Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano “is still fighting for his job,” screamed Fox’s Jay Glazer.
“It's being viewed as a foregone conclusion that he will coach elsewhere next year,” wrote CBS’s Jason La Canfora.
The Indy Star reported that the coach and general manager denied a rift, but some significant issues existed stemming from Pagano’s contract (it expires after this season) and how Ryan Grigson injects himself into lineup decisions, which are normally the realm of the coach.
It’s pretty evident that Pagano is in a tenuous position. He’s in the final year of his contract. The Colts did offer a one-year extension, but Pagano turned it down for reasons unknown. He could be betting on himself, or he could have been insulted that the offer wasn’t up to snuff for monetary or security reasons.
In general, the extension offer was strange. Who offers a coach who has led the team to a new level each season just a one-year extension? A team that isn’t convinced said coach can lead them to a Super Bowl title, that’s who. And that’s fine. That’s the prerogative of a team owner. Pagano may not be the type of coach that can lead a team to a Super Bowl title.
But here’s the key question: Why is Pagano’s neck on the line and not Grigson’s? The coach can only do so much with the players he has been given. If the Colts don’t become the Super Bowl contender many, including the owner, think they are, then that’s the failing of Grigson—not Pagano.
In 2014, the Colts ranked third in yards and sixth in points scored on offense. But due to injuries and poor play on the offensive line, no quarterback was hit more than Andrew Luck, and the Colts were 25th in the league with 3.9 rushing yards per attempt. Defensively, the Colts were weak up front. They allowed 4.3 yards per attempt on the ground (23rd in the league) and gave up an average of 219 rushing yards in three games against the Patriots the past two seasons. Only the Cardinals and Bengals had worse pass rushes, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
After taking a 45–7 beating by New England in the AFC Championship Game, Grigson went into the off-season charged with improving his club. He signed veterans who were unwanted by their former teams: receiver Andre Johnson, running back Frank Gore, guard Todd Herremans, defensive end Kendall Langford and outside linebacker Trent Cole. Signing veterans to modest deals is not a terrible strategy. But usually that pays off when the players are complementary parts to a strong core. The Colts are asking these players to constitute a core that was lacking. That’s a precarious position to be in.
In the first round of the draft, with Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown on the board, Grigson took speedy receiver Phillip Dorsett. Indianapolis didn’t add to their defensive line until the third round and took an offensive tackle in the seventh round, while Brown went No. 32 to the Patriots and started in Week 1.
It's only one game into the 2015 regular season (and remember, Indianapolis started 0–2 last season and won 11 of their last 14), but the Colts don't look much different than they did last season. They appear to be the same soft team that went 9–1 against non-playoff teams last season and 2–4 against playoff teams. Teams get their identity and toughness from their offensive and defensive lines, and it's not a surprise that the Colts looked inept on both lines against the Bills (20 total quarterback pressures allowed, 3.8 yards per rushing attempt; zero sacks or knockdowns,147 rushing yards allowed) since Grigson refused to concentrate his efforts there.
There’s still an entire season to play. Maybe Grigson made all the right moves and the Colts turn out to be an improved team, one that has a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl appearance. But maybe the new players don’t change anything for the Colts, and they’re largely the same team.
At the end of the season, Pagano will likely be gone. The coach is an easy scapegoat, one that doesn’t spend a lot of time around the owner like a general manager does. Maybe Pagano shouldn’t return.
But if the Colts fail to improve, it will be because the personnel failed. That’s Grigson’s job, and his status should be just as scrutinized as that of Pagano.
Who will step up in the wake of the following significant Week 1 injuries?
1. Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs (Achilles, out for season): Suggs is one of the league’s best edge players against the run, so expect Courtney Upshaw, who was splitting time with pass-rush specialist Elvis Dumervil at the other outside linebacker spot, to take on an increased role at Suggs’s strongside spot. Dumervil likely becomes a starter on the weakside, where pass rush is more important. Fourth-round pick Za’Darius Smith and newly signed veteran Jason Babin will join the rotation.
2. Panthers MLB Luke Kuechly (concussion, undetermined): Veteran A.J. Klein replaced Kuechly late in the first half against the Jaguars and did a nice job the rest of the game. Nobody can replace Kuechly, especially in coverage, but Klein is solid against the run. There were a couple alignment problems in the second half. That can get straightened out with more field/prep work.
3. Washington WR DeSean Jackson (hamstring, 3-4 weeks): The Redskins had formed a dangerous, speedy trio with Pierre Garcon on the outside and Andre Roberts in the slot, but now they’ll need some unproven players to step up. Ryan Grant, the fourth-round pick last year, got the first call after Jackson went down in the first quarter against Miami. He’s more of a possession receiver. Jamison Crowder was in the mix later in the game but he plays the slot. Don’t be surprised if Rashad Ross, an undrafted player in 2013 who has spent time with four teams, gets a shot at some point. He had a great preseason, leading the league in catches, yards and touchdowns, and has flashed playmaking ability.
4. Chargers RG D.J. Fluker (high ankle sprain, 4-6 weeks): This could loom as a major injury on a unit that always seems to be dealing with something. Chris Hairston, a career tackle, filled in against the Bengals. He’s got good feet for such a tall player (6'6"), but it could be tough for him to play every down. Another option is to put Trevor Robinson at center and shift Chris Watt to guard. Kenny Wiggins (also 6'6") was brought back this week.
5. Cowboys WR Dez Bryant (broken bone in foot, 4-8 weeks): Obviously, Bryant is an irreplaceable talent. Fellow starter Terrance Williams will get more looks, as will slot receiver Cole Beasley and second tight end Gavin Escobar, but 2014 fifth-round pick Devin Street (who had one target against the Giants that resulted in an interception) will likely get more time at outside receiver. He doesn’t have a ton of speed, but he is a big-bodied receiver like Bryant. The Cowboys also acquired Brice Butler from the Raiders in a trade this week.
WET BLANKET REPORT
1. Marcus Mariota: Loved him as a prospect and thought he was capable of more than the Oregon offense showcased, but let’s not go crazy about his rookie prospects after just one game. It’s one thing to throw against Lovie Smith’s antiquated Cover Two zone scheme (which isn’t that dissimilar to what Mariota threw against in college). Let’s see what Mariota does against primarily man teams in Cleveland, Buffalo and Miami in three out of the next four weeks, and then we can talk.
2. Jameis Winston: Unlike Mariota, he was throwing against man coverage and a scheme that set out to show different looks. And Winston played behind a subpar offensive line and had penalties putting him in bad down and distance situations. While it was not a good sign that Winston started tucking and running too early and that his ankle injury from the preseason is obviously still an issue, it’s a work in progress in Tampa Bay and there’s a long way to go.
3. Tyrod Taylor: He was certainly efficient (14 of 19 for 195 yards and a touchdown) against the Colts and executed Greg Roman’s nifty game plan to perfection. But there’s little film out there of him executing this offense, and it looked like Roman designed a lot of simple reads for Taylor, similar to what he did for Colin Kaepernick as a rookie. Lets see how Taylor does when Bill Belichick forces him to stay in the pocket and takes away his primary option, as Belichick is wont to do, and then we’ll know what Taylor is made of.
1. Broncos defense is legit: This isn’t much of a surprise, since Denver was going from the predictable and boring Jack Del Rio at defensive coordinator to the wacky Wade Phillips, but it was fun to watch nonetheless. Phillips has a lengthy track record of having a great first year wherever he goes (after that it becomes a problem), and this year doesn’t look to be any different. Denver made a good Ravens offensive line (one that's very good when Eugene Monroe is on the field) look terrible, and Aqib Talib and Chris Harris are excellent cornerbacks. If DeMarcus Ware and Talib can last the entire season, this unit could be special.
2. Nick Foles in St. Louis: Last year I was asked if the Rams were a quarterback away from being a quality team. My answer was yes, and I think the performance of Foles (18 of 27 for 297 yards, with one touchdown and zero interceptions) and the Rams in their Week 1 win over the Seahawks was proof. The Rams are so good on defense that they don’t even need an elite quarterback. All they needed, after years on the Sam Bradford injury train, was consistent quarterback play from someone.
3. Travis Kelce unleashed: With Anthony Fasano earning more time because of his blocking prowess, Kelce was a part-time player last season yet still had 67 catches for 862 yards and five touchdowns. With Fasano gone, Kelce busted out against the Texans with six catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns. With his blend of size and speed, Kelce is Gronk Jr.
HUMANITARIAN OF THE WEEK
Each week we’ll feature someone in the NFL community who did something to stand out off the field as well. Send nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, it's Peyton Manning: Kari Bennett Bollig, a woman with stage four breast cancer, wrote the Broncos quarterback a letter on a whim. What happened next is a must read.
ACCORDING TO THE EXPERTS
Each week, we’ll poll five in-the-know people on a certain topic.
This week’s question: How will the standoff between the Seahawks and safety Kam Chancellor end?
• “Maybe they give him some additional money, or guarantee it, for next season. They can’t give him any more money for 2015. That’s a bad precedent. If they do anything for 2015, it would be to cover the player’s financial loss from the holdout.” – AFC general manager
• “This has gotten to the point where somebody is going to cave. If it’s the Seahawks, they’ll guarantee his contract for 2016 as a sign of good faith and that should be enough for Kam. They won’t give him any more money, nor should they. If Kam folds, he’ll be miserable and he’ll want a trade after the season.” – NFC general manager
• “I don’t know, but the person Kam should be mad at is his agent [Alvin Keels], for only getting him $7.8 million guaranteed.” – NFC general manager
• “He needs to fire his agent. He's who got him that terrible deal. Team probably can't cave now. Bad advice. It's why you hold out in OTAs and mini camps not training camp and regular season. Other option is eat it. Come back in Week 10, get credited season and hope they redo next year but they might have destroyed relationship so much by then.” – Prominent agent
• “My guess is that a deal gets done soon that allows the player to save face (mostly the agent) and get back to work, but it won't be a real deal.” – Prominent agent
10 thoughts heading into Week 2
1. Yes, Eli Manning sounded like a dope when he told WFAN’s Mike Francesa that he lost track of the timeouts and told running back Rashad Jennings not to score near the end of the Giants’ 27–26 loss to the Cowboys. You’d expect the quarterback to be a little smarter than that. But here’s the thing: game management is the responsibility of the head coach, and this was Tom Coughlin’s failing. Bill Belichick is the best in the business because he makes sure that everyone, even Tom Brady, knows exactly what they’re supposed to do in game situations. The players, especially quarterbacks, have enough to worry about with personnel, plays, the opponent’s personnel and alignment. If there’s confusion about game management, then that’s the coach’s fault and no one else's.
2. Rex Ryan’s defensive scheme is the league’s best because it’s so tough on quarterbacks, while remaining somewhat simple for the players to understand (I discussed it with Ryan's former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine in this story). But the Patriots will be a real test for where the Bills are as far as communication on defense. The Patriots are probably the best team in the league at dressing up their plays differently with personnel and motion. If the Bills aren’t quite fluent in Rex, there could be some big busted plays for the Patriots. I think we’ll see a couple on Sunday.
3. Jameis Winston could be looking at a rough 0–2 start. After getting embarrassed against Marcus Mariota and the Titans, the Buccaneers travel to take on the Saints this week. The Superdome is about the hardest place to play in the NFL once things start going against you. The Bucs have to find a way to start fast in New Orleans.
4. Everyone is in hysterics about the Seahawks’ offensive line playing poorly against the Rams. Here’s a bulletin: Seattle’s line was bad the past two years, too, especially in pass protection. And the Rams’ defensive line is excellent. Seattle should fare much better up front against the Packers, although that still might not be good enough to leave Lambeau Field with a victory. And as for the Packers, if Green Bay’s defensive front can’t dominate this game, it could be a long year for them against teams that Aaron Rodgers can’t dominate.
5. Jets coach Todd Bowles is a smart defensive mind, but if he wanted to be brilliant against the Colts, he’d rip off the Patriots’ plan from the AFC Championship Game. Put slot cornerback Buster Skrine on T.Y. Hilton with safety help over the top, and let Darrelle Revis shut down Andre Johnson (who did not look good in the opener). Let Andrew Luck try to beat you with Donte Moncrief and the tight ends.
6. A win washes away most sins to fans, but the fact remains the Dolphins were so bad in Washington that an upset loss to the Jaguars is possible this weekend. Jacksonville has to be more disciplined in using the run game. Blake Bortles and his inconsistent receivers are still too unreliable.
7. Loving the Chargers–Bengals matchup this week. The scheme employed by San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano is the type that could give Andy Dalton fits. He’ll need to figure out where Chargers safety Eric Weddle is on every snap. Great one-on-one matchup between Bengals receiver A.J. Green and Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers. It's a tough draw for San Diego to be without injured right guard D.J. Fluker, with Bengals DT Geno Atkins looking like his old self.
8. The people who picked the Vikings to make a playoff run might have overlooked the injuries to center John Sullivan (back surgery) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (Achilles). Sullivan could be back in the second half, but the Vikings could get manhandled up front for the second week in a row against the Lions. Detroit is still without standout linebacker DeAndre Levy, which should help Minnesota.
9. It’s one thing for Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to rip through the Steelers’ defense. It would be quite another for Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers to do the same in Pittsburgh. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler has had 10 days to get his unit right. It needs to play well on Sunday.
10. The Ravens’ offensive tackles (Eugene Monroe, James Hurst and Rick Wagner) were terrible against the Broncos, and now they're heading to Oakland. Sure, Denver has Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, but the Raiders are no slouches with Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith. Joe Flacco faced pressure on 60% of his dropbacks against Denver. No quarterback can win when facing that kind of pressure. The Ravens better find an answer and fast.