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Week 18 Behind Enemy Lines: Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts

We go behind the scenes with Chris Shepard of Stampede Blue

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It’s here. We’ve finally reached the end and we come back to the place where it all began nearly six months ago. It is the end of the 2022 season and we join Chris Shepard of Stampede Blue like we did in week one of the regular season. One could debate whether the 2022 season went as Houston Texans fans expected. It could be argued that the season went exactly as we expected. The same can’t be said for Colts fans. Now, there is a meaningless game that would work better for both teams if they lost. So, in a somber mood and muted spirit, we sit down with Chris yet again.

2022 obviously did not go the way Colts fans had hoped. What would be a brief explanation for what happened? Do you see this is a quick fix or do you think a longer rebuild is in store for Colts fans?

I’ll be as brief as I can possibly be. It all started with the offensive line. To start the season it was terrible. Changing QB’s every year always meant that the offense would get off to a slow start while the QB got their legs under them and everyone settled into the system. Last year they were able to lean on Jonathan Taylor and the O-line to prop up the passing game. This season they just weren’t able to do that because the OL was so bad.

Eventually the team was 3-3-1 and starting QB Matt Ryan got hurt. Owner Jim Irsay came to head coach Frank Reich and demanded that he bench Ryan for the rest of the season and instead start backup Sam Ehlinger. Unsurprisingly, Ehlinger played poorly and the Colts lost two games in a row. Owner Jim Irsay then lost his mind and fired Reich only to hire Jeff Saturday. Saturday was given the freedom to choose his starting QB and because Ryan had recovered from his injury and he was far and away the better QB, he was named the starter. It was at this point the Colts decided to start a rookie at LT (Bernhard Raimann) and a second year former 7th round pick at RG (Will Fries) and they have stuck with those two ever since. It has taken some time but in the past four or five games we’ve seen that this move largely resulted in the stabilization of the line. In week 10, Jeff Saturday’s first as head coach of the Colts, Jonathan Taylor did what a healthy Jonathan Taylor can do and ran for 147 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. The Colts won the game largely on his performance.

In years past it would have been right around this point that the offense would have started to improve. The Oline was playing like an average unit and Reich would have figured out a way to put Matt Ryan in a position to succeed (before you roll your eyes consider the fact he got a 27 to 7, TD to INT ratio out of Carson Wentz). Instead Jeff Saturday tapped Parks Fraizer to call plays and the Colts are now running what looks like a high school offense. So the Colts fixed the biggest issue they had under Reich- the offensive line and then Jim Irsay created an even bigger issue by firing the offensive mind that could have overcome Matt Ryan’s deficiencies. And we’ve all seen the results.

As far as it being a quick fix? Who knows. The team isn’t that far off with an improved OL, a young QB and a head coach that has the first clue what he’s doing. But it looks like Jim Irsay is the one who’s calling the shots now and if he is, who knows what will happen. I assume it will look like an absolute train wreck. Things are not good.

Matt Ryan was clearly not the answer that the Colts fans were hoping for. Do you think the Colts go back into the free agent/trade market for their next quarterback or do you think they will invest their first rounder in one of the young prospects in this draft?

The only positive that might come from Irsay calling the shots is that if he is, I believe he will force the GM’s hand to take a young QB with the top 5 pick the Colts will have. Had Frank Reich ever had the same QB in back to back seasons he would still have a job so drafting a QB means that the team will finally have the same QB start the majority of games in back to back seasons for the first time since 2013-2014 (This was the last time Andrew Luck played 8+ games in back to back seasons). If they run it back with another veteran retread at QB I and many others will be completely insufferable.

Jeff Saturday has struggled since his opening win as interim coach. Does he have any chance at the job long-term? If not, who would you like to see the Colts go after for their next head coach?

On a related note if they run it back with Jeff Saturday as head coach I will be far more insufferable than with a vet QB. That said it does seem possible that Irsay will stay with Saturday, which is insane but I’m afraid we’re reaching Al Davis levels of crazy in Indianapolis.

I have always liked Jim Harbaugh. The first Colts jersey I ever owned was a blue Harbaugh #4. I might be a little biased but Harbaugh got the most out of multiple pro QB’s. In the four years before Harbaugh got to SF, the San Francisco 49ers they went 26-38. In Harbaugh’s four years they went 44-19-1 including three trips to the NFC Championship game and one trip to the Super Bowl... I’m not sure Harbaugh would want to come to Indy but if he does, his resume is hard to beat.

What are one or two things that Colts fans can feel good about this season? Are there any young players you feel hopeful for in the future?

There have absolutely been positives. The biggest has been the development of Bernhard Raimann at left tackle. Raimann isn’t going to be confused with the Laremy Tunsil’s of the world but he’s come in as a third round rookie after only playing two seasons on the offensive line in college and he looks like a starting caliber LT. Left tackle is such a difficult position to fill and the Colts seem to have done it with a third round pick which is a massive win for their future.

Another positive has been Jelani Woods. Another third round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Woods boasted the highest RAS ever recorded for the tight end position and it was believed that he would need time to develop. If you just look at his numbers they don’t seem that impressive. 24 receptions for 303 yards and 3 touchdowns but when you consider the fact that this season has been an offensive disaster for the Colts and that for large stretches of the season the team just inexplicably, didn’t put him on the field and well, fourth on the team for receiving yards and tied for the team lead in TD’s sounds pretty good. Woods is going to make a lot of plays for whoever the next QB is.

The Colts are currently favored by three according to Draft Kings. It is pretty clear that neither team has much to play for. Can we interest you in another tie? Maybe a game of kneel downs on both sides? Yet, in all seriousness, do you have any insight for would be gamblers in this particular week 18 contest?

I would prefer a game of nothing but punts. At least we would get to watch some exciting returns that way. But in all seriousness I would just look at both teams’ last five games. Houston lost to the Cleveland Browns in an ugly game (I watched it and it was the first time I’ve ever openly rooted for the Texans, probably won’t happen again for quite some time). Then they played the Cowboys close, took the Chiefs to OT, beat the Titans and got blown out by a Jags team hoping to make the playoffs.

On the other hand The Colts made Kenny Pickett look like Terry Bradshaw against the Pittsburgh Steelers, lost 54-19 to the Cowboys, gave up the biggest lead (33 points) in NFL history to the Vikings, got blown out at home on Monday Night Football against the Los Angeles Chargers and finally got blown out by the Giants on the road last week.

Both of these teams are bad. Betting on this game would be a very silly thing to do. Nothing is predictable. Please don’t blame me if you lose. But, these two teams are on opposite trajectories. The Texans lost a bad game last week but played good opponents tight in the three weeks before that. The Colts have had multiple reports in the past weeks that the team is checked out and ready to get to the offseason. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to make a bet, I’d take the Texans to cover and if I’m already doing that I would probably go ahead and pick the Texans to win this one outright.

We want to thank Chris for joining us again for what shapes up to be a pretty unusual game at the end of the season. If you want to hear more about the Colts and their offseason plans we invite you to go to our sister site at Stampede Blue. They will have a coaching search and will be looking for a new quarterback of their own next season, so there should be some exciting coverage once this season is finally over. We wish Chris all the best in the new year and we hope to catch up again during the 2023 season.