Wilson's Word: Thinking across the board

While nobody is saying it, the Colts are looking at a must win Sunday at home against Tennessee. And to get to 2-2, as defensive coordinator Greg Manusky likes to say, it will take an 'across-the-board' team effort at Lucas Oil Stadium.

In the spirit of Greg Manusky’s favorite interview phrase, we now go “across the board.”

The Indianapolis Colts’ defensive coordinator likes to say that. A lot. When asked his first question Thursday, he started the answer with “I think across the board” and then he added another toward the end with, “We’ve just got to keep on improving across the board.”

He uttered the phrase twice more in his seven-question chat. Manusky says it every week, so much so that other reporters have been known to count the usage.

So let’s take a moment on this fine Friday morning to think across the board, shall we?

Across the board, the Colts must win Sunday against Tennessee at Lucas Oil Stadium. Yeah, used that word “must.” Falling to 1-3 not only eliminates whatever positive vibes the team generated by jumping on Jacksonville last Sunday in the Sunshine State, but a loss to the Titans couldn’t be categorized as another tough loss to a quality opponent.

The Titans come to town with a banged-up quarterback in Jake Locker, who didn’t practice Wednesday and Thursday. And if he doesn’t play, then journeyman Charlie Whitehurst would get the chance to make his fifth career NFL start. And the previous five, across the board, didn’t go so well.

That means the Colts’ defense should play well again, or least be steady, across the board. That’s the pass rush, tackling, most particularly run defense (because the Titans will try to pound the ball to take pressure off whomever is expected to throw the ball), and in pass defense, where cornerbacks Vontae Davis, Greg Toler and Darius Butler have been solid despite the lack of a consistent pass rush in two losses.

That also means quarterback Andrew Luck should be able to continue spreading the ball around to his many pass catchers while dumping off a few passes and handing off with some frequency to running backs Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw. The offense must have balance, across the board, because one of the age-old NFL realities stresses the importance of being two-dimensional in play calling, which makes the defense’s job that much more difficult.

Dallas and Cincinnati took apart the Titans. Lit these guys up. That’s what the Colts should be able to do, with all due respect, across the board.

The Colts’ offensive line, with A.Q. Shipley plugged in at center, has been developing continuity and playing better. Luck hasn’t been sacked the last two games. The Colts have rushed for 313 yards on 67 carries (4.7 yards per carry) combined in the last two games, which means the guys up front are getting it done, across the board.

We began this season with the O-line as the No. 1 concern. It’s now become the pass rush, although the Colts had four sacks against the Jaguars. Two of those were on blitzes, which will continue to be a key as Manusky dials up sending extra defenders at opportune times to get pressure on the pocket. As he has said since before the team knew Robert Mathis wouldn’t be back this season, this endeavor is truly an across-the-board situation, which will require something from nearly everyone to enable this 3-4 scheme to work more often than not.

That said, it would be naive to get swayed by the spin about second-year pass rusher Bjoern Werner, who is undoubtedly pressing after failing to get a sack and registering only one quarterback hurry in three games. Manusky as well as coach Chuck Pagano have given the 2013 first-round selection a vote of confidence this week, while answering questions about the importance of Werner just continuing the work hard, that the statistics will come, and that, across the board, he can’t press. But an NFL player knows when he’s not getting it done. And Werner surely knows. We haven’t seen much of him in the locker room lately. And you can’t blame him for shying away from interviews. He’s a good-natured fellow, so I’m sure we’ll chat with him again when he makes a play or two. But until then, the pass rush falls on everyone in the front seven, as well as blitzing safeties LaRon Landry or Mike Adams.

Rookie wide receiver Donte Moncrief should get more snaps. Granted, across the board, he’s fourth on the depth chart behind Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks and T.Y. Hilton, but part of this game is thinking ahead to the future. And, across the board, nobody fits that description more than the third-round pick out of Mississippi. His leaping grab and ability to get two feet down next to the sideline at Jacksonville was a reminder of what the kid can do. Should the Colts jump on the Titans early, or have a decent lead in the second half, there’s no excuse for not giving Moncrief more playing time and giving old lions some rest. It’s a long season, and this works out well for everyone, across the board.

To that end, give running back Daniel “Boom” Herron some touches, too. Richardson and Bradshaw have been getting it done, but depth is essential, especially at running back, across the board. Herron might not be a part of the future equation, but you won’t know unless you see more of him. The Colts should benefit from this, down the road, should Boom be needed in an expanded role.

One quick word about the special-teamers, the Colts’ fourth-down guys. Put simply, kicker Adam Vinatieri, punter/kickoff specialist/holder Pat McAfee and long snapper Matt Overton, across the board, have been excellent. Vinatieri, the NFL’s oldest player at 41, has made all six of his field goals (19-year pros can’t be jinxed, right?). McAfee is living up to his “Boomstick” nickname, and then some, as the NFL’s best in gross average (52.7 yards), net average (47.9 yards) and kickoff touchbacks (17). That truly defines across the board. And Overton, their trusty sidekick who went to the Pro Bowl last year, has been solid on his snaps, an often-overlooked necessity until one is off the mark.

The Colts again will be without defensive tackle Arthur Jones (high ankle sprain), which is a big loss in the middle. He’s been a great free-agent addition — how many years did we see teams pound on the ground against this defense? Not anymore. The Titans have capable backs — we recall how Shonn Greene has gone off on the Colts before — so maintaining a solid middle is an across-the-board responsibility for Ricky Jean Francois, Josh Chapman, Zach Kerr and Montori Hughes.

Scout colleague Bill Huber, Packer Report Publisher, provided interesting statistical data on NFL tight ends. The Colts’ trio of Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle have combined for 21 catches for 212 yards and four TDs. Across the board, those numbers are excellent, and would be a lot better were it not for Fleener’s continual drops. The Colts are tied with the Titans for seventh in tight end receptions, tied for eighth in tight end receiving yards and tied for first in tight end TDs.

Luck is coming off his best game in the NFL, across the board, be it passer rating (140.4), completion percentage (79.5) or TD passes (four). But a number on the league stat sheet jumps out. Aside from leading the league with nine touchdown passes, No. 12 is No. 1 in the AFC in third-down passing (No. 2 overall) with a 119.7 passer rating. Don’t overthink it on third down, Colts coaches. Let Luck do what he does best and, across the board, everyone should be happy in the end.

That’s enough “Across the board” perspective for one week, 22 mentions including this last reference, if you’re counting at home.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


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