As bacon sizzled in the frying pan, an inquisitive wife offered a confession to the burning speculation about her favorite NFL team during Sunday morning’s breakfast preparation.
Dee Johnson had patiently listened to me share how Indianapolis Colts fans were concerned about how the team is shaping up — or not — after Saturday night’s 23-11 preseason loss to the Chicago Bears at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Well, I’m kinda concerned, too,” my wife said.
And so it began, on my home front, where answers aren’t confined to 140 characters on Twitter. A sports writer’s wife who was a former season ticketholder freely admits she doesn’t see or know everything, but she sees enough to know everything doesn’t seem to be going according to plan for the Colts.
“Are we ever going to get an offensive line to protect Andrew Luck?” she asks.
There are answers to every question, but they come off like rationalizations and excuses when something seems amiss with a supposed Super Bowl contender.
I explained that offensive right tackle Jack Mewhort is in his second NFL season and that there were going to be some growing pains in shifting to a new position from left guard. And I added that the Bears have a couple solid pass rushers, so it’s not like the Colts quarterback was going to be kept clean all the time. That’s the NFL. The other guys get paid, too.
But like Colts fans on Twitter, the response isn’t enough for a frustrated fan. It doesn’t take much for many to be frustrated. Not everything can be explained with the additional caveat, “It’s just preseason.”
“How come our young players aren’t as good as the other teams’ guys?” she continued. “Haven’t they been playing football their whole lives?”
Another complicated answer isn’t what anybody wants to hear. The preseason is about putting these young guys in challenging situations to see if they are worthy of a roster spot. It’s not about winning games.
The Bears weren’t a good team last year, I reminded. They don’t have as much of their salary cap tied to star players like Luck, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, wide receiver Andre Johnson, running back Frank Gore, outside linebacker Robert Mathis, outside linebacker Trent Cole and offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo, among others.
In other words, there’s not as much money to throw around on who is backing up the big-name players. Yes, I agreed with her, an easy comparison can be made to the Peyton Manning era, when a core made millions and everybody else split up the rest of the dough.
I’ve warned her that this will become even more of a challenge when Luck lands one of the largest contracts in the league after the 2015 season or some time during 2016.
Eventually, explanations are attempts to enlighten on the bigger picture. Again, this sounds like I’m apologizing for the team. That’s something I always try to avoid doing. I haven’t liked some of what I’ve seen, either, but in covering this team fairly regularly since 1998, there are always other realities that fans should remember.
The Colts aren’t going to unload the playbook in preseason, not on offense or defense. That means we’re not going to see as many blitzes by pass rushers nor are we going to see Luck throw as many deep balls. The team was down 6-0 and sputtering in the second quarter Saturday night, and after Hilton dropped what should have been a big gainer, Luck didn’t hesitate to come back to his Pro Bowl target for a 45-yard bomb.
That set up the Colts’ only touchdown in what was a quick scoring drive. Credit Luck for the score, too, because when he didn’t see three different receivers open, his natural instinct on that fourth progression is to tuck and run, which he did for a 5-yard touchdown scramble.
“So you’re saying we shouldn’t panic?” she asked. “Then write that.”
Well, it’s not that fans shouldn’t be concerned. They have reason to expect to see their team play better. The Colts have been outscored 59-21 in two games. Ignoring everything would be a mistake because the regular season isn’t that far away and they need to show more in next Saturday’s third preseason game at St. Louis, when the starters should play into the third quarter.
But I told her the Colts will probably lose that game, too, because they’ve dropped seven consecutive preseason games and that’s what usually happens when the games don’t count. Even if they win against the Rams, it’s more important to see encouraging trends in how the offense performs and moves the chains as well as how often the defense gets off the field.
While some are still overly concerned about the Colts’ run defense — and you’re not alone — inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson reminded that the starters held the Bears’ regulars to three field goals. And the Bears’ starters were 0-for-5 on third down.
But, again, it’s easy to spin what we see in different directions. That’s why the Colts might lose in preseason but they’re still one of the NFL’s better teams and there’s too much talent for head coach Chuck Pagano’s bunch to not win when the games do count.
The conversation continued later after breakfast as we took a drive on an errand.
Dee’s football soul was still restless. I reiterated the belief that we have to wait and see what happens on Sept. 13, when the Colts start the regular season on the road against the Buffalo Bills. The first part of the schedule shouldn’t be overly challenging, to be honest. If the Colts have trouble with the Bills, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars in the first four weeks, then today’s concerns will have been validated.
But until then …
“I just want to see real football,” she said.
Yes, we all do, dear. You’re not alone.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.