I am officially concerned that a team built to run the ball and stop the run can consistently do neither.
I am not concerned about Andrew Luck, whom we expect to drag us out of every mess we put ourselves into, forgive the dangling preposition. He is very good and will become brilliant, perhaps transcendent, as he matures. It is the defense’s inability to stop the run, and the running game itself that have me worried.
Observe how the Patriots beat us this past week. The announcers illustrated over and over how the New England OC used angle blocking, crossing WRs, slanting blocking backs, slanting pulls, to create running lanes, through which an obscure running back could amass 200 yards that would have been more had it not been, in the immortal words of Kravitz, for those pesky end zones. They don’t simply put our big guys up against your big guys and start pushing away, and tell Richardson or Bradshaw to run at the inevitable opening, which is simply rarely there. The entire NE run blocking scheme was superior to our own, and was the reason we lost the game.
Three years into the Grigson regime and we are unable to stop the run nor run the ball after having invested Lord how many millions of dollars in players and draft choices. Our players LOOK like the type we want—broad, very big, but we’re unable to create running lanes on offense and putting any meaningful pressure on opposing QBs, overlooking two singularly poor decisions by Brady, both of which resulted in interceptions, and both of which were the reasons this didn’t become an uglier rout than it was. This was about being overmatched along both lines and outcoached.
It is cold comfort to state the obvious, that Brady is 37 and Luck 25, but for now there is no comparison. There is little reason to expect much more from this team than to win the punchless AFC South. At this stage, the stage at which people want to start blaming other people for the things that aren’t happening on the field, like being 8-2, for example, that the candidates include Pagano, Grigson and Christiansen. As for the latter, it’s true the Colts have been leading the league in accumulating yards and scoring, but most of that has resulted from Luck himself, especially in the un-kept statistic of avoiding sacks, while still taking more than is healthy. Again, making the O Line appear more competent than it, in fact, is.
Why does the defense get routinely pushed around by the opposing team’s ground game? Sure, they throw a shutout at the Bengals, but the fact remains that good teams can run on the Colts at their leisure. Is it injuries, the guys that aren’t in there? Not really, because every team in the soft-tissue-destroying league says the same thing.
Either these players are not as good as they look, or else they’re being improperly coached.
Any conversation that this is a championship team needs to stop at this time.
This is a team that needs to win 5 of its last 6 games to have any right making the playoffs. Going into the playoffs with a 10 & 6 record is not an ascendant strategy, playing at home perhaps once, and going on the road for the duration, only, in the prettiest scenario, to meet a Green Bay or an Arizona or those damnable Cowboys in an imaginary Super Bowl. Sure, let’s amuse ourselves and put the Colts in the Superbowl, in Glendale, against Bruce Arians and the Cardinals.
The bad karma would be thick as the local well water.
The Colts, for whatever reason, are not yet good enough to compete for a title. Three full years in the Grigson era and we look like a championship team, but don’t play like a championship team. For every Baltimore, there is a Pittsburgh. For every Jacksonville there is a New England. This team can only beat teams that are, bluntly speaking, not good, or during periods where they’re not good. Baltimore back when we played them was not as good as Baltimore now, with whom we would have trouble.
Until this team can consistently hold good teams, including Dallas, to under 140 yards rushing they will never give Luck and Company the time they need to go methodically down the field in the absence of any kind of meaningful running game which is—let’s be honest for just a moment—terrible, no threat whatsoever, Josh Herron the only bright light in the bunch. Trent Richardson giving it his all but never having any daylight to run to, which he had in abundance at Alabama and he needs, given his build and inertia of rest, his difficulty in getting it going quickly at the start of the play. Bradshaw is now unavailable. Everyone wanted to see Ballard run the ball this season, but that hope was dashed early. What we’ve seen since training camp, in fact, has been occasional bursts of brilliance hidden among long periods of mediocrity, good enough, once again, to beat the bad teams, but unable to get it done against good teams. A team built, it seems, to win the AFC South, generating a banner and little else.
What were, in retrospect, amazing seasons were 2012 and 2013, when Luck showed why he was the number one pick, when he carried the team on his back and managed consecutive 11 win seasons without much help. This year, his improvement has, seemingly, been more than matched by deterioration in both the middle pass rush—spare me the Mathis talk—and the play of the offensive line, which generally does not create holes for backs to run through, its express purpose for existing at all. This is an offensive line incapable of moving good defensive lines out of their lanes. This is an offensive line, at its best, capable of playing at a B minus level.
This is an offensive line that simply is not getting it done. Blame the players, the coaches or the scheme—I’ll take the latter—this is a team that cannot run the ball nor stop the run. The two components that make the successful playoff teams successful. We lapse into the Junior Manning syndrome, of trying to get through the playoffs due primarily to the exploits of our quarterback and always coming up short, other than the one year when we started playing incredible defense IN the playoffs and won the Super Bowl. Up until that time, the defense that year, and most years was a liability. For three weeks, they became a force to be reckoned with. Not the least of reasons being the play of Antoine Bethea who, it seems, contributed more to the defense than we suspected.
For Grigson and Jimmy Irsay, much is on the line. Irsay has bought heavily into Grigson and Pagano as the hope of the future, the direction the club is wanting to go. But though the intent is there, the results are not trending well. The team cannot reliably be expected to win when it can’t run the ball and can’t sto the run. Perhaps the Colts were lucky to finish 11-5 the last two seasons, but one figured this year they should easily earn it and perhaps exceed 11 wins. Which now means, of course, running the table through December.
Six games of which the team can reasonably expect to win 5, the exception being Dallas at Dallas on December 21 at 4 pm. That game will determine whether 11-5 is possible this year, and, if so, whether it will be more luck, more Luck, or something else. So far, it hasn’t been much running the ball, and we haven’t seen run-stopping in the bad losses at home to New England and on the road against the Steelers.
The modern model of the Super Bowl offense will always include some version of The Triplets, named for Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, who led the team into three titles, with a traditionally strong NFC East-type defense behind it. Today’s Colts don’t have the triplets. They have Luck. They have TY Hilton, who is too small to be a real triplet good for, say, 1800-2000 yards of total offense for a season. And they don’t have the kind of defense that can withstand the efforts of a quality offensive team.
One game does not make a season. They will likely bounce back this week in Jacksonville. They should have no serious matchup problems with Washington. Cleveland is looking increasingly problematic. Having to beat both Dallas and Cleveland to gain some momentum leading into the playoffs pretty much guarantees an early exit therefrom. And what would that mean?
Big contract year for Luck on the horizon, in addition to others. Years 4, 5 and 6 are going to be the best Luck has to offer, and we want him working for us. Grigson should have one more year to produce high quality players, and enable a viable running game, before feeling the heat. The Colts, it was felt, would be better by now than they are. This kind of relative disappointment—plenty of fans would like to have a home team at 6-4—is bad for a group constantly being told they have the potential to be champions.
For Luck, the next 3-5 seasons will seal his reputation in the league. He will be at his peak physical and psychological best during these years, before he takes the kind of beating the NFL dishes out to physical quarterbacks over the course of their careers. As a community, we owe it to Andrew Luck to surround him with a set of triplets, an astute front office, and a defense that can help keep him on the field. We’ve all thought these came along with Grigson and Pagano. The next six games will tell us much about who they are. The next five years will tell us much about who WE are.