Indianapolis Colts: Pagano or Grigson to Blame For Team’s Woes?

Sep 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano walks his sidelines in the second half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano walks his sidelines in the second half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indianapolis Colts are 1-3 through the first four games of 2016, and have looked mediocre in every outing thus far. Is head coach Chuck Pagano to blame for the Colts’ miscues, or do they fall on the shoulders of General Manager Ryan Grigson?

The Indianapolis Colts’ problems from the 2015 season were supposed to be fixed to a certain extent come 2016. At least that is what owner Jim Irsay wanted to believe when he surprised many around the NFL and extended both Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson’s contracts through the next four seasons.

The Colts were virtually a lock to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50 after Grigson made a plethora of free agency signings that was headlined by veterans Andre Johnson and Frank Gore.

The hype came after the Colts finished 2014 with 11 wins and fell just one game shy of that year’s super bowl — suffering defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots. The offseason moves that followed were believed to put the Colts over the hump and get quarterback Andrew Luck his first championship.

After the Colts were blown-out by the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets to start the 2015 season, reports of a rift between both Pagano and Grigson started to surface. Johnson was largely nonexistent throughout his only year with the team, before eventually being released not long after the conclusion of the season.

Since replacing Bill Polian in 2012, Grigson’s resume with drafting and successful free agent signings has been mediocre — which is a kind assessment of his work. His best draft pick by far has been taking Luck No. 1 in the 2012 draft, but that was a no-brainer of a selection as Luck had been touted to be the best ‘sure thing’ prospect to come out of college since John Elway.

It would be unfair to criticize Grigson and place the entire blame on him for the Colts being as bad as they have been the last twelve months, however. Pagano’s job with the team over the last five seasons must be evaluated too — and it’s not pretty, either.

Evaluating Grigson’s Role With the Team

With another rocky start for the third-straight year, there has been a lot of speculation as to whether or not Grigson, Pagano or even both will still have jobs with the Colts by the season’s end. In all fairness of Pagano, Grigson is in charge of putting a good product onto the field — Pagano just coaches what he has been given. Let’s look at the good and bad for Grigson over the last five seasons (we’ll exclude the no-brainer Luck selection).

The Good:

  • T.Y. Hilton – Grigson drafted Hilton in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft. As of right now, Hilton has amassed 308 receptions for 4,749 yards and 26 touchdowns as he has become the Colts’ No. 1 receiver and Luck’s favorite target.
  • Donte Moncrief – Like Hilton, Moncrief was a 3rd round draft selection, but a part of the 2014 draft class. His stats are as reads: 103 receptions for 1,250 yards and 10 touchdowns.
  • Vontae Davis – Grigson traded for Davis just weeks prior to the 2012 season from the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins received a 2013 second-round selection as well as a conditional sixth-round pick in exchange for Davis. In hindsight, Grigson completely stole Davis from the Dolphins due to the fact that Davis has recorded 11 interceptions and been to two-straight pro bowls (2014, 2015) during his time in Indianapolis.

The Bad:

  • Bjoern Werner – This one stings the most, as there were 10 players taken after Werner in the 2013 NFL Draft who would go on to earn pro-bowl honors at one point in their careers up to now. Some notable names include DeAndre Hopkins, Travis Frederick, Le’Veon Bell, Jamie Collins and Tyrann Mathieu. Werner was taken at No. 24 overall with hopes that he would provide the Colts with a fierce and reliable pass-rusher on defense. Werner would only go on to total 6.5 sacks and 57 total tackles during his tenure with the Colts before being cut by the team back in March. Unable to find any work after being cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars prior to this season, Werner currently works for a German television station.
  • LaRon Landry – Before the start of 2013, Grigson inked Landry to a four-year, $24 million deal. To say that Landry’s time in Indianapolis was a disappointment is an understatement. Through two seasons with the Colts, Landry accumulated just 107 total tackles, zero interceptions and 2.5 sacks — nowhere near the production that had been expected from a contract of such. To make matters worse, Landry was suspended multiple games due to repeatedly violating the league’s substance abuse and PED policy. He is currently suspended from the NFL indefinitely for the same offense.
  • Todd Herremans – Grigson signed the then-10-year offensive linemen in the 2015 free agency period to a one-year, $3.5 million deal after Herremans had spent his entire career with the Philadelphia Eagles. Another Grigson whiff, Herremans started in the Colts’ first two games of the season and played so poorly that he was demoted from his starting role and even was listed as ‘inactive’ for the majority of the game-days throughout the remainder of the year.
  • Trent Richardson – To be fair, the Richardson trade made perfect sense at the time. Colts running back Vick Ballard had just torn his ACL shortly after week two of the 2013 season, and the Colts were in desperate need of a quality running back. Richardson had just came off of a 2012 rookie campaign that had seen him rush for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns — ranking at No. 7 in the NFL in total touchdowns that year. What was dumb, however, is how Grigson continuously started Richardson in games despite the former No. 3 pick of the 2012 draft’s production decrease drastically during his two-year stint with the Colts. Richardson was eventually released from the Colts following the 2014 season, and is unable to find work elsewhere in the league.

These are just some of Grigson’s worst signings and draft selections over the course of the last five years.

Evaluating Pagano’s Role With the Team

At some point, you just have to feel flat-out bad for Pagano. One one side of the argument, it could be said that Pagano’s job is to coach the product on the field, whilst Grigson’s job is to surround the team with talent. But, Pagano hasn’t been very good as a coach over the last five seasons.

Oftentimes the Colts look overall un-coached and unprepared at the start of games. More often than not, the Colts start off sluggish and slow, dig themselves into a hole on the scoreboard and rely on Luck to work his magic and get the team back on their feet.

The only difference between Luck’s first three years in the league and 2015 through now is that he was able to mask the team’s flaws with his play. Now, the roster has become far worse than it’s ever been, and Luck can only do so much as a quarterback to benefit his team — which hasn’t always proved to be a successful method to winning football games. For instance, in week one against the Detroit Lions, Luck had over 400 total yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions and the Colts still lost.

Let’s take a look at some of the worst Colts’ losses under the Pagano era:

  • Week 14, 2015 (Jacksonville Jaguars) Loss: 51-16 – After being up 13-3 right before halftime, the Colts would go on to lose to the Jaguars by a score of 51-16 in what is arguably the worst loss for the Colts under Pagano.
  • 2015 AFC Championship Game (New England Patriots) Loss: 45-7 – In what was a true test for the Colts to prove that they can hang with the league’s best and represent the AFC in the super bowl, they completely wet the bed and were embarrassed in blowout fashion. This is one of the games where the Colts looked as if Pagano hardly prepared them. The Colts allowed three rushing touchdowons from LeGarrette Blount, as well as committing three turnovers.
  • Week 13, 2015 (Pittsburgh Steelers) Loss: 51-34 – The scoreboard may not indicate truly how bad the loss was, but it was bad. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a record day, going 40-for-49 on his passing attempts for 522 yards and six touchdowns against the Colts’ defense. The Colts were even down as much as a 21-3 deficit early in the second quarter before they could get much going for themselves.
  • Week 16, 2014 (Dallas Cowboys) Loss: 42-7 –  In this outing against the Cowboys in Dallas, the Colts’ offense and defense was practically nonexistent, as they were only able to put up seven total points in the losing effort. They were down as much as 42-0 before even putting points on the board. Even though the Colts ultimately finished the 2014 season with 11 wins and made a deep postseason run, they looked unprepared and a shell of themselves from earlier on in the year.

Over the course of time, there have been multiple games that the Colts have won after trailing throughout the game. That’s what having Andrew Luck on your roster can do for you. Unfortunately for the Colts, the team’s roster is at an all-time low right now thanks to an accumulation of injury and bad drafting over time.

“They took the hot rod for granted. They drove fast and didn’t worry about tomorrow.”

Mike Tanier of Bleacher Report recently wrote about how Grigson and Pagano have “driven Andrew Luck and the Colts into the ground,” and gave a very accurate analogy of how the two of them have handled things with Luck and the franchise as a whole since taking over their respective positions in 2012.

"“Head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson were the spoiled teenagers who were handed the keys to a custom hot rod on their birthdays five years ago.They took the hot rod for granted. They drove fast and didn’t worry about tomorrow. There were fender benders. They went to the shop for air filters and a tune-up and came away with fuzzy dice and a subwoofer. Oil changes? Insurance premiums? Closing the sunroof before a thunderstorm? Dude, don’t be lame. That hot rod was going to last forever and take them everywhere they wanted to go.”"

Tanier’s analogy is in reference to how Grigson and Pagano were lucky enough to have Luck fall right into their laps with the Colts holding the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The analogy is built around the fact that over five years, they took Luck, their “hot rod,” for granted by not building a subtle roster around him — notably a defense and quality offensive line.

Since then, Luck has become one of the most-hit quarterbacks in the NFL and has suffered an assortment of injuries dating back to last season — when his season ended prematurely due to a lacerated kidney.

Indianapolis Colts
Nov 29, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson (right) and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay talk before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports /

At the end of the day, the problems in Indianapolis don’t rely all on Grigson or Pagano, but both. If there was anyone that was in denial and thought that 2015 was just a fluke of a season due to not having Luck for nine total games, it is definite through four games of 2016 that without Luck, the Colts’ roster is average at best. Even with Luck, there have been some notable coaching decisions and blunders that have cost the Colts over time (drawing up a shotgun pass on 4th & 1 last Sunday against the Jaguars; calling a timeout as time was expiring with the Lions marching down the field — resulting in a game-winning field goal for Detroit three weeks ago). These are just two notable blunders from this season.

Pagano and Grigson may be under contract through the 2019 season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their job is safe — especially with the poor effort of work that they have done with the Colts over the last few years.

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If Jim Irsay was smart, he’d realize that the team is regressing backwards as Luck’s prime years are wasted, rather than moving forward as they should be.

At the conclusion of last season, Irsay was convinced that things would be truly different with how Pagano and Grigson went about their business, but perhaps it was nothing but a con, a mirage of how things should have gone. There should be no mistake this time around — if things continue to go south for the Colts, both should be canned without hesitation.

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