The Colts embarrassing loss to the New Orlean Saints on Sunday night has been expertly covered by Brett Mock and Nate Dunlevy, and frankly there is not much more that can be said about their performance. The most interesting – and perhaps important – part of that loss has yet to occur: the reaction from the front office. How will Jim Irsay and Bill and Chris Polian react to a 55-point loss which finally prompted questions about whether or not the Colts players are giving up on the season? For an organization that: lives by the motto, “next man up”; that said, in the wake of loss of QB Peyton Manning, that they were not a “one-man team”; that continued to say they expected to win and compete despite their injuries, there must be some response to the loss on Sunday night and the subsequent fall to 0-7. The loudest cries will be for head coach Jim Caldwell to lose his job. While I expect the Colts to have a new head coach for the start of the 2012 season, doing so now would go against the Colts M.O.
If, however, the Colts continue to “build” on their horrible performance against the Saints – if they come out and lay an egg against the Titans – I do think Jim Caldwell should be let go during the bye week. If the team battles back and returns to their competitive, albeit losing, ways, then I expect (and believe) that Caldwell should be allowed to coach out the rest of the year. I believe he has been a bad head coach, but there is simply no upside to bringing in an interim guy if (IF) Caldwell can continue to have the players playing hard. So what should the Colts front office do? The easy (and correct) response would be to fire special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski and defensive coordinator Larry Coyer. Rychleski is definitely not the cause of the Colts’ putrid special teams – they were bad long before he arrived – but he has done absolutely nothing to make them better, either. All this while having a much better punter and kick-off man, Pat McAfee, than the Colts have had in quite some time. And while many will point to the Colts refusal to play their best players on special teams, along with a myriad of injuries that have killed their depth, the fact of the matter is, the Colts problems on special teams, specifically returns, go far beyond a lack of skill. Week in and week out, the Colts return game borders on incompetence. If the coach isn’t to blame for that, who is? As for Coyer, the Colts defense has gotten progressively worse in each of his years as the Colts’ defensive coordinator. Sure, injuries have been an issue for Coyer, but they were an issue for Meeks and Dungy as well. The main problem for Coyer seems to be, well, Coyer. Under his reign the Colts seem bent on fitting a square-peg roster, filled with Tampa-2 players, into a round-holed scheme – part passive Cover-2, part aggressive-blitzing-man-coverage-bonanza. The Colts under Dungy and Polian had decided that the team would be built around Manning and the offense. They put a majority of their money and resources into the offensive side of the ball. Their choice in defensive scheme became simple – a stars and scrubs Cover-2 that focused on a handful of great players – Bob Sanders, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Gary Brackett, Kelvin Hayden* – with undrafted free agents (UDFAs) and mid-round draft picks filling out the roster. Dungy understood the philosophy and stuck with it, no matter what. Now, under Coyer, the Colts seem to want to have their cake and eat it too: the roster is still filled with UDFAs and mid-to-late-round draft picks, but Coyer is attempting to run a new scheme. These kinds of shifts take more than just a new defensive coordinator – it takes desire, money, time, and a commitment to change your philosophy in talent acquisition in the draft and free agency. Without that commitment you get what the Colts have – a defensive group that looks confused at best, and out-classed, out-manned, and out-coached at worse. Coyer may not be a bad defensive coordinator (though all evidence would suggest he is), but he was certainly the wrong man for this job. And while it is too late into the season to fix the wrongs he has done, it is never too late to admit a mistake and move towards getting better. The Colts were embarrassed on Sunday night. Their fans are frustrated and angry. While many expected the season to go as poorly as it has gone, the team’s mantra, their past resilience, and their constant demand for success have left them in a position where not responding to Sunday night’s debacle would be as embarrassing as the loss.