For the past 3 weeks I've tried to find fun, inventive ways to keep this going. After all, the Colts were winning, and while there were issues there, sometimes we do just need to enjoy a win. But after scoring only 9 points against one of the worst defenses in the league, after displaying a complete and total lack of situational awareness, after once again putting the need to push an outdated philosophy over the best interests of the team, I feel like letting loose with a self-serving, juvenile temper tantrum.
Let's get this out of the way first: the Colts played bad. 5 drops, one each from Hilton, Heyward-Bey, Wayne, Fleener and Richardson. Poor tackling from… well… everyone on defense. No sustained pass rush (yes there were a few key uncalled holds). And the offensive line continued to make poor pass rushing teams look like the '84 Chicago Bears. They couldn't get a big play from the special teams when they needed it. Nothing about the performance from the Colts players screamed Super Bowl contender, division winner, or even a playoff team.
While these aren't little mistakes that should just be dismissed without another thought, they should take a back seat to bigger concerns: the Colts' coaching staff continues to fail to put their players in the best position to succeed.
Here are, in my probably-wrong-and-you-can-tell-me-why-and-please-use-the-number-of-followers-you-have-on-twitter-to-support-your-argument opinion, the issues with the Colts' coaching staff. Not last night, but every time they play a game.
1) Refusing to make aggressive calls in situations where a specific move will go unquestioned and uncriticized – After having surrendered drives of 12 plays, 74 yards (6:14 off the clock) and 17 plays, 79 yards (7:58 off the clock), and 11 plays, 60 yards (5:55 off the clock), the Colts took over from their own 20 with 9:05 to play in the 3rd quarter, trailing 13 to 6. Luck took the Colts on a 9 play, 40-yard drive that took another 5:01 off the clock. At this point, on 4th-and-3 from San Diego's 40, Pagano sends out the punt team. McAfee punts to the SD 10, where it's fair caught. It would take San Diego 8 plays to move beyond the point of the punt, but those 8 plays were part of a 15-play, 74-yard drive that ate another 9:13 off the clock and resulted in a field goal that made it a two-score lead.
At this point in the game, the Colts hadn't forced a Chargers' punt since there were 5 minutes left in the 1st quarter. And every drive since that punt was a long, clock-eating drive that resulted in points. Given the fact that a) the Colts were already down by a full 7 points and b) they were running out of time (San Diego took over with 3:56 left in the 3rd quarter), Chuck Pagano needed to put his faith in his quarterback.
Later in the game, the score now 16-9 in favor of the Chargers, the Colts forced a punt (the 3rd of the game) after a 4-play, 5-yard drive that ate up another 2:54. The Colts would take over from their own 9 with 4:27 left to play and in need of a touchdown to tie. Drops and penalties would hinder Luck's ability to move the ball, so 3 plays later, Pagano was faced with another decision: go for it on 4th-and-2 from your own 17 – telling your QB and your offense to go out there and make a play – or do what won't get you criticized on sports talk radio: punt. The worst thing that could happen if they failed to convert was losing by more than a touchdown. That doesn't matter in the NFL. Pagano and the coaches, knowing they are down by 7 and having watched their defense fail to make a big play all night, needed to give Luck a chance.
But they didn't. Because this team is determined to prove to you, to me, to themselves, that they don't depend on Andrew Luck. This isn't a one-man team. They can run the ball, they can impose their will, and, when the time calls for it, they can rely on their defense to go out there and get a stop.
Pat McAfee's punt would go 35-yards. The defense couldn't get that stop, not against the run or the pass. And by the time Luck got the ball back, the Colts trailed by 10 with 1:55 to play. I hope losing by more than 7 doesn't drop them too far in the BCS.
2) The Offensive Philosophy is wrong – I could include the defensive philosophy as well, but here's the truth: being determined to stop the run, while a bit misguided, doesn't cause your defensive coordinator to remove safeties and cornerbacks in lieu of very situational, specialized players. You still go out there to stop the pass, you're just not totally ignoring the run. It's fine.
And look, I understand: I've never played football at a paid-level (so SEC or above). I've never coached football at a paid-level. I've never been in a locker room or at a practice. So if you want to dismiss this, that's fine. But I'm right. I think. Probably. Maybe. 50% chance. I think I've Peter King'd the hell out of this sentence. Let's move on.
Last week, after the Colts beat the Seahawks, all anyone could talk about is how good Luck looked. How great the offense was. How amazing TY Hilton was. What changed? There's actually a very tangible answer.
Stanley Havili got healthy.
That's right. Last week, when Robert Hughes was the healthy fullback, the Colts ran a different offense, one that deployed the fullback only 11% of the time, compared to ~42% (rough math) of the time when Havili is healthy.
This meant more passing formations for the running backs. This meant more TY Hilton. This meant more down field passing. This meant less predictable play calling.
I can't tell you how many snaps Havili played on Monday night (those numbers won't be available until later this week), but I can tell you that, down 13 in the 4th quarter, needing to convert a 3rd-and-19, the Colts came out in the I-formation and threw a flat route to Stanley Havili.
[side note: I should have mentioned this earlier, but the Colts kicked a field goal after that 3rd-and-19 play got them to 4th-and-7. It put them down by 7. Yes, it looks weird, but when you're unable to stop the opposing offense, you have a QB who is amazing at converting 3rd and 4th downs, and you are having trouble getting into scoring range, it's better to try to convert on 4th-and-7 from the 33 yard line and go for the touchdown than it is to attempt a 50-yard FG (which has about a 50% conversion rate). This should probably go in the previous section, but it fits here, too. Their philosophy of being too passive, settling for field goals and punts, relying on everyone but Luck to win games, is maddening and incorrect. Luck shouldn't be put in countless situations where he needs to execute a game-tying or game-winning drive in the last 2-minutes of the game. He should be given every opportunity to attack and score those points earlier.]
People will point to the raw stats – Luck threw for a 6.7YPA and the RBs ran for 4.2ypc – and say "the offense was fine, if only they had caught the ball!" I guess those people might be right. Look, I can't see the future. Maybe if DHB or Fleener catch their balls, the game is different. Maybe if Wayne holds on to his and converts that 1st down, the Colts score enough to tie or win. Maybe. But here's the thing: if the Colts had played this game out exactly as they did, executed better, and won, I would still have the same complaints. I hope people understand that this is not about the result but about, as Chuck Pagano likes to say, "the process."
You do not need a fullback to run the ball. You do not need a fullback to create a situation conducive to play-action passing. You do not need a fullback to protect the quarterback.
I don't know these things because I played football or coached. I know because I've seen the best offenses in the modern era run the ball without a fullback. I've seen the best quarterbacks of the era execute beautiful (and successful) play-action passes without the benefit of a good running game, let alone a power running game. And I've watched the Colts, these Colts, fullbacks and all, fail to properly protect their quarterback, despite making it a priority.
The only thing a fullback does is take an explosive player off the field.
Let's play a game. Ask every defender in the league: would you rather the Colts had Stanley Havili on the field or TY Hilton? Havili or Coby Fleener? Havili or Heyward-Bey? Havili or Reggie Wayne?
These are the decisions the Colts are making. They are willingly taking one of these players off the field in favor of a position that has, by-and-large, been phased out of the modern NFL because it's unnecessary.
Again, Stanley Havili plays 42% of the Colts' offensive snaps. Wayne plays 93%. DHB plays 72%. TY Hilton plays 60%.
We laud defensive coordinators who can neutralize opposing offense's most-dangerous players. The Colts' offensive coaching staff is the toughest defensive coordinator Andrew Luck has to face.
Final point on the offensive philosophy: last week I lauded the coaching staff for finally going to the no huddle. My final words were, "I hope this is a regular thing and not something they just broke out as a change of pace." Tonight, it took until being down multiple scores in the 4th quarter for the team to employ the no-huddle/hurry-up.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, we saw the Chargers – who had the lead for a majority of the game – use the no-huddle offense on a majority of their drives.
The Colts talk about "imposing their will" on defenses. They talk about this in terms of being a power running team, using body blows to wear a defense down.
The Chargers imposed their will on the Colts. Those body blows came in the form of a no-huddle offense that afforded its quarterback the opportunity to survey the defense, read what they were doing, and put his team in the best-possible play.
Andrew Luck is a better player than Philip Rivers. He's incredibly smart. He's accurate. He's patient. Why are you not giving him every opportunity to control the game?
1) LaRon Landry needs to hurry back - Delano Howell did a great job filling in for Landry, but the UDFA rookie is starting to show his lack of age and experience. The defense desperately misses Landry's ability to make sure, quick tackles. As a matter of fact, just having him on Monday would have made a huge difference in some of those long, soul-crushing drives.
2) I wasn't sold on this defense coming into the game, still not sold on it now – I think there are some strong parts on the defense. I love Jerrell Freeman (get well soon), Antoine Bethea, and Vontae Davis, Darius Butler, Pat Angerer, and Robert Mathis. The defensive line is okay, not great. After that, there's not much. Greg Toler was hailed as a great signing in March, but I've yet to be impressed with him. Erik Walden has been better over the last 3 weeks, but that's relative to his own horrible, embarrassing performances, not someone actually good. I keep going back and forth on this, but I feel like the Colts are 2-3 players away from having the kind of defense they want, and Robert Mathis is 1-2 seasons away from making it 3-4 players.
3) People will point to Richardson's 4.0ypc as a sign he's improving, not so fast – Richardson did look better against San Diego, but context matters: the Chargers have one of the worst defenses (run or pass) in the NFL. In my opinion, if you're trading a 1st-round pick for a RB, you'd better be getting someone who can do better than 4.0ypc against a horrible team, but we're still being patient, I guess.
4) I'd love to know why Kavell Conner was scratched – Mario Harvey and Kelvin Sheppard aren't good football players. They're below average against the run and they're horrible in pass coverage. While I've been critical of Conner in the past, he's a huge upgrade over either of those players. Once Freeman went out and those two were forced into action… actually, there's no finish to that sentence. The defense was bad before they got into the game and it was bad after they were in it. I guess I'd just say I trust Conner to make a big play more than either of them.
5) I can't emphasize how poor this offensive performance was – The Chargers are one of the worst defenses in the NFL. You scored 9pts in 4 quarters. That's all.