Fans across Indiana can breath easy now. We all know what it looks like when a team is looking ahead to the next game. Lack of focus? Check. Sloppy tackling? Check. Dropped passes? Double check.
The Indianapolis Colts laid an egg against the San Diego Chargers Monday night. We learned that the coaching staff needs to take a long hard look at how they approach games and at their in game management. Chuck Pagano lost the Colts this game. For as great a motivator as he is, it was painfully clear that this team was not ready to play Monday night.
Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton did a better job of containing Andrew Luck than the Chargers defense could ever hope for. The insistence on passing out of one receiver sets is maddening. Darrius Heyward-Bey being higher on the depth chart because he is a better run blocker than TY Hilton is asinine. Hamilton started out the game so well too, with the brilliant flea-flicker to Reggie Wayne that caught the Chargers completely off guard. That opening drive was beautiful, and it ended up being the best one of the game.
This offense is the most frustrating thing to watch in Colts history (or at least the past 10 years, 2011 excluded). Balance on offense is fine, but the Colts are trying to force that balance to the 10th degree. The teams that win games and championships are flexible and exploit their opponents weaknesses. They don’t try to impose their will but rather find the best match-up and dominate it (much like the Chargers did with CB Greg Toler).
Pagano’s rhetoric about stopping the run and running the ball is nice, if this were 1965. The NFL is a pass first league now. Look at the last 10 teams to win Super Bowls, did any of them not have a franchise quarterback? Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Joe Flacco (sort of). So why does
It feels like Pagano is trying to prove to the world that this team doesn’t solely rely on Luck to win games. That this isn’t a one man team. But that ignores the fact that Luck is what makes this team dangerous. He is in fact the Colts best player. Pagano and Hamilton have to be willing to put the game in his hands and let him win it.
What sense does it make to have a quarterback who is playing at such a high level be hamstrung by an offense that doesn’t favor the pass? I’m all for offensive balance, but the Colts are making it painfully obvious when they are planning to run the ball. Not only that, but they are taking a number of big playmakers off the field when they do so. What’s especially troubling is that the Colts are better at running the ball when fullback Stanley Havili is off the field.
Pagano botched this game even before it started. Leaving Kavell Conner inactive hurt the Colts badly. With Jerrell Freeman out by halftime, the Colts were left with Mario Harvey and Kelvin Sheppard. Neither is very good, especially in coverage. But you know who is? Conner, so why was he inactive?
In the fourth quarter, Pagano made two unforgivable decisions to punt. The Colts had 3:56 left to play in the third quarter and were down seven, an incomplete pass to Reggie Wayne left them with a 4th-and-3 at the San Diego 40. AND YOU PUNT?! It was a horrible decision that no coach should ever think twice on. If you want to have a power run game, then use it to get three yards. Or maybe let you stud quarterback go get it, he can scramble for three.
The second decision to punt might be worse, although there was more to lose. On a 4th-and-2 at their own 17-yard line, and with 3:17 left in the game, the Colts trailed by seven, and STILL punted the ball. At that point, it was highly likely that the Colts wouldn’t get the ball back. A bad punt allowed the Chargers to score a game sealing field goal.
Two very bad, horrible decisions that Pagano made and very few people are calling him out on them. Punting is fine, if you’re in your own territory and there is a lot of time left to play. But both were on fourth and short. The first was well within Chargers territory and the second, well, there wasn’t much time left. Bad decisions that need to be rectified immediately.
The method of keeping games close only to win at the very end is not sustainable, as we saw this past week. You can’t count on Luck to bail you out every game, we’ve seen it fail twice now (against the Chargers and Miami). The Colts have to play to win the game from the opening kickoff. In the NFL, you have to score as many points as you can. A 10 point lead is not a solid lead unless there’s under two minutes to play (looking at you Jim Caldwell). Any time Pagano has anything resembling a lead, he pumps the breaks on the offense for some reason, and it makes literally no sense. Time of possession and running clock don’t matter all that much in the NFL (see 2009 vs Miami).
Pagano’s coaching gaffs weren’t the only reason the Colts lost this game, but they’re the easiest to point out.
Here’s what else killed the game:
- Dropped passes. Five drops, but everyone on offense. DHB needs to sell out for the ball, or Luck will stop looking his way. Coby Fleener needs to spend every waking minute of his life on the jugs machine catching balls. Hilton needs to focus on the pass, and not look down field, same goes for Trent Richardson (or at least run the full route). Even Wayne dropped a pass, on a night when he entered the 1,000 catch club he had a big one on third down.
- Poor Defense. I don’t have a ton of faith in this defense, but that was a horrible effort. Poor tackling, bad angles, not wrapping up. Everything that can go wrong did. The Chargers converted on third down 50-percent of the time, but most of the failed conversions resulted in field goals. Not exactly a win.
- Poor Punting. Despite the fact that Pat McAfee should have never been in the situation, his final punt of the game was putrid. The Colts needed the boom stick, and instead got a squirt gun with 35 net yards on the punt. He’s had a rough season and really need to turn it around fast.
It was a rough game and a hard one to swallow. The season doesn’t get much easier as the media circus begins with Peyton Manning and the Broncos coming to town next Sunday.
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