Analysis: Colts headed for changes

Colts owner Jim Irsay has to be thinking about shaking things up as his team continues to regress under head coach Chuck Pagano.

As the Indianapolis Colts continue to be maddeningly inconsistent on the field, the question on the minds of many has become increasingly obvious.

Will owner Jim Irsay fire head coach Chuck Pagano?

If it’s going to happen — and that’s if — the best guess is during the bye week, presuming the Colts fall to 3-6 with losses at Carolina and at home to Denver. Why then? Because Irsay might decide enough is enough and it’s time to get the players’ attention and salvage something from a season gone awry.

An argument could be made we’re past that point now. But here’s what I’ve been seeing that makes me think a move could be made.

As much as players give the expected lip service to understanding a sense of urgency, I simply don’t see it. Worse yet, the players’ affinity for Pagano isn’t translating to results. if anything, Pagano’s reputation as a players’ coach has me thinking the inmates are running the asylum.

When that is evident, I don’t blame the owner for getting the players’ attention by reminding them what has transpired is unacceptable, coaches will be held accountable and players will be put on notice that they’re playing for their jobs in the future. Every now and then, we common folk must remind ourselves that everyone we’re talking about is making more money than most of us can comprehend. So let’s not feel too sorry for anyone, and that includes Pagano.

In Sunday’s 27-21 home loss to the New Orleans Saints, Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton decided to tumble into the end zone when unnecessary on his first of two touchdowns. Then he did his usual “T.Y.” celebration with his hands. 

The tumble, when down 27-0, showed an undeniable lack of understanding for the situation. It was ridiculous. It was selfish. And it’s not like Hilton is a rookie. If ever there was a time to act like he had been to the end zone before and to show his team still had a long way to go to make this a game — I’d certainly prefer a spike with anger — it’s when you're trailing by that many points in the third quarter against the worst-ranked defense in the league.

When wide receiver Donte Moncrief scored later, he had to celebrate with a dance. Again, last I checked, the Colts are trailing at that point. It’s not the time to become entertainers and add something extra, not on a day when you made Pat McAfee punt a career-high 10 times.

If I’m Pagano, seeing Hilton and Moncrief act like this in an ugly game should be infuriating. It's unacceptable. Somebody needs to say, “Knock that crap off!” And the guys shouldn’t need to be told that.

Pagano said he challenged his team at halftime and was “proud” of how the Colts responded? Again, something seems amiss here. The team responded, when down 20-0, by going down 27-0 before a late comeback made the final minutes interesting. Lest anyone forget, Hilton’s defender fell down twice on his TD catches.

Nothing says comeback like the other guy falling down?

If ever it seemed more obvious that a coach and his players were out of touch with reality, it was on Sunday.

When talking to too many players this season, quite honestly, they seem too comfortable. Gentlemen, do what we do hasn’t been getting it done. The mistakes that are always correctible, at some point, can’t explain 56 penalties for 459 yards. That’s just sloppy football. For a full season, that’s 128 penalties for 1,049 yards. For the record, the last time the Colts were flagged this much was in 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president and McDonald’s was introducing the Happy Meal.

Maybe Hilton got his money with that five-year, $65-million extension ($39 million guaranteed) in preseason and it’s OK for him to do whatever he wants? No, it’s not.

Offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo received a four-year, $43-million extension in preseason, too, and by his own admission, he’s been awful. He’s committed eight penalties, including five holding calls, and allowed three sacks. Whatever is needed to light a fire in him, he’s not playing like a guy worthy of the money he was given.

A lot of criticism has been directed at quarterback Andrew Luck, who has committed 10 turnovers with nine of them interceptions in just five games. But I see a quarterback who is playing hurt because he wants to help his team. And I think it’s a mistake. 

Whatever his injury is — whether it’s just a sore shoulder as the team says or ribs as some have suggested — subjecting him to more pounding doesn’t make any sense. He’s taken 12 sacks in five games. And yet after a Week 2 loss to the New York Jets, Pagano suggested Luck should be used to it? Add this to the growing list of delusional assessments.

Luck is the guy the Colts built their franchise around. At some point, someone has to think about beyond this season, which last we checked again, is going nowhere fast.

That, too, is on Pagano, folks. Not the bad O-line, but letting Luck play if indeed he’s hurt. And even if he’s not, it’s fair to say Luck isn’t the same from the pounding. He’s taken too many hits. He’s hesitant. He’s missing more throws than usual. He’s not even scrambling when it’s there. He could have had the first down easy instead of throwing an incomplete pass on the third-and-3 play that precipitated the embarrassing fake punt debacle against New England.

That trick play alone is enough to question Pagano and his coaching staff. Wide receiver Griff Whalen, the snapper, didn’t know the audible because he never practiced the play during the week? How does that happen? Isn’t there someone on the sideline with the sense to call a timeout to avert disaster?

Coaches are hired to put players in a position to win games. They can’t, in any circumstances, make utterly disastrous decisions that prevent players from achieving that objective. Last year’s Week 2 loss to Philadelphia — when Pagano allowed Luck to throw a third-down interception instead of run the ball and kick a field goal for a 10-point lead with 5 minutes remaining — also qualifies. When this happens too often, again, somebody has to be accountable.

Pagano apologists will bring up how he’s not responsible for the free-agency failings of outside linebacker Trent Cole and wide receiver Andre Johnson, among others. Fans will be quick to say general manager Ryan Grigson should be on the hook, too. The former Purdue offensive lineman has been unable to put an O-line together to prevent Luck from getting hurt and regressing.

No argument. And that’s why Mr. Irsay needs to send a message at some point to everyone. He’s the boss. And he’s watched his supposed legit Super Bowl contender turn into a laughingstock.

The obvious question is who would take Pagano’s place? Some suggest associate head coach Rob Chudzinski, which would be a head-scratcher because he’s a Pagano guy. Why replace the head coach with one of his own people?

Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was reportedly a Grigson hire instead of Chudzinski, but Pep hasn’t lived up to his name. The offense has struggled from the outset. That doesn’t qualify Hamilton for taking on a larger role.

As a result of the Saints amassing 449 yards, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is now presiding over the league’s 32nd-ranked defense. Not all his fault. He can only coach what he’s given, and the Colts are lacking in playmakers on that side of the ball. Keep in mind, Irsay said he asked Pagano to be more hands-on with the defense this year. But it’s been worse.

So the fact that there’s nobody on staff that makes sense to take over suggests Irsay could be thinking of someone outside. Good luck finding anyone who can inherit what we’ve seen and make it work with one bye week of preparation.

Out of respect for what Pagano has done in three previous seasons with the playoff appearances and two AFC South Division titles, Irsay might disgustedly exhale and decide to stand pat because he doesn’t have a better solution in the short term. Upset fans won’t care for that, but it’s possible he’ll ride it out and then not re-sign Pagano, and perhaps fire Grigson or demote him, as has been speculated.

This much seems clear. Changes need to be made at some point. It’s quickly becoming “when” as opposed to “if.”

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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