Reader Blog moved to the front page, it's an interesting read that deserves to be talked about. I don't necessarily agree with everything here, but it's a discussion that should be had. - KR
Sunday was painful, about as painful as any regular season game in recent memory. Despite what all the pundits were saying before the preseason and despite all the naysayers who steadfastly refused to give the Colts much hope (even in the face of the Andrew Luck frenzy surrounding his near perfect preseason), I for one drank the kool-aid.
I actually had myself believing we were going to shock the world and pull out a win in this first game. That we were going to compete for a playoff spot, and that Luck was going to set the NFL rookie world on fire. A few series into it and I was watching my greatest hopes realized before my very eyes. I was jumping up and down on the Freeman interception. I was shocked, even despite my higher than normal expectations, as we poured into the backfield on every play of the first few minutes. This was too good, this was too over the top f-ing good!
And it was. And then my pain started with Freeney’s pain; I guess he was in pain, that’s what we’re left to believe in hindsight, as he literally jogged off the field. The next play was the Bears first of many big plays of the game, a 32 yard scamper to the side of the field now vacated by an apparently injured Dwight Freeney. I’m guessing like me you were assuming he was taking a play off or something “we need you buddy, jog back into that huddle the way you just jogged off”. Pan to Freeney getting ankle taped: “Okay he must have gotten a slight ankle sprain, we’re good.”
Cutler throws another deep ball, almost picked by Powers. And then another across the middle that’s flagged as a pass interference. “Shit, what happened to our pass rush, where are the white jerseys that were flying around in the backfield? Where in the hell is Freeney? That tape job has to be done by now, are they trying to make him look like the Michelin Man or something?” A few plays later the Bears’ Michael Bush punches in from the 1 yard line what would be the first of many Chicago touchdowns on this dark day.
After the commercial break Freeney’s still getting his ankle taped somehow. Another lousy Colts offensive possession and another pressure-less, Colts defensive possession later: see Freeney exit stage right JOGGING into the locker room. “What the hell is going on?” We’re told it was an “ankle sprain”, okay that seemed pretty obvious given the taping of said ankle. I’ve sprained my ankle too many times to count playing basketball. I’ve continued to play, even after loosening the laces on a swollen ankle, that’s after I drag my foot around screaming: “THE PAIN!”.
Dwight Freeney jumped up off the ground after getting his foot landed on and then JOGGED off the field. Either the Colts aren’t telling us something, aren’t telling us that there might be more significant ligament damage that has no effect on Freeney’s ability to jog or Dwight’s actually been telling us something for a few weeks now. What I’ve been trying to suppress and disregard and largely ignore, is now rushing to the surface. It all started when I saw Freeney jogging without any noticeable limp into the locker room. But I’m beginning to wonder if it actually all started long before that.
Back on August 22nd I was watching NFL Total Access (seen here) and Scott Hansen walked over to his monitor and began a nice little chat with one Dwight Freeney and it went like this:
Scott: How’s Pagano’s new defensive scheme going?
Dwight: “…I’m doing some things HE wants me to do. Dropping back in coverage, hopefully not too much.”
Scott: We’re used to seeing you in that three point stance on the outside how’s linebacker treating you?
Dwight: “Stood up a little bit my senior year in college, didn’t last long. First few years in the league they had me dropping back a little bit (into coverage), didn’t last long.”
“…There will be situations where I have to drop (into coverage) and hopefully the blitz gets there (Dwight gives an expression that can only be described as incredulous and snarky sarcasm, summed up in a smirk)
Doesn’t sound much like a guy who’s buying into Pagano’s system; sounds more like someone pleading his case and setting the expectations on his limitations as a linebacker, in a scheme that has him playing linebacker. What happened to all that talk, a month or so ago coming out of camp, that Dwight and Mathis were having fun learning something new? Huh? Sounds lukewarm at best and a setup for “I told you it wouldn’t work, I’m being misused and we’ve got this lousy scheme to blame for being 0-16” at worst.
Scott goes on to ask Dwight what we can expect from this team in 2012 and Dwight gives a clichéd “sky’s the limit” response.
Scott then asks: “Why is the sky the limit for this team? Sell us”
Dwight: “Every given play, any given snap, anything can happen…”
REALLY? WTF? That’s hardly inspiring. That’s not the kind of stuff you hear Ray Lewis screaming in a pregame huddle, or really anybody with aspirations to win at anything! “Anything can happen?”
Then the week leading up to the Bears game Phillip Wilson sits down with Dwight for a little Q&A. And out comes this little gem:
"Oh, 35 percent of the time," Freeney said when asked how often he thinks about how 2012 is his contract year. "Yeah. Contract year, you know this could be it. If it is it, you want to cherish every moment you have still in this building and in this city, and hopefully you can get something done. So I would say 35 percent of the time.
"Not over half, you're thinking about everything else, but sometimes you reflect. I think when you get older, you start doing that a little bit more than when you're younger. When you're younger going into a contract year, it's not really a big deal. When you're older, it's kind of like, 'Well, this could be it. I don't know.' You don't know what's going to happen."
So I have to ask myself is Freeney focused? Is he all in? If this were a Manning led team would he be jogging into the locker room?
The comments he’s making and the body language he’s exuding is troubling, to say the least. And part of my fear, as I connect the dots, is that this entire situation is his worst nightmare and he doesn’t know the right move to make. He’s in a contract year, with a team he doesn’t believe can really compete, playing a defensive scheme that doesn’t play to his strengths. If he fails to impress, regardless of the position he’s asked to play, it will hurt him financially and for what? A 3-13 team? So an ankle sprain becomes a more serious injury. Remember when this guy gutted it out in the Superbowl with a torn ligament in his right ankle?
I really hope I’m wrong, I hope we see Freeney next week and he’s a man on fire. I hope I’m proven wrong and he goes on to have a pro bowl year and he gets that next big contract and hopefully it’s from the Colts. But I worry, I’m sure he would be gone already if it weren’t for his colossal contract, and I’m sure that’s not lost on him either when it comes to giving it 100% for a team that probably doesn’t want him, but can’t do better. Regardless, as the Bears’ game displayed, we need him, we need him bad.
I understand what Rob is saying... but I just have too many years of total devotion invested in #93, to believe he wouldn't play... and play hard... if he could.
I've always loved Dwight, and I refuse to believe that he's half-assing anything. At most, this may be a "better safe than sorry" approach from the training staff, or maybe from Dwight himself. I know it can be hard to play 100% whenever your team's going 0-13, but this team has a chance to improve and make the playoffs in the near future. Maybe Dwight feels like he's being squeezed out with an expiring contract and all, but he doesn't seem like one to not at least represent himself with honor and integrity and give it his all to try to make it work even if he isn't fully happy with the system. I just wouldn't read so much into the quotes as it's easy to misinterpret without proper context from Dwight.
@7IHd For the record I love Dwight too, I know this whole piece probably comes off like I'm a "hater" or something. But I assure you it comes from a paranoid fan who can't help but notice some signs of trouble or something being "off" about Freeney right now. There was a lot of speculation that the Colts were actively shopping Dwight before the season. Could this be some of the fallout?
@Rob Boeke I understand that, just giving alternative explanation for where Dwight may be coming from. I would prefer not to think/fear the worst before we have any sort of real idea as to where he's coming from.
As an aside, I feel that Pagano has been very cautious with injuries. The season is a marathon, not a sprint. Playing through a high-ankle sprain of any severity in week one is not good planning, especially given Freeney's dodgy history with ankle injuries (puke).
Oh, and just to add, the description of the facial expressions gives a forced view of context of the quote and may not at all be properly contextualized. It seems rather like the wry humor that Dwight often uses throughout interviews and gives a little smirk, at least to me. As for the contract year, I think it's something most people think about whether they want to or not. The future's less certain when you don't even know if you'll have a job in a year or where it will be. He gave an honest answer and I, for one, can't fault him for that.
Great write-up, Rob, and thanks for contributing. Hard to guess whether it's real or feigned, either way the injury will hurt this team in the short term.
@LovinBlue Thanks so much, I know my paranoid perspective might rub some people the wrong way.
I don't actually think he faked the injury, we all saw that huge o-lineman land on his ankle, I just wonder if it wasn't something he could have played through and decided not to.
I would buy into this except for the fact that if Freeney is so focused on his contract, he needs to PERFORM to earn that big deal to take him to retirement. If he could prove a skillset in the 3-4 his market value would skyrocket. The Cover 2 defense is on its way out, and the one-dimensional bookend 4-3 DE isn't the king of the market he once was. Half-assing his way through his contract year is a one-way ticket to the Hall of Very Good and a vet minimum contract. Even assuming Freeney is 100 percent self-centered, it makes no sense for him to quit on a scheme that could make him a whole lot of money on the open market.
I also don't believe for one second that Chuck Pagano takes the Colts job without Dwight Freeney to play the Suggs role in his hybrid front. There's nothing that Suggs can do that Freeney can't.
By the way, when I've seen freeney drop, he looks pretty darn good. He may not have a natural feel for zone coverage but all the "rush man" really has to do is take up space in the flat, and Freeney actually has excellent lateral movement when you watch him drop. He's compact, athletic, smart, and tenacious. I don't see a single reason why he couldn't flourish in a hybrid front and no reason why he wouldn't give 100 percent effort to prove it.
But that's just my two cents.
I totally agree that Freeney would be best served by producing in the 3-4, both financially and in terms of his legacy. However if he already senses/fears/knows that he will or might struggle standing up (see his comments to Scott Hansen about his dropping "not lasting long"), than it might be in his best interest to either be injured or to play through "injury".
I'm not suggesting he's half-assing necessarily I'm suggesting that something is off with him (mentally? physically?), based upon his comments and body-language, and this could be an attempt to alleviate pressure by lowering expectations. When expectations are lowered you stand a better chance at meeting them or exceeding them.
@Coltsheadben Suggs can defend the run much better than Freeney can. Actually, I think Mathis could fit in Suggs role very well.
In terms of Freeney not putting forth effort, I completely agree that he shouldn't be. He's trying to make a case for the HOF, and it wouldn't make sense for him to mail it in this year.
Whether he is or not so far... that's a different story.
@Kyle Rodriguez You think Mathis plays the run better than Freeney? I heartily disagree.
@Coltsheadben It's pretty well documented that Mathis is better at run support than Freeney. Any site that does advanced analysis would agree with that. It's not a huge difference, but Mathis is consistently better.