Colts have plenty of blame to spread around for 2015 season
The Indianapolis Colts disappointing 2015 season is almost at an end, but who will take the fall for their failures?
The Colts fell spectacularly short of their goals for 2015. This was a team that was poised to make a Super Bowl run, and had many picking them as an early favorite in the AFC. Multiple big name free agent acquisitions, the return of some injured veterans, and Andrew Luck fresh off a 40 touchdown season anything less than a deep playoff run would have been a surprise.
Training camp opened with the promise of a high powered offense that could dictate terms to their opponents. The Colts coasted through the preseason, showing glimpses of a team that could score at will.
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Then the season opened with a rain soaked loss in Buffalo and a dismal showing at home against the Jets. An 0-2 start, just like 2014. No worries, the offense just needed to find its rhythm and maybe make some minor changes.
Then the Colts needed a dramatic rally in Tennessee and were really only saved by a few rookie quarterback mistakes, but it came at a cost. The first of Luck’s injuries (and a good chance that he was never really healthy after Week 1). The Colts would ekk out a few wins, Luck returned but struggle. They would finally appear to turn a corner with a win against the Broncos top ranked defense, but again Andrew Luck went down (possibly for good).
It is really easy to blame this season on Luck being hurt all year long. But the team’s issues are much deep than that.
General manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano can share a lot of blame with this disaster of a season. Even Luck can take a bit of blame for his poor play and not knowing when to slide or hit the deck. The assistant coaches can take some blame as well. But the simple fact is there isn’t just one person to point the finger at as every one failed in their own special way.
Nov 8, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson walks the sidelines during warm ups before the game against the Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Grigson takes a hit for his horrible drafting, talent evaluation, and roster construction. He gets hit again for his meddling in the starting lineup. We can go back over the years and point out the problems (A.Q Shipley not starting all season in 2014, Trent Richardson, Bjoern Werner, etc.) but lets just stick with this season.
- The Philly Connection. Grigson double dipped on two Eagles cast offs in pass rusher Trent Cole (3 sacks, 31 tackles) and guard Todd Herremans (recently cut). Both have been horrible signings. Herremans never made any sense as the Colts needed pass protection, and he’s been terrible at that his entire career. Cole has never been a dominant pass rusher, but getting close to 10 sacks would have made this a good signing. Grigson seems to fall in love with players, especially from his old team, and completely overlook their most obvious flaws.
- The Headliners. Andre Johnson and Frank Gore have not paid off in Indy. Gore hasn’t exactly been bad, more a product of the failings of the team. Johnson has been a ghost most of the season and that is partly due to the way the team uses him (he should be featured more like a tight end, but you know, one they actually use). I maintain that in ideal conditions and used properly, both of these players could have been effective this season. But there’s little chance they can be all that useful going forward.
- The Offensive Line. The “Jack Mewhort to right tackle” experiment was a terrible idea. Mewhort is a great guard, and one of the few draft credits we’ll give to Grigson, but he should have never been moved. Keeping him at LG at least made sure one side of Luck was well protected. Once the Colts put Joe Reitz at RT, booted Herremans from the starting spot, and put Mewhort back at LG in Week 3, we started to see improved play from this unit. It took the Colts the preseason and two weeks to realize they needed to start their best players, and that is not something any good or decent coach would do. The offensive line just reeks of Grigson meddling with something he shouldn’t.
I’ll say this for Grigson, he hasn’t crippled the team financially with any of his free agent pickups. He has been very good at manipulating the cap to make sure the Colts can cut ties at any time without too much of a financial burden.
Grigson’s poor drafting has set the Colts up for failure going forward. They’ll have to keep dipping into free agency to fill out the roster with experienced talent, but Luck’s upcoming contract won’t make that possible. There is some young talent on the team, and Jim Irsay has to be praying that those players pan out over the next few years.
Dec 6, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano reacts on the sidelines against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
- The Blowouts. Oh my, so so many blowout losses, more than any other team in the past four years in fact. Under Pagano’s leadership, the Colts have lost seven times by 29 or more points and had ten games where they surrendered more than 40 (for context the best offense in the NFL is averaging 32 points per game this year). And this is from a defensive minded head coach. Some of these games have been close at halftime (like against the Jaguars over a week ago) and result in the team being utterly thrashed in 30 minutes. A lack of consistency makes this team hard to watch, and while there are complaints to be had about the Manning-era, they were rarely blown out and became a model of consistency for a decade.
- Game Planning? This goes hand in hand with the blowouts but, aside from the past two games against the Broncos, when was the last time it felt like the Colts had a clear plan of attack against an opponent? When did they exploit a weakness said opponent had (and every team has one)? When did they scheme to take away a portion of someones offense or defense? For that matter, name one positive thing the Colts do really well that isn’t related to Pat McAfee or Adam Vinatieri.
- Bad Philosophy. Pagano is living in the days of football past. From the moment he arrived he said he wanted a smash mouth football team that could run the ball and stop the run. Apparently Pagano is stuck in the 1970s. This is a pass first league now, and you would think a former secondaries coach would fully understand that. Pagano has never worked to build up this team’s strengths and instead insists on fitting a square peg into a round hole. The Colts should be emphasizing the best part of their team (a strong passing attack that was the best in the country in 2014) instead of forcing a run game (which actually works best out of a spread, pass oriented formation).
- Poor Motivation. Apparently Pagano’s players absolutely love him. That’s great, but it isn’t winning many football games this season. He’s had to resort to this dumb poker chip analogy that high school freshmen would shake their heads at. Pagano keeps coming up with sayings for t-shirts or spewing cliches and nothing changes. Want to get more out of a professional player who’s making millions? Maybe change up how they are being used on the field instead of telling them to keep chopping wood.
Irsay will have to make some interesting decisions going forward. We are likely two week away from another massive overhaul of the Colts organization, and after the past four years of frustration it will be a welcome change for the fans.