For the past 3 weeks I've tried to find fun, inventive ways to keep this going. After all, the Colts were winning, and while there were issues there, sometimes we do just need to enjoy a win. But after scoring only 9 points against one of the worst defenses in the league, after displaying a complete and total lack of situational awareness, after once again putting the need to push an outdated philosophy over the best interests of the team, I feel like letting loose with a self-serving, juvenile temper tantrum.
Let's get this out of the way first: the Colts played bad. 5 drops, one each from Hilton, Heyward-Bey, Wayne, Fleener and Richardson. Poor tackling from... well... everyone on defense. No sustained pass rush (yes there were a few key uncalled holds). And the offensive line continued to make poor pass rushing teams look like the '84 Chicago Bears. They couldn't get a big play from the special teams when they needed it. Nothing about the performance from the Colts players screamed Super Bowl contender, division winner, or even a playoff team.
While these aren't little mistakes that should just be dismissed without another thought, they should take a back seat to bigger concerns: the Colts' coaching staff continues to fail to put their players in the best position to succeed.
Here are, in my probably-wrong-and-you-can-tell-me-why-and-please-use-the-number-of-followers-you-have-on-twitter-to-support-your-argument opinion, the issues with the Colts' coaching staff. Not last night, but every time they play a game.
1) Refusing to make aggressive calls in situations where a specific move will go unquestioned and uncriticized - After having surrendered drives of 12 plays, 74 yards (6:14 off the clock) and 17 plays, 79 yards (7:58 off the clock), and 11 plays, 60 yards (5:55 off the clock), the Colts took over from their own 20 with 9:05 to play in the 3rd quarter, trailing 13 to 6. Luck took the Colts on a 9 play, 40-yard drive that took another 5:01 off the clock. At this point, on 4th-and-3 from San Diego's 40, Pagano sends out the punt team. McAfee punts to the SD 10, where it's fair caught. It would take San Diego 8 plays to move beyond the point of the punt, but those 8 plays were part of a 15-play, 74-yard drive that ate another 9:13 off the clock and resulted in a field goal that made it a two-score lead.
At this point in the game, the Colts hadn't forced a Chargers' punt since there were 5 minutes left in the 1st quarter. And every drive since that punt was a long, clock-eating drive that resulted in points. Given the fact that a) the Colts were already down by a full 7 points and b) they were running out of time (San Diego took over with 3:56 left in the 3rd quarter), Chuck Pagano needed to put his faith in his quarterback.
Later in the game, the score now 16-9 in favor of the Chargers, the Colts forced a punt (the 3rd of the game) after a 4-play, 5-yard drive that ate up another 2:54. The Colts would take over from their own 9 with 4:27 left to play and in need of a touchdown to tie. Drops and penalties would hinder Luck's ability to move the ball, so 3 plays later, Pagano was faced with another decision: go for it on 4th-and-2 from your own 17 - telling your QB and your offense to go out there and make a play - or do what won't get you criticized on sports talk radio: punt. The worst thing that could happen if they failed to convert was losing by more than a touchdown. That doesn't matter in the NFL. Pagano and the coaches, knowing they are down by 7 and having watched their defense fail to make a big play all night, needed to give Luck a chance.
But they didn't. Because this team is determined to prove to you, to me, to themselves, that they don't depend on Andrew Luck. This isn't a one-man team. They can run the ball, they can impose their will, and, when the time calls for it, they can rely on their defense to go out there and get a stop.
Pat McAfee's punt would go 35-yards. The defense couldn't get that stop, not against the run or the pass. And by the time Luck got the ball back, the Colts trailed by 10 with 1:55 to play. I hope losing by more than 7 doesn't drop them too far in the BCS.
2) The Offensive Philosophy is wrong - I could include the defensive philosophy as well, but here's the truth: being determined to stop the run, while a bit misguided, doesn't cause your defensive coordinator to remove safeties and cornerbacks in lieu of very situational, specialized players. You still go out there to stop the pass, you're just not totally ignoring the run. It's fine.
And look, I understand: I've never played football at a paid-level (so SEC or above). I've never coached football at a paid-level. I've never been in a locker room or at a practice. So if you want to dismiss this, that's fine. But I'm right. I think. Probably. Maybe. 50% chance. I think I've Peter King'd the hell out of this sentence. Let's move on.
Last week, after the Colts beat the Seahawks, all anyone could talk about is how good Luck looked. How great the offense was. How amazing TY Hilton was. What changed? There's actually a very tangible answer.
Stanley Havili got healthy.
That's right. Last week, when Robert Hughes was the healthy fullback, the Colts ran a different offense, one that deployed the fullback only 11% of the time, compared to ~42% (rough math) of the time when Havili is healthy.
This meant more passing formations for the running backs. This meant more TY Hilton. This meant more down field passing. This meant less predictable play calling.
I can't tell you how many snaps Havili played on Monday night (those numbers won't be available until later this week), but I can tell you that, down 13 in the 4th quarter, needing to convert a 3rd-and-19, the Colts came out in the I-formation and threw a flat route to Stanley Havili.
[side note: I should have mentioned this earlier, but the Colts kicked a field goal after that 3rd-and-19 play got them to 4th-and-7. It put them down by 7. Yes, it looks weird, but when you're unable to stop the opposing offense, you have a QB who is amazing at converting 3rd and 4th downs, and you are having trouble getting into scoring range, it's better to try to convert on 4th-and-7 from the 33 yard line and go for the touchdown than it is to attempt a 50-yard FG (which has about a 50% conversion rate). This should probably go in the previous section, but it fits here, too. Their philosophy of being too passive, settling for field goals and punts, relying on everyone but Luck to win games, is maddening and incorrect. Luck shouldn't be put in countless situations where he needs to execute a game-tying or game-winning drive in the last 2-minutes of the game. He should be given every opportunity to attack and score those points earlier.]
People will point to the raw stats - Luck threw for a 6.7YPA and the RBs ran for 4.2ypc - and say "the offense was fine, if only they had caught the ball!" I guess those people might be right. Look, I can't see the future. Maybe if DHB or Fleener catch their balls, the game is different. Maybe if Wayne holds on to his and converts that 1st down, the Colts score enough to tie or win. Maybe. But here's the thing: if the Colts had played this game out exactly as they did, executed better, and won, I would still have the same complaints. I hope people understand that this is not about the result but about, as Chuck Pagano likes to say, "the process."
You do not need a fullback to run the ball. You do not need a fullback to create a situation conducive to play-action passing. You do not need a fullback to protect the quarterback.
I don't know these things because I played football or coached. I know because I've seen the best offenses in the modern era run the ball without a fullback. I've seen the best quarterbacks of the era execute beautiful (and successful) play-action passes without the benefit of a good running game, let alone a power running game. And I've watched the Colts, these Colts, fullbacks and all, fail to properly protect their quarterback, despite making it a priority.
The only thing a fullback does is take an explosive player off the field.
Let's play a game. Ask every defender in the league: would you rather the Colts had Stanley Havili on the field or TY Hilton? Havili or Coby Fleener? Havili or Heyward-Bey? Havili or Reggie Wayne?
These are the decisions the Colts are making. They are willingly taking one of these players off the field in favor of a position that has, by-and-large, been phased out of the modern NFL because it's unnecessary.
Again, Stanley Havili plays 42% of the Colts' offensive snaps. Wayne plays 93%. DHB plays 72%. TY Hilton plays 60%.
We laud defensive coordinators who can neutralize opposing offense's most-dangerous players. The Colts' offensive coaching staff is the toughest defensive coordinator Andrew Luck has to face.
Final point on the offensive philosophy: last week I lauded the coaching staff for finally going to the no huddle. My final words were, "I hope this is a regular thing and not something they just broke out as a change of pace." Tonight, it took until being down multiple scores in the 4th quarter for the team to employ the no-huddle/hurry-up.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, we saw the Chargers - who had the lead for a majority of the game - use the no-huddle offense on a majority of their drives.
The Colts talk about "imposing their will" on defenses. They talk about this in terms of being a power running team, using body blows to wear a defense down.
The Chargers imposed their will on the Colts. Those body blows came in the form of a no-huddle offense that afforded its quarterback the opportunity to survey the defense, read what they were doing, and put his team in the best-possible play.
Andrew Luck is a better player than Philip Rivers. He's incredibly smart. He's accurate. He's patient. Why are you not giving him every opportunity to control the game?
1) LaRon Landry needs to hurry back - Delano Howell did a great job filling in for Landry, but the UDFA rookie is starting to show his lack of age and experience. The defense desperately misses Landry's ability to make sure, quick tackles. As a matter of fact, just having him on Monday would have made a huge difference in some of those long, soul-crushing drives.
2) I wasn't sold on this defense coming into the game, still not sold on it now - I think there are some strong parts on the defense. I love Jerrell Freeman (get well soon), Antoine Bethea, and Vontae Davis, Darius Butler, Pat Angerer, and Robert Mathis. The defensive line is okay, not great. After that, there's not much. Greg Toler was hailed as a great signing in March, but I've yet to be impressed with him. Erik Walden has been better over the last 3 weeks, but that's relative to his own horrible, embarrassing performances, not someone actually good. I keep going back and forth on this, but I feel like the Colts are 2-3 players away from having the kind of defense they want, and Robert Mathis is 1-2 seasons away from making it 3-4 players.
3) People will point to Richardson's 4.0ypc as a sign he's improving, not so fast - Richardson did look better against San Diego, but context matters: the Chargers have one of the worst defenses (run or pass) in the NFL. In my opinion, if you're trading a 1st-round pick for a RB, you'd better be getting someone who can do better than 4.0ypc against a horrible team, but we're still being patient, I guess.
4) I'd love to know why Kavell Conner was scratched - Mario Harvey and Kelvin Sheppard aren't good football players. They're below average against the run and they're horrible in pass coverage. While I've been critical of Conner in the past, he's a huge upgrade over either of those players. Once Freeman went out and those two were forced into action... actually, there's no finish to that sentence. The defense was bad before they got into the game and it was bad after they were in it. I guess I'd just say I trust Conner to make a big play more than either of them.
5) I can't emphasize how poor this offensive performance was - The Chargers are one of the worst defenses in the NFL. You scored 9pts in 4 quarters. That's all.
One underrated positive: at this time last year would anyone have guessed that Darius Butler and love would appear in the same sentence? Progress! TRich also looked much better to my eyes despite not really having the blocking as usual. I agree with just about all this, the drops were infuriating but when you clearly haven't got a prayer of stopping the other team you need to be agressive w/ 4th downs and Pagano just didn't do it. I can't see Indy keeping manning out of the end zone after this performance, hopefully we can keep it close but I'm afraid Irsay doesn't realize the tiger he's unleashed this week.
I hate to say it but I disagree with parts of this article. The biggest plays were the drops. If DHB catches that pass it's likely a TD and the whole game changes. That drive was killed by him, then Fleener killed a drive by his drop and settled for a FG. TR also killed a drive with his drop, and if they do not have those drops the whole game changes, and we have no idea what happens if any of those things change. The situation changes, we can speculate, but the whole game changes from that point.
I agree they aren't using Luck enough, but we aren't a yards team. We're a very efficient offense that usually doesn't turn the ball over, and either goes 3 and out or makes a scoring drive. So we aren't going to get tons of yards but we'll get points. There is no argument anymore for DHB over Hilton anymore. The offense while wasn't where it was when we played Seattle, it would have worked if receivers caught the ball. They dropped on crucial plays, 4 drive killing drops will derail any offense. It wasn't poor in my opinion, it wasn't our night and we had bad breaks and bad drops. Completely fixable though, atleast as far as the drops go.
And I was rather impressed with TRich, he had a good game. He was good in pass protection besides one play, and he just has some crazy runs, and that 12 yard pass was one of the most impressive 12 yard passes was just crazy. His OL is holding him back, but he is getting better and you can't say he doesn't show crazy potential at times. He can break tackles like non other at times, and we haven't had anything like that since Edge. You can disagree with how much we paid to got him, which I do, but I do think we got a good player in return.
The D performance was unacceptable, but they held up in the redzone and considering how often they were on the field plus the injuries. Toler should not be starting anymore though. I'm curious how Butler would do in that #2 spot.
That was a train wreck last night. Everyone with half a brain was screaming...turn it over to Luck! I don't know how stupid the coaches are....yes if it's overtly stubborn, it becomes stupidity.
How about the fact that this repeat of 2 yard plunges puts our qb in third and longs over and over? I get it, we don't want to become a version of marino''s dolphins which were all pass and no runs, but come on! Have they not been watching the nfl these last few years? You have the qb, build around his talents, not the idea of trying to dominate with a pedestrian rushing attack.
Great article Greg. Pretty much sums up my feelings. The coaching staff might as well have taken a dump on my living room floor. It wouldn't have made me any more ticked off then I already was.
Hey look even the talking heads over at NFL.com can identify the problem:
"...Pep Hamilton's insistence on clinging to a dysfunctional, old-school power running attack that is preventing Luck from reaching his potential."
After this game I guess we were wrong about the focus on the run being just rhetoric. It really seemed like it might be after the Seahawks game. I guess that will teach me to disagree with Nate.
You're correct, the offensive performance was offensive. But even with the Philosophy, if there are 2 less drops, the game is close.
We should be talking about the Defense that was dominated. Worse performance of the year. And we can't blame it on injuries, every team in the NFL has them. SD has their share on both sides of the ball.
1) Yes! When your defense can't stop the run in the fourth quarter you do not punt on 4th and 2 no matter where the ball is. Last night both the offense and defense were having a horrible game, but give the ball to your best player and see what happens. It's not like you get point for keeping the score close. This is not hard, even Ron Reviera seem to have figured out its a good idea to go for it on 4th down when you have a big talented mobile QB.
@ quick hit no. 3: Another sign that this was a bad trade: This was Richardson's best game - look how much that helped this team win.
This was painful to watch. Drops aside, the offense moved with no sense of urgency and telegraphed their plays badly.
Slowing down the tempo is what bad teams do to keep the game close and try to steal a win with fluky turnover. The Colts did not need to do that here. This was absolutely a winnable game and Luck can hang with Rivers shot for shot. As bad as Arians seemed to want to get Luck killed, at least he let Luck try to go win instead of shackling him to a bad run game.
I'm starting to wonder if the stubborn insistence on running comes from the very top. Irsay let Polian hitch the whole team to Peyton and when Peyton's wheels came off, everything else collapsed too. Do Irsay and Pagano think they can reduce the team's dependence on Luck by holding him down?
I couldn't even watch the game but followed on my phone. I looked like a crazy man yelling at my phone when Pagano punted those possessions away. Why the hell would he trust a suspect defense to get stops when they had already proved they could not? Baffling! Conner was inactive! WTF! We trust Sheppard and Harvey now more than Conner? What?
The worst thing about this game is not putting the game in Andrew Luck's hands on those key fourth downs. He is the best player on the team! He is probably the best QB for a generation! Use him!
I have been quiet on the Trent Richardson experiment but I have lost all hope that he will produce this year. Hamilton will not put him in a position to succeed but he should look better against such poor defensive teams as the Chargers and the Jaguars. That 1st rounder was wasted no matter what but the Colts have now traded that 1st rounder for a running back that does not produce. That is especially discomforting after seeing that this defense still needs play-makers at nearly every position.
I'm done. This loss is on the coaching staff and they still resist the necessary changes that are obvious to everyone but them.
Does anyone know why Shepherd and Harvey were playing over Angerer last night? I know angerer started but then those two guys seemed to be both in on a majority of the snaps once freeman left? Even last week angerer was replaced in the 4th against SEA. Maybe it was a certain sub package, but what sub package would want those two in at the same time is beyond me.
The Colts have to play Richardson and hope he gets more comfortable with the system. (At this point, what is done is done and you just have to move forward and hope for the best.)
Still, if that had been Donald Brown who dropped that screen pass (biggest play of the game in my opinion) or missed several key blocks in pass protection, Colts Nation would have been eviscerating him this morning.
The Richardson deal is done. Richardson is who he is. (Gee, can I get a few more cliches in here.) I just wish the Colts would start trying to do what gives them the best chance to win, as opposed to continuing to call plays like they are still trying to justify the trade.
Every team has a bad day and this was not a focused effort. That said we need to look at both losses this year. Colts are very weak at the linebacker position when it comes to pass coverage. Freeman is the best by far and just average in this category. Expect other teams to attack the same way.
3rd and 19 I-formation. That 4th and 2 punt. The existence of Greg Toler. Proof that the Colts win despite the coaching and lose because of it.
@Candlebox Efficient = Scoring 9 points against one of the worst defenses in the league? OK, I disagree.
@Candlebox You're allowed to disagree. I believe you're wrong. The thing is, the drops don't change anything. It's still up to the Colts coaching staff to make the correct decisions. They didn't. You would like the players to catch perfect passes. 100% of the time. They didn't. After 5 drops, you can't just go "well, no point in coaching." Pagano made multiple errors. If the defense performance was so bad (and it was) stop trusting it. It's not going to magically get better.
Also important to remember: my list isn't limited to last night. I've been saying the same things all season. It they won, at times, in spite of their decisions, not because of them.
@smonroe have to score more than 9 against one of the worst defenses in the league. Have to. The defense gave up drives, but the offense had chances and put up 9 points. I also don't care about the defense, because, as I've said all year: they aren't great. The Colts fortunes SHOULD lay with their offense. You have to rely on it.
@gizzardfanny His best game was agasint Seattle. The third down (or maybe fourth down) conversion where he was hit in the backfield and still got the first was absolutely Addai-esque. And that conversion was absolutely important to winning that game.
@gizzardfanny Nicely put.
@squirrel They won't be able to in 3-4 years. Luck's contract is going to be worth more than Manning ever earned if he keeps it up. Even worse *knocks on wood* he doesn't do as well as he could and earns a Flacco contract for one or two years awesomeness.
I was thinking the same thing. Manning had a lot of power. Maybe the mgmnt doesn't want that happening again? But that would be crazy!
@bradicus18 Yup. What is really sad is that a huge chunk of the fan base loves the BS run and stop the run crap the coaching staff is selling.
I just don't get why they seem afraid to turn Luck loose and build around him. Everyone and the dog know she is the best player on the team. Everyone and their dog also know this about Peyton, Brady, Brees, Rodgers. Yeah, those teams all rely on their QB and would disintegrate without him, but hey those are also the top teams in the league. Being reliant on your star QB is an awesome thing to have in the NFL. Just ask the Texans.
@bradicus18 Those punts... OMG. How are you supposed to reduce an opponent's lead through punting? You don't have to get the ball back, YOU ALREADY HAVE IT! Just convert the !$#$@!$# down! Punting may give you field position, but when you can't stop the opponent, WTF does field position really matter?
I'm... irritated. That game didn't have to work out the way it did.
@DougEngland The more I see of coaches self-sabotaging their teams, the more I appreciate the simplistic brilliance of guys named Dungy, Moore, Belichek, and Fox. I sincerely hope that Pagano grows as a coach, rather than trying to prove his way works.
The disturbing thing is that I believe this is what Irsay wants. I read through an interview in which he talked about how all those winning teams were plagued with the inability to stop the run/run the ball. He seems to be convinced that those teams would have won more if they were balanced instead of dependent of Manning. I just hope that we don't waste all of Luck's rookie contract on this garbage philosophy.
@JoeBRogers Toler is not on the coaches, he is on the GM
@gizzardfanny @Candlebox For the last 5 games besides this though the Colts have put points up. If people held onto the ball then the offense looks more efficient, or if Pagano grows some balls then it looks better. 4 drives alone were killed by crucial drops, who knows what happens if they dropped the ball on a play that wasn't as important or not at all how many points we would've scored.
@GregC @Candlebox I agree with the coaching criticism which is what I forgot to mention. It was gutless and relied on a crappy D instead of a star in the making at QB. Drops for the most part (outside DHB) are random and they'll happen, and they just happened to kill drives. I'd put coaching #1 of why we lost, and drops 2nd. Pagano has been agressive at times, but most of the time he's been conservative which seems to be the case for most NFL coaches nowadays.
I do disagree that the drops change things. If DHB catches that and goes for a long TD the whole game changes from that point. Field position, what plays they'll call, and who knows what would happen from that point. Judging from how the D was playing I'm guessing we still would've lost but there's no way to know for sure.
@bradicus18 They can be used on special teams as well. But that's as far as I'll go.
@mattshedd @DougEngland I didn't believe it, but after that game I have to admit you're probably right and ownership and coaching staff truly have embraced a outdated approach to football. Sadly that means the Colts will likely to waste at least a season or two on running the ball and stopping the run. Perhaps the Colts will turn into the Cowboys as the owner messes with the team wasting its talent and chasing outdated football philosophies. I'm going to go be sad in the corner now.