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Lessons Learned from Colts Losing First Game of Season

As always, I reserve the right to change my mind on any Monday call after I watch the tape

The Colts lost the opener.

In and of itself, this is no big deal.

I'm convinced the Texans are a formidable team, and I predicted this game as a loss months ago, and followed that up on Friday. The Texans made winning this game the focal point of their season.  That was likely a mistake that will cost them down the road.

Many fans will be up in arms today over the play of the offensive line. There's definitely good reason for that.  Several members of the line had awful games. Ryan Diem did his best to make sure that Peyton Manning got killed.  Jamie Richard looked lost. Charlie Johnson played poorly. Even Jeff Saturday picked up a key holding penalty. Many of these struggles are to be expected. Continuity is more important to a line than any individual player, and yesterday was the first time those five players had played together since the beginning of camp, if then. Honestly, I don't know if that particular iteration of the line had ever played together.

Fans will also be justifiably upset over the performance of the defense. Words can't describe how terrible the line and the linebackers played in the second half. Larry Coyer got thoroughly out-coached on the half time adjustments. The secondary played reasonably well, especially Jerraud Powers who seemed to make every big run stop. The rest of the D simply did not show up for the second half. On the key play of the game, a 4th and 1 from the 20 for the Texans, the Colts bottled up Texans RB Arian Foster. Normally, that equates to a stop, but on this day, Clint Session somehow failed to seal the edge and Foster managed to squirt free for the first down.

Truthfully though, I'm not worried about the defense. Yes, they played significantly worse than I expected, but we've seen games like this before from the Colts. Any time there is something out of sync with the linebackers, suddenly the rushing yards come in bunches. The corners looked solid (other than one awful play by Hayden), and Freeney and Mathis both made plays at big moments.  For now, I'll assume that whatever glitch the Texans exploited today will be fixed next week.

All in all, it was a tough loss, but the loss itself does not worry me.

What worries me is the coaching.

Today's game was one of the worst coaching performances I've ever seen. Where to begin?

  • Caldwell punted on 4th and 4 from 50 in the first quarter.  That's right on the edge of reason.
  • Caldwell punted on 4th and 13 from the Houston 38.  The punt went into the endzone for a net of 18 yards.
  • Caldwell punted on 4th and 2 from the Houston 45.
  • Caldwell did later go for it on 4th and 2 from the Houston 45. Indy converted and scored a field goal.
  • Caldwell punted on 4th and 22 from the 34.  The punt netted 14 yards.

That's four punts from midfield in. Two were on makeable distances. One was in no man's land.  Another would have been a 51 yard field goal. I'm sure Caldwell will point to "a lack of execution" by Tyron who failed to down either punt at the one (once failing on a penalty). However, I would like to point out that Tyron wasn't even on the team last week and probably hasn't run too man 'down the punt' drills with the Colts special teams unit. He was counting on proper execution from a player who wasn't properly prepared. That's the definition of bad coaching.

Early on, it was obvious the Colts were having trouble protecting Manning. The coaching staff made two critical mistakes.  First, they insisted on playing Pierre Garcon. Garcon responded by dropping passes and blowing a route. Garcon's primary value as a receiver is in running deep routes. When Manning lacks time to look deep, it's counter productive to have a guy with bad hands in the game. The line problems should have forced the switch to Anthony Gonzalez.

Or, the coaches could have gone another route. They could have put in Brody Eldrige and run two tight end sets. That was not attempted even once. In fact, the best solution the team came up with to beat the rush was to have Manning throw short routes and slants. Peyton responded with one of the great games of his career. Though he received little help from anyone not named Joe Addai, Manning hung in the pocket, took the hits and delivered the throws. I suppose, "Just let Peyton take a beating and try to win the game by himself!" is a strategy, but I would rather have seen some adjustments.

Finally, the way the defense just collapsed under a barrage of runs from the Texans was disappointing. It's not like the Colts haven't had games like this before. There has to be some kind of defense that can be used to force the other team to pass at least once in a while.

Ultimately, I'm still withholding judgement. No, I don't agree with Caldwell's calls, but they were defensible (some of them). I don't know that Christensen and Coyer are incapable of adjusting on the fly. I don't know that the defense quit in the second half. I don't know that players were put in positions for which they were not adequately prepared. After all, the team didn't really play any worse than they did against Jacksonville to open the season last year. Today, they just happened to play a good team.

We have to be watching the coaching situation, however. IF something other than an injury to Peyton were to derail the Colts, it would be because of erosion from the top. We have to be watching for dissension, confusion, sloppy mistakes, penalties and wasted timeouts. These are the marks of a team that is poorly coached.

One game is not indicative of anything.

Other notes:

  • Freeney and Mathis both picked up sacks
  • I wish Bob hadn't gotten hurt.  We missed him in the second half. 
  • Don Brown missed another block.
  • Garcon has serious problems catching the ball.  This should surprise no one.
  • Wayne did everything he could today.
  • Collie had a great game, despite his big fumble.  He got CRUSHED by multiple guys.  That will happen.  He looked like he had serious wheels on the long TD.
  • I loved both onside kicks. McAfee has a very solid technique.
  • Powers is a star in the making.
  • The umpire issue is not a problem.  The Colts had one quick snap play where the ump just managed to get back behind Addai. 
  • Gonzo's play on the sideline was a matter of inches.  That's a repetition play.  It'll come to him with more work.


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