INDIANAPOLIS – The postmortem lasted a shade over an hour and was wide-ranging.
Often and obviously, it was Carson Wentz-centric. And we’ll get to that in short order.
There was so much to address as Chris Ballard was asked what in blue blazes went wrong with an Indianapolis Colts’ season that held so much promise with two weeks remaining – 9-6 after consecutive wins against New England and Arizona, remember? – only to collapse in historic fashion.
The meltdown at Jacksonville – Ballard’s term – will forever be a stain on the franchise. A scar, insisted coach Frank Reich.
“I’m pissed. I’m not happy,’’ Ballard said Thursday afternoon. “I can’t sleep at night thinking about it.’’
On several occasions, he paused to gather himself and find the right words.
“Look, we embarrassed ourselves,’’ he said. “Embarrassed our owner, embarrassed out city.
“The effort at Jacksonville . . .’’
“Sometimes you get your ass beat,’’ Ballard said. “We got our ass beat. I wish I had (the answer). I don’t have that. I don’t have it. We got our ass beat.’’
He was taken from one topic to another in rapid-fire fashion.
- On the job Frank Reich’s done as head coach: “We are lucky to have him, I promise you.’’
- On possibly moving All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson to left tackle to provide a long-term answer: “No. Why would you move a Hall of Fame left guard to play left tackle? That just makes no sense to me. No sense. No, we are not doing that.’’
There were questions regarding the possible impact of the late-season COVID-19 cases, the apparent lack of top-end talent at wide receiver and a pass rush that simply wasn’t good enough.
But the focus invariably returned to one player.
Monday, Reich declined to address whether his 2021 starting quarterback would be his 2022 starting quarterback.
Thursday, Ballard took a similar stance.
“Just sitting here today, just so y’all know, I won’t make a comment on who’s going to be here next year and who’s not going to be here next year,’’ he said. “That’s not fair to any player.’’
Fine. But we’re not talking about whether the Colts plan on re-signing tight end Mo Alie-Co or wideout Zach Pascal or defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis.
We’re talking about the starting quarterback. We’re talking about the player the Colts invested so heavily in 11 months ago. Remember, after Philip Rivers retired in January following a one-and-done season in Indy, they decided acquiring Wentz in a February trade with Philadelphia was their best option.
The magnitude of the investment made it clear this wasn’t viewed as a one-year experiment. The Colts gave up a 2021 third-round and 2022 first-round pick, and assumed the remainder of a four-year contract that included more than $36 million in guarantees.
Yet no one is offering even tepid support there will be – or should be – a year 2 in the Carson Wentz era.
“After Philip retired and we made the decision to make a move on Carson, at the time of the decision we felt good about it,’’ Ballard said. “And I still don’t regret the decision at the time.
“I thought Carson did some good things, and there’s a lot of things that happened that he needs to do better. Our passing game has to be better.’’
Ballard was asked if it’s alarming the team – not the GM, not the head coach – won’t comment on whether Wentz is the Colts’ long-term answer.
“I don’t know if that’s alarming,’’ he said. “We’re going to evaluate and do what we think is the best thing for the team and the organization. And we do that with anybody. That’s just of how we roll.’’
They might roll on without Carson Wentz. If that’s the drastic decision, his release won’t become official until the first of the new league year – March 16 – because of salary-cap ramifications. It would be sent in to the NFL office prior to March 19, when another $7 million of his contract becomes guaranteed.
However the Colts’ roll, they owe him $15 million of his 2022 base salary, which would be counted as dead money against the ’22 cap if Wentz is released.
“We’ll look at everything,’’ Ballard said. “There’s solutions. Sometimes they’re not ideal, but there are solutions.
“Sometimes they’re long-term, sometimes they’re not. But I think we’ll look at everything.’’
At one point, Ballard pointed out two areas that must improve going forward.
“Our passing game has to be better; just has to be,’’ he said. “And on defense, we’ve got to rush the passer better.
“It’s a passing league. You have to be able to affect the passer, and you’ve got to be able to throw it.’’
That one area is Wentz’s expertise. Or at least must be his expertise.
At first glance, Wentz enjoyed a nice bounce-back season after his final season with the Eagles: 27 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 13th in passer rating (94.6, nearly 20 points higher than 2020). And there was that incredible 14-yard touchdown pass to Dez Patmon in the fourth quarter that sealed the Christmas Night win at Arizona.
But the overall body of work was lacking, and that’s being generous. He ranked 25th in completion percentage (62.4) and 22nd in yards per attempt (6.9). Over the final eight games, Wentz averaged 170 yards per game and 6.3 yards per attempt. He appeared indecisive.
Ballard met with Wentz. His overriding message?
“Let’s make the layups. Make the layups,’’ he said.
Fitting throws into tight windows and connecting on chunk plays down the field are required when they present themselves. But effective quarterback play demands completing the so-called routine plays that move the chains and sustain drives.
Jonathan Taylor led the NFL in rushing and total yards from scrimmage. The defense, even with its flaws, finished 2nd in the league with 33 takeaways and was tied-9th in scoring (21.5 points per game allowed).
“Let’s let the team help you,’’ Ballard said of Wentz. “Make the layups. Make the layups.’’
It’s the first time since 2011 the league rushing champion wasn’t able to help carry his team into the postseason.
Ballard emphasized it would be wrong to pile the late-season collapse entirely at Wentz’s feet.
“I’m not sitting here blaming this all on Carson, all right? Because I’m not,’’ he said. “Everybody else has got to do their jobs, too.’’
But the Colts must – absolutely must – fix whatever’s wrong at quarterback. They’ve got to get rid of the revolving door at the position room. Wentz was the fourth different starting QB in Reich’s four-year stint as head coach.
“You’ve got to get stability at the quarterback position. You have to,’’ Ballard said. “We have to get stability. And that position has to play up to his potential to help the team win.
“The hyper-importance of that position, I mean it’s real. It’s real. You’ve got to get consistency there, and the years we’ve gotten it, we’ve been pretty good. We thought we had it until the end of the season. That’s just something we’ve got to continue to work through.’’
Every other offseason decision pales in comparison to how the Colts address quarterback, whether that’s Wentz or someone else.
“I’d like to quit Band-Adeing it,’’ Ballard said. “I’d like for Carson to be the long-term answer, or find somebody that’s going to be here for the next 10-to-12 years.
“Sometimes it doesn’t work that way, man. I can dream about it and wish about it and do everything I can to figure out the solution, but you do the best with what you do at the time you have to make a decision.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.