Charlie Bernstein: Ahmad Bradshaw didn't technically start but he seemed to be the most productive back on the team. How big of a loss is he and do you see the Colts signing someone off the street this week?
Phillip Wilson: This will prove to be more of a loss than people realize because the Colts have a softer schedule in the last six games and can probably get by without him in most of them. Presuming the Colts make the playoffs with this one-dimensional, Andrew Luck-led offense, that’s when most will be reminded of what is missing. Bradshaw was admired, by coaches, teammates and even the media for how hard he played. The two-time Super Bowl winner has been hurt so much in his career, yet put forth the effort like each game was his last. The hope was that some of Bradshaw would rub off on Trent Richardson, but that hasn’t really happened. It’s been said you can’t coach heart. The Colts haven’t made a roster move to add a third running back yet. Second-year pro Dan Herron will back up Richardson. It’s possible they elevate rookie Zurlon Tipton from the practice squad. He showed some potential in preseason.
CB: The Patriots beat up the Colts again on Sunday night. Indy looks like they can beat anyone on a given day, with the exception of New England. Is it just a bad matchup?
PW: The Colts have lost to four playoff-caliber teams in Denver, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New England. But as everyone who tuned in Sunday night observed, this defense has issues. It couldn’t stop a running back in Jonas Gray that most had never heard of before. And the 3-4 blitzing scheme didn’t sack Tom Brady once. In the four losses, the Colts have only one sack. No pocket pressure and everything breaks down. Offensively, the Colts have been able to compensate for the lack of a consistent rushing game with Luck and his weapons. It’s fun to watch and they will score on anyone — the 20 points against the Patriots tied a season low — but it’s not the kind of football that typically lasts long in the playoffs. The Patriots’ romp was a flashback to last January, when they ran over the Colts 43-22 in the AFC Divisional playoff round at Foxborough, Mass. Fans spoiled by successes in the Peyton Manning era are drawing inevitable comparisons, that the Colts again have a great quarterback but he can only carry them so far.
CB: How would you rate the job that Chuck Pagano is doing as head coach?
PW: Some have criticized Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson, although an argument could be made that being upset with guys who can’t deliver a Super Bowl in such a short time is a bit demanding and unfair. They took over a 2-14 team, won 11 games each of the last two years, and barring a collapse should make the playoffs a third consecutive year. The popular criticism of Pagano, however, is difficult to counter. From day one, he said his goal was to build a team that ran the ball and stopped the run. That hasn’t happened yet in three years. The Colts are better at stopping the run — they were ranked ninth until the Patriots dropped them to 17th — but there’s obviously still a long way to go. Nose tackle Arthur Jones will be back at some point. He’s missed seven of eight games with a high ankle sprain. That will make them more stout inside, but it would be naive to think one man can radically change the defense. The Colts have an exceptional passing offense and equally strong special teams, but Pagano is a defensive coach who still hasn’t put together that side of the ball. And that’s what it’s going to take if Colts are ever going to be serious AFC contenders.
CB: Vontae Davis is having a breakout season. How important has he been to the defense and is he the most talented Colts cornerback in the last decade?
PW: No question, Davis has been surprisingly solid. Not to knock him, but when he got the big contract in the offseason, you had to wonder if there would be a drop-off. Instead, he’s taken his game to that next level. In some games, the Colts got sacks because the coverage was so effective. Against Tennessee at home, the Titans didn’t try to throw on Davis one time. He’s still young and has all the makings of being possibly the best cover corner the Colts have ever had in Indianapolis. Most opponents pick on Greg Toler or nickel back Darius Butler, yet another compliment to Davis. While other areas of the defense have question marks, he fits this scheme because he’s excellent in press coverage and man-to-man. When the Colts have tried to play some zone, that requires some thinking and adjusting, which is not his strong suit. But stick him on a guy and let him lock that receiver down and, typically, it’s one less player to worry about.
CB: Do you feel that this team can make a playoff run without being a balanced offense?
PW: To be honest, no. The Colts are a little better than last year, which means they could again win a first-round playoff game at home. But it sure seems unlikely they have what it takes to go to New England or Denver, presuming those are the AFC No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, and prevail in the second round. Another game against Manning would be compelling, but they didn’t get enough pressure on him in the 31-24 opening loss at Denver. And we’re all aware of what happens when defenses don’t get pressure on Manning. Another trip to New England would seem almost unfair because Bill Belichick knows how to beat the Colts and has done it three times by a combined score of 144-66 during the Pagano-Luck era. The Colts should be able to regroup against most of the teams left on the schedule and Houston has never won at Indianapolis, so the division still seems safe. But beyond that, it’s going to take a monster game from Luck and some improbable breaks for the Colts to pull off a second-round upset against the Patriots or Broncos. At best, you want to give them a fighter’s chance. But only a supreme optimist would expect a favorable outcome, if they get that far.
Behind Enemy Lines- Colts
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