INDIANAPOLIS – Late Sunday wasn’t the time.
The immediate aftermath of watching a 21-19 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter disintegrate into a nationally-televised, turnover-fueled 54-19 embarrassment at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys wasn’t the time or place for Jeff Saturday to consider whether Matt Ryan would – should – continue to run the Indianapolis Colts’ offense.
“It’s five minutes after a beating,’’ he said Sunday evening. “I’m disappointed. They’re disappointed.
“No decision I’m going to make right now’s going to be a good decision.’’
But the late bye offers an opportunity to decompress, gather your thoughts and make changes based on reason, not emotion.
So, are changes looming for the 4-8-1 Colts? With the playoffs out of the question – OK, they’ve still got a 1% shot, according to FiveThirtyEight.com – how do Saturday, general manager Chris Ballard and their support staff handle the final four games?
How do they balance evaluating talent with doing their level best to win?
More to the point, might the Colts be best served by benching Ryan for the second time in two months? Yes, he would have missed those two games – Washington and New England – with a sprained right shoulder, but let’s not forget then-coach Frank Reich was following owner Jim Irsay’s orders to bench Ryan after the week 7 loss at Tennessee.
Saturday wouldn’t single out his error-prone quarterback, but insisted everyone will be assessed during the bye week. The Colts are back in action Dec. 17 at Minnesota.
“I actually had that conversation this morning,’’ Saturday said. “We’re going to look at everything – no position in particular, but everybody – and look and see what we think is going to be best.
“I told the guys we’ve got a four-week season . . . we need the best 11 on the field every time. If we think somebody gives us a better chance to win, let’s have those discussions this week.’’
The bye gives Saturday an opportunity to better evaluate the storm he was thrust into when Irsay named him interim coach Nov. 7. The last month undoubtedly has been something of a blur.
“It’s really the first time I’ve had a chance to really kind of breathe with the staff,’’ he said. “So yeah, we’ll have those conversations and see what we think is going to give us the best chance to win these four.’’
That includes a discussion whether it’s better to stick with Ryan, or turn to either Nick Foles of Sam Ehlinger?
“Yeah, yeah, I’m not looking at Matt any different than anybody else,’’ Saturday said. “But yeah, we’re looking at all of it. We didn’t play nearly well enough last night, especially at the end.
“So yeah, we’re looking at it all and let’s see what we can do to get ourselves a chance to win these games.’’
It’s debatable whether a quarterback change would make a discernible difference.
Ehlinger played at a winnable level in his first career start – 17-of-23 yards, 201 yards in the 17-16 loss to Washington – but was overwhelmed the next week. In the 26-3 blowout at New England, he passed for 103 yards, suffered an interception returned for a touchdown and was sacked nine times.
Foles was signed to a two-year, $6.2 million contract during the offseason and considered an invaluable backup if Ryan suffered an injury. He’s taken two snaps this season, both in the week 2 loss at Jacksonville, and been the inactive No. 3 QB five times. Foles was elevated to No. 2 at Dallas.
Ryan’s erratic play is undeniable, and has been exacerbated by shoddy pass protection. The Colts have allowed a league-high 46 sacks, and Ryan’s gone down 35 times.
Ryan was instrumental in assisting the Cowboys with four more turnovers: three interceptions and a fumble on his third sack of the game.
The negative plays have piled up to an alarming level. Ryan leads the NFL with 18 total turnovers, 13 interceptions and 14 total fumbles. His five lost fumbles are second to Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence (six). His 18 turnovers are more than 26 teams.
There are times Ryan’s passes have lacked the necessary zip. Is that a reflection of them being delivered by a 37-year-old quarterback, or by one who suffered a Grade 2 sprain to his right shoulder in the week 7 loss to the Titans?
“That’s a question you’d ask him in all honesty,’’ Saturday said. “I don’t get into injuries with players. They tell me they’re good to go, I believe them. I’ve never questioned anybody.
“If he had something, he would tell me.’’
Whatever decisions are made will be done with the final four games, not 2023 in mind.
“It won’t be about next-year evaluation,’’ Saturday said. “It will be about what gives us the best chance to win in these final four.’’
About that non-challenge
Saturday considered challenging Isaiah Rodgers Sr.’s near-interception in the third quarter, but decided to hold onto his red flag after talking with the officials on the field and getting information from the booth from George Li, the team’s head of football strategy analyst/game management.
Rodgers urged his coach to challenge.
“They weren’t going to overturn it,’’ Saturday said. “I had the conversation. I actually had the flag in my hand. The referees are pretty good about saying, ‘Hey, it’s being reviewed and it’s not going to be changed.’
“So, there was no reason to waste a timeout, waste a challenge. And upstairs, George had done a good job of telling me, ‘Hey, it’s on the ground. You can see the ball clearly touching the turf. They’re not going to overturn this one.’’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.