 and 31 yards -- and he leads the team in rushing. The best game in that stretch was a 45-yard effort, and it came from wide receiver Travis Benjamin on one carry on a reverse."
Tose numbers are pretty Richardsonesque. Pretty Coltsesque. So they're no better off now, and in a year, their #25+ draft pick may not be all that great, either. At least I am hoping....
Thank you for this good article!
Mainly, the Colts' biggest weakness are teams with good defensive lines, like the Texans, Rams, and Dolphins. And then you have teams with good o-lines with a good running back and/or QB. That's the Colts 2nd weakness, like the Chargers. Address the interior o-line in some fashion, mainly replacing Satele and/or McGlynn.
So, I still think the Richardson trade was good but this trade is like an excellent chili that has to simmer for a few hours. Taste it too soon, it's 'meh', taste it in a few hours, and this trade will be so good, it makes you wanna slap your momma.
With that, the Colts will be scary next season with the re-addition of Thomas, Allen, possibly Wayne, I believe, and I'm pretty excited. However, we're focusing on now. So, I'm thinking that the Colts will go 10-6, one-and-done in playoffs. I'm not sweating, whatsoever. I'm optimistic but realistic.
Oh and on the running back situation, I will say that Richardson is bad, it is not just the play call or line, those definitely don't help, and I agree his situation and Browns early on are the same, but it is more about not seeing holes than it is anything else. Brown had to learn that you can not keep running it hard into a hole that is not there you have to bounce it out early at times, especially when your line is not getting it done.
Also I agree that the open holes in the draw plays really help brown, where he can use his acceleration and get yards, surprises me that they typically never do this with Richardson, as you were saying mix it up, stop being so predictable.
Also I have to go against using misdirection plays in the running game, traps and counters are not good for this offense due to the weaknesses of our offensive line, most tosses won't work either for that same reason, these plays typically take more time, and our line allows guys to get in the backfield and make plays or they get pushed back on tosses and help stretch the play out.
I think straight ahead run plays that aren't in bunch situations, and quick draws are the two best things we have going.
The second to last paragraph all the way, to me that about explains it all..
I blame the majority of this on Pep, even more I blame it on Pagano, as a head coach you have to see problems and address them, and to me if Pep keeps doing this game in and game out then either Pagano is not speaking up, or he is speaking up but not putting his foot down.
There are so many bad calls by Pep it is ridiculous, I mean we do too many long developing pass plays when our line can't hold blocks that long or pick up stunts, and the worst part is we don't even incorporate a dumpoff for Luck to throw too.
Another thing with him, just because you are down big does not mean you have to hit a deep play every drive to get back in it, sometimes you need to keep drives going get some rhythm with your team, sometimes we try to force the pass so much that makes it so easy for defenses to stop it and destroys any type of momentum we have built up.
I love the idea of putting Richardson and Brown in together. Maybe the old "Pro Set" that lends itself to lots of unique trap plays.
I would add a fourth suggestion: They need to run most of their routes to 10+ yards. When your number 2 receiver is only catching the ball at 47% of the time, going short will not necessarily help us move the ball. I would love to see us bring back a few of the route combo's from last year, give Luck the chance to move the ball in chunks at a time.
Also, I think they need to design plays aimed at putting Fleener as a central player. Let him be our big third down guy.
Regarding Richardson, in my opinion there are two things to consider. The first is, was he worth trading our #1 drat pick? To me, that ship has sailed. In order for Richardson to be worth a #1 he would have to be "special" in some unique way. He has shown during his season with Cleveland and his time with the Colts that there is nothing that seperates him from dozens of other NFL backs.
The second, is just to forgot about #1, and consider how he can best help the Colts. Is he the best option the Colts have now? What is the best way to utilize what he can do? To say that the Colts are calling bad plays for him, is just asinine. They are calling plays that fit his skill set. The plays they call for Donald Brown fit his skill set. Just to say that Richardson would be better served if he was getting the same plays as Brown is making the incorrect assumption that he could perform them as well as Brown. He would not as he is not as fast and elusive as Brown.
The Colts need Richardson. They need him to soften up defenses and pick up tough yards. When they have late game leads they need him to be a closer. But to expect him to morph into Maurice Jones Drew in his prime, is not going to happen. Regardless of the plays that are call for him.
Great article!! This is why Colts fans are so frustrated. We recognize that losing Dwayne Allen, Donald Thomas and Reggie are big losses. But be more creative and quit telegraphing the run and saying your a power running team when you don't have the talent to back it up. If you are a power running team, why didn't you run it 1st and goal at the one yard line last week. I like the idea of DB and TR in the back field at the same time. DB is a great option for a screen or slant. Do more roll outs and how about some reverses with TY or DHB?
Nice writeup! Tonight is a good chance to either become very angry (or sad), or say "meh, Rams were an aberration".
(shhhh...some typos in the article...)
@Bobman1 For comparable production, I'd rather have McGahee and the first round pick to spend on a WR. I see absolutely no reason to let Grigson and the FO off on this. They made a mistake and they need to realize it. Just as importantly they need to realize that it came directly from their flawed run-first philosophy.
@SirIngenious The chili might end up delicious but it's not worth selling your car to get.
@mattshedd I think we just need more plays that attack different levels of the defense, it seems more like we have either deep plays, medium plays or short plays.
I also think we need to use a ton more of RB screens like you said, I don't like the idea of the WR screens though, our WR group is not strong in the blocking department especially with Allen and Wayne out, I think a lot of those plays would get blown up more often than not.
Also it sucks when you have so many guys who have inconsistent hands, there is only so much you can do to help with that.
@mattshedd Love to see us bring back a few of the route combo's from last year." Sighhhh. I agree completely, but I'm pretty bummed that Pep's approach has been such a failure that Arians mediocre offense looks like a solution by comparison.
Running either TY or DHB on go routs deep posts nearly every play would probably open things up for Fleener and Whalen underneath. I would also love to see a few bubble screens (I never thought I would say that) or simple RB screens to Brown. Running DHB Brazil/Whlen and TY out of bunch sets to one side would also probably help. Sometimes they could run a combination tree and sometimes a screen.
The Broncos run that play very well with Donald Thomas.
That's the percentage of run plays that Richardson is met with first contact in the backfield. And at least until recently (I haven't checked in a couple weeks), Richardson was in the top two in the league in broken tackles.
He'll never be Edge. He may never be Addai. But he's a good back, being used horribly behind a line that sucks at blocking in the power set.
@DougEngland I like your analysis, but disagree with the assessment of TRich. It is harder to find a back like TRich that can soften up defences than it is to find a DBrwon slash and dance back. That's why he was drafted third overall. The fact is he played in Cleveland, and was injured 3 games into his rookie year. Also, this year its apparent that he has not been given any running room at all. So I think its safe to say the jury is still out. Was he worth the no. 1 pick the Colts traded for him? No. But that is not his fault, and its only true because running back was not the problem that needed addressed; the offensive line was. Trent is a much better back than DBrown, but has not had much of a chance for success. If Donald was the starter it would be just as bad if not worse. He has had his chance and that's why he's not the starter. Maurice Jones Drew had an awesome line to run behind, and now that he doesn't he doesn't look so good anymore.
@Payton @SirIngenious And whatever record the Colts wind up at the end of the season will determine what kind of car we've exchanged. If we end up with a 6-10 record, it will be like trading in a Lexus. If we end up with a 11-5, 10-6 record, it will be like trading in a Civic.
Think about the possibilities of Fleener, Ballard, Allen, Rogers, Hilton, Wayne, and T-Rich with Luck. And with the interior o-line fixed up. Insane.
And hopefully, we'll be in a possession of the best damn chili in the world by next season that will even make Andy Reid's mouth water. And that will be a victory.
@chip_bennett @DougEngland I would like to add I have seen you use this stat before and I don't mind it, but it has to be added that some of that is his fault as well, he sometimes does not hit holes hard, but takes too long to make his mind up about what he wants to do, you can not do that when your line does not block well, you have to make quick decisions and find the hole, to me he really struggles in this area.
@DustinLeitch @DougEngland MJD has had awesome lines and crappy lines to run behind. He was successful behind both. There is really nothing I am seeing in Trich's history or performance that merits him being rated better than DB. They are different types of backs with different roles, so it's really not even really fair to compare them.
@paulcareyjr @Payton @DustinLeitch @DougEngland If coaching can fix those problems, he would probably make it to average or above average. Despite all his broken or missed tackles, he has been pretty bad at making people miss at the 2nd level. Couple that with an apparent lack of breakaway speed and you can see why his longest play from scrimmage is 32 yards.
@Payton @DustinLeitch @DougEngland I think he has more potential, than DB, but he needs coaching bad, holes don't stay open as long in the NFL level as they did when he was at Bama, he has to learn to diagnose what is happening and make quick decisions so then he can use all of that talent he has, until he does that he will just be an average to below average RB.