The Dopey Report Card goes in a slightly different direction today. Instead of a game-specific report card on the Colts-Bengals game, my staff (of one) has put together a Midseason Report Card (I capitalized it to make it seem more important).
Just…meh. The Colts are currently 19th in the league in rushing yards, keeping in mind that not every team has played eight games. More to the point, they’re 24th in yards per carry at 3.7 yards per carry, one of 12 teams averaging fewer than four yards per carry. Frank Gore has been Frank Gore. He moves the chains, averages 3.7 per carry. Marlon Mack is Marlon Mack, good for either a 26-yard gain or a minus-3, with very little in between. It’s not at all likely, but I’d love to see Gore moved before Tuesday’s trade deadline – not because he’s been ineffective, but because he’s a great pro who deserves a chance to play for a playoff-bound team. Is Mack the future? Well, he’s part of the future. I see him as a change-up guy for the near term, but maybe over time, he can develop into an every-down back.
If there’s something of a bright spot with this team, it’s been the run defense. Johnathan Hankins and Al Woods have been as good, if not better, than advertised. Henry Anderson was a monster this past Sunday and seems to have fully recovered – or come close to fully recovered – from his knee surgery. Say what you will about the inside linebackers – OK, I’ll say it: They can’t cover me in the passing game – but they’re stout against the run. On the outside, John Simon was the Colts’ best defender before he got hurt. Jabaal Sheard has been very good at linebacker. The Colts have been guilty of giving up the occasional back-breaking long run, but overall, 14th in the league in rushing yards per game and 14th in yards per carry (4.1 yards) isn’t bad at all.
Oh, boy. Now, I should say, it could be worse. Scott Tolzien could still be under center, in which case I firmly believe the Colts would be winless. Whether it was dumb luck or genius, the fact that Chris Ballard was able to make a one-sided deal with the Patriots for Jacoby Brissett has worked out as well as anybody could expect. At the very least, Brissett will be a very solid backup to Andrew Luck, assuming Luck returns at some point. There were good signs Sunday when he got rid of the ball more quickly than he has all season. The big problems have been the offensive line and the receiving corps. Colts quarterbacks have been sacked 33 times this year, the most in the NFL. Jack Doyle had a slow start but had a monster game Sunday. The wide receivers? Ugh. T.Y. Hilton has been mostly invisible except in the Colts’ two victories, both against winless teams. In his last three games, he has five catches on 16 targets for 61 yards. Donte Moncrief, who is in a contract year, has not given Ballard a single reason to re-sign him next year. Kamar Aiken has been OK, but had three huge drops Sunday against the Bengals. Yes, it makes a difference not having Luck out there, but drops are drops, regardless who is throwing the football.
They made Brian Hoyer look good. They made Marcus Mariota, a guy playing on one leg, look good. They made Blake Bortles, who is not good, look really good. Bet you can’t wait for Ben Roethlisberger to roll into town. There are three issues here: One, the pass rush is not as good as it needs to be, currently ranking 18th in the league in sacks – which, to be fair, is an improvement on last year. Two, the secondary has been in flux, and second-rounder Quincy Wilson still has not earned much in the way of playing time. Three, the inside linebackers are horrendous in pass coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, they’ve been targeted 63 times this season, giving up 52 catches for 605 yards, 384 of those after the catch. In all, the Colts rank 31st in the league in passing yards allowed and currently lead the league – by a lot – in the number of big plays (plays 20 yards or longer) allowed.
After an interesting Sunday when we saw the best and worst of the Colts’ special teams in one game, the big-picture view is this: They’ve been pretty decent. Rigoberto Sanchez has been a revelation; when he got to training camp, most of us thought he was camp fodder. Then he went and beat out free-agent signee Jeff Locke and has shut down opposing return games week after week. Adam Vinatieri has missed two PATs, which is a bit concerning, but he’s been money on his field-goal attempts, making 15 of 16. It seems as long as the Colts don’t try to get too cute – this is where I mention the Mother of All Screwups, the fake punt against New England – they seem to get the job done.
They’re 2-6 and their only two victories are against winless teams (San Francisco and Cleveland) – that’s the bottom line. This is not a strong staff, any way you slice it. Chuck Pagano keeps making some of the same game-management mistakes he’s made the previous five years. He sacrificed the jobs of his offensive coordinator (Pep Hamilton) and defensive coordinator (Greg Manusky) and has seen their replacements, Rob Chudzinski and Ted Monachino, struggle or worse. Somebody needs to explain why it took so long for Chud to put Brissett in a position to make quick throws, as he did Sunday, rather than trying to make longer plays downfield while having a leaky offensive line. As for Monachino, I simply say this: Look at the numbers. The Colts are at or near the bottom of the league in virtually every statistical category. Nobody is suggesting there’s great talent here, but this team should be better than a statistical bottom feeder. It’s that simple. And a lion’s share of that goes to coaching.
At some level, the losing is understandable given the fact their franchise quarterback is injured and nobody seems to know when or if he’s going to come back. There are not a lot of teams not named “New England’’ who could survive given those circumstances. But it’s the way they’ve lost. It’s the second-half meltdowns. It’s the getting blown out, looking utterly ill-prepared, emotionally and physically, to compete. It’s the self-inflicted mistakes, the penalties, the blown coverages, the offensive line follies, the dropped passes and we can go on and on. Every game, it seems, they make just enough mistakes to lose. Should have beaten Arizona, but didn’t. Had a chance to beat Tennessee, but didn’t. Should have knocked off Cincinnati, but didn’t. We’re halfway through a lost season, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe anything is going to get turned around. Bad team, bad season. But a really good draft pick, which they’ll no doubt trade and parlay into multiple picks. So there’s that hopeful bit of news…