Monday, November 29, 2010

A Colts Obituary

The time has come. I've actually been planning to write this article for a couple of weeks because I fully expected that it would be necessary, and rest assured, as a Colts fan it is painful for me to write it. It's over for the most part. The Colts are dead. They still have a good chance to make the playoffs, and once they do that, all bets are off. However, the odds of them making a run in the playoffs are slim to none. They just aren't a good team.

I hate to harp on my Nostradamus moment after the Week 1 loss to the Texans, but I came out of that game predicting that the Colts were going to be bad this year. How could a team that hadn't won less than twelve games since 2002 make me come up with that prediction after one game? Easy. The biggest liability of the past three years wasn't addressed in the offseason. People who don't watch the Colts regularly probably all think I am talking about the defense, but the answer lies on the other side of the ball.

Anyone who has watched the Colts offense on a regular basis over the past decade has (or should have) noticed a startling trend. Starting in 2008, the Colts have gone from a quick strike, dynamic offense to a one-dimensional, dink and dunk, short passing offense with no running game. The lack of a running game has been noticed by all as the Colts have finished at the bottom of the league in every rushing statistic over that three year period. What hasn't generally been noticed is the huge transformation in the passing game. The Colts are no longer a threat to go deep because there just is not enough time to let those routes develop. Don't believe me? From 2003-2007, the Colts were never below 5th in the NFL in Yards Per Attempt. Since then, they haven't cracked the top 10, and this year, they are 22nd. Is it a coincidence that over that three year period, the Colts have dropped to the bottom of the league in rushing while also taken a big tumble in YPA? I don't think so.

The reason that the O-Line hasn't been mentioned as being the true cause of the Colts issues is simple. People look at the stats and see that the Colts have been at the top of the league in fewest sacks given up throughout the past decade. What seems to go unnoticed is that QBs can have a huge impact on sack totals. The Steelers with Roethlisberger at the helm have consistently given up tons of sacks placing in the top five in 2008 and 2009. However, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would make the claim that their O-Line was terrible at pass protection. The true reason is that Big Ben has a tendency to hold onto the ball for way too long. Now on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Peyton Manning. He gets rid of the ball so quickly that he can cover up most of the flaws in pass protection (at least to the point of not taking sacks). That doesn't mean he isn't constantly dealing with pressure as last night showed. The Chargers only managed to sack Manning once, and just looking at that stat, you would think the O-Line held its own against the Chargers' pass rush. Nothing could be further from the truth. NBC did a good job of showing the issues that come with an offensive line that can't block. The passing timer showed that Peyton was consistently forced to get rid of the ball in under two seconds if he didn't want to get hit. That just isn't enough time to allow the deep plays to develop, and even worse, it isn't enough time to go through the progressions to find secondary targets if the primary target is covered.

Enter Bill Polian. The supposed mastermind of the Colts dominance in recent memory seems to have lost his mind. After the Super Bowl, Polian was extremely critical of the O-Line's performance. So naturally one would expect him to retool it during the offseason right? Of course not. The only changes made were drafting a guard in the 4th round and cutting a starting guard. How exactly is that going to improve the line by any measure? He addressed the swinging gates they start at both left and right tackle by passing on two tackles in the first round, then not even drafting one. It seems Polian has fallen into the trap of taking Manning for granted, and the team is paying for it.

Another issue with the passing game seems to be the complete lack of effort shown by Reggie Wayne and the incredible fall of Pierre Garcon. I just don't understand Reggie. He seems to have mailed it in since he refused to run an actual route on the infamous Tracy Porter pick six in the Super Bowl. I've lost count how many times I've seen Reggie run a lazy route or drop a ball that hits him in the hands. Given the decimated receiving corps, you would expect a true competitor to up his intensity and do whatever it takes to help the team win. Well, someone tell that to Mr. Wayne because he just doesn't seem to be grasping it.

As for Pierre Garcon, he has been terrible. Whether it be him being totally out of sync with Peyton or dropping balls left and right, all that needs to be said about the horrendous season he is having can be found here. On the other hand, at least he tries hard.

Then you have Peyton's struggles. He has made some uncharacteristic mistakes over the past two weeks, and it has become pretty obvious that he is pressing. As was discussed here, the best way to get to Peyton is to make him press and think he has to put the team on his back. If a team can make him feel like he has to win the game by himself, they can lure him into taking risks that he normally wouldn't take. At this point, it's pretty obvious that the Colts can't beat good teams unless he has a basically perfect game.

The Colts have become a one dimensional offensive team, but it really ends up being more of a 2/3 dimensional offense. With no deep threat and no running game, teams only have to play the pass and they can jump underneath routes with little risk. Throw in the fact that the Colts went into the San Diego with the second most dropped passes (Then they dropped everything in sight during the game), and you have a recipe for disaster. That's what we are seeing this year, without a doubt.

The unfortunate part is that the major injury issues that have plagued the Colts all year have avoided the O-Line. The Colts are assured to correct plenty of flaws as the players get healthy, but there is nothing to look forward to with the O-Line. The only hope is that the actual players get better because there is no help on the horizon.

Here are a couple of links discussing last night's game.

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