With their 27-23 victory over the Tennessee Titans, the Indianapolis Colts moved to 9-4, taking a giant step towards earning a playoff berth, and securing their first winning season since way back in 2010. Like so many of their victories this year, it wasn't pretty. In fact, it was the Colts 8th victory of the season by 7-points-or-less (the Colts were 1-5 in one-score games in 2011).
If the NFL playoffs participants were determined by some BCS-style system, you get the feeling that the Colts would be seeded closer to top-5 in the draft rather than the playoffs. But this isn't college, and there's not some archaic system determining the Colts post-season fate. Wins, ugly, pretty, or otherwise, are wins, and 9 of 'em, whether they come against the NFL elite or not, are impressive, especially for a team with 60%+ roster turnover and all of the extenuating circumstances surrounding the team.
"Quick Thoughts" edition of the Monday Musings, share your nuggets of gold in the comments!
Quick Thoughts, the Good:
– As mentioned in the opener, the Colts have 8 wins in 1-score games. They are 8-1 overall in such games this year. Andrew Luck has scored in every opportunity in those late-game situations. Their only loss in 1-score games came against the Jaguars in week 3. You'll remember, however, that Luck's "Game-Winning Drive" WAS successful, it was just undone by Cecil Shorts' 80-yard touchdown catch-and-run.
Last year, the Colts were 1-5 in 1-score games, and 8 of their losses came by 10 points or less. It was a horrible year, but I don't think people realize just how close that team was to winning more games. Which leads us to…
– Andrew Luck is good. I know that some people want to be on this roller coaster of coverage – every great throw makes him the best, every bad throw makes him Curtis Painter. The truth is, you can't analyze football – or life – that way. Andrew Luck is either good or he's not. Good players make bad throws. Good players make bad decisions. A bad throw, a series of bad throws, doesn't make someone not good. I often wonder if people who judge someone on this play-by-play basis are serious, or just desperate for attention.
More about Luck: he plays in one of the most demanding offenses in the NFL – more down field throws than any QB, very few check downs, not max-protection plays, and a limited running game. If you put Luck in this offense WITH a dominating OL, his completion percentage would likely top out at around 65%. He would still throw interceptions, he would still make mistakes. Putting him in this offense WITHOUT a dominating OL?
What he's done in this situation – converting on 43.2% of 3rd-downs, throwing for nearly 3,800 yards, leading one of the top NFL offenses, and winning 9 games – is remarkable. Is their 8-1 record in 1-score games a sustainable feat? No, it's not, but here's what people keep forgetting: this NFL season is almost over. Luck and the Colts roster will almost assuredly improve and progress over the off-season. Can you say the same about the Jaguars, Titans, Bills, Browns, Jets, Raiders, Chiefs, and Chargers?
– I've been hard on Vick "The Lounge Singer" Ballard, saying that he's very good at gaining the yards that are blocked. Yesterday he did more than that. He gained 94 tough yards on 19 carries, on a day in which the Colts OL was, more often than not, dominated by the Titans DL. One of the questions I get asked the most is: "Is Donald Brown back, and if not, do the Colts draft a RB next year?" The first answer is no, I don't think so. As for the second question, probably, because they'll need depth, but I believe Ballard has shown enough to be the starter going forward next year. And please, Ryan Grigson, no more 1st-round running backs, if Ballard has shown us anything, it's that you can find quality NFL RBs in the later rounds.
– The OL sucks, but Anthony Castonzo does not. The 2nd-year player out of BC has a lot of doubters out there, questioning his size, toughness, and ability to be a stud LT. I don't know if Castonzo will ever be a stud, but he's very good, and the Colts are better for having him.
– TY Hilton is super fast and is quickly becoming must-see TV. He's a threat whenever he touches the ball, whether as a WR or a PR. I think Hilton's ceiling as WR is high, but even if he tops out at what he is now: a dynamic #3 with huge down-field playmaking potential, his skills in the return game are invaluable. In a draft full of great picks, Hilton may be Grigson's 2nd-best (
CHAPMAN Luck is first, obviously).
– That's about all the good you can say for the offense. The real goodness came – surprisingly – on the other side of the ball. First let me say that I've been a fan of what Manusky and the defensive coaches have been doing for a few weeks now; you may remember that I praised their scheme after giving up 30-something points to the New England Patriots. Nothing has happened since then to make me change my mind: I love the scheme, I love the disguises, and I love the way the defensive has been aggressively attacking opposing offenses. Again, they don't have all the players they need to run this scheme as well as they'd like, but they are doing a good job with what they have.
– I was a big detractor of the Vontae Davis trade, but I believe he's had two good games since returning from injury. Sure, he's given up two big passes (the long TD to Calvin Johnson, and the long pass to Kenny Britt yesterday), but both of those were, in my opinion, tough plays to defend. On the play yesterday, Locker made a perfect throw to the far shoulder, and Britt made a spectacular catch. Those things happen. If you're going to judge a cornerback's ability to cover perfect throws and spectacular catches, you're going to be disappointed in just about all of em. Is Davis worth a 2nd-round pick? I'm not sure, but I'm a lot closer to saying yes now than I was 10 weeks ago, and I believe he's show flashes of being the kind of player they can build a secondary around.
– Speaking of cornerbacks, Cassius Vaughn was doing Cassius Vaughn things, for 2 quarters anyhow. After halftime, I was ready to drive Vaughn to the NFL city of his choice, as long as that city didn't start with India and end in napolis. But for one stretch in the 3rd quarter, which included a pick-6, a tackle for a loss, and a huge pass defended on 3rd-down, Vaughn showed a glimpse of why the coaching staff keeps trotting him out there. If Vaughn could find a happy middle ground – we don't need pick-6s any more than we need 32-straight completions on a simple comeback route – he'd be a perfectly good #2/#3 cornerback. And I'd be happy to celebrate his plays right along with him.
– Somehow LB Pat Angerer has gotten the label of being a bad player. Much like the play-by-play roller coaster criticism of Andrew Luck, the criticism of Angerer was unfair and, more importantly, untrue. Angerer has been, and is still, a good player. He showed that in the second half of yesterday's game, coming up big in both run and pass defense. If Kavell Conner's hamstring injury is serious, the Colts will need Angerer to step up and fill that void, and I believe he'll be great.
– Let's give some love to some Guy! Lawrence Guy, that is. I have no clue who that Guy is, but I saw #67 make a few plays – enough that I had to go to the internet and look him up – in the backfield yesterday. With the injuries to Chapman, Nevis, and Moala, the Colts are dangerously thin along the DL, and will need big contributions from players like Guy. Also, his last name makes him an easy target for crappy puns! Some Guy played with a little bit of skill and a lot of Luck yesterday! You get the idea. I suck at this.
– Some love for the D as a whole. They were a bit shaky in the first half, but after the initial drive which yielded a TD, they surrendered 6 legitimate points (sorry, I don't count the last field goal which was heavily aided by referee incompetence). They stifled Chris Johnson and the Titans' running game all day long, and were very good against the pass in the 2nd half. Colts fans aren't used to this. From 1998-2010, they got by on an offense that did amazing, unprecedented things. While Colts fans were falling in love with Peyton Manning's air show, this is how the rest of the league was winning: ugly games with big plays from the defense. That's not a bad thing, it's a good thing. It's nothing to be ashamed of, really.
– Finally, let's all heap some praise on P Pat McAfee. His booming punts and deep kick-offs have saved the special teams all year, and his coffin-corner punt in the 3rd quarter changed the complexity of the game. McAfee should make the Pro Bowl this year – I would say it's a joke if he doesn't, but the Pro Bowl is already a joke – and is one of the big reasons the Colts should make the playoffs. So yea, go on the twitters and send the BoomStick some love.
Quick Thoughts, the Offensive Line
– They suck.
Quick Thoughts, the Referees
– Sunday's game may have been the most poorly officiated game I've ever watched, and I'm including all of Ron Winter and Walt Coleman's masterpieces. From the obvious pick-6 that wasn't, to the Titans drive aided by multiple phantom penalties, and all of the missed holdings and false starts in between, both teams had legitimate gripes with the guys in stripes.
I don't know else there is to say about it: The NFL refuses to have full-time officials. They refuse to fine and/or suspend refs for doing a bad job. They refuse to be open and honest about the performance of the officials. They refuse to have rules that aren't open to interpretation (someone define holding and pass interference to me). They refuse to take the on-field officials out of the replay process – basically giving them the option of covering up their own mistakes. After yesterday's pick-6 wasn't overturned, I'm left joining the chorus asking, "What's the point of replay?"
If I were in charge, Pete Moreli and company wouldn't be working another game this year.
Also, to everyone in the media who was all "lolz replacement refs suck, lolz" please, go away. NFL officials, in general, are bad. They've always been bad. Your crusade against people who were put in an impossible situation was the most disgusting form of mob mentality. You're bad and you deserve bad things