INDIANAPOLIS – Chris Ballard’s lengthy rehash of a complicated season and historic collapse often found its way back to one subject.
Carson Wentz. And that was understandable.
But there were so many other issues that required attention, and the Indianapolis Colts’ fifth-year general manager addressed them while attempting to balance the lingering sting of the inexplicable loss at Jacksonville with determining how to take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Here’s a snippet of Ballard’s Thursday’s press conference, non-Wentz category:
Subject: Have you figured out how in the world things disintegrated with the closing losses to the Raiders and Jaguars?
Ballard: “I’m not there, yet. We lost a tough game to Las Vegas and then we got our ass beat by Jacksonville. I wish I had an answer for you right now, and I don’t. I don’t. I feel better about the answer for Vegas. There were some leverage points in the game we just didn’t take advantage of. We let them hang around and then they made a play at the end.
“The effort at Jacksonville, sometimes you get your ass beat. We got our ass beat. I wish I had (an answer) for the fans and for everybody, ‘Can you pinpoint what happened?’ I don’t have that. I wish I could. I don’t. I don’t have it. We got our ass beat.’’
Subject: Five years into your job as GM, are you building things the right way?
Ballard: “I’ve thought a lot about that. I still believe you win the game up front. I think that’s real. My belief system will never change. You’ve got to be good on the o-line, d-line. You have to be. You have to get good quarterback play. Then the rest of your playmakers have to do their jobs.
“. . . You can have really deep convictions how you think things need to be built and run, but you have to have the flexibility and the curiosity to change along the way. I think we’ve done that. We are a very curious group. We want to grow.’’
Subject: With one playoff win and no division titles in five years, should something change with your approach?
Ballard: “We won’t change on the type of people we bring in. That won’t change. That’s what we stand for, and that’s what we’ll continue to do. ’17, I kick out. It counted, but it is what it is. But over the last four years we’ve been in the playoffs twice. We’ve only won one playoff game, haven’t won a division. That’s not good enough. We haven’t done it, we haven’t completed it.
“At the end of the day, I think we’ve got a lot of really good players and really good pieces. You’ve got to get stability at the quarterback position. You have to. We have to get stability there. And that position has to play up to his potential to help the team win. And don’t get me wrong. I ain’t blaming this all on Carson. All right? I’m not. Everybody else has got to do their jobs, too.’’
Subject: Which team are you? The one that stood 9-6 after the Christmas Night win at Arizona, or the one that collapsed the final two games and missed the playoffs?
Ballard: “You have to accept who you are. We’re a 9-8 football team. That’s who we are. I put that team together and that falls on my shoulders. We won’t overreact. I’ve got to let the poison get out, and it’s not out yet.
“(The answer) always lies somewhere in the middle. It’s never as bad as it seems and never as good as it seems. When we were 9-6 and everybody’s shouting it up that we’re a Super Bowl team, that’s probably over the top. Now we lose these last two games and we just suck. Well, that’s probably over the top, too.’’
Subject: Does the receivers’ room need an upgrade?
Ballard: “We’ve got good young players. Like, y’all didn’t think (Michael) Pittman was going to be really good, and all of a sudden he’s pretty good. I remember when y’all questioned that. I think every year we’re trying to upgrade every position if we can.
“Would I like two or three dynamic (wideouts)? Absolutely you would. But I think we’ve got some good young players to work with. I guess we’ll see what happens going forward.’’
Subject: The futures of T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle, both of whom are considering retirement.
Ballard: “I haven’t talked to TY, yet, but I love him. He’s an unbelievable Colt. He’s an incredible person. He has grown. It’s been unbelievable.
“Jack Doyle and I did talk. He’s going to take about a week or two, think it through. He’s a very valuable member. He can still play. At the end of the day he’ll make a decision on what he’s going to do.’’
Subject: Left tackle.
Ballard: “The left tackle is what the left tackle is. We short-term fixed it (with free agent Eric Fisher). We’ve still got to be looking for a long-term solution there. If we have to short-term fix it again because a long-term solution doesn’t show up, that’s what we’ll do.
“Let me say this about Eric. At the end, the pass pro things, he had some struggles. He fights his ass off to get back from an Achilles, ends up playing pretty decent football without an offseason, without being here. Really good in the run game. We’re asking him to do different things from a pass pro standpoint that he really didn’t get a chance to work on.
“I think Fish will tell you there’s moments . . . that he should be better. Fisher’s got a lot of good football left in him.’’
Subject: Is moving Quenton Nelson to left tackle an option?
Ballard: “No. No. Why would you move a Hall of Fame left guard to left tackle? That just makes no sense to me. Makes no sense. Look, he’s got a ways to go to be a Hall of Fame player. But why would you move a great player to left tackle? No, we’re not doing that.
Subject: What about an extension for Nelson?
Ballard: “We’ll work through it. Look, Quenton’s a Colt. Want him to be a Colt long term. When we do the contract we’ll work through that.’’
Subject: Did the late-season issues with COVID-19 impact the team?
Ballard: “I won’t use that. It hit us. It hit everybody. I think it’s a possibility, maybe, but every team’s dealing with it.’’
Subject: But did that cross your mind late in the season, especially with the unvaccinated players?
Ballard: “Damn right it did. I mean, look, it sucked. I’ll give our guys credit. They worked at it. They worked their ass off at it. But at the end of the day, down the stretch, it got us. They worked hard to try to avoid it, but unfortunately this new variant . . . you can try to avoid it all you want. It got us.
“The unvaccinated part, do I wish everybody had been vaccinated? Absolutely. I think we were pretty clear on that but they chose not to. They did all they could to avoid it, but at the end of the day it ended up getting us.’’
Subject: What’s your assessment of Frank Reich?
Ballard: “He’s a good head coach. He’s a good football coach. We really only had the one losing season at 7-9, which was my doing, not his. We’ve had a different quarterback every year, and we still find a way to be really competitive and a good football team.
“I think he’s really good as a head coach and I think anybody that questions that . . . this guy’s good, man. He’s a leader. He has a plan. He’s flexible. He’s aggressive but also knows when to dial it back. Lucky to have him. We’re lucky, I promise you. We’re luck to have Frank Reich.’’
Subject: What about your in-person Sunday night meeting with Jim Irsay?
Ballard: “We all shared in the frustration. It was the first time. We landed and we drove right to Jim’s office. We met and had a really good discussion for about an hour, an hour-and-a-half. I talk to Mr. Irsay after every game. I don’t meet in his office after every game. Jim wants to win.
“I work for a great owner, man. Cares about this city, wants to do well, he’s competitive, he’s prideful. I handle an ass-chewing well cause I promise you, as hard as he is on me, I’m every bit as hard. I don’t run away when I screw it up or when I have a problem. I’ve got to fix it. It’s okay to sit up here and admit when you’re wrong, but you’ve got to go fix the damn thing or they’ll find somebody else to fix it.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.