After Loss to Saints, Jim Irsay Must Make Key Decisions for Indianapolis Colts
There were interceptions and fumbles. There were missed blocks and missed tackles. There were 10-yard cushions, aptly shredded by a surgeon in a Saints' uniform by the name of Drew Brees. There were blown coverages, blown catches and blown minutes spent on the field.
New Orleans put the kind of beating on the Colts that would have bystanders running for the police, appalled at how bloody the assailant's fists were when the victim went limp, void of a fight.
Calling this a "loss," like equating it to any other assortment of shoulder-shrug three-point "oh well" losses is an injustice to the concept of a "loss." But nonetheless, coming off of this loss, torches will burn, media will mobilize and angry mobs will certainly, and justifiably, set their sights on West 56th Street.
The question, then, is who to blame.
After all, 62 to seven is a special kind of bad. There is a special hell reserved for those kinds of losses—the same hell that airs continuous replays of MAC teams taking on Oklahoma (or Indiana taking on Wisconsin, whichever proves more cringe-worthy).
Something that bad is hard to pin on one person, or one position or even a single scapegoat. It takes a communal effort to commit something that atrocious to the annals of football history, and that was about the only effort Indy gave on the night.
The Colts are broken: This is no longer subject for debate. There is slim hope that Peyton Manning could be the adhesive that bonds the fragments of a football team together. But even that seems like a thought more distanced with each drubbing and each additional tally in the loss column.
This is, after all, rock bottom—or so Colts fans should hope. The pits. Football hell. The absolute worst. The kind of status quo that has Miami Dolphins fans laughing at you, or Denver Broncos fans saying "Well, at least we're not the Colts!"
So how do you fix what is undeniably broken?
And who do you hold accountable for the gridiron atrocity that once regarded itself as a NFL heavyweight?
Certainly everyone has their own opinion: head coach, defensive coordinator and general manager. Defensive backs, defensive tackles and linebackers. Fact is, blame is hardly a scarcity in Indianapolis right now. There's more than enough to go around.
It seems the only question at this point is who ends up as the sacrificial lamb, and whether or not the slaughter will appease the football gods.
Colts' owner Jim Irsay surmises that change is on the horizon, and may be more complex than many of us would surmise (via Twitter).
"Titanic collapse,apologies 2 all ColtsNation..problems identifiable;solutions in progress but complex in nature/ better days will rise again"
It's refreshing, of course, to see the owner make no apologies for what was one of the most atrocious performances in NFL history.
And it's interesting, too, to see Irsay claim that measures are being taken to rectify the situation (in the sense the international community took measures to rebuild war-torn Germany following World War Two). Not only are these measures in action, but they are reportedly "complex in nature".
Those three words might say more than anything else possibly can.
At this point, it's all speculation, but what could be complex in nature? Firing a coach? Firing a coordinator? Benching or cutting multiple players?
Passing the pink slip to Bill Polian?
How Much Blame Does Larry Coyer Deserve for the 0-7 Colts?
In reality, no one should be safe.
We can start with the coaching staff and identify defensive coordinator Larry Coyer, or particularly Coyer's soft coverage Cover-two scheme. Coyer's scheme does not work, and that's the nicest way of putting it. Giving a 10-yard cushion on every single play is totally ineffective.
Theoretically, that should limit the opposition to minimal gains, turning a 50-yard gain into a five-yard gain. In practice, at least in the Colts' secondary, it's a matter of turning a five-yard gain into a 50-yard gain. Poor technique, poor tackling and poor positioning. Zero ball skills, zero reaction to the pass.
Coyer employs a Cover-two to promote a "bend don't break" philosophy. But they're breaking, to the tune of 62 points.
Really, what's the harm in trying bump-and-run coverage? What's the harm in pressing, in at least trying to minimize coverage cushions? Defensive backs will get torched? Is that any different from allowing 62 points while playing conservatively?
Certainly, Coyer's scheme is stale and archaic, a relic of football past buried for good reason. Offenses have evolved and quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers—heck, in the Colts' case, Matt Cassel and Colt McCoy—have solved the riddle of coverage shells. It would take a tremendous collection of defensive talent to make Coyer's scheme work, and last time I checked, Indy is fairly low on defensive talent.
But can we pile all the blame on Coyer? Is it that easy? He seems to be the first name on the chopping block. Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz doesn't think Coyer makes it to the end of the season.
It can't be as simple as railroading the defensive coordinator, though, as much blame as he may deserve. After all, he has to work with what he has. And what he has are the two worst starting defensive tackles in the NFL in Fili Moala and Antonio Johnson.
He has a collection of defensive backs who, outside of Antoine Bethea and arguably Jerraud Powers, would be hard-pressed to start in the UFL right now.
Let's start with defensive tackle. The interior line has proven problematic for several seasons now. They get no push. Drake Nevis is the only tackle who even remotely suggests the interior line will ever make the quarterback sweat and push the pocket, and he has spent the last few weeks in the training room.
Season after season, the Colts fail to produce NFL-caliber defensive tackles, guys who can compliment All-Pro bookends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis by bullying quarterbacks who step up in the pocket. This should be an easy job, operative word: should. But through a series of botched machinations in scouting, talent evaluation and free agency participation, the Colts continue to call on the same guys. These guys, who can't anchor, who can't penetrate, who can't do anything but get pushed three or four yards off the line on every play and end up watching the game from their rears.
The next man up on the cutting block, according to the angry mob anyway, would seem to be Jim Caldwell.
It's hard to say, with a straight face, that he doesn't deserve the dishonor. Caldwell has made an artform out of butchering clock management. His timeout strategies are often horrendous. The best thing you can possibly say about Caldwell is that he doesn't have any explicit foot fetish videos floating around the internet.
Still, I'm not sure firing Caldwell cures all that ails the Colts. Certainly, he needs to be held accountable. His lack of adjustments and continued clock management woes speak to a man in way over his head. More damning than anything, perhaps, is his tendency to play musical chairs in the talent evaluation department.
In 2010, Caldwell and the coaching staff played musical chairs with the offensive line. First they started Jamey Richard. Then they decided they didn't like him, so they replaced him with Kyle DeVan. About halfway through the season, they decided they didn't like Mike Pollak, so they started Jeff Linkenbach instead. That proved to be a disaster, so the Colts turned back to the talent.
All the while, fans were left scratching their heads, asking just who the heck makes these evaluations.
Fast forward one year later, and we're dealing with the same thing. First, Jacob Lacey starts at cornerback—even a 14-year-old Madden player would be able to tell you that Lacey is not a NFL-caliber defensive back. Then the Colts decide they don't like Lacey, so they start Terrence Johnson. Turns out he's just as bad, if not worse, so they bench him and start Kevin Thomas. It's only a matter of time, of course, until they turn back to Lacey.
How Much Blame Does Jim Caldwell Deserve for the 0-7 Colts?
At some point, you have to ask if this coaching staff is able to sufficiently evaluate talent. Evidence over the last two seasons would seem to suggest otherwise.
Changes are made for the sake of change. Capable players are cut—I'm looking at you, Kelvin Hayden, Justin Tryon and Kyle DeVan—in favor of guys like Lacey and Johnson, who couldn't make a play in backyard football.
Caldwell, like Coyer, certainly deserves a portion of the blame. And you have to imagine his job is in jeopardy, though unlikely to be outright terminated until season's end.
But at the end of the day, you have to ask why the Colts are suffering through the Moalas and Laceys of the league. You have to ask why defensive tackle hasn't been addressed, why capable players were cut and why a status quo of suck is allowed to exist.
You have to ask what part the Polians, father Bill and son Chris, play in this whole charade.
After all, these guys take all the credit when things go right. Bill Polian is the first to remind pundits and prognosticators when he is correct, when his draft picks pan out, when his team is winning. By all accounts, he assumes ownership of all roster decisions, and generally has complete control of the organization.
Shouldn't he be feeling some heat?
Now, I'll admit, I'm not quite in the "fire Polian!" crowd yet, though my feet find themselves shuffling continually closer.
Replacing a general manager (or whatever Polian chooses to call himself these days) is infinitely more difficult than replacing a defensive tackle, or a head coach for that matter. It's not a snap decision. It's something Irsay would have to think long and hard about, specifically the direction he wants to take the team moving forward, and something that would have to be staffed accordingly.
How Much Blame Does Bill Polian Deserve for the 0-7 Colts?
Polian makes this mess particularly problematic because, at the end of the day, he's the puppet master. We can blame Coyer, we can blame Caldwell, and they deserve blame, but when all is said and done, they're acting on behalf of Polian.
They're playing the players Polian wants to play, cutting the players Polian doesn't want to play and hanging on to the mistakes Polian does not want to confess to. As long as Polian is in charge—and I'm not sure if that's just Bill, or if we consider Chris and Bill a singular entity—firing coaches will have minimal effect on the overall execution of the team's blueprint.
So does Irsay fire Polian?
Again, I don't know that it's that easy. But Irsay needs to start holding him accountable. At the very least, Irsay needs to call the Polians into his office, sit them down and let them know that he is evaluating their status with the team.
Their reign can't be unquestioned. That has been the case for far too long in Indianapolis: There's been too many things written off after a decade of success and too many decisions gone unchallenged because we always assumed father knew best.
At the end of the day, this falls on Irsay. This will be his defining moment. Will he just give lip service, or will he take action?
If he takes action, will he act with caution, with rationality and with the sense of calm and certainty necessary to guarantee this team has a life span beyond the year 2010?
If You Were Jim Irsay, What Would You Do?
Fans had better hope so. Because we've seen life without Manning, whose status remains shrouded in mystery.
And it ain't pretty.
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