Colts Monday Musings: I love it when a plan comes together

There’s something about these feel good, come-from-behind, last-second wins that make you want to forget the 50 minutes of warning signs and red flags, and instead dance around your house like Tom Cruise in “Risky Business.” (writer’s note: Hello, Ladies) Well, I love to dance, so there will be no mentions of a porous offensive line, a weak secondary, or an invisible pass rush. There will also be no mention of a coaching staff who continues to make questionable personnel and game-management decisions.

No, after the Colts 19-13 OT victory over the Tennessee Titans which moved the Colts to 4-3 – the first time the team has been over .500 since January of 2011 – it’s time to dance. So crank up “The Lounge Singer”‘s greatest hits and do the Charleston (and a Ballard Roll)as we talk about a “rebuilding” team who, with a little luck, has put themselves AFC playoff picture.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Indianapolis Colts. How could it not be, after losing their MVP quarterback along with a handful of key veterans? Colts owner Jim Irsay preached patience in the off-season, as he compared this year’s team to the 1998 squad. Even WR Reggie Wayne noted in his opening remarks at training camp that the team would have to stick together through this rebuilding period. And the experts? Most of them predicted a 2nd-consecutive 1st overall draft pick for Indianapolis.

So how did the Colts get from there to a game-winning Vick Ballard barrel roll and a 4-3 record?

The truth is, we goofed up. Journalists, experts and bloggers continually push the theory that quarterback is the most important position in football. Each week experts make their picks based on which team has the better quarterback. Often (and mistakenly), wins and losses are attributed entirely to the quarterback. And try to find me a Super Bowl prediction that doesn’t include two teams with “elite” quarterbacks.

And the thing is, we aren’t wrong: quarterback is not only the most important position in football, it may be the singular most important position in all of sports. Which makes our inability to foresee the Colts quick turnaround all the more embarrassing. (Writer’s note: It’s even more embarrassing for me, personally, as I wrote about this a full year ago. Please pardon the poor formatting)

You see, the 2011 Indianapolis Colts, in the wake of the unexpected loss of Peyton Manning, were “blessed” with the worst quarterbacking in the league – although Blaine Gabbert really wanted that title. The combined stats for the Painter/Orlovsky/Collins triumvirate? 302/534 (56.6%) 3223yards (6.0ypa), 187.2 yards-per-game, 14 TDs, 14 INTs, 3 fumbles, 35 sacks. Yes, those are their stats for the entire 2011 season.

The moment Roger Goodell said Andrew Luck’s name at the 2012 NFL Draft, journalists, experts, bloggers, and fans should have known: even with the expected growing pains and bumps in the road, the best quarterbacking prospect in more than a decade would be a major improvement over last year’s misfits. And he has been a major improvement, already eclipsing the individual numbers for each of last season’s quarterbacks, and showing consistent stretches of high-level play that prove the pre-draft talk about his “skill ceiling” wasn’t hype, it was reality.

So as you’re in the middle of your 52nd view of Ballard’s game-winning TD against the Titans, remember, it’s not a fluke, it’s just a good quarterback and a little luck.

 

Week 7 Quick Thoughts:

- It’s nice to see the Colts feature an effective running game for the second week in a row, but I wish Arians would find a little balance in his play calling. He will find something that works, either in the air or on the ground, and stick with it just one play too much. This was especially evident in the 4th quarter and OT of yesterday’s game when Arians would call one-too-many runs in a row. The best part of an effective running game is your ability to use it to exploit the defense via the play action pass.

Take one stretch from yesterday’s game as an illustration: Donald Brown gains 6 yards on 1st-and-10, a very good result. On 2nd-and-4, Arians has the entire playbook to work with, and calls another run, which is stopped for a 4-yard-loss. Now the Colts are in 3rd-and-8, and are forced to throw the ball. There’s no guarantee that a 2nd-down pass would have been successful, but not calling one seemed to indicate a lack of awareness for just how well they were running the ball, and the effect it was having on the Titans defensive play calling.

- Reggie Wayne is remarkable. We could write this after every game and it would be relevant and accurate, and maybe we should. What he’s done this season, at the age of 33, is nothing short of amazing. He’s fought off the effects of age and double teams to become one of the most consistent and dangerous receiving threats in the NFL, as well as the reliable security blanket that Andrew Luck needs. The only negative I can find is that he’s been so good at getting open and making the tough catch, that Luck is looking for him just a little too often. The offense will grow out of that, though, as Luck improves, and some of the other receiving targets find ways to get open.

- It really feels like Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are on the cusp of becoming stars at the tight end position. Allen in particular has quickly become a go-to target for Luck, which, combined with his great blocking skills, has firmly cemented him as a core player moving forward.

But don’t sell Fleener short just yet. While his stats from the past 2 games are seemingly unremarkable (only 4 catches, but 3 for big first downs), it’s how he’s being used that encourages me: in situations that allow him to exploit his size and speed. The Colts have been splitting him wide, starting him at FB and motioning him out into the slot, and generally running routes that allow the athletically-gifted TE to become the big-play target we all thought he’d be. 

Tight ends take time to develop, but Indy’s pair of rookies seem well on their way to doing big things.

- Mewelde Moore and Donnie Avery have no place on this team. I hate to be harsh, especially in a “happy-happy, joy-joy” column, but neither are good enough at anything to ever take a spot on the field away from someone else. Moore, in particular, is the 4th best RB on a team with 4 running backs. He should never be taking snaps from Brown, Ballard, or Carter, three players who have shown an ability to make big plays when given the opportunity.

As for Avery, he’s fine, but he’s “just a guy.” In other words, Avery is not the long-term solution at WR, let’s find out if Hilton or Brazill are.

- Quick praise for Donald Brown, who returned from a knee scope after only 2 weeks. That’s a quick turnaround, even for an athlete. Even more impressive: Brown wasn’t just “back taking up a roster spot”, after using his first few runs to knock off the rust, Brown was explosive, dangerous, and exciting. If he can stay healthy, and Ballard can continue to grow and mature, the Colts will have a formidable backfield for the rest of the season.

- Speaking of knee injuries, the Colts need Robert Mathis to recover from his as soon as possible. As a good quarterback can change the fortunes of an entire offense, a good pass rusher can change the fortunes of an entire defense. The Colts can’t get to the opposing quarterback, and it’s allowing opposing offenses to move the ball at will. I don’t think the secondary, and Jerraud Powers in particular, is as bad as they’ve performed in recent weeks, but until the Colts defense can pressure the quarterback, they are going to continue to look inept.

- Andrew Luck’s pocket awareness, mobility, and his ability to throw the ball on the run are so amazing. I don’t recall a single passing play yesterday where Luck had a clean pocket to throw from, but it generally didn’t matter, as he was able to feel the pressure and move around effectively. Yes, Luck made a few bad decisions under duress yesterday, but, and I hope I can stress this enough: THE KID IS A ROOKIE. His decision making is going to improve, and is, frankly, the least of my concerns with this team.

- The Colts front office will have a lot of work to do this off-season, but fixing the offensive line (along with the secondary) has to be near the top of their list. Yes, Luck’s pocket awareness and mobility is helping mask a lot of the issues (you could replace “Luck’s” with “Manning’s” and tell the story of the 2007-2010 Indianapolis Colts), but even the worst NFL DLs (Browns, Titans) are getting consistent pressure and are disrupting the rhythm of the passing game. Contrast that with the pockets for the quarterbacks in Denver or Washington and you can understand why Luck has the occasional accuracy issue or bad decision.

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