1/2/17- The Colts Season Ends: The Fitzthoughts Five- Colts Offseason Issues to Address

Hello as always to anyone and everyone out in cyberspace. I have the day off as this is being Monday is being celebrated as New Year’s, so it’s a good chance to actually post on fitzthoughtsblog for a third consecutive day. And since I have the National Football League on my mind, might as well throw out some random HOT TAKES in the matter that made Fox Sports’ Skip Bayless a regular presence on our TV screens:

  • The sports media declares this first day that comes at the end of each NFL season as Black Monday as it’s the day that most unsuccessful teams will decide to part ways with their head coaches and/or executives. While the local NFL franchise as of now is not making any changes (as predicted so far in this blog and by national outlets like Sports Illustrated-yep, they’re still around) nonetheless some changes have already been made both in the midst of the 2016 regular season and towards year’s end. Among those are Buffalo parting ways with Rex Ryan before their season finale against the New York Jets; the mid-season departures of Jacksonville’s Gus Bradley and Los Angeles (via St. Louis)’s Jeff Fisher; and lastly former media man Mike Riley getting ousted from his gig in San Diego. Add to that the official news this morning from that Gary Kubiak is leaving Denver just one year after taking them to the Super Bowl title and we pro football fans have a few job openings to watch out for in 2017. I apparently have already misfired on one personal prediction that John Fox (win loss record of 9-23 in two seasons) would lose his gig in Chicago, but apparently the Bears front office led by The Son Ryan Pace gave him a “vote” of confidence that says dude returns to see if can do better than their 3-13 in 2016 (which by law of averages shouldn’t be hard to do if that deems the necessary “improvement” to stay in charge when team just went 3-13). Same goes with Hue Jackson in Cleveland who will be back-for now- as his boss Jimmy Haslem gave him a vote of confidence despite the Browns finishing a league worst 1-15 this past season. On the other hand I was correct (but not going out on a limb) that Chip Kelly would not return in San Francisco after his squad went 2-14 (only the 1-15 Cleveland Browns were worse this year) For future predictions that may or may not happen, my takes are that the only place left to watch on NFL fronts is located on West 56th Street in Indianapolis. If Cleveland is confident enough to keep the leadership that took them to the worst regular season record in their team’s history, then more power to them. At the very least they won’t be paying the salaries for two head coaches next year.
  • From a personal standpoint there is little reason to be concerned or thrilled about watching the upcoming American Football Conference playoffs (of which said Colts will not be a part of for the second straight year) because the participants include two teams with histories of recent postseason success (the NBC approved New England Patriots and the Omar Epps approved Pittsburgh Steelers) while the remaining four teams-Houston, Oakland, Kansas City and Miami-have not much success in recent postseason play since the Raiders’ last Super Bowl appearance was 14 years ago and the Chiefs have not participated in said big game since the Nixon Administration. (Miami’s last postseason success was-of course-against the Colts over a decade and a half ago. And Houston is apparently starting Brock Osweiler in a playoff game against Oakland next weekend, so best of luck in that regard.)  I expect a Patriots-Steelers AFC title game with the Patriots winning. If I’m wrong, so be it. If I’m right, not like I’m Nostradamus. Hence I don’t expect to put too much time and worry in taking time out to watch a potential Osweiler-Conner Cook matchup next weekend. No amount of national sports media slobbering over the NFL can or will change that.
  • Meanwhile I’m more intrigued with the National Football Conference playoffs as you’ve got a free for all with three recent World title winners-Green Bay, the New York Football Giants and “Pistol” Pete Carroll’s sons of Seattle-are in the postseason along with a resurgent Dallas Cowboys squad that actually has a running game that could cause problems if they actually made it to the big game. So if I had to pick one game to watch next weekend it will be New York-Green Bay. As for the other two participants-Atlanta and Detroit-I’ll be surprised if they made it based on a half century of past postseason failures. Should they make it, more power and good for their fan bases. It’s nice to actually win once in a while after dealing with 4-12 seasons and failed first round draft picks (see the examples of Jeff George and Steve Emtman for the local NFL team in the early 1990’s. Safe to say Diamond Jim Irsay has been a better owner than personnel man after you read those two names out loud. But more on Diamond Jim in a moment.)  Either way there are plenty of intriguing NFC teams to watch in the Super Bowl, and that may be enough for me to watch said game in full.
  • For the final non-local NFL team hot take……..I learned a valuable lesson with fantasy football this year: I am going to have to start drafting running backs earlier and not rely on the waiver wire like I have in the past. I finished 4th out of 10 teams as I made the postseason tourney of eight…won my first round game…and then got destroyed in the semifinals and subsequent 3rd place game in part because my top running back (local NFL team’s Frank Gore) usually was replaced by his backup (Robert Turbin) when it came time for the local NFL team to run the ball in goal line sets for scoring. Turbin carried the ball 47 times this year….SEVEN OF THOSE were for touchdowns, and many games I would be cursing because he would replace Gore (who carried the ball 263 times for 1,025 overall rushing yards) and hence Gore only had four touchdowns. So should I end up drafting Turbin next year only to see Turbin get the gout and end up on injured reserve while someone else drafts Gore and gets a ten touchdown season out of said Gore, you read it here first. Main word of advice: don’t draft Brandon Marshall with your first round pick. The fictional Brandon Walsh of Beverly Hills 90210 would have been a better choice. Hence I was just happy to finish fourth as Marshall and Cam Newton both had, shall we say, pretty s—-y years in terms of fantasy football production. Not sure what I can do to follow up a Brandon Walsh mention other than to show a 90210 GIF with his boys Steve Sanders and Dylan McKay, so here’s said GIF:

And yes, that may have been the highlight of my day. I’m easy to please.

With that out of the way….

….I also did not strain too hard to predict the Indianapolis Colts would struggle yet prevail in their home finale against Jacksonville yesterday. I watched the game in full as I saw the Colts look incoherent and uninterested in spotting said Jacksonville a 17-0 lead early on. I was not surprised that the Colts would then come back to tie the game in the second half because Jacksonville (coming in with a record of 3-12) simply is not going to dominate most foes, nor was I surprised that the Colts would find ways to turn the ball over and try to give the game away. Yet fortunately for Colts head coach Ground Chuck Pagano and his pocketbook, the Jaguars failed to take advantage of the last Colts giveaway in the fourth quarter and could only muster a field goal to take a 20-17 lead with a minute and half to go in regulation time. And fortunately for Pagano and his main man Big Grig Ryan Grigson, their boss picked his gentleman in the 2012 NFL draft:

While the national media prefers to get down with Seattle’s son Russell Wilson, the gent with the ball-one Andrew Austen Luck-is the sole reason at times why I actually say to myself that it’s worth rooting for this Colts franchise in our year of 2017. Take it away, United Press International:

INDIANAPOLIS — Just when it seemed as if the Jacksonville Jaguars had upset the Indianapolis Colts again, quarterback Andrew Luck made the most of the game’s final seconds to end a disappointing season on an upbeat note.

Luck’s 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jack Doyle with nine seconds remaining gave the Colts a 24-20 victory and an 8-8 finish to an inconsistent season on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“When you’ve got Andrew back there, you’ve got a shot,” said Doyle, who triumphantly spiked the football after his decisive catch while sitting in the end zone.

The Jaguars (3-13) had won the previous two meetings between the AFC South rivals, and thought they had pulled out another victory on Jason Myers’ 41-yard field goal with 1:33 remaining.

But that was ample time for Luck. Although out of timeouts, the no-huddle Colts drove 75 yards in eight plays and took 1:24 off the clock. Luck completed all six of his passes on the drive for 70 yards.

“It felt good to get that touchdown at that moment,” said Luck, who completed 24 of 41 passes for 321 yards with two scores and one interception. “There were times earlier this year that we didn’t finish games when we had the chance in the two-minute drill or four-minute drill. So to get that one was very joyous and maybe released a little frustration.”

The polite way to put it: quarterback is the least of the Colts’ concerns right now. In concluding this post I’m going to also be polite, not throw furniture, try to limit the whining and note what I personally think the Colts need to do in order to get back into the postseason and rise up from the mediocrity that has been the staple of this franchise for the past two seasons. Hence the

FITZTHOUGHTS FIVE: COLTS ISSUES TO ADDRESS BEFORE THE 2017 SEASON:

Most are going to be obvious, but these are going to be listed in the mindset that both Pagano and general manager Grigson will return next season to earn their keep in cashing Irsay’s paychecks. Should they do that, consider this free advice from a lifelong fan who has followed the Indianapolis version of said Colts since their 1984 inception (meaning I have seen a lot of s–tty play as well as a lot of success during the Peyton Manning/Tony Dungy era and appreciate the good seasons more because they aren’t always going to take place in a 32 team league):

5.REPLACE THE UNFANTASTIC FOUR

Media men were thrilled that Robert Mathis got a quarterback sack that forced a fumble which the Colts recovered to keep them alive in said game yesterday. I was thrilled because Mathis could end his career on a positive note and the team could then be able to move on with their need to replace said Mathis this offseason. Yesterday I profiled Mathis’s lack of on-field production in 2014, 2015 and 2016 so I won’t lecture about that now. Instead I simply state that if the Colts defense does not want to outright s–k again in 2017 (their 2016 ranking: 30th overall in the area of yards per game given up to opponents; only Cleveland and San Francisco were worse) I feel the team needs to part ways with these four individuals that play at linebacker (the team’s arguably worst position) and defensive line (which is not much better since your defense is one of the worst in the league yet again):

-Mathis (per sportac.com he counted $5 million against the team’s salary cap this season)

-defensive lineman and Pagano favorite Arthur “Soul Train” Jones ($3 million against the cap, suspended for the first four games of 2016 due to using performance enhancing drugs, played all of eight games this season-including the two losses to Houston that cost the team the division- with 30 tackles and no quarterback sacks )

-inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson ($4.5 million against the salary cap, suspended for the final four games of 2016 due to performance enhancing drugs)

-and finally the much mentioned man of Grigson one Trent Cole ($5 million against the salary cap, 16 tackles in just seven games played, only one quarterback sack).

If you went off on-field production (not good), production per salary earned (again not good), overall games played in 2016 (horrendous as you have eight combined games missed due to suspensions with two of the dudes missing half of the season and another being suspended when the team actually still had a chance to make the postseason)….with Mathis retiring, why would one want any of the other three back? This is where Pagano and Grigson have really screwed the proverbial pooch because per said sportac.com as of now the Colts are on the hook for some THIRTEEN MILLION DOLLARS in salary between just Jackson and Jones next year. Should both leave the franchise after June 1 of next year, their cap hits go down to under $3 million combined. With Cole and Mathis both not listed as part of next year’s group, the Colts brain trust have to decide whether or not the Jones-Jackson combo can continue to give negative returns as they have not exactly been Pro Bowl material in their Colts tenures. You can tell I hope they look elsewhere. In short I feel you need four new defensive starters AT A MINIMUM in the front seven of the defensive alignment Pagano likes to run (preferably anyone to play tackle that replaces Jones and anyone else who plays inside linebacker to replace Jackson, plus two new outside linebackers to replace Mathis and Cole.) Without addressing that, I see the team at best looking to go for a three-peat of finishing with said 8-8 record. Hoping this gets looked at and is the main priority of Grigson if he’s still holding court as Diamond Jim’s executive of choice.

Won’t be too verbal on the other four, so here goes:

4) YOUR OFFENSIVE LINE STILL NEEDS WORK. 

The late Ray Charles could see this, but I am afraid that Grigson’s emphasis on drafting offensive linemen in the 2016 collegiate draft (including center Ryan Kelly in the 1st round, tackle Le’Raven Clark in the 3rd and multi-position playing Joe Haeg in the fifth round) will lead to the organization saying THAT BE ENOUGH and assuming that those three will join Ohio State sons Anthony Castanzo and Jack Mewhort to make up the team’s offensive line for the next decade. I strongly disagree. The team still has trouble protecting their franchise quarterback Luck as Luck was sacked 46 times in 2016 (only four teams in the league were worse in that regard according to NFL.com) and saw Luck miss a game due to a concussion that the Colts-of course-would lose to Pittsburgh when every game counted to make the postseason in late November and December. Castanzo in particular, well, it’s best to not say anything other than he’s digressed badly since 2014 and does not look like the icon that the Colts pay him to be (only Luck has a higher salary cap hit for next year’s squad). And the team still has issues running the ball up the middle like Pagano and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski insist on doing for marginal results (hence 8-8 records a go go). Suggestion: you’re stuck with your first round pick at center and with Castanzo in the lineup, so they’re there. However every other position-particularly both guard spots-need to be improved on, and I also would prefer to never see Joe Reitz start at offensive tackle again. TLDR: three new linemen to go with Castanzo and Kelly, and if Mewhort can’t recover from his injury plagued 2016 then you’d better have someone to step in that’s not part of this draft class because they probably aren’t going to be enough to keep Luck from being hospitalized again. I’m afraid that they will keep the same group that ended 2016 with Mewhort taking over at one of the guard slots and Haeg teaming with Clark on the right side of the line….and I’m not too excited about that. If the Colts organization feels that those dudes are ready to win the World title……then the Colts organization is a lot more optimistic than I am. Hoping that gets addressed because this line is NOT good enough to beat Houston right now……and if you want to make the playoffs, you kind of need to actually beat Houston to do so. Hence I suggest they don’t get thrilled about squeaking out a game against Jacksonville and assume ALL BE WELL BAWH SON with one of the team’s major weaknesses.

Oh, the other three:

3) LINEBACKER LINEBACKER LINEBACKER!. Per a man called “Horse” on the coltfreaks.com message board….See number five, but basically if the team is going to be successful they need to have NFL caliber linebackers on their NFL roster. Jackson and Cole ensured that was not the case in 2016.  I’ll simply post the link to their draft thoughts as I agree that the team needs to look at linebackers far and wide in this coming NFL draft:

http://coltfreaks.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=2679&sid=3d1a59e7c73c6253e4539edf9765048d

I suggest no Adam Morrison or Josh McNary in the 2017 starting lineup. I also suggest you don’t break the bank to overpay Erik Walden…..so if Walden gets a $10 million/per year contract, don’t be too shocked because I won’t be. Nevertheless if you’re going to run a linebacker based defense like Pagano wants to (his 3-4 package he favored while coaching in Baltimore) then you’d better have some competent linebacker play. As of now, the franchise does not. Hope that changes soon.

2) THE RETURN OF THE MISSING MONCRIEF:  The Colts’ strength and bread and butter is supposed to be their passing game. While offensive coordinator Chudzinski apparently believes that consists of only throwing 30 times a game to T.Y Hilton (more in a moment) the team is supposed to be stocked at receiver and tight end so Luck has plenty of capable pass catchers to throw to. We know the deal with Hilton: he led the league in receiving yards this season with 1,448 yards and hence he earns his huge paycheck (he’ll cost $10 million against the salary cap next year). However the inability to have a second wide receiving threat to go with Hilton-exemplified by the mediocrity of Grigson approved 2015 first round draft pick Phillip Dorsett who’s scored three touchdowns in two years) leads me to wonder out loud if the organization can afford another year like the one they received out of a man who couldn’t stay on the field due to injuries throughout 2016: Donte Moncrief.  And when he was out there……..it wasn’t pretty.

Here’s his stat line in 2016 from the Interwebs:

Game stats
Game
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
YDS
AVG
12/24
@
2
30
15.0
24
1
12/11
vs
0
0
0.0
0
12/5
@
4
26
6.5
10
1
11/24
vs
6
45
7.5
12
1
11/20
vs
4
37
9.2
17
1
11/6
@
3
55
18.3
39
1
10/30
vs
4
41
10.2
15
1
-1
-1.0
9/18
@
1
9
9.0
9
0
9/11
vs
6
64
10.7
32
1
Regular Season
30
307
10.2
39
7
-1
-1.0

Yes, the first thing most people will do is say HE SCORE TOUCHDOWN because basically all dude did in 2016 was take advantage of other teams double teaming Hilton when the Colts were in red zone (read: inside the opponents’ 20 yard line) situations. However….dude couldn’t stay on the field, and when the team needed him the most-that one Houston game listed that he did suit up for-no production whatsoever. While dude has caught 13 touchdown passes in two years (he had six overall in 2015) nevertheless he has not been able to provide the team with the ability to be the Reggie Wayne to Hilton’s Marvin Harrison. The Colts also went 3-6 in games Moncrief played while 5-2 when he was not in the lineup. Not the sign of a man bound for Canton, Ohio unless it’s to play in a preseason game. And 307 overall receiving yards pales in comparison to the before mentioned Hilton. For this team to actually attempt to run a vertical passing attack that can be Super Bowl worthy, it has to get more out of Moncrief…or find someone else who can replace him and do better. As of now, that’s not Dorsett. And judging from Moncrief having a case of the drops throughout recent times by only catching 30 of 56 passes thrown to him in 2016 per ESPN.com, it very well may not be Moncrief. Meaning Luck more often than not focuses on Hilton said 30 times a game because the other wide receivers probably aren’t going to catch it; go to this link below to see the Colts rank seventh overall among NFL teams in dropped passes in 2016:

https://www.sportingcharts.com/nfl/stats/team-receiver-drops-percentage/2016/

For the Colts to contend and beat Houston, another capable receiving threat has to show up from the wide receiver position (especially when they play said Houston). That was not the case in 2016.

Last of all..

1-NO MORE OFFENSIVE THUD FROM PAGANO AND THAT SON CHUD

When Pep Hamilton was let go as the team’s offensive coordinator after the Colts got off to a s–t start in the middle of the 2015 season, fans like myself were happy that Chudzinski got the nod to replace Hamilton as we felt anyone-ANYONE-could do better. Problem IMO was two fold…and the two serve as the team’s head coach and offensive coordinator. The issues:

-Pagano teams like to RUNSONRUN by  seeming to favor running up the middle 20-30 times a game to set up the 70 yard pass (which usually is aimed for Hilton, and many a time does not work if Hilton is being covered by multiple defensive backs). We found it matters not who the offensive coordinator is…Pagano wants to go away from the team’s strength (aka his franchise quarterback Luck and the passing game) while emphasizing the likes of running backs Turbin, Jesse Ferguson and Josh Robinson as the focal points of the team’s offense. As of now all three gents have as much chance of winning the NFL rushing title as the 40 plus year old man typing this sentence. And where the team has started two or three rookies at times at the three offensive line positions that need to be strong for said running game to work (center, left guard and right guard) that strategy has not been a successful one…in fact I say it’s downright s—-y. The Colts ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing during the 2015 season…and this year only ranked 23rd. If you’ve got the Dallas Cowboys‘ offensive line (Dallas was 2nd in NFL rushing this season) or a stud running back like Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy (the Bills were 1st) then said strategy may work. The Colts have neither. Be it the blame of Grigson, Pagano, Irsay or The Iron Sheik in not getting the personnel to run the ground game approved and dictated by said Ground Chuck, nevertheless the organization wants to play a style of football that is not suited for its franchise player (quarterback Luck)…and when your quarterback is often your best runner then it points to failures across the board between coaching, personnel, strategy and team philosophy. And the coaching failures fall onto Pagano and His Son Chud in failing to capitalize on having a No. 1 overall draft pick and franchise quarterback that is ready to enter his physical prime.  Hence you’d better find another plan of attack to make this work-like one not relying on Ferguson to be your best option to go to on fourth down when a game is on the line (which what That Son Chud apparently called when the Colts lost to Jacksonville earlier in the year. Again, not good).

The other issue…

Pagano and That Son Chud are unable to defeat these two gents pictured below.

Those gents are media favorites via Boston Romeo Crennel (defensive coordinator with sheet of paper hanging around his neck) and Bill O’Brien (head coach) of the Houston Texans. Before Hamilton got sacked in 2015, the Colts were able to beat Houston 27-20 in a nationally televised game. Since That Son Chud took the reigns of calling the team’s offensive plays, the Colts are 0-3 to said Houston as they have lost games by the scores of 16-10, 26-23 and 22-17. The Colts average roughly that 17 points a game from the final contest when Chud calls the shots….simply put right now Chud vs Crennel in a battle of wits is a man with a slingshot against a man with a 44 Magnum. In two of those losses (losses one and three) Gore ran for a combined 85 yards. That’s not going to get it done, yet Chud and Pagano have yet to figure out a way to successfully game plan against this duo even when their star defender (famed commercial pitchman JJ Watt) is off the field. Simply put Chud and Pagano are either going to have to compose the stud running game via running back and offensive line that Pagano seems hell bent on producing (which a That Son Chud offense cannot do) or find an alternative way to actually defeat these two dudes in a regular season NFL game when a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback and receiver are part of your team. Since said Texans dudes are only 15-14 when playing against the rest of the NFL these past two seasons (including getting blanked 30-0 by Kansas City in last year’s playoffs) it shouldn’t be a lifelong struggle. Yet the Pagano/Chud duo hasn’t gotten the job done against O’Brien and Crennel, and the result has been two years away from the postseason with mediocrity reigning supreme.

From the looks of things we’ll know more in a half hour (Pagano has a press conference scheduled for 1:30 pm and it’s currently 1 here in central Indiana) if the Pagano/Chud combo gets two more shots at beating the Twin Texans powers that have handled them successfully the next two years. Should they get that chance, for the franchise’s sake the results will need to be different. But if the organization continues to send out bad linebackers, bad offense lines, unproductive wide receivers and lastly base their offense around coaching ideals that are at best mediocre…….then it could be another mediocre 2017 to go with 2015 and 2016 for the organization ran by Diamond Jim Irsay.

Hence you’ll know what I’ll be doing at 1:30 pm. The question is whether Irsay and company know what they’re doing in order to get this team back into playoff contention.

As always….your move, Diamond Jim.

Thanks to all for reading.

Jeff

@fitzthoughts

fitzthoughtsblog.wordpress.com

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s