Monday Morning Moaner: Colts vs Raiders

Greetings Colts fans, and welcome to my new weekly column, "The Monday Morning Moaner."  Let's face it: there's a lot of positivity about the Colts these days. Ryan Grigson is great. Chuck Pagano is great. Andrew Luck is great. Everything's great. But what if it wasn't great? What if we just, for a brief moment, focused on the negative? That's where I come in. I know, I know, you're thinking to yourself: "Greg… negative? But how?"  It'll be hard, but I'll find a way to make it happen. For you.

As most of you know (actually, it's probably all of you, but I didn't want to assume), the Colts won their regular season opener yesterday, with a 21-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders. So, the team is 1-0, not a lot to moan about, right?


I hate the Colts offense.

No, not the players. I love Luck and Reggie and Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener and Anthony Castonzo and Donald Thomas and TY Hilton and even Darrius Heyward-Bey. When I say I hate the offense, I mean the scheme that horrible, inexplicably misuses those incredibly-talented players. So what do I hate about the Pep Hamilton offense? Let me count the ways…

1) Running the Ball. Look, there's a time and place to run the ball. I've complained all off-season that the team's "run the ball, stop the run" mantra is meaningless and outdated, but the reality is, being able to run the ball in certain situations is nice. The running game is great for picking up short yardage 1st downs and goal line scores. When the opposing pass rush is controlling the game, a nice screen or draw is a great way to stop it in its tracks. And my favorite aspect of the running game is that it allows the offense to utilize the play-action pass to create separation for the receivers.

Unfortunately, the Colts don't use their running game as this beautiful supplement for Andrew Luck and their passing game. Instead, the running game seems like… a separate entity? The Colts have two offenses: their passing offense and their running offense. When they want to pass the ball, they lineup with either 2 or 3 WRs, 1 or 2 TEs, and 1 RB. When they want to run the ball, they come out with at least 2 TEs (sometimes a 6th OL/3rd TE), 1 WR, and sometimes a FB. Their pass formations scream "pass" and their run formations scream "run."  I'll let my esteemed colleague, Nate Dunlevy, sum this up:

Hated the fullback plays. If you have to run a special formation to run, it's not balance. Want to run back film of that and see its utility

The absolute best offenses in the NFL have a synergy: the pass feeds off of the run and the run feeds off of the pass. They do this, generally, by running a bunch of plays that "look the same."  If the defense can't look at the pre-snap formation and tell if it's a run or a pass, it makes it harder for them to defend the play. By utilizing two unique sets of formations for both actions (running and passing) you're removing the best parts of being able to run and pass.

Quick aside: the Colts running game was NOT good yesterday. Sure, they ran for 4.45ypc (remove Luck's yardage), but a deeper look at the numbers shows the following: 13 of those yards came on a pointless 3rd-and-31 carry. Outside of that, the success rate for the Colts RBs was an abysmal 35% (46% for Ballard (not bad), 17% for Bradshaw (horrible), for reference: last year, the highest success rate was 58%, and Vick Ballard's 2012 success rate was 48%). The Colts rushing attack was very boom-bust (either a great run or a horrible run). Very little consistency. And never mind the irony of calling yourself a POWER RUNNING team and then not running the ball on a 4th-and-1.

More importantly, however, is WHY the Colts are doing this: the offensive line isn't very good, which means they don't have the personnel to be the kind of team Grigson, Pagano, and Hamilton want them to be. Instead of looking at Luck, Reggie Wayne, TY Hilton, Fleener and Allen and saying, "We have the tools to be one of the most dynamic, dominant offenses in the NFL, let's throw the heck out of the ball," they have decided what kind of team they want to be irrespective of their talent. It's simply not smart management, but it does lead us to #2:

2) Andrew Luck was 18/23 for 178 yards. You know what I see when I look at those numbers? Robert Griffin, III.  I was hyper critical of the "love" surrounding RGIII last year, not because RGIII isn't great, but because he was being used in an offense that basically sheltered him. Sure, Luck completed 78% of his passes and threw 0 interceptions, but, outside of obsessive stat watchers, who cares? Andrew Luck is the best player on the team. He is going to be the best player on the team until he leaves the team. If you want to keep your job for a long time (or upgrade to a better job) your priority should be installing an offense that makes Andrew Luck, not the running game, your focal point.

3) Whither TY Hilton? Last year's breakout player was on the field for 25 of 57 snaps against the Raiders. That's less than 50% of the Colts offensive plays. Maybe Hilton shouldn't be on the field every play – he's a bit undersized and his route running still needs some work – but he needs to be on the field for more than 44% of the snaps in a close game. These numbers are especially revolting when you factor in Dwayne Allen's health. Allen, who suffered a hip injury during the game, missed all of the second half. It seems logical, then, that the Colts would go to a more 3WR-heavy scheme with their best TE out.  But nope, Allen's absence simply lead to more appearances by the totally unnecessary fullback (no offense to any FB out there, get paid while you can, but your position should be more extinct than the velociraptor).

Hopefully Sunday was just the first step in a journey that leads Pep Hamilton to understand both what does and doesn't work in the NFL, and who his best players are, and how to get those players on the field as much as possible.

4) The 2012 Draft, Rounds 2 and 3.  When the Colts went back-to-back TEs in the 2012 draft, selecting Stanford TE Coby Fleener and Clemson TE Dwayne Allen, I loved it. Visions of the Peyton Manning/Tom Moore offense, that used Dallas Clark as the fulcrum, danced in my head. Here's a brief explanation of THAT offense: The Colts would come out in their hurry-up, no-huddle offense. They would line up with either 2 WRs, 2 TEs, 1 RB (preferred) or 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB.

They would then allow the defense to dictate what kind of offense they would become: if the defense came out in a more run-oriented scheme (base 3-4 or 4-3 package), Dallas Clark would become a wide receiver, punishing the safeties and linebackers down the seam. And the Colts would keep the defense in this package with the hurry-up. They would lean on them until they scored, the defense called a timeout, or someone faked an injury. If the defense came out in a more pass-oriented package (nickel, dime, etc…) Dallas Clark would transition to a more traditional TE role and the Colts would run the ball more. Those Colts didn't care how you wanted to play, because they had an answer for it.

These Colts actually have better answers than the Manning-led offenses: Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen are far-and-away the best TE duo in Indianapolis Colts history. In this offense, Fleener, who I would describe as a rich man's Dallas Clark,  would be the fulcrum. If defenses want to play the pass, then Fleener and Allen would allow the Colts to run the ball somewhat effectively (just run behind Allen, really). If teams want to stop the run, Fleener would become that X-factor, that wide receiver that no one on the defense can comfortably account for.

Instead, I'm not sure what the Colts' plans for their TEs are. Are they just glorified offensive linemen? They sure aren't featured in the passing game. Why did Grigson use two draft picks on two guys the team doesn't utilize? It's frustrating. Especially since many people consider Dwayne Allen the second-best pass catcher on the team.

5) Hurry-up! Speaking of those Manning-led attacks, and how I expected the Luck-led offense to look: where's the hurry-up? We've been told by both Bruce Arians last year and Pep Hamilton this year that the Colts want to use the hurry-up, no-huddle attack. We've yet to see it. We've yet to even see them consider it. Why do the Colts continue to refuse to put the game in the hands of their best player?

Look at yesterday's drives (of which, the Colts only got 7!!! (ridiculously low number)): Touchdown, Touchdown, Punt (3-and-out), Punt (3-and-out), Punt, Turnover on Downs, TD. In that 4-drive stretch where the Colts offense was struggling to move the ball and sustain drives, why not give Luck the ability to read and dissect the Raiders defense and react accordingly?

Too much of what I'm writing reminds me of things I wrote last year with regards to Bruce Arians. And, in far too many cases, I'm drawing the same conclusion: are the coach's egos getting in the way of this football team?

The Indianapolis Colts won their season opener against the Raiders 21-17. While the NFL is a results-oriented business, the Colts' coaching staff would be wise to view Sunday's game as a teaching point, a springboard to improving their team, rather than positive reinforcement. If they fail to recognize their mistakes, the Colts will find themselves in the same boat as last year: in far too many close games against bad opponents. They went 9-1 in such games in 2012. Chances are, they wouldn't fare quite as well in 2013.