This year, the Colts have alternated between stretches of difficult-to-watch and astoundingly great play. While it always looks better when they win, the problems still exist, and Head Coach Chuck Pagano is well aware of the egg the team nearly laid on Sunday Night Football.
“You’re exactly right,” he said to a reporter asking about the team’s first half problems. “It’s the big pink elephant in the middle of the room. The win does cure, you can walk around it and avoid it but we don’t do that.”
They’ll come back in here Wednesday morning and a lot of guys are already in here. They’ll be in here tomorrow. They’ll watch that tape. We’ll point out everything in all three phases. Individually, as position groups and go back to work and get the mistakes corrected, get the communication cleaned up, get the technique cleaned up.”
If there’s anything about play calling anyone hopes they will change (and the first half disaster did raise some questions before three straight 2nd half TD drives), Pagano isn’t showing his hand – and he shouldn’t. He did sound, however, quite a bit like a coach coming off a loss, which is appropriate considering the way much of the game transpired.
“You can’t drop snaps,” he said. “We know that,” he said. “You can’t have punts blocked, so to speak. Even though we don’t feel like from a TV copy they got a piece of that ball. Can’t give up sacks, big plays. You name it, we did it. We’ll take a look at it. Everybody knows exactly what they have to do and what they need to clean up for us to play better football.” (It should be noted the amazing play by the punter after that dropped snap, penalties notwithstanding)
In the second half, as we all know, the Colts only handed the ball off to a running back once before the final “dive play” drive to burn up the Texans’ time outs (a first down on that possession could have ended the game). Despite receivers dropping passes all over the field, they chose to put the game in the hands of their best player.
Luck came through, forcefully building chemistry and confidence with his receivers on the fly, and the quick-striking aerial attack was more than the Texans could handle.
“Again being down what we were we didn’t want to totally abandon the run game, but we felt like the offensive guys did a great job.” Pagano said. “Pep did a great job changing the tempo a little bit. Did a little bit more up-tempo and give our guys a chance to make some plays.”
Luck does it Again
Pagano went on to say he hasn’t seen a tougher quarterback under pressure, something we’ve heard many times over the past couple years, as Andrew Luck keeps piling up spectacular moments and game winning drives (10 now in 24 career regular season games).
For all of us watching as the young quarterback powers through would-be sacks, throws perfect strikes with defenders closing in, and otherwise excels on the field, we’re often surprised by his play, despite already expecting something great.
Not so, for his teammates and coaches, who see it every week, every day, every practice snap. “No, because he does it every day in practice,” linebacker Erik Walden said of whether he’s ever surprised or amazed by what Luck can do. “Being in Green Bay last year, I was a witness of it. When we had them 21-3 and Luck led the comeback being a rookie. That speaks volumes about him and he just continues to work hard. He’s a great person, great person off the field. We follow his lead.”
There are plenty of stats to back up what a fine QB Luck is turning out to be – 13 touchdowns to 3 interceptions, a 71 QBR (5th in the league), a 91.5 standard QB rating, 17-8 record (including the playoffs), 7 fourth quarter comebacks, and those 10 game winning drives. Until you’ve seen him play, it’s hard to have a full appreciation for all that Andrew Luck is on the football field.
The Texans like to try use cornerback Jonathan Joseph to take away the opposition’s number one receiver, and on Sunday night, they did just that to T.Y. Hilton, for a couple quarters, anyway. In the first half, Hilton had just 1 reception for 6 yards.
We all know the story of the second half though, where Hilton caught 5 passes for 115 yards and 3 touchdowns. “Andrew did a great job getting me the ball,” Hilton said. “We went in at halftime, made some adjustments. The O-line really stepped up. It was just a team win and I was able to make the plays for my team and help us win.”
Adjustments. They definitely made some halftime adjustments and put Hilton in some good situations (such as a one on one matchup with nickel corner Brice McCain on one of his touchdowns), but the young receiver also had some support and motivation from Reggie Wayne. “Yeah, we talked before the game, we talked during the game, we talked at halftime,” Hilton said. “At halftime, he looked me in the eyes and told me, ‘You owe me one, man. Go out there and do what you do best, just go out there and have fun.’ Once I hit the second half, I was able to get it going and after the game, he said, ‘Now that’s what I’m talking about. That’s what I’m talking about.’ We just kind of took that moment in.”
Leadership is important in an NFL locker room, perhaps more important than most of us realize, and the positive effect Wayne’s presence two weeks after his injury – not to take anything away from the halftime adjustments – should not be underestimated.
Leftovers: Weighing in on Gary Kubiak and Richie Incognito
According to NFL.com’s Ian Rapport and Dan Hanzus, Gary Kubiak had a transient ischemic attack at halftime on Sunday night, or a mini-stroke. He’s doing well now, and he’s seen a huge outpouring of support from all around, including Chuck Pagano, who knows a thing or two about missing time for serious health reasons.
- Pagano on reaching out to both Kubiak and Broncos coach John Fox: “Yeah, I reached out to Coach Fox when he had his episode, sent him a text and just let him know we were thinking about him and keeping him in our thoughts and prayers. Same thing with Coach Kubiak. I’m not sure where he’s at, but we’ve reached out and let those guys know that they’re in our thoughts and prayers. Hopefully they get things taken care of and get their health back. We’re lucky, we’re playing a kids game. Our players are playing a kids game. But real life is real life and if you don’t have your health, you really have nothing. I feel very fortunate, obviously, to have behind me what I went through. The game’s the game, but when it comes to a guy’s health and the things those guys are dealing with now, it’s not easy. Die a thousand deaths out there. This game can be hard on you, as we know.”
- Erik Walden on hearing about Kubiak: “We weren’t really aware, I know me personally, until after the game. Coach (Pagano) had announced it and we said a prayer for Coach Kubiak. We weren’t really aware of it, I know I wasn’t personally, until after the game. It was something you don’t want to hear. We definitely keep coach in our prayers and everybody is remorseful about that.”
- Texans WR Andre Johnson on what the Texans have told him about Kubiak: “Pretty much the same thing everybody else has been told. He’s doing fine. He’s in good spirits. That’s pretty much about it.”
- Johnson again, on whether he expects Kubiak to return to practice this week: “I feel like he’ll be back this week. Just knowing him and knowing his passion for the game, I don’t think he would miss a game. I think, if he can be out there, he’ll be out there.”
In other NFL news, Richie Incognito, long considered a dirty player turned out to be a person in need of serious personal reform. There’s no telling whether Incognito can ever make some kind of about face with his character, or if anyone will ever believe he has, but it has brought the subject of hazing to the forefront in recent weeks.
Pagano on hazing and whether he’s ever seen anything like what happened in Miami: “Never really been around it, fortunately. I can’t speak to anybody else’s locker room except our own. We try to create an environment and a culture here based on our core values, which are trust, loyalty and respect. We got great veteran leaders in our locker room that take care of things. Our guys, we talk about serving and respecting one another. We’re fortunate. We got a great locker room and a great building.”
Hilton, who was a rookie last season, on hazing in the Colts’ locker room: “Oh, not at all. We’re a family here and we take everybody in. That’s our motto, we’re a family. We put all our chips in and we just respect one another, no matter what it is. We all got to respect each other and it shows on the field.”
Walden, who said they have a no-nonsense policy on hazing in Indianapolis, on whether they ever ask rookies do little things for their veteran teammates: “Yeah, exactly. Carrying the helmets or sunflower seeds or Gatorade or whatever it may be. Nothing to the extreme where you have a person pulling a no-show, messing with their confidence or anything of that nature. I don’t really give into that.”
All quotes are courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans PR Departments.
That's all we have for now. Next on the Notebook, we'll talk about the Rams game.
Just because it's in The Onion doesn't mean it's not true:
Texans Players Wish They Were Good Enough To Rally For Gary Kubiak
It is now coming out that the Dolphin Coaches instructed Incognito to toughen up Martin. And his Dolphins teammates, who are willing to go on record, are all supporting Incognito.
I have to admit, this is what I suspected all along. A modern NFL team's locker room is probably 75% black. It never made any sense to me that a white guy could get away with bullying a black guy, much less it being racially motivated.
Please do not think I have any respect for Incognito. By all accounts he is a complete jerk. But what he did was not racially motivated, instead it was based on the macho mentaility of the NFL culture. I'd be willing to bet that if you took an anonymous poll of NFL players, almost 100% would think Martin weak and that he needed to man up.
And if you don't think Grigson, if he could avoid the PR s**tstorm, would love to have Incognito on the Colts, you are just kidding yourself. At it's core, football... especially interior line play, is a violent game played by violent men.
One thing I really admire about Belichick (and to some extent Sean Payton's) teams are their ability to change. Not even adapt in-game, but to morph from game to game. One game they might come out and throw 20 straight times, and the next run the first ten, etc. If nothing else, it tells the opponent that they are up a creek in terms of preparation. "You know all that work you did last week guys, all-nighters of film study, it's all wasted." Then when the opponent switches to their vanilla D, or their jumbo run-stop D, etc, you change gears and burn them the other way.
Ray "Moondog" Miller, former Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach in the early 90s (pre-steroid Bonds), had a mantra for his pitchers: "work fast, change speeds, throw strikes." It is so simple and so effective in just about any sport. For football is basically means work fast (keep the pressure on them, don't let them catch a breath, no huddle), change speeds (don't let them anticipate your next move, keep them guessing, show the same look but add a new wrinkle, plus changing snap counts), and throw strikes--obviously you have to execute consistently. Sure, it's not easy, but it's tougher on the defense.
The Pagano/Hamilton model seems to be work slow, only change speed when desperate, and throw strikes. Thanks to Luck, that works okay, but it could be so much better. I think.
So if that up-tempo works and Luck is awesome, why the heck don't you just start with that? Why even bother with those heavy sets? I know it a question we are all asking, but I just can't figure it out and it's bugging the hell out of me.
On a different note, props to TY. Hopefully they treat TY as the number one he obviously is at this point. DHB just can't hang on the the ball often enough no matter was he does with the juggs machine.
I know that a coach can't give too much away, but I still fear that Pagano believes what he says at the podium. When he talks about needing to look at the tape to "clean up" communication and technique, that tells me that he just doesn't get that it is scheme and playcalling that need cleaned up. The second half was what it was because they abandoned the power running approach. I hope he is just speaking coach talk, but I fear that this is truly what he believes about how to win games.
One of the reasons I love our Colts, beyond just Peyton Manning and how good they've been the past decade plus, has been their 'class' (for lack of a better term). That word's a bit overused today, but I just love the fact that our team respects each other, and our community, as much as they do. There's no drama, or extra B.S. from bad people/players on the team, and if there were, they would be cut pretty much instantly (I believe... minus all of the PED stuff). Makes rooting for our team that much easier. If I were a Dolphins fan, I'd be pissed.
Either way, it was a great win on Sunday night. Also glad I have T.Y. and Luck on my fantasy team, haha.
@pierrezombie Oh man, I just saw this.....and it's great. The Onion might have accidentally reported some real news.
@DougEngland I think he's too big of a PR nightmare for anyone. I heard a former NFL player/former Stanford guy on the radio saying there's sort of a class issue too, of guys not treating players from schools like Stanford very well in some locker rooms.
@Bobman1 It really worries me that they couldn't make those adjustments until *after* they were down by three scores, and even then only during halftime. It seems like at least some of them -- like the run/pass balance or blitzing the rookie QB -- are things that should be adjustable during the game from the sidelines, if the coaching staff is competent and realizes what's happening to their original game plan.
@hankster It doesn't even necessarily have to be up-tempo. Just go with the 3WR set to force the defense to spread the field.
The beauty of the Colts scheme under Manning was that they ran nearly everything out of a single personnel set, allowing them to catch the defense in favorable packages that would allow the offense to exploit coverage mismatches. That's harder to do without Wayne and Allen, but I still think it's the best chance for success with our personnel.
Fleener's not a blocker, so just treat him as a WR. Even if the line sucks so bad that we have to bring in a 6th OL just to ensure Luck has time to throw, that still means we can keep Hilton, Fleener, Whalen, and Richardson/Brown on the field all the time. That leaves plenty of flexibility to move receivers around, disguise plays, and exploit mismatches. (That all assumes that the receivers actually catch the balls thrown to them, of course.)
@hankster I would question whether the tempo change was what really impacted the team, or whether it was the playcalling and formations that made things work better.
@hankster You're always more likely to make mistakes when you're in a hurry. Up-tempo is riskier early on when the defense is fresh. But defenses get tired quicker than offenses, so going up-tempo late to take advantage of a fatigued defense has more advantages than disadvantages. That's how I've heard it explained.
@mattshedd at this point, I'm convinced that the philosophy comes from Pagano, and Pep is merely following orders. I'm also convinced that Pagano actually believes the run-first nonsense rathr than just paying lip-service to outdated mantras, and that it's only because Luck can win *despite* the run-first mentality that the Colts will continue to have any success.
I like Pagano. I think he's done exceptional things for our defense. I just hope he can mature and adapt as a head coach, and come to terms with the reality that in today's NFL you win by passing, not by running.
@mattshedd I agree, but at least they want to run their stubborn scheme better ;)
@TheGreatMisdirect me too. Luck and TY got me the win on Sunday. Playoffs here I come!
@TheGreatMisdirect Amen. Heck, maybe I should've led with their reactions to the Miami b.s. I just figured a bunch of people already had. They truly do have a great effect on the Indy metro area, much of which goes unnoticed by the national media. A bunch of them spent their off day today packing up food for needy and homeless people. They're an organization I'm proud to support, even when they're not pulling off awesome wins in prime time.
@mattshedd @hankster They threw in Linkenbach quite a bit in the second half solely as a blocker. They also ran max protection with two RBs, too. The extra protection gave Luck the time to make the throws he needed to.
Also, that bomb to Hilton was one of the best throws I've ever seen. A fraction of a second after he released he got crushed by Watt, too. Awesome.
@MarcusDugan All the unknowns make for exciting games at least. Even if they are frustrating at times.
No. Not unless they're looking at which plays worked better for them. That's why I threw in that 2 day old bit about the up-tempo offense.
I don't think they'll change much. I wish they would, but I'm enjoying the ride for now.