Analysis: Colts In The Dark About Future

Sunday's home loss to Houston should count Colts out of playoffs and further support perceived need for offseason changes.

We shouldn’t be too surprised by what happened Sunday to the Indianapolis Colts.

We just had to see it, once more, with our own eyes. That is, we had to experience yet one more frustrating loss to accept the reality that these Colts are going nowhere after two more regular-season games.

Nowhere except to different locales for the offseason.

What we don’t know, after the Colts stumbled 16-10 to the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium, is whether owner Jim Irsay will make wholesale changes. Irsay said in the preseason he had “high” expectations for this team. Not making the playoffs after qualifying for the postseason in three previous years obviously means the Colts fell far short of what the boss envisioned.

Will Irsay re-sign head coach Chuck Pagano, whose Friday challenge about counting on the character and DNA of his team came up empty? Pagano’s contract is up and it’s been speculated he’s gone. To be fair, it’s not all on Pagano and he’s a good guy, but it’s time to go. This team has talent, but the players need a different voice.

Will Irsay fire general manager Ryan Grigson? The GM has one year remaining on his contract, but I don’t know how much more quarterback poundings everyone should be subjected to before there’s some accountability about the No. 1 problem. It wasn’t coaching, it was the failure to build a consistent O-line.

Yeah, Grigson should go, too. I’ve thought it for a while. Both Pagano and Grigson have done some good things in four years. It’s not like the Colts were awful the previous three years. But Irsay set the bar as high as it could be set. If any of us don’t come even remotely close to what’s expected in our occupations, well, we’d have reason to think we’re out of a job.

Pagano was Baltimore’s defensive coordinator and entrusted with building a defense. Yet the defense regressed, even after Irsay asked his coach to be more hands-on with this unit. It ranked 29th before Sunday and lost to, gulp, quarterback Brandon Weeden, for crying out loud. Say all you want about how the Colts have injured quarterbacks, but Weeden was the Texans’ fourth quarterback this season. They got it done because their defense was stronger.

Grigson was an offensive lineman at Purdue, so it’s fair to expect him to appreciate the value of getting enough of the building blocks in place so that Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck or whomever plays quarterback can make a few plays.

If you’re Luck and looking at the final year of a contract and Grigson stays, would you blame No. 12 for deciding to wait on a new extension to see what kind of O-line he has next season? Not that Luck would do it, but he’s been in the league four years now and, after suffering the first two serious injuries of his career including a lacerated kidney, I’m guessing he has an opinion on the matter. If not, he should.

I’d let Mr. Irsay know that if changes aren’t made, he’ll ride it out next season and see if the O-line improves enough to ensure Luck can take the expected next step to becoming an elite quarterback. He couldn’t do it this year, not with what he had to work with, and then his body finally reminding him he’s mortal.

The Colts didn’t score a point in the second half against the Texans. The Colts finished with a season-low 190 yards, the fewest yards since 2011. Hasselbeck got smacked around yet again and added a new injury to his lengthy medical chart, this time taking a shot to the jaw. As much as we admire the 40-year-old warrior for trying to gut it out and deliver victory, we’re reminded what we’ve seen so often in the past — a quarterback can only take a team so far.

Tight ends Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle were missing for much of the season. You know why, too. Because they were needed to block instead of catch passes.

Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton had just three catches for 29 yards. He’s killed the Texans so many times over the years. Are we to believe he suddenly couldn’t get open? No. The Colts just couldn’t get him the ball enough. In the most important games, your money players must deliver. That's why Hilton received a five-year, $65-million contract extension before the season.

The Colts’ defense started strong with two turnovers and had three sacks, but couldn’t stop a 90-yard drive that culminated in what amounted to the game-winning touchdown early in the fourth quarter. 

Texans wide receiver Jaelen Strong got open on the 8-yard scoring play. The closest guy to him was Colts inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. Nobody needs to be an expert on Xs and Os to realize linebackers are going to lose one-on-one matchups if covering a wide receiver. That’s true for even the NFL’s leading tackler, Jackson, who has made 136 stops, had three sacks, an interception returned for a score, eight passes defended and one forced fumble in 14 games.

After all DQ could do, it seems wasted, looking at where the Colts are now.

Not that the Texans are anything special, but the Colts don’t deserve to be AFC South Division champions for a third consecutive year. They didn’t earn it. Not after losing by 35 points in back-to-back weeks in December — what playoff team does that? — and not after failing to put away the Texans despite taking a 10-0 lead in this all-important game.

Hey, if the Texans screw up and try to give it back to the Colts by losing in the last two weeks, how much confidence do we have that the Colts can win at Miami and at home against Tennessee? Honestly, the last thing we wanted to see was the Colts somehow winning a home playoff game and taking another January trip to Foxborough, Mass., to face the New England Patriots. Been there, done that, four times in January in 18 years.

Seriously, the clock is ticking on regrouping and awaiting changes. For now, so much is in the dark, just like the photo used for this story and video. That’s why that picture was chosen. It’s where we’re all at right now in assessing the Colts’ future.

What we know is the Colts disappointed in 2015. They were poorly constructed, there were obvious coaching mistakes and no single person could prevent what happened.

Win close ones as a team, but lose more bad ones as a team. This Colts trailed in all but two of their games. They’re 3-4 at home. They’ve seemingly been hanging on by a thread since this got started in September. Don't ever use the words "legit Super Bowl contender" ever again.

No excuses, indeed.

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


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