After Review: Colts v. Bucs Monday Night Football

Colts defensive tackle Eric Foster shows grit and spirit after suffering a catastrophic ankle injury against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Pierre DuCharme | Reuters)

The Indianapolis Colts are a team that is very difficult not to appreciate. While the injuries continue mounting up  and the odds of winning games or staying competitive continue to fall, the men who take the field do not seem to acknowledge it.

The linebackers continue to put on a clinic. A week ago, Pat Angerer tallied over 20 tackles against the Steelers. This week, Kavell Conner produced 18 tackles and continues to be a force playing toward the line of scrimmage — he also continues to struggle defending the pass.

There has been talk among much of the Colts fan base regarding a “suck for Luck” sweepstakes for the 2012 Draft. The concept, of course, is that Indy should just “throw the season” — for the lack of a better phrase — and use this rare opportunity to pick at the top of the draft to restock a team that has been unable to acquire the best talent entering the NFL each year due to an unprecedented run of regular season success.

There is absolutely no doubt that the 2012 Colts would be in a position to improve significantly with the addition of another marquee player via the draft. Whether it is a quarterback to take the reigns for Manning — if he is unable to return — or players to surround the 4-time MVP quarterback with as much talent as possible to finish out his career, the prospect is intriguing.

Here’s the problem.

The players who take the field every Sunday donning blue and white do so with pride. They are playing their hardest to continue succeeding in a very competitive league and clearly refuse to accept a “losers” label or a role in an effort to exploit the draft for future success.

Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, Pierre Garcon, Eric Foster, Antonio Johnson, Jeff Saturday, Anthony Gonzalez, Jacob Lacey, Ryan Diem, Mike Pollak, Jacob Tamme, and Philip Wheeler are staring at uncertain futures. Each of these players may not return to the Colts in 2012 — and players like Foster, Saturday, Gonzalez, and Diem are staring at an even more precarious situation as injuries or age could lead to the end of their professional careers.

It is for this reason that I cannot support such notions. These guys deserve as many wins as they go out and earn. In my mind, no one should ask them to do otherwise, or be disappointed for the team if it wins a few games and doesn’t win a silly “sweepstakes” for the top pick in the draft.

Consider that a defense known for having an inability to stop the run, a perpetually “soft” label, has fought and clawed to keep a struggling offense in games. Offensive leaders like Joseph Addai, Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, and Dallas Clark are pushing hard through the adversity of losing one of the best quarterbacks in the game to put points on the board.

Collie’s shoe-string catch. Garcon’s two long runs for touchdowns. Wayne’s devastating block to clear the way for Garcon’s second touchdown. Eric Foster’s bravery and toughness after he went down to injury. Heck, Curtis Painter’s mental and physical toughness to complete throws in the face of extreme pressure.

Fans are asking these guys to lay down? Fans are looking forward to a losing season for the chance to draft someone next year? These guys are scraping for nothing?

I don’t think so.

Curtis Painter is not Manning and the Colts offense is still nothing like its former self but there are signs of offensive hope. Clean passes are hitting receivers in stride in their routes. Running backs are finding lanes behind a young offensive line that is starting to come together.

While Castonzo suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of much of the game, Benjamin Ijalana took the field and showed the potential, and the natural ability, that should give fans reason to believe in a bright future.

There are some glaring problems the team needs to address, of course. Defensive Coordinator Larry Coyer seems incapable or unwilling to make defensive adjustments in the face of an offense that very clearly exploits its weaknesses.

How many times must Josh Freeman complete passes to running backs LaGarette Blount and Earnest Graham in the middle of the field before Coyer calls down to the field to tighten the coverage and move the linebackers and secondary closer to the line of scrimmage?

More importantly, how could it be possible to the rest of the sighted members of the Colts fan community to realize that Indy’s prevent defense has single-handily resulted in numerous blown leads and allowed scoring drives late in halves before the philosophy is abandoned for something more effective?

It is one thing for the Colts to continue adhering to a conservative defensive philosophy predicated on stopping big plays and entirely another for that philosophy to be clearly flawed and no one on the sideline bats an eye. Last time I checked, it’s risky to allow opponents to continuously move the football down the field in 6-8 yard chunks.

Frankly, it disgraces to the effort put forth by the players throughout the entire game to allow poor or uninterested coaching decisions, particularly on defense, to make talented players look simply awful. Until the passive, stoic defensive schemes change at important times during football games, fans should not expect to see the Colts prevail in winnable games.

Another thing that is disgraceful is watching defensive end Dwight Freeney get mugged continuously during important phases of the game. Look, there is no doubt that the referees went onto the field with pockets full of flags that they had no problem tossing all over the field but calling holding on 1st and 10 correctly only to ignore it in the fourth quarter on a critical drive because, as the announcer put it, “they’re just tired of throwing those flags” is an embarrassment to the NFL.

A league so intent on protecting player health and on “getting calls right” by instituting automatic reviews on scoring plays failing to be disciplined during other pivotal points in games is ridiculous.

Announcers like Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden picking on safety David Caldwell for breaking up a pass in the end zone, because he did not also intercept the pass, and singling that play out as “the reason” the Colts are losing is ridiculous.

Repeating a mantra of “injury depleted defense” to suggest that the players on the field are incapable of getting the job done when throughout much of the game that same defense threw the Buccaneers offense for a loop for much of the game is lazy.

The Colts once again fought to the end and nearly won in spite of injuries all over the field. The effort displayed, the performances of individual players, a wounded team giving a fired up team all it could handle in a hostile environment. Nope, not worthy or meaningful comment.

Of course, Colts fans should know better. Colts players do know better. For another week, fans and players should hold their heads high. I know I will.

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