Could another massive overhaul be in store for disappointing Colts?
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 21, 2015) – The questions and speculation raged for months, but were premature.
No longer. Not on the heels of the three-hour exercise in futility Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium that all but sealed the Indianapolis Colts’ demise. Hope remains for a fourth consecutive playoff berth, but the 16-10 loss to the Houston Texans reduced it from likely to extremely slim.
So, what’s next? And we’re not talking about Sunday’s trip to Miami and the Jan. 3 finale against the Tennessee Titans that will bring a merciful end to a season that will be remembered for Andrew Luck’s shoulder and kidney, Matt Hasselbeck’s resolve, back-to-back 35-point losses and that fake punt fiasco against the New England Patriots with the game very much winnable without resorting to trickery.
We’re talking about lame-duck coach Chuck Pagano. We’re talking about Ryan Grigson, the silent general manager who’s under contract for 2016. And we’re talking about a slew of players – high-priced and/or underachieving – likely to be jettisoned.
We’re talking about the magnitude of owner Jim Irsay’s offseason overhaul. And trust us, change is in the air.
And we believe it will be extensive.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Pagano survives. He turned down Irsay’s one-year extension in the offseason, gambling that a deep run into the ’15 playoffs would increase his leverage. And the fact Irsay’s offer included a modest raise was evidence of Irsay’s uncertainty regarding whether Pagano was the man to lead the Colts this season.
Last week, Pagano seemed to be at peace with whatever’s to come. He dismissed the notion the stress from a season gone oh-so-wrong and his own uncertain future with the team have weighed on him.
“We all know what we signed up for,’’ he said. “They can’t eat you. They can fire you, but they can’t eat you.
“So if the worst thing is a year from now, let’s say I’m in Boise (Idaho) next year playing with my granddaughters, I’m going to be fine. That isn’t going to happen, but I’m going to be fine if I have to go down that road.’’
The overriding issue, though, is whether Irsay decides to push the reset button for the second time in four years.
That’s what he did following the abysmal 2011 season. No sooner had his Colts finished 2-14 than Irsay fired Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell. He later parted ways with Peyton Manning and a host of other high-priced players who either were aging or injury-prone, or both. Gary Brackett. Dallas Clark. Joseph Addai. Melvin Bullitt.
Irsay might be reaching for the button again.
While he understands the enormous impact losing Luck for half the season has had, he nonetheless can’t be pleased with being embarrassed again at Pittsburgh (45-10 after 51-34 last year) and then, most damning, at Jacksonville (51-16). He couldn’t have been pleased with the New Orleans Saints, a shadow of what they used to be, leading 20-0 at the half. At Lucas Oil Stadium, no less.
And most recent, Irsay can’t be pleased that his team’s playoff chances were essentially extinguished Sunday when it lost at home for the first time in forever to the Houston Texans, and to Brandon Weeden.
Peel away the layers and sift through the fan base’s outrage evident on social media, and Irsay can’t be the least bit satisfied with the veracity of his team. Including the playoffs, Pagano’s Colts are 42-26. But the split is alarming: 19-4 in the AFC South, 23-22 against everybody else.
For three years, Luck helped cover up personnel flaws. Now, with No. 12 on the sideline and Hasselbeck wearing down, those flaws have been exposed. The problems Grigson and Pagano were supposed to address remain. Upon their arrival, they promised a tough team that would run the football and stop the run.
Since 2012, the Colts’ running game has ranked No. 22, No. 20, No. 22 and currently sits tied for No. 29. The team has made Frank Gore look like he’s 42, not 32. It hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher in 48 consecutive games, 54 including the playoffs. It hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Addai in 2007. Each is the NFL’s longest active streak.
The run defense? Hit and miss. Alfred Blue gashed it for 107 yards on Sunday. It ranks No. 25, and has been no higher than No. 18 since the new regime assumed control. The defense lacks difference-makers.
Most glaring has been Grigson’s complete failure to provide Luck, the franchise’s present and future, with anything approaching an adequate offensive line. Two of the positions best players – left tackle Anthony Castonzo and versatile Joe Reitz – already were in place.
Irsay no doubt already has considered Grigson’s body of work. He’ll give him credit for acquiring Pro Bowl corner Vontae Davis in a trade with Miami, and for the bulk of a solid 2012 draft class (although we firmly believe the decision to draft Luck was Irsay’s, and his alone). It appears the current draft added competent pieces to the roster, but the jury very much is out on first-round receiver Phillip Dorsett.
In final analysis, the warts might be too unsightly to ignore. Remember giving up the ’14 first-round pick for Trent Richardson? Expensive free-agency busts include LaRon Landry, Gosder Cherilus, Donald Thomas, Andre Johnson, Trent Cole, Todd Herremans and perhaps Art Jones.
Since Luck in ’12, Grigson’s first-round picks have been Bjoern Werner in 2013, essentially Richardson in ’14 and Dorsett in ’15. Werner was seen as the pass-rush successor for Robert Mathis. He has 6.5 sacks in 36 games and has been a healthy inactive in four of the last five games for a team that lacks a consistent pass rush.
Clearly, this mess is a shared venture. Grigson, Pagano and the players. We’ll give Pat McAfee and Adam Vinatieri a pass.
Jim Irsay will hold people accountable. If he decides to replace Pagano with a high-profile coach who demands control of personnel issues – Nick Saban or Sean Payton – where does that leave Grigson?
Irsay might reach for the reset button, and who could blame him?