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Easterbrook Versus the Colts

Tuesday Morning Quarterback writer Gregg Easterbrook took on the Indianapolis Colts today.  The results were…well…interesting.  Let’s take a look, line by line…

Booing — the Indianapolis home crowd was booing the Colts early in the second half Sunday night, when the contest was far from over.

Whoa, Gregg!  Just one line into the column and you’ve already screwed the pooch!  What Easterbrook doesn’t know is that the video operator at the Luke was replaying the blown pass interference call on the second pick six over and over again.  Fans weren’t booing the team, they were booing the officials.  Whoops.  From there, the rest of his piece pretty much unravels.

Four seasons ago, these Colts won the Super Bowl. Just nine months ago, they held the lead in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. For the past eight seasons, the Colts have won at least 12 games, one of the top achievements in NFL annals. Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday are first-ballot Hall of Famers, and others on this team, including at least Dwight Freeney and Dallas Clark, will be considered to don the garish yellow jacket in Canton. Yet the home crowd was booing, and loudly.

Yeah, Colts fans hate this team, Gregg.  They hate all those great players (although Saturday is FAR from a first ballot HoFer and Clark won’t even sniff Canton).  That’s why they wear so many jerseys to the games.  They just haaaaate Freeney and Clark.

This tells us the Indianapolis fans are spoiled. Yet the Colts have real problems, not just injuries — all NFL teams must deal with injuries.

Not like this.  No team in the league has faced this many injuries to key players.  I strongly suspect Indy will top the Adjusted Games Lost metric this year.  All teams have injuries, not all teams lose as many starters and backups as Indy has.  Indy has lost 3 safties, 2 linebackers, multiple corners, four runningbacks, two tight ends, three wide receivers and that doesn’t even touch special teams.  No team has dealt with ANYTHING like this.

San Diego has beaten Indianapolis in five of the past six meetings. Stretching back to kickoff of this past February’s Super Bowl, Indianapolis is 6-6. In that span, Manning has thrown three interceptions that got returned for touchdowns.

Good point.  That 2005 game against San Diego really tells us something about the 2010 Colts.  And wait, now we are going back to the Super Bowl to calcuate the Colts’ record?  Beyond that, interception returns for touchdowns are basically random plays.  If anything, this shows that Indy has been unlucky, not flawed.

The Colts’ rushing attack is ranked 30th. The Colts’ defense is renowned for keeping games close, yet San Diego scored 36 points against Indianapolis the week after New England scored 31.

No, the Colts defense allowed 22 points (most with short fields).  Remember those picks returned for touchdowns you just mentioned?  They don’t count against the defense.

What’s wrong with the Colts? Here is TMQ’s take:

• Predictable play calling. This column has been warning since before the Colts-Saints title game that the Indianapolis offense is too predictable. Tracy Porter’s game-icing pick-six in the Super Bowl came, Porter said, because he knew what the Colts would run for the down-and-distance they were in. Two interceptions were returned for touchdowns by the Chargers on Sunday. One might be a fluke; two means the defense was guessing plays and jumping routes. Manning has always been so efficient that it didn’t seem to matter if the Colts endlessly ran the same looks from the same formation. Now it matters.

OR Porter picked off the ball because Reggie Wayne fell down.  Two balls getting picked off and returned for touchdowns proves nothing other than one was caused by a pass interference call.  The irony of it all, is that both balls came on a route that I haven’t seen Wayne run often.

• Offensive line woes. For years, Manning has rarely been sacked or hurried; he’s accustomed to a clean pocket. When he’s hit, he becomes antsy, and in 2010, he’s being hit. Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick — these quarterbacks seem to like chaos and excel when the pocket breaks down. Manning is a straitlaced guy who wants everything just so. This season, it’s not.

Nope.  Manning hasn’t been hit any more this year than last year.  Last season he was hit 13.7 attempts.  Now he’s getting hit once every 13.1 attempts on the year.  That’s an extra hit every third game or so.  This is simply not true.  He just made this up. For more on this point, see this article.  Manning is actually among the best in the league under pressure.  Whoops!

• Ryan Lilja. After the Super Bowl loss, Colts general manager Bill Polian openly blamed the offensive line, which was a mean-spirited thing to do — win as a team, lose as a team. He made guard Ryan Lilja the scapegoat, waiving him. Lilja was the Colts’ best run-blocker, but Polian didn’t care about that; rather, he blew his stack because there were two downs in the Super Bowl on which Lilja allowed Manning, the $100 million pretty boy, to get hit. This year, the Colts are having trouble running while Lilja is having a Pro Bowl season at Kansas City — which leads the NFL in rushing. Oh, how the Colts now wish they still had Lilja.

This is probably true to some degree. There is one big problem:  Lilja was not made a scape goat.  I never heard anyone mention Lilja as being to blame.

• Bill Polian. He blows his stack often. Polian is good at assembling NFL teams but wore out his welcome at Buffalo and Carolina, in playoff years in both places, because he’s so hard to take. How much longer ’til he wears out his welcome in Indianapolis?

Wait, what?  First, Polian didn’t ‘wear out his welcome’ in Carolina.  Jim Irsay gave up a 2nd round pick to sign him away from the Panthers.  Plus, Polian has been in Indy for 12 years.  I hardly think he’s even vaguely close to wearing out his welcome.  If he was, don’t you think it would have happened a long time ago.

• Dallas Clark. Last season, he won the coveted “longest award in sports,” the Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-Quarterback Non-Running Back NFL MVP. Clark was chosen for “his disruptive impact on opposing secondaries.” Now that disruption is missing, and safeties can choke up on Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon running the Colts’ predictable routes.   Clark’s backup, Jacob Tamme, is OK but nowhere near as effective and not a good blocker. Because the Indianapolis line has long been so good, the Colts’ offense is based on five-man patterns, the hardest kind to defend. Against the Chargers, Indianapolis tried to run five-man patterns, and when this wasn’t working, by the second half, Tamme was staying in the backfield to block. He did not do well. The Colts have a blocking tight end on the roster, Gijon Robinson, but they use him only at the goal line because they’ve always believed pinpoint Manning passes are the answer to all questions. Problems at tight end are spoiling this formula — and, perhaps, proving Clark truly was last season’s non-quarterback non-running back MVP.

Wait, I thought the problem was predictable play calling?  Which is it?  Is it a MASSIVE loss due to injury, or bad play calling?  Get it straight, Gregg. You can’t dismiss injuries and then bring up a huge injury.

• Gary Brackett. He was a finalist for the 2009 TMQ award. The little-known, undrafted Brackett numbers among the NFL’s best defensive players. His absence is hurting the Colts much more than the absence of perennially injured Bob Sanders.

See note above.  Duh.

• Tony Dungy. He’s in the broadcast booth rather than on the Colts’ sideline. New coach Jim Caldwell looks lost much of the time. Caldwell compiled a poor Super Bowl game plan, and his 2010 game plans haven’t been worth writing home about, either. Does Caldwell even understand this? That’s the big worry.

I’ll cut him slack here. I miss Tony too.  I don’t think the gameplan in the Super Bowl was bad, however.  There were some TERRIBLE calls by Caldwell in it, but the Colts jumped out to an early lead.  The game planning hasn’t been bad this season.  I think this is mostly just scapegoating.

Easterbrook writes an awful lot of words each work, so I hesitate to call him lazy.  Generally, I think his analysis is just shallow, but in this case he outright gets facts wrong.  He could have checked to see if anything he was writing was actually true.