by Kent Sterling
Winning solves problems; losing reveals them.
The Indianapolis Colts roll into Carolina for Monday Night Football on the precipice of the first three-game losing streak in the Ryan Grigson/Chuck Pagano era, but even with a loss the Colts will still lead the AFC South by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Houston Texans.
Being in the AFC South buys the Colts a little time to sort out the mess off what to this point has been on oddly chaotic season for a team that embraces order, but patience from the owner’s office might be lacking.
Pagano is on the ropes because of a variety of issues – too many turnovers, too few sacks, too many penalties, and an oddly defensive posture with the media.
Whether Grigson occupies a similarly tenuous position within the Colts organization is another in a series of very good questions.
The overarching question regarding the Colts is “What is wrong?” Predictable follow ups include, “What can be done to correct the problems, who caused the problems, and who can fix them?”
Let’s take a stab at answering them –
The Colts run the ball well, but not enough. They throw it, but not quickly enough. The defense is better at stopping the run, but can’t get to the quarterback, so they are picked apart through the air. The team MVP at this point is punter/kickoff guy Pat McAfee. Andrew Luck holds on to the ball too long, and has an assortment of injuries – including three broken ribs (according to reports). Wacky special teams decisions, and a poorly defended Hail Mary that resulted in a touchdown added to the growing dissatisfaction from fans. There are more, but we have only so much space.
How can it be fixed?
It takes a commitment from every player, coach, and front office staffer to raise their level of effort and efficiency. That’s a BS answer that you might hear from one of Chuck Pagano’s podium sessions, but with all those issues, a little Joel Osteen-esque pablum isn’t going to cover the gaping holes that exist virtually everywhere.
We could demand that Trent Cole and Erik Walden get to the quarterback, that Luck heals, and that Frank Gore is given the ball with greater frequency, but that’s a lot to hope for.
Who caused the problem?
This season is being authored by the same brain trust that led the Colts to three straight 11-5 records and an additional step farther in the playoffs, so the question is whether brains broke or the totality of bad/sloppy drafts/free agent signings/play finally became too much for one franchise to bear.
Assessing blame is tough because all areas are interconnected. Grigson whiffed on three straight first rounders (in 2015 impact), and signed aging veterans who obviously played their best football in years past. He’s hit on a few (most of the 2012 Draft, Vontae Davis for a second round pick, and Henry Anderson in the third round are notable successes).
Pagano has adopted a defensive posture with the media, and his strategic choices have tended toward the erratic. His legacy in Indianapolis, minus earning a Lombardi Trophy if somehow the Colts can resurrect their season, will forever be defined by the ridiculous fake punt against New England on a night when it seemed his Colts were equal to the task of matching the Patriots straight up.
Who can fix them?
It’s possible that the Colts can be fixed by the guys currently working at the Colts Complex on West 56th Street. They didn’t all get dumb simultaneously. Even if this season goes down the tubes, this might be an anomaly the like of the 2001 season in which the Colts went 6-10. Of course, Jim Mora was canned after that debacle, but who knows what might have happened if he had returned?
Candidates for the gigs, should the snowball keep rolling downhill, would include the typical roster of candidates – John Gruden, Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren, etc… It’s hard to imagine Pagano being fired alone. If he goes, it would seem logical for Grigson to go too, and he bought the groceries with which Pagano has been unable to brew a satisfactory stew.
If the Colts go after a big fish, that fish will likely demand control of the roster, and that might level Grigson out of his office.
Tonight is another chapter of what will either transform into a story of redemption, or devolve into an Shakespearean tragedy in which a plague is assign on the houses of both Pagano and Grigson.