What We Learned: The 2010 Season

Now that the season is over for the Colts, it's time to take a look at What We Learned in the season that was. Brad Keller breaks down the issues from the 2010 season and takes a look ahead.

The offensive line has issues: This was a looming threat in 2009 and came to a head during the 2010 season.  Mike Pollak showed himself to be a serviceable player as the season went on, but more of a utility guy and not a starting right guard.  The revolving door at left guard did not help, but Kyle DeVan seems to have the skills and experience to get by, though he is not at the same level as the departed Ryan LiljaJeff Saturday is breaking down and slowing down.

He may retire, he may not, but there is definitely a need for either a suitable short-term replacement or a viable long-term replacement and that player is not currently on the roster.  Charlie Johnson is a better player than Tony Ugoh, but that's not saying much.  Strangely enough, Ryan Diem is the player on this line that is on the most solid ground.  I once called for his release, showing that not all analysis is good analysis.

Bill Polian made the offensive line a point of emphasis after the Super Bowl, then promptly did nothing to improve it.  This offseason, he needs to pay serious attention to the front five, as it is old, undermanned, and undertalented.

The linebackers are set: Even if Gary Brackett were to retire in the offseason, the linebacking corps would be in good hands.  The Colts have a number of quick, talented, aggressive players at linebacker, with new additions Kavell Conner and especially Pat Angerer stepping up in a big way this season.  When you add in a healthy Clint Session and the underrated Philip Wheeler, that makes Indianapolis four deep at a position where they only need three guys.

Tyjuan Hagler, signed off the street during the season, made big plays when the Colts needed them most and played sound ball between big plays.  He has earned himself a contract extension and would be a valued contributor in 2011 and beyond.  Whoever isn't in the starting lineup will be able to make his mark on special teams, where Indianapolis is severely lacking.

Special teams is still the weakest link: It would be wrong to blame Ray Rychleski for all the issues Indianapolis has on special teams.  The coverage units are understaffed and he's dealing with mostly undrafted rookies.  They took a major hit when Jamie Silva was placed on injured reserve.  The return game has been less than an afterthought and it seems as though whichever cornerback or receiver that has a chinstrap on at the time is sent out to return the next punt.

Dominic Rhodes, a 31 year-old tailback that was never known for his speed, was returning kickoffs this season.  Special teams are the critical third phase of the game, but they're also not terribly complicated.  Teams run plays and they practice those plays, but success or failure in the kicking game is determined largely by the caliber of the players involved.  The Colts have essentially ignored this phase of the game for the past few seasons and it has cost them when it matters most. 

The offensive coaches need to get more involved: Jason Whitlock recently posted this article comparing Michael Vick with Peyton Manning.  His assertion was that Manning would not be able to bring his game to a higher level — and win postseason games in bunches — until he was given less responsibility on offense.  As with most things Whitlock writes, there is about 60 percent truth backing his statement and he extends the argument from there.

Manning does need help and that starts with the offensive staff, but taking control and involvement from Manning will surely end in disaster.  With Tom Moore, Clyde Christensen, and Manning, the Colts essentially have three people focused on the offensive game plan, both in-game and in preparation.  With all those smart, accomplished people involved, it would seem that the offense and the game plan would shift week-to-week and play-to-play, adjusting according to what those three men see in a given situation.

Ultimately, the offense has not changed in any significant or insignificant way in the past five years, except when the season was on the line after the Colts slid to 6-6.  At that point, Indianapolis varied their formations, tendencies, and even their playbook in the hopes of catching a defense off guard.  In 2009, the effectiveness of the Colts offense was their exactness and their efficiency. 

They had enough talent and confidence that this was a successful strategy.  This season, with injuries taking their toll and no Austin Collie or Dallas Clark, the offensive staff needed to innovate.  They did to some degree in 2010, but they didn't go far enough.  They need to go further next season.

In addition, wide receiver coach Ron Turner could have done more with Blair White, working on route recognition, hot reads, and blocking.  Offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars couldn't make Pollak stronger and faster than Antonio Garay, but he could've worked with his charges more on getting low, technique in general, and fixing the silent count.

Jim Caldwell is a good coach: He needs help from his offensive coaches on that side of the ball.  The defensive coaches are doing a good job on their side of the ball.  Rychleski needs help and Caldwell needs to allocate resources there.  He may call strange timeouts and throw the challenge flag when it's not necessary, so it could be that one of the assistant coaches needs to be in charge of game management.

Week-to-week, Caldwell manages this team exceptionally and keeps them on an even keel.  A different coach could have allowed the wheels to come off the season when the Colts lost three straight and dropped to 6-6.  Caldwell kept everyone focused, eliminated distractions, and helped this team win four straight in December.  With a properly motivated and active staff in place, Caldwell is more than enough of a coach to get this team to another Super Bowl.

When any fan base has called for their coach's head, I've always taken a step back and thought, "Who's out there that's better?"  For Indianapolis, there is not a better option out there.  Caldwell is the best coach for this team at this point.

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