Monthly Archives: October 2017

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INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton knew what he was talking about when he pointed the finger at the offensive line for issues protecting quarterback Jacoby Brissett in the team’s loss to Jacksonville last weekend.

The Jaguars sacked Brissett 10 times, tied for the second-most allowed by the Colts in franchise history. The embarrassing number of sacks caused Hilton to upset some inside in the organization when he said, “We’ve got to take some pride up front and block for him. What if we put them back there and take those hits?”

Hilton could have handled the situation differently, but he was right.

Brissett dropped back to pass 47 times against the Jaguars. He averaged 2.32 seconds in the pocket, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That was the 17th-longest time in the NFL among quarterbacks. Brissett averaged 2.46 seconds before attempting a pass. That was the 23rd-longest time in the league. He was sacked on a league-high 19.6 percent of his dropbacks, according to Stats & Info. To take it a step further, the Jaguars needed to rush five or more players just eight times, which was 13 fewer than the leader, San Francisco’s C.J. Beathard.

What those numbers indicate is that the Colts’ constantly shuffling offensive line was the prime culprit for Brissett to take the worst pounding of his NFL career.

“We get paid to do the job to keep the quarterback upright, and if we can’t do that, than we have to get better,” center Ryan Kelly said. “So, obviously 10 is — I give them credit but not that much credit. There’s probably some scheme stuff that I could have done better and so we just have to keep getting better.”

The Cincinnati Bengals, the Colts’ next opponent, don’t have the same type of pass rush as the Jaguars. The Bengals are ninth in the league in sacks, with 18.

But you can bet that Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and his staff are closely breaking down film to see how the Jaguars recorded 10 sacks against the Colts last weekend. Why wouldn’t they?

The worst thing that happened for the Colts against the Jaguars is that they quickly fell behind. The early double-digit deficit made it obvious that the Colts would be in passing situations. That’s exactly what Jacksonville wanted because it allowed its defensive players to be in a nonstop rush mode.

An aggressive defense is going to beat a weak offensive line every time.

“They’ve got a really good defense, and they came into the game leading the league in sacks [33] and takeaways,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “We knew it. We just compounded it by digging ourselves a 17-0, 20-0 hole. When you become one-dimensional and they know, it’s hard enough when they don’t know it. But when they know you’re dropping back every time, that’s a hard job for anybody.”
The Colts, in particular offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, have to work on a scheme that will have Brissett getting rid of the ball even more quickly. If the Bengals get up early on Sunday, they’ll definitely send their pass-rushers.

“That’s what we’re working [on],” Pagano said. “We’re looking for answers, and it takes all of us. It takes all 11. He won’t make any excuses, and I won’t make any. He’s a young player. We all want him to be a 10-year vet today. He’s young. He’s a rookie in our [system]. How long has he been here? Week 7? In dog years, how many is it? 77? How many is it?

“I feel like we are in dog years right now,” he added with a laugh. “We’re all growing.”

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INDIANAPOLIS — In a time when injuries and inconsistent play have been the norm, the Indianapolis Colts finally had a member of their rookie class step to the forefront and give an indication that he could have an impact this season.

First-round pick Malik Hooker? Nope, he’s been dinged up so far. Second-round Quincy Wilson? He left Saturday’s preseason game at Dallas with a knee injury. Third-round pick Tarell Basham? There’s glaring need for pass-rushers, but Basham has yet to seize the opportunity.

It’s running back Marlon Mack.

The fourth-round pick out of the University of South Florida rushed for 45 yards on five carries against the Cowboys. What made Mack’s debut even more impressive was that he had runs of 10, 13 and 23 yards.

“It was great — my first NFL game,” Mack said. “Coach has been waiting on me. He’s telling me that I need to go out there and show what I’ve got, show my talent, and that’s what I did.”

 

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Mack was one of the few bright spots for an offense that continues to sputter along without starting quarterback Andrew Luck (shoulder) during the preseason. Mack, who also had two receptions for 14 yards, missed the preseason opener against Detroit on Aug. 13 with a shoulder injury.

“I thought he was outstanding,” Pagano said. “He’s going to be a heck of a football player, whether he’s running the football — I think he averaged nine yards a carry, made a couple of nice catches. (He had a) screen called back because of a foolish holding penalty again on (offensive tackle La’Raven Clark).”

Mack gives the Colts a different dimension in the backfield to go with veterans Frank Gore and Robert Turbin, who are more power backs. Mack is an explosive runner who proved Saturday that he can find holes and make big plays. The longer the offense struggles without Luck, the more the Colts could use chunk plays.

Mack will likely get more snaps — he had 17 against Dallas — in the final two preseason games against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. But this isn’t about just today for Mack and the Colts. It’s also about the future for them at running back. Gore, the steady professional throughout his career, is 34 years old and in the final year of his contract, so the ideal situation would be for the Colts to start preparing to find his replacement for down the road.

“Anytime you’re out there on the field in a game showing people your talent is good for me,” Mack said. You’re just trying to get over these injuries and get out there and perform. Hopefully I can show the coaches I can do a lot. I’m just trying to go out there and perform well.”

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Hue Jackson is not at all surprised with the way Deshaun Watson is playing as a rookie.

“I think what I saw from Deshaun [Sunday] is what I anticipated he would be,” Jackson said on a conference call Monday, one day after Watson and the Houston Texans sent the Browns to an embarrassing loss and an 0-6 record.

Watson has thrown more touchdowns through six games than any rookie since the AFL-NFL merger, and the Texans have set a team record with four games in a row of at least 30 points with Watson starting. While he does that, the Browns continue their search for their quarterback.

The most galling reality: The Browns could have drafted Watson with the 12th pick. Instead, they traded the pick to the Texans.

“He is a good football player,” Jackson said. “They have a good system for him. He is playing good football. Obviously, we had some other chances to get our hands on balls. We didn’t finish those, but obviously, he did some great things. You throw three touchdowns, and what is it … [12] touchdowns in three games?

“He is off to a fast start. I am not surprised by what he is doing.”

Which begs the question: If Jackson thought that highly of Watson and he’s not surprised that he’s playing record-setting football, why the heck didn’t the team that doesn’t have a quarterback draft Watson when he was right there to be taken?
DeShaun Watson’s 15 passing touchdowns are the most by a rookie quarterback through six games since the NFL-AFL merger. Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
“We made a decision,” Jackson said. “He is in Houston. They picked him. We made the pick that we decided to take. That is how that works. He is not on our football team. He is on the Houston Texans team and we didn’t pick him.”

In a sense, it’s not fair to expect Jackson to explain these picks. In the Browns’ hierarchy, vice president of football operations Sashi Brown has final say on the roster and draft picks.

Jackson has input and the group continually says they work well together, and all decisions are collaborative. (Collaborative is a big word in the Browns’ offices these past few years.) Jackson has to answer the questions because during the season the coach is the team spokesperson.

But if the coach liked Watson as much as he says — and he said often Monday how much he liked him — it raises the question mark flag to wonder how they bypassed him.

Brown addressed the question on Oct. 4.

“Those decisions are always difficult,” he said. “I talked about this, I think, with you guys on draft night, after Thursday night. Whenever you trade back, there’s a host of players that you would have liked to actually have on your roster that aren’t going to be available to you when you actually select.

“Now at the same time, we add Jabrill [Peppers] and David [Njoku] in the first round and that came from sliding back the year prior. But we understand that’s part of trading back, that there’s going to be players there that you miss on, some of them will go on to have great careers, some of them won’t. That’s just the realities of that decision.”

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In fairness, teams routinely pass on guys they are fond of to get the guys they want. Nobody would argue with the choice of Myles Garrett, and at No. 12 the Browns decided a trade down for an extra first-round pick in 2018 was worth doing. Second-guessing a draft is low-hanging fruit. It’s even a question who Jackson favored with that pick. NFL.com reported after the draft that Watson was Jackson’s highest-rated quarterback, but at No. 12 he hoped for safety Malik Hooker. Instead, the Browns traded down and took Peppers. Few criticized their draft and many praised it.

But the non-choice of Watson by Cleveland stands out now for four reasons:

The Browns needed a quarterback.

They could have had Garrett and Watson without a trade down, which in theory would have solved the quarterback problem and lessened the need for the No. 1 in 2018.

They missed the previous year on a quarterback when they traded the pick used to take Carson Wentz to the Eagles; that would have seemingly highlighted the need to add one in 2017.

Watson just drilled the Browns on the field.
There were questions on Watson coming out of the read-option system at Clemson, but when the coach thinks highly of him, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher to trade out of a position of need.

“There were other quarterbacks, obviously, that we were into, too,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to go into what the thinking was on draft day or any of that because I don’t think any of that matters. He is not on our football team. He plays for the Houston Texans. We made the decision to take DeShone Kizer. I think that is the end of that discussion.”

When it was pointed out to Jackson that the question is relevant because it calls into question the team’s ability to judge and evaluate quarterbacks, he did not flinch.

“I hear what you are saying and I respect what you are saying,” Jackson said. “At the same time, we make decisions for our football team and where we are. I think that is what is important. We all come together and make decisions with what we think is best for our organization and that is where we are.”

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INDIANAPOLIS — If there’s something the Indianapolis Colts need during this time of roster overhaul and life without Andrew Luck, it’s consistent play out of their key returning players.

That was never more important than in Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals. The Colts started Jacoby Brissett at quarterback just two weeks after they acquired him from New England. Timing issues between Brissett and his receivers were expected due to a lack of practice time. What Brissett or the Colts didn’t need was a lack of fight or effort on every single play; they’re not a good enough team to get away with that.

Donte Moncrief, who has the tools to be the Colts’ best all-around receiver, had arguably one of the worst games of his four-year NFL career against the Cardinals. Moncrief was targeted eight times, but had only two receptions for 18 yards in the Colts’ overtime loss.
Donte Moncrief had one of the worst games of his career Sunday, with two catches (on eight targets) for 18 yards. Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire
“We’ve got to make plays,” coach Chuck Pagano said without mentioning Moncrief specifically. “Guys have got to — it’s all over the place. You’ve got opportunities, just like I talked about with the defensive guys. There are plays to be made. You’ve got to make them.”

Not all six of the incompletions thrown Moncrief’s way were his fault. Brissett’s accuracy was off the mark on a couple of them. But Moncrief short-armed one of the incompletions on a slant. He didn’t fight for the ball on a third-down throw. There seemed to be some miscommunication between Moncrief, fellow receiver T.Y. Hilton and Brissett on another pass. And there was the long pass along Arizona’s sideline where Moncrief said he lost the ball in the lights of Lucas Oil Stadium.

How does Moncrief, the team’s No. 2 receiver, think he played?

He said he should have ran a route differently on one play, but “other than that everything was good.”

Moncrief’s performance Sunday adds to what has been a frustrating period for him and the Colts. He missed seven games with a left shoulder injury last season. He missed time during training camp after injuring his other shoulder.
Moncrief is at a vital point of his career because he’s in the final year of his rookie contract. He has the size and speed to be a talented player, but he has to show he can perform on a consistent basis and prove that he can stay healthy. New general manager Chris Ballard wants players who will produce, and he has no problem unloading those who don’t. He proved that when he traded tight end Dwayne Allen in the spring.

“I think you have to be out there and you have to practice,” Pagano said about Moncrief. “He’s had some setbacks. He won’t make any excuses, I won’t make any excuses. We just don’t go down that road. But you’ve got to practice and you’ve got to produce. He’d tell you the same thing.”

Luck won’t play this weekend against the Cleveland Browns, and there’s a good chance he’ll be out at least a couple more games. That means it’s important that Moncrief works on his chemistry with Brissett and makes plays when the opportunity presents itself.

“[It’ll take] time with any quarterback,” Moncrief said. “When he first comes in, he’s got to get timing down with the receivers. He played a great game. He looked real good back there — comfortable. [We’ve] just got to get the timing down.”

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SEATTLE — Talk about a reversal of things for the Indianapolis Colts.

For so many years they would start games slow and then turn it on in the second half. Now the Colts start games that give them buoyancy only to sputter along in the final 30 minutes of the game.

That was the case the past three weeks. And in the category of not being surprising, the Colts are 1-2 in those games. Until they figure it out, they’ll likely continue to end up on the disastrous side of things.

“That’s the challenge for us,” Colts veteran safety Darius Butler said. “It used to be starting fast was our issue. Now it’s a new team, a new year and it’s our challenge this year is to put four quarters of good ball together. That’s what we have to figure out how to do.”

Sunday’s 46-18 loss to the Seattle Seahawks was a prime example of how the first 30 minutes of games are different from the final 30 minutes for Indianapolis.
Jacoby Brissett and the Colts were outscored 36-3 in the second half against Seattle. Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
The Colts went into the locker room at halftime leading 15-10 and with the thoughts of winning on the road in one of the NFL’s toughest stadiums. A half that saw the Colts dominate the time possession and pile up more than 200 yards of total offense against one of the league’s top defenses. In the second half they totaled 32 yards of offense, picked up five first downs and were outscored 36-3.

That type of production won’t beat some of the worst teams in the league. It definitely won’t work against a playoff-caliber team.

“It’s very simple, it’s one play at a time,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “You stay on process and you don’t worry about results. You have to keep your composure and you have to stay poised and we didn’t do that and it steamrolled on us.”

Are the Colts not mentally strong enough to play a complete game or are they not capable of executing the game plan?

“It’s a combination of both,” Colts running back Robert Turbin said. “We have to do a better job of keeping our focus and our intensity as well. Our energy level has to remain high beyond the first half. Only we can finish. We haven’t been able to do that. We have to fix it if we want to win.”

The second-half problem started in Week 2 for the Colts.

What you need to know in the NFL

• Statistics
• Scoreboard
• 2017 schedule, results
• Standings
They scored three points and couldn’t hold a 10-point fourth quarter lead in their overtime loss against Arizona. In Week 3 the Colts held on to beat Cleveland by three points after squandering a 21-point lead while gaining just 75 yards and picking up four first downs in the second half.

“It’s a matter of coming out and playing a complete football game,” offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said. “We have to put two good halves of Colts football together. We have yet to do that. I think we’ve played one good half of football and that’s not enough in the NFL.”

The Colts face the winless San Francisco 49ers in what will likely be an emotional weekend with the unveiling of the Peyton Manning statue and retiring of his No. 18 jersey. The 49ers have lost their past three games by a total of eight points.

“It’s a very long season,” linebacker John Simon said. “We’re fortunate right now that it’s early in the season and we have time to correct these errors.”