The Miami Dolphins will host the Indianapolis Colts later today. To get us ready for the game, we turn to Josh Wilson from Stampede Blue for a closer look at the visiting Colts. A big thank you to Josh for taking the time to answer my questions. You can check out my answers to his questions here.
This was supposed to be another chance to have Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill face off against each other after being 2012 first-round draft pick. Obviously, however, the Colts have been without Andrew Luck for most of the season. How has the offense changed with Matt Hasselbeck at the helm?
One of the biggest stories out of Indianapolis this week was wide receiver T.Y. Hilton criticizing the recent play-calling, as he thinks the Colts have not been testing the passing game downfield. To be completely honest, he's right. With Hasselbeck in the lineup, the Colts don't present a challenge to teams down the field, partly because they don't try to. Their entire offense with Hasselbeck under center is to establish the run game and utilize short, quick passes. While that worked a bit earlier this season (to moderate success), things have completely unraveled in recent weeks. Part of that is due to the fact that Hasselbeck is incredibly beat up (he has missed time in each of the past three games and is dealing with rib, back, and jaw injuries), but the offense has managed just 36 points in the past three weeks combined. According to Pro Football Focus, running back Frank Gore has faced 8+ men in the box on 48% of his carries in the past five weeks. The Colts' run game hasn't been efficient, nor has their passing game, and Hilton thinks it's because they're not testing defenses down the field - and he's right. So I think that's a clear difference and change in the offense from Andrew Luck to Matt Hasselbeck. The Colts don't really present any sort of threat in the downfield passing game anymore. There are others, but a lot of those are mainly due to worse execution, so a big change is a less vertical (and, therefore, less dangerous) offense.
There has been speculation over the past few weeks that the Dolphins could be interested in Chuck Pagano as their next head coach if the Colts were to fire him. What has been the biggest issue with Pagano this year, and do you think, if he is let go, he can be successful moving straight to another head coaching job, or does he need to go back to being a defensive coordinator first?
Well, the biggest issue for Chuck Pagano and the Colts this year has been playing without Andrew Luck for half of the season. Most of the issues that are popping up now were there for the past few seasons but were just covered up by Luck, but he's not there to do that anymore. Pagano is what he is as a head coach: he's average. He's not among the top in the league, but he's also not among the bottom of the league either. He has plenty of deficiencies as a head coach and his weaknesses show through every Sunday. The Colts don't often game plan that well and it's not uncommon to see them get out-coached in-game. He's a conservative coach with an old-school approach (run the ball and stop the run) who is questionable as an in-game decision-maker. There have also been questions in Indianapolis about his ability to build a defense, but I think the defense has done about what has been expected considering the talent level, so I'm not as much on that bandwagon as some Colts fans. His strength comes very much in the area of leadership, however, as his players love playing for him. He's a tremendous guy and likable, and he's a good pick to lead a locker room. So I think, in the right situation, he can succeed as a head coach. A lot of his success in Indy has been due to Andrew Luck, which has helped mask some problems with the roster and with the coaching staff. But you also don't post three straight 11-win seasons after a complete rebuild with a young team without some sort of coaching and, perhaps notably, leadership (though, to be fair, that first year was really Bruce Arians leading the way). I think the Colts need to move on from Pagano, but that doesn't mean that he can't succeed given the right situation. I think he'd need a coaching staff filled with strong coordinators who can game-plan and make smart coaching decisions in-game, so it probably comes down to what you're looking for in a coach. If you want a guy to really stand out as an X's and O's guy, you probably want to look elsewhere because that's not Pagano's strong suit. But if you have a team lacking leadership and one that isn't unified, you might want to look at Pagano because I think that's his biggest strength. Again, he's going to need a good coaching staff and he's going to need talent (he's not the type of guy who will win with just any random player plugged in at spots like, say, Bill Belichick), but he can lead a locker room and players will love him. So I guess all of that to say that I think Pagano can become a solid head coach somewhere else, but it needs to be the right situation. He'll never be a top head coach, but for some teams, average would be an upgrade. If put in the right situation, you can win with Chuck Pagano as your head coach.
Indianapolis' defense has been almost as bad as Miami's defense, with the pass defense ranked 29th in the league so far and the rush defense 25th. What has been the biggest cause of the defensive struggles, and where should Miami attack?
The Colts' defense is a whole lot of average. There are guys like Vontae Davis, Mike Adams, Henry Anderson (who was placed on injured reserve after week nine), and Jerrell Freeman who can give the Colts high-level play at times, but the defense overall is very average. Their biggest weakness by far, though, is their pass rush. Recently, it has been improved, but the Colts have struggled to rush the passer for the past few seasons and that once again is a massive issue this year. The team's leading sacker, Robert Mathis, has five. Khalil Mack had that in one game this year. I know, that one game was an exception, but my point is that the Colts have really struggled to get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. By default, that leaves the cornerbacks out to dry and they have to cover longer than they should. So the pass rush is a huge weakness, and if I'm the Dolphins, I'm doing whatever I can to take advantage of that. The Colts will allow plays in the passing game at times because their corners get burned, but their corners are put in an awful position by a pass rush that can't rush the passer. The Colts are better in the run game, but they took a big hit when Anderson was lost for the year. Now, the inside linebackers (Jerrell Freeman and D'Qwell Jackson) are what carry their run defense, and they're not always perfect.
How has Vontae Davis been this year?
After playing out of his mind in 2014, Vontae Davis hasn't lived up to that same level of play this year - but he's still had a good year. I think that when you compare him to where he was at last year, he's been a disappointment to fans, but that was a rather unrealistic expectation to hold him to. He has still had a good season in which he still is playing like a number one cornerback. With that said, however, teams are still throwing his way often and he's giving up more plays than he has in the past. So he's not untouchable nor is he perfect, but he's still a good cornerback in the midst of a good season that, if not for last year, would have a lot of fans feeling better than they do about Davis.
What do you think the offseason has in store for the Colts? Will they be able to quickly rebound from an off-year?
This offseason has a lot of change in store for the Colts. It seems almost certain at this point that Chuck Pagano will be gone, and it's entirely possible that general manager Ryan Grigson could go with him (I think he should, but whether he will is a bit less certain). Then, after the new coaching staff and perhaps new management is in place, it's time to begin working on the roster. There are a lot of overpaid players on this Colts team, mainly through misses in free agency, and the good news is that they can get out of a lot of them without taking much of a cap hit (their contract structuring has been phenomenal). So I think we could see the Colts move on from several players. Then, of course, it comes down to replacing them. The Colts should get a relatively high pick in this year's draft, so they'll have the opportunity there - it just comes down to hitting on the picks. The Colts have a few staples on the team, primarily Andrew Luck, and as long as Luck is around and playing this team should have a chance. But they need a lot of work in order to rebound and reach the Super Bowl. With Luck playing well, they're probably a playoff team in most years, but the goal is the Super Bowl. Building a roster to get there is far less easy, but that's what the task this offseason will be. In short, though, I expect a lot of change in Indianapolis this offseason.