One of the most difficult things to do after the Colts blowout loss in the season opener is to provide a coherent explanation that is bluntly honest, but also not an overreaction. Each year fans tend to make too much of the Week 1 results — take a lesson from the Chargers, early season performances do not make a season.
What is alarming, however, is that the Colts primary issues against the Texans are the same issues the team has had for much of the last decade. Even though the Indianapolis defense was able to generate three turnovers, it was also unable to get Houston off of the field without those kinds of plays. Head up defense versus the Texans offense, it could not get the job done.
To make matters much worse, the Colts offense was a mess, particularly early in the game. The offensive line struggled, which was foreseeable, and Kerry Collins did not have very good pocket awareness at all. Two fumbles and a busted exchange with Jeff Saturday made it difficult for the offense to ever find a rhythm.
The biggest question-mark about the second half is whether the improvements made in slowing Houston down or generating more of an offense had more to do with Indy’s half-time adjustments or a change in intensity on the part of the Texans. A 34-point lead allowed the Texans to bring in their fourth-string running back, and really use the second half as a regular season practice against a division rival.
The biggest concern on the offensive line is that center Jeff Saturday continues to get overpowered at the point of attack. Whether it is age catching up with the beloved Colts offensive lineman or the after-effects of his rigorous off-season responsibilities to end an NFL lockout — and therefore less time for conditioning and strength training — his early season form makes it clear that he will require help to deal with starting defensive linemen.
For their part, left guard Joe Reitz and left tackle Anthony Castonzo had solid debut performances. There may have been a few communication issues that I could not pick out real time on the left side of the line but they look promising playing next to one another, and even combined to open up good running lanes on more than one occasion.
Most of the pressure Collins felt came from the right side of the line, where Ryan Diem looked fully capable of being an effective right guard — and able to handle his blocking assignment without help. Right tackle Jeff Linkenbach is the question-mark.
The problem with assessing Linkenbach is that it is difficult to know without knowledge of the actual blocking assignments whether he failed to adjust to help on Mario Williams when Dallas Clark got beat by him twice, or if he was doing as he was directed. If it is the former, he has to straighten that out and more time working with the offensive line should help. If it was the latter, it is a major coaching mistake to ever match-up a tight end with Mario Williams one-on-one, no matter what defensive position he is lined up in.
What makes it confusing is that Linkenbach looked good when he clearly had Williams as his assignment and shifted over to get in front of the Texans Pro Bowl pass rusher. The upcoming contest against the Browns should allow fans to get a better look at what was going on and to see if the breakdowns improve after a week to make appropriate adjustments.
It is the same old story for the Colts though; it appears less like the team is missing the necessary pieces — read talented players — to get the job done and more like they are incapable of getting those pieces working together in an effective way to start the season. And while there is validity to the fact that the turnover on the offensive line makes it difficult and unsurprising to see some growing pains, every team worked with an abbreviated schedule and it was clear that Wade Phillips and the Texans were able to successfully install an entirely new defensive scheme faster than the Colts could develop a cohesive offensive line.
The two prime-time performers on offense were Joseph Addai and Reggie Wayne who played like the veteran leaders they will have to be, particularly while Manning recovers. If the line does come together and can give Collins a cleaner pocket to work with, both could have big years ahead of them.
The defensive side of the football was a complete mess. The holes in the zone coverage were so large that it was too easy for Schaub to find his targets and pick his way down the field. The improvements made to defensive personnel to stop the run were ineffective, both in terms of their ability when they were on the field and in terms of their inability to be on the field when the Texans were running the football.
Far too often it took three or four Colts players to hit a Texans ball carrier before a tackle was made. These kinds of things allow too many yards after contact and turn good defensive plays into disappointing ones.
It should have been clear to everyone that in order to be competitive against a quality opponent like Houston, the Indianapolis defense was going to have to step up in a big way and make a statement. Whether the wind was taken out of the players early by the offensive turnovers or defensive players simply didn’t come in with a chip on their shoulder, there was not the kind of “fight” in the defense as there will need to be for Indianapolis to have a legitimate chance of salvaging the season — in hopes for a Manning return. (The defense started flat in Houston last year too.)
Although Indy’s on-field professionalism is a nice representation of the Indianapolis community, it would have been appropriate at some point in the first half for one of Indy’s defensive leaders to get upset, very physical, and possibly even draw some kind of a penalty for unnecessary roughness in order to make a statement and bring the other players to life. The team needed to play like wounded dogs, cornered cobras, like professional athletes whose value was being questioned all week by members of the media. Instead, they took a beating and never showed signs of real fire.
For the Colts to recover, attitude this week will be everything. If the veterans are incapable of lifting and leading their teammates into the right mindset, the coaching staff will have to do so.
Do not believe for a second that the Indianapolis Colts do not have a team filled with extremely talented football players. Their talent rivals any team in the NFL. It is clear though, that their talent is not being utilized appropriately to get the job done. Something has to change.
Attitude? Scheme? Both? SOMETHING.
One of my ideas is a defensive schematic change. Look forward to reading those details in a coming story.