Spreading the Blame for the Indianapolis Colts’ 0-8 Start

The Indianapolis Colts are winless for half a season.

Sunday’s 27-10 loss at Tennessee dropped the Colts to 0-8, a record they’ve not seen since 1997, and the final score has left Indy outscored 89-17 over their last four halves of play.

Everyone figured the Colts would struggle without quarterback Peyton Manning, but who thought it would be THIS bad? One thing is for sure, though: There’s blame to go around on all sides.

I said during last week’s 62-7 debacle at New Orleans that the biggest reason the Colts couldn’t win a game to date without Manning, a four-time NFL MVP, was that the team just didn’t have sufficient talent elsewhere on the field.

I stand by that position today. Looking at yesterday’s division loss to the Titans (4-3), the starting offensive line consisted of Jeff Saturday and four other guys, none of whom an average fan could pick out of a crowd. Left tackle Jeff Linkenbach, who is filling in for the injured Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana, has been all over the place on that line in reserve duty. Seth Olsen, Mike Tepper and Quinn Ojinnaka? All recent additions.

That’s a far cry from the once-stalwart unit of Tarik Glenn, Ryan Lilja, Saturday, Jake Scott and a younger, healthier Ryan Diem. Missing those days, Colts fans?

In addition, the secondary is thin as tissue paper behind Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea and starting corner Jerraud Powers. Rookie corners Kevin Thomas and Chris Rucker showed some promise yesterday, getting in on tackles, but they and the other reserve defensive backs remain largely unproven.

Lack of talent clearly will contribute to subpar play, especially on special teams — which allowed a blocked Pat McAfee punt in the end zone for a score to burst the game wide open — but it’s tough to overlook some aspects of yesterday’s game that can’t be pinned on personnel issues.

The Colts committed 10 penalties for 66 yards. Several of them came on the offensive line, negating nice gains on the ground by rookie running back Delone Carter. While the line is largely untalented as I mentioned above, that’s not an excuse for fundamentally unsound play. You have to wonder if that can be pinned on offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars, the replacement to legendary former line coach Howard Mudd.

I also wonder whether the coaching staff is thinking creatively to get more playmakers involved in the offense. I noticed late in the game Curtis Painter opted for a bubble screen to Pierre Garcon on third-and-goal, the same play the team had run successfully early on. But the Titans had caught onto it by that point, and the Titans defense was able to wrap up Garcon easily after the catch and force a field goal.

I also wonder whether offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen has been able to involve Austin Collie enough to be the difference-maker he was when Manning was healthy. Collie had a nice outing yesterday, catching five passes for 44 yards, but he has been largely nonexistent this season. Perhaps he and the staff are starting to turn a corner in that regard.

Finally, head coach Jim Caldwell appeared to remain “challenge challenged” as one of my friends put it a few weeks ago. Down 20-10 in the fourth quarter, Rucker made a third-down tackle short of the first-down marker, but the officials placed the spot in good enough position for a first down. Caldwell didn’t challenge, and the titans ended up scoring the touchdown to put the game out of reach. Had Caldwell thrown the challenge flag and won (really, what do you hve to lose in that situation?), Tennessee probably would have opted for a field goal, and it still would’ve been a two-possession game with about eight minutes to play.

On a more positive note, shout out to Painter’s rushing. Be it on a pocket collapse or just an open hole, Painter surprisingly toted the rock sensationally, leading all rushers in the game with 79 yards. That tells me he’s reading the field better, though his passing wasn’t all that sensational yesterday. He finished 26-of-49 for 250 yards and two interceptions — though both bounced off hands before being picked.

It’s clear Colts fans want changes after this season. The second half of the schedule could determine whether such drastic decisions will be made.

 

 

 

 

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