Indianapolis Colts Make Changes Before Annual New England Game

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After falling to 0-11 on the 2011 NFL season last Sunday in a 27-19 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indianapolis Colts’ brass on Wednesday resorted to what could be the first of many — MANY — changes for the free-falling franchise.

Flanked by front office leaders Bill and Chris Polian, Colts coach Jim Caldwell announced that defensive coordinator Larry Coyer, whom Caldwell replaced Ron Meeks with after being promoted to head coach in 2009, had been dismissed and that long-time linebackers coach Mike Murphy would assume defensive coordinator duties for the rest of the season.

Caldwell also announced a move that many thought might have come much sooner: Dan Orlovsky will replace Curtis Painter as Indy’s starting quarterback when it faces arch-rival New England (8-3) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

Obviously, changes needed to be made within the Colts organization. And don’t think more aren’t on the way.

As far as Wednesday’s changes go, both eventually would be made.

Coyer, a football lifer, can’t absorb all the blame for the ineptness of the Colts defense, ranked 29th in the league. He really had next to a bare cupboard going into 2011, and the quantity and quality of players at his disposal only diminished further once starters Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt were lost for the season early on and when the team inexplicably cut cornerback Justin Tryon in favor of Jacob Lacey (although Lacey has since been supplanted by first-year man Kevin Thomas, who hasn’t looked too shabby). The defensive line, riddled with injuries and lacking many guys able to get a push against the run. Not much Coyer can do to maximize the Tampa 2 scheme without a full complement of talent.

But then, didn’t Caldwell bring in Coyer with the desire to deviate from the Tampa 2, which former coach Tony Dungy installed? We all were told Coyer was going to get a little more creative with the defense, cooking up blitz packages and playing more man coverage. We did see those things his first year in 2009 — former defensive lineman Raheem Brock stood up on some passing downs — but it’s safe to say we have not seen any of that this year. True, part of that is personnel and the offense’s inability to score, but one can expect the coaches to make at least something happen when it counts. Tough to say he’s done that when the Colts can boast the worst third-down defense in the NFL — opponents have converted 48 percent of their third downs against Indy.

As for Orlovsky getting the nod over Painter, I believe I speak for most Colts fans when I say, “Better late than never.” I expected the club to make this move during the bye week following Painter’s clunker against Jacksonville (he actually threw three interceptions in one drive in that game; the first two were negated by a ruled incomplete pass and a successful challenge of 12 men in the Jaguars huddle). However, Painter got the start again last Sunday with a vote of confidence from Caldwell, who said he was “developing.”

While Painter did look nice in an attempt at a game-tying drive late, he ended it and the Colts’ chances at a win by throwing an interception in the end zone from the 3-yard line with 35 seconds remaining. It was his second pick of the day, and much of his yardage — 226 yards — could be attributed to yards after the catch, including  his 56-yard touchdown connection with Reggie Wayne. Wayne brilliantly shook off two tackles from midfield en route to that score.

Speaking of that last stand, what was with the play calling? The Colts had a first-and-goal with the better portion of a minute remaining, and Donald Brown had had success running the ball against the Panthers’ bottom-ranked rush defense. No running plays, coaches?

At any rate, Orlovsky isn’t that much better than Painter, but he has to be given a shot. Painter is now 0-8 as a starter with six touchdowns to nine interceptions and a 66.6 rating. While I maintain my stance that Painter needed to start for much of this season so that the Colts could find out what they had in him, they have found out — apparently after us — that he isn’t a capable starting quarterback in this league. Not that Orlovsky is, but he’s different. He’s a change that perhaps can spark the offense.

Also, isn’t it fair to give the quarterback who played for the only 0-16 team in NFL history a chance to personally prevent that from happening a second time?

While these changes won’t help the Colts beat the Patriots, who open as 21-point favorites in this contest, they’re a start to what might eventually become drastic alterations within the Colts. I’m sure Caldwell feels the heat, especially now that one of the assistants he brought in has been shown the door. The bigger question, as I’ve mentioned before, is what happens within the front office. Does Bill Polian retire and give full control to Chris? Does Jim Irsay just decide to use this opportunity to part ways with the Polians altogether and move this franchise in a new direction?

Anything is possible, especially if the Colts go winless. Not winning a game at the professional level is a personnel problem — and by extension a front office problem.

We’ll soon see.

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