The lousy play of its franchise quarterback resulted in Indy firing offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Can Andrew Luck turn around the Colts now? Plus, notes on the Titans whacking Wiz, the Browns’ non-trade and reader email
As much as it pains me to say, because it is brutally and overly simplistic, it is the reality of what happened with the Indianapolis Colts at 6:39 p.m. ET on Tuesday, when the team issued a press release announcing the whacking of an offensive coordinator who designed and called plays for the NFL’s third-rated offense in 2014:
Andrew Luck got Pep Hamilton fired.
However you want to qualify this, that is exactly what happened. If you want to say it happened because franchise quarterback Luck got hurt and wasn’t himself, okay. If you want to say it happened because Chuck Pagano had to throw a sacrificial coordinator on the funeral pyre, okay. If you want to say the owner panicked and is one more bad loss away from firing Pagano—which I do not believe—that is okay too. But the fact is, this is shock therapy for Luck, and for a team languishing in first place in the worst division in NFL history. Facts are facts: Andrew Luck’s lousy quarterbacking got Hamilton fired.
(Can a team actually “languish” in first place? I say yes—when it has lost three straight and been caught in the standings by a woeful Houston team, and when it has trailed in the second half of those three games by 13, 27 and 17 points.)
Maybe Luck is hurt; he sure looks like he’s not the same physical being as the one who was plus-24 in touchdown-to-interception differential last year, and who is plus-one at midseason this year. When I watched him throw for most of Monday night’s game, Luck’s mechanics stunk, like he was trying to compensate for something physically. His second interception was an aim job, thrown almost timidly. Good for Luck that he came back late and willed the Colts into overtime. But if you give him credit for a gallant comeback, you have to indict him for putting his team in a 23-6 hole through 50 minutes.
There are three other factors in the stunning firing of Hamilton:
• Hamilton was favored by GM Ryan Grigson before he got hired in 2013. Pagano never was totally on board with the hire after Bruce Arians left for Arizona, but he went along with it, and it worked pretty well in 2013 and 2014. Last year especially: The Colts were third overall, and first in passing, among the 32 NFL teams.
• Pagano knows the pressure is on him, and since it is, he wanted to go with the offensive coach he has grown close to since hiring him as an assistant after his one-year head-coaching stint in Cleveland in 2013: Rob Chudzinksi.
• Owner Jim Irsay wanted something done. Everyone in the organization knew that. Including Pagano. Changing the mix for Luck was logical. Maybe not smart, but logical.
Luck needs shock therapy. You might not think that, because he is mature beyond his years, and he copes with the good and the bad so well. But he needs to know that the end is near for the staff in-house unless he—Luck—changes the course of this nightmare season. A coach cannot do that. Luck has to.
And Luck’s been slapped in the face now by the firing of his former Stanford mentor, Hamilton.
And Peyton Manning’s coming to Indy this week, with his 7-0 Denver Broncos.
Everything seems so cool when you’re being wooed before the draft, and the NFL beckons, and everyone tells you how wonderful you are, and you’re being told you’re the best quarterback to come out of college football in years. You have success early. But then the speed bump comes; 3-5 comes. A coach gets whacked. A head coach isn’t far behind. The harsh reality sets in that people are depending on you for their jobs. And that’s what faces Luck now, fair or unfair.
How will Luck react to this first real adversity he’s faced in his professional career? Tune in late Sunday afternoon on CBS to see. Luck’s going to feel America’s doubts. There’s only one person who can turn it around. And his name isn’t Rob Chudzinski.
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Two other news events of the day Tuesday:
• Tennessee whacks head coach Ken Whisenhunt. I get it. No sympathy for the coach who was 3-20 in a year and a half at the helm of the Titans. My only question: If you’re going to fire Whisenhunt after half a season, why’d you let him be half of the duo (along with GM Ruston Webster) to choose the franchise quarterback in the draft last spring … and then give him five starts in which to put a stamp on Marcus Mariota? The mob was out for Whisenhunt, and he gave the fans very little reason to stand up for him. I won’t tell Tennesseans they’re wrong. I will only say that if you give a coach the authority to draft a long-term franchise guy, and you give that coach five starts by the franchise guy before firing the coach, then why did you allow the coach to pick the franchise guy in the first place? You obviously had little faith in him if you’re going to throw him overboard midway through the quarterback’s rookie season. Seems way too soon to me. I’d heard the ownership was waffling on Whisenhunt, but firing him before the end of the season surprised me. By the way, Whisenhunt’s 3-20 early record compares, well, interestingly to Jimmy Johnson’s 4-22 start in Dallas, with his franchise quarterback, Troy Aikman.
• The trading deadline passes without Cleveland’s best player being moved … and Browns fans should thank the heavens it didn’t happen. ESPN reported talks between Denver and Cleveland for Browns left tackle Joe Thomas; Denver was close to sending first-round and second-round picks to the Browns for Thomas and a fourth-round pick. Cleveland wouldn’t do it. I'd have been as critical as I could be if the Browns pulled the trigger. It would have been idiotic. Thomas is 30. He is the highest-rated tackle in football over the past eight years, according to Pro Football Focus. Eight years, eight Pro Bowls. Immediately when you think of a trade of a franchise left tackle, you think: Who’s going to replace him? Cleveland doesn’t have a candidate, other than right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, a good but not great tackle. So they’d have to draft one, or sign one in free agency. And they’d presumably use one or both of the high picks to jockey for position for a top rookie quarterback. Say the Broncos finish with a 12-4 record, and fall short of the Super Bowl. That could easily have them picking 30th in the first round, and 62nd in round two. Guessing, of course. And suppose the Browns are midway through the top 10 in the draft order. Who knows if a star quarterback prospect emerges in the pre-draft process. But if the Browns have to move up to get the big quarterback, it’s going to take more than a low first-round pick as ammo. It’s going to take more than low first-round and second-round picks, too. Clearly, the Browns got lucky late Tuesday afternoon. They got foiled in dealing Thomas. That’s the best thing that’s happened to Cleveland GM Ray Farmer all season.
Now on to your email:
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In regards to Reggie Bush’s ACL injury this week, a similar thing happened to Josh McCown a week before. Who is responsible for the stadium layout where there is bare concrete between the field turf and the walls? Is this the responsibility of the team, or does the league have some sort of approval/oversight on the matter? I am sure there are teams that would not mind at all if the Rams moved to a stadium where this was not an issue!
—Rick, Sugar Land, Texas
The team is responsible for presenting a safe playing surface. That includes the surface near enough to the sidelines that players could fall or slip on it if it is not properly maintained. The NFL game operations team, I am certain, will examine this area of the field at the Edward Jones Dome and either strongly recommend or mandate changes that will prevent exposed concrete from being close to the playing field. It’s an absolute debacle. As McCown said Tuesday, when asked about the field conditions in St. Louis, “To me, that’s a variable you can control.”
ON ANDREW LUCK’S RIBS
I’m shocked we haven’t heard more about the Colts intentionally leaving Andrew Luck’s rib injury off the injury report. Few are making a big deal about what the Colts have done. Coming from an organization that has been accused, but not found guilty, of piping crowd noise into the sound systems, you would think the Colts might be getting a little more scrutiny. You are one of the few media outlets to have mentioned the story so curious to hear your thoughts.
This didn’t become a story until Jay Glazer reported Sunday that Luck had fractured ribs. I’m not really sure when there would have been evidence otherwise for people to start discussing it. Now that there is some evidence that Luck, who would not discuss the condition of his ribs Monday night, has actually hurt them, there is no question the NFL is going to look into it and will likely issue some sort of sanction if the Colts are found to have evaded the NFL rules that say significant injuries must be posted on the injury report.
SUN(NY) DEVIL STADIUM
Cards fans took a lot of ‘heat’ for not filling the old stadium. But when you ponder the average Phoenix high of 100 degrees in September and 89 in October, and Sun Devil being concrete, you might understand. We paid a $50 premium for seats on the west side, which got shade an hour earlier than the east side. There were actually games where the lines for water tripled the length of those for beer.
I wasn’t passing any value judgment about why fans didn’t go to the old stadium, even though it’s obvious that in addition to the Cardinals being a poor team for much of their time at Sun Devil Stadium, the stadium experience was awful as well. Not so now. University of Phoenix Stadium is a rather pleasant dome, even though I generally hate domes.
MOVE BACK THE TRADE DEADLINE
Why the continued NFL reluctance to move back the trading deadline? It seems that a late November or even a December deadline would create more excitement for many fans. Even with the difficulty of pulling off some trades because of salary cap issues, some late-season action would be good. With injuries playing such a big part of a team’s championship hopes, a later deadline would allow more flexibility in determining its fate. Plus, as a Browns fan, I would appreciate having a reason to pay attention to the NFL after Halloween.
—Andy, Chagrin Falls, Ohio
I agree 100 percent. I have been an advocate of a much later trade deadline. A team that is open to making trades is going to be far more open to making them if there is a certainty that they are out of any playoff running. I’ll give you an example. The 49ers, Chargers, Ravens and Browns all enter Week 9 with 2-6 records. We could easily say that these teams are out of it, and they almost certainly are. But it’s difficult for a general manager of a team that is still mathematically alive to wave the white flag with half the season to go. That’s why even though an aggressive general manager like Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore or Ray Farmer in Cleveland might still trade after Week 8, they would be much more motivated to trade after Week 12. Any true fan of a team would be happy on Dec. 1 to trade a 30-year-old player with an expiring contract if he could get a draft pick in return. The NFL is all about hope for the future in the draft and free agency. It ought to be about hope for the future when the present is hopeless.
WHAT ABOUT ELI?
So you pick Derek Carr over Eli Manning as an offensive player of the week? Drew Brees is an obvious choice, but the guy across the field in the same game had six touchdowns and no interceptions. And Eli came back twice from 14 points down, and the Giants would have won except for the boneheaded play of the punter.
You are probably overrating my selection process. It’s not very scientific. Eli Manning certainly played well enough to be player of the week. I picked Derek Carr because he is a young quarterback going up against a very good defense (at least we thought it was), and within 35 minutes Carr threw four touchdown passes and dissected the Jets. I thought what he did was great. As I said in my preamble to the players of the week section on Monday, there were probably about 12 guys who had a legit claim this week.
ON KELLEN MOORE’S VALUE
What is your take on Kellen Moore not even seeing a sniff of the field in Dallas? If you have so little faith in your third-stringer (to the point that you import Matt Cassel instead of trying Moore) wouldn't that roster spot be better used on someone else? Or is it the case that someone like Kellen brings a lot to the table during the week and so is therefore worth keeping?
—Bass, Hailey, Idaho
Moore is an energetic practice player and is likely viewed only as an insurance policy by the Cowboys. Still, I agree with you. I don’t know how the Cowboys can do much worse at the position. I’d be sorely tempted to give him a shot against the Eagles on Sunday.
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