1. Give it to me straight - will Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano still be employed by the Colts next season? If not, who is your first choice for a new head coach?
If I had to guess, I don't think either Ryan Grigson or Chuck Pagano will be back in Indianapolis next season. I think that Pagano's fate is pretty much sealed, barring a miraculous Super Bowl run. Grigson's fate, on the other hand, is far less certain, though I've made no secret that I think he should go if the Colts decide to get rid of Pagano. If they want to make a move, they should opt to blow it up rather than just fire the head coach, because I'm not sure doing only that solves the issues.
With that said, I currently don't have a strong feel either way on whether Grigson will be back, only that I think he shouldn't be back. He is close to the Irsay family and it seems like Pagano will be gone, so the question now is whether Irsay looks at this team's failures - with a blowout loss to the Jaguars the most recent example - and decides that his general manager hasn't been getting it done either. I think that is a much more realistic possibility now than it was a few months ago, but it's still not certain. One thing is for sure, though: we're likely to see quite a bit of change this offseason with the Colts.
2. If Indy does happen to make the playoffs, how far can they get if Andrew Luck never comes back from his injury? Would you favor them against any of the top wild card contenders like Kansas City, Pittsburgh, or New York?
I absolutely wouldn't pick the Colts to beat either the Chiefs or the Steelers, and the Jets beat the Colts in Indy earlier 20-7, so I'm not sure I could pick the Colts against them either. So no, I don't think the Colts should be favored in the Wild Card round
With that said, if Andrew Luck comes back, a win is possible. We saw against the Broncos that he can lead the Colts to a win against some of the best in the NFL, so anything is possible. If he doesn't return, though, then I have a really hard time seeing any way for the Colts to get out of the first round. Matt Hasselbeck has done his job in keeping the Colts in the playoff picture with Luck out, but I don't think this team is built well enough to win a playoff game without Luck under center.
3. Let's just pretend for a moment that the Colts finish with a below .500 record for the first time since 2011 and end up with a decently high draft pick. What is the first thing that needs to be fixed on this roster with that pick?
That's a great question, and there are a number of areas that could be addressed there. But I think there's one issue that stands out above the others, and that is the lack of a pass rush. The Colts have struggled to get pressure on the quarterback for a few years now, relieved only by the 19.5 sack season by Robert Mathis in 2013. This year, Mathis leads the team with four sacks - at 34 years old and coming off of a torn Achilles. Second on the team with three sacks is Erik Walden (a run defender primarily), D'Qwell Jackson (an inside linebacker), and Kendall Langford (a defensive lineman). Then Trent Cole, the 33 year old free agent signed last offseason, has two sacks. Perhaps the most striking aspect of that is that the Colts' top five leaders in sacks this year are all 29 years old or older - and the only one under 30 is Langford, who will turn 30 this January. So not only are the Colts struggling to generate pressure, they are also older in that area. We have seen the lack of a pass rush impact other areas as well, perhaps most notably with the play of the secondary and in giving up long passing plays. There are a lot of average aspects of this defense, but I think the one glaring bad spot of the unit is their pass rush. I think adding a legitimate threat in that area is something they absolutely have to consider doing this offseason - quite possibly in the draft.
4. How has Andre Johnson been treating you this season? Why was he never featured as prominently as many people expected him to be? In Donte Moncrief that good, or is Johnson just that old?
It's been hard to figure out just what happened to Andre Johnson this season, because I thought he could be a contributor to this offense. Simply put, Johnson has been at best a serviceable possession receiver, and he too often disappears from the play or is taken out of the game easily. He struggles to get open and has struggled with drops this year too. So, when the Colts have a very talented young receiver like Moncrief, they have been giving him more snaps - which would have been the right thing to do regardless of how Johnson is playing, because Moncrief has the potential to be a dangerous weapon for years to come. Add to that the struggles of Johnson, however, and it becomes an even clearer decision.
Johnson has maintained a great attitude and will do whatever it takes to help the team, so that is to be commended. And the Colts can scheme him open, as perhaps Texans fans saw the best when he returned to Houston (that was by far his best game of the season). He still has a role to play in that regard, but he has been a far less central part to the offense, falling behind T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief. There's no shame in that for a 34-year old possession wideout, but it's not what was expected from Johnson this year, to be sure.
5. What is your prediction for this weekend's game and why?
I'll be completely honest: I've gone back and forth over who I think will win this game for much of the week. I don't think it's a clear cut decision, especially since Andrew Luck won't play. A week ago, I thought the Colts could beat the Texans - it wouldn't be easy, but I thought they could do it. Then they lost 51-16 to the Jaguars and whatever confidence I had in this Colts team with Matt Hasselbeck vanished. And now, Hasselbeck is pretty beat up. Ultimately, I think the Colts' defense will rebound enough, Adam Vinatieri will again come through as clutch, and the Colts - with their backs against the wall - find a way to win a very close (and perhaps very ugly) game late. But, again, I'm not at all confident in that pick.
A big thank you to Josh for stopping by. You can read all of his excellent work on the Colts over at Stampede Blue, and of course please remember to be nice while you are over there.
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