Monday, October 20, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 7 vs. Bengals

Quick summary:

The Colts play defense like they're on Heisman difficulty and the Bengals are on the Freshman setting. Indy overcomes a pair of turnovers en route to a rare shutout.

Dominant D. After years of watching the effective but reactive "Tampa Two" defense, it's a lot of fun to see the Colts show a bunch of different looks and bring pressure from all angles. Thanks to solid cover guys in the secondary, they can afford to bring the heat.

Four sacks. Andy Dalton doesn't get sacked often, but the Colts registered four sacks on the afternoon. Bjoern Werner, Cory Redding, Ricky Jean Francois, and Zach Kerr all notched sacks for Indy.

Two-headed monster. Trent Richardson had his best game as a Colt, rushing 14 times for 77 yards and catching 4 passes for 41 yards. Ahmad Bradshaw carried 10 times for 52 yards and caught 3 passes for 36 yards and a touchdown. As a tandem, they were extremely effective...and you have to like what you saw. Both also...

...contributed fumbles. Bradshaw fumbled in the red zone. Richardson lost the ball during a bad exchange with Luck. Both turnovers allowed the Bengals to hang around. Despite the Colts' dominant performance, Indy only led 10-0 at halftime. Since the defense was fantastic, it didn't ultimately didn't matter, but the Colts have got to stop turning the ball over.

So Erik Walden got ejected. I couldn't see much on the replay, but I guess Walden shoved an official. My guess is he was trying to push Cincy's Jermaine Gresham away and may have made contact with the official instead. Seemed pretty sketchy overall. I'm sure we'll get some clarification later.

Why is Reggie Wayne still in the game? Reggie got pounded on a high throw over the middle. Then another hit blasted his shoulder into the turf. Another hit late in the game had him land hard on his elbow. I know Reggie wanted to keep his "three catch" streak alive, but there was no reason for him to be in the game late, especially after he dropped a couple of passes (never happens) and caught another with his chest (never happens). The Colts say he wrenched his elbow a little bit but would be okay. Let's hope so.

Giovanni Bernard's greatest hits. The Bengals running back got pounded on back-to-back plays. I'm surprised his head was still attached afterward. I mean...he really got rocked. The Colts weren't shy about bringing the big hits.

Does Hakeem Nicks still play for the Colts? Remember when bringing this guy in was a big deal? He's nowhere. Either he doesn't fit the offense well, nobody likes him, or his skills have diminished.

506-135. That's Indy's offensive output compared to Cincinnati's. It might as well have been the score. It wasn't nearly as close as the real 27-0 score indicated (or the relatively close 10-0 score at halftime).

You might wanna cover T.Y. Hilton. He had kind of a big game last week. He followed up by catching another 7 passes for 107 against the Bengals. And let me tell you, T.Y. was wide open on a lot of these passes.

That Dwayne Allen... Dude, that guy's awesome. That fingertip catch-and-run? Absolutely beautiful. There really wasn't much space there for the throw, but Allen caught it and rumbled to the endzone.

Role reversal. Coby Fleener made a jaw-dropping catch, reaching behind himself to secure the ball. Not long after that, Reggie Wayne dropped a ball thrown right to him. I had joked after the Fleener catch that the tight end would drop the next one right to him. I was only partially right.

Vinny. Adam Vinatieri is 14-of-14 this season, including 4-4 from 40-50+ yards. He's still got it.

GRIFFNATION! Griff Whalen did a fantastic job of fielding punts and calling fair catches! In fact, they were some of the best fair catch calls I've ever seen!

Andy Dalton. The man whose hair matches his jersey put together a performance that mirrored the first game of Madden I ever played on its hardest difficulty setting. Except, to his credit, he threw fewer interceptions.

"I missed LaRon Landry." The preceding phrase was never uttered by any Colts fan this week.

Bonus note:

"509 you taste so good." It's not a chicken parm sandwich, but TD pass No. 509 tasted just as good for Peyton Manning. Congrats, 18!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 6 vs. Texans

Quick summary:

The Colts surge out to a quick lead, and this one looks like a rout. But Houston stars Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, and (especially) J.J. Watt have other ideas, launching a fierce comeback and forcing the Colts defense to come up with two late turnovers to seal the victory.

Great start. The Colts got out of the gate quickly, building a 24-0 lead before the Texans even knew what hit them. Luck passed for more than 200 yards in the first quarter alone, tossing touchdown passes to Ahmad Bradshaw and Coby Fleener along the way. Trent Richardson added a touchdown run.

T.Y. triumphant. What a game from Hilton. He caught nine passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. He fell just a yard short of the franchise's all-time receiving mark. Hilton narrowly missed out on a touchdown early in the game after a review showed a Texans defender touched him while trying to avoid contact. In short, he was a much-needed spark plug for the team.

Can we let a call hold just out of spite? I thought Hilton was touched before the replay. I just didn't see how Kareem Jackson could have possibly avoided him. Still, I wanted the call to stand out of spite simply because it was a bonehead move to try to avoid the receiver.

Battle of the Civil War generals. CBS poked some fun at the facial hair of Luck and Ryan Fitzpatrick, dubbing this game the "Beard Bowl." I didn't really think that was funny. However, I got a chuckle out of it when I thought about Luck and Fitzpatrick as Civil War generals. I am easily amused.

Can I get a Watt-Watt? You know, sometimes people talk so much about a player that you don't think they can possibly live up to the hype. That wasn't the case with J.J. Watt. He was all over the place last night. And, as evidenced by the fumble recovery for a touchdown, the dude can flat-out move.

Snap snafu. That fumble, by the way, came after a fumble by Luck, who wasn't expecting the snap so early from Jon Harrison. It looked like Luck was checking on the play clock before calling for the snap. Some observers noted that this was Luck's fault and not Harrison's. However, given that Harrison made three snap-related mistakes last week, does the rookie really deserve the benefit of the doubt?

Ground and pound. For the Colts, 35 carries for 93 yards. They averaged 2.7 yards per carry. It was one of those games where the running game did just enough to make the Texans think about it. Neither Richardson nor Bradshaw found much room to run for most of the night.

Bradshaw's catch. When the Colts needed a boost once the Texans closed the gap to 10 points, Indy faced a third and 10 situation in the second quarter. Luck found Bradshaw for a 17-yard play that picked up the first down. I can't tell you how critical this play was at that precise moment. Momentum had clearly swung to Houston, and a punt would've been a killer here. The Colts ended up getting a field goal from a drive that lasted more than eight minutes.

Fun with clock management, part 1. Andrew Luck called a timeout just before time expired in the first quarter. It looked like the play clock and game clock were lined up, and the quarter could've expired without a delay of game penalty. Maybe Luck just didn't want the Colts' phenomenal first quarter to end? At this stage in the game, the timeout didn't really matter...but the Colts didn't want to risk losing yards for a penalty. Indy ended up scoring a touchdown on the very next play. It all seemed a little befuddling at the time.

Fun with clock management, part 2. At least the previous one made sense when given some context. The end of the first half was a different story. The Colts stopped Houston on third down with about 40 seconds left. They had a timeout remaining, and could've forced a punt and tried their luck at getting a field goal. They had a 13-point lead at the time, so it looked like they'd decided to let the clock run out. That's fine. Then Indy called a timeout with three seconds left. I have no idea why this happened.

Did they get "Rosenfelds'd" or "Mathis'd?" This one's up for debate. With the chance to lead his team on a game-winning drive, Fitzpatrick coughed up the ball. Since there was no helicopter spin, he didn't get "Rosenfels'd." Bjoern Werner tomahawked the ball out of Fitzpatrick's hand for a sack-strip, which is Mathisian. Thus, I'd say the Texans got "Mathis'd" instead of "Rosenfels'd."

For the memories, here's a great recap of the infamous Sage Rosenfels helicopter, which is my favorite "Google fills it in for you" search ever:

Mike Carey was terrible. I don't trust anything that guy says about officiating.

Third down success. Indy was 8-16 on third down in this game, and held the Texans to 1-8.

Consistent pressure. Again, it's hard to say if the pass rush is improving or if Houston's offensive line was up to the task. The Colts harassed Ryan Fitzpatrick all night, finishing with five sacks on the evening. Ricky Jean Francois, D'Qwell Jackson, Erik Walden, Bjoern Werner, and Jonathon Newsome all recorded sacks for the Colts. Even though he was only credited with one tackle and didn't register a sack, Cory Redding was excellent last night.

Did they realize there was an NFL game at their home stadium? The Texans certainly charged back, but it's seldom that you spot a team 24 points and manage to win. The Colts won this game in the first quarter (and nearly lost it in the other three), and it looked like they were going to score 90 points. Busted coverage, poor defense, a special teams disaster (I saw a coach mouth "f*** me" after that onside recovery) and offensive ineptitude all made for an awful first quarter.

The onside kick. How alone was Pat McAfee? There was no one close to the middle of the field, and Indy's punter took advantage, making another perfect kick and doing the dirty work himself by recovering the ball. The Colts cashed in with a quick TD.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 5 vs. Ravens

Quick summary:

The Colts dominate the Baltimore Ravens in almost every facet of the game but have to make a stop on a fourth down play to seal the win. The reason? Turnovers and terrible red zone offense.

Defense first. The game ball goes to the Indianapolis Colts defense. They were repeatedly put in terrible situations thanks to offensive ineptitude, but they came out strong and Baltimore couldn't do much against them. They were rock solid in pass coverage, forced turnovers, and pressured Joe Flacco. They made critical plays at critical times, such as Sergio Brown's sack on fourth and short, and Vontae Davis' interception--a play that set up the Colts' first touchdown. The D held Baltimore to 1 of 11 in third down situations.

Another 300+ yard game for Luck. Luck didn't have the best game of his career. Far from it, in fact. He made plays when the team needed him to, such as the TD pass to Dwayne Allen and a critical 13-yard TD run. He was terrific on the team's final drive. But...

Stop with the bonehead plays, already! Andrew Luck is athletic. Andrew Luck throws a nice ball. Andrew Luck is mobile. Andrew Luck can run. Andrew Luck can also make astonishingly stupid decisions that result in critical turnovers. His second interception of the day was awful. Throw the ball away, scramble, or take the sack. A field goal in that situation isn't the worst thing in the world. And considering last week's awful interception against in the Tennessee game--the one that came right before halftime--and you just wonder what in the world he's thinking sometimes.

Center of attention. So the Colts turned to A.Q. Shipley after injuries forced projected starter Khaled Holmes and backup center Jon Harrison to miss time. The offensive line was playing well. It's still not a collection of "road graders" who'll trample you over in the run game, but pass protection has been solid. The Colts then decided to start Harrison this week over Shipley in a situation one can only describe as "weird." Harrison, a rookie, was okay-ish in the position. The times he did make mistakes were noticeable: he snapped the ball early on a third and short, forcing Luck to try to make a play even though no one else was blocking because the snap count was wrong; he snapped the ball over Luck's head on one occasion; and then appeared not to know the snap count on another play, when the rest of the offensive line fired off the line and Luck never got the snap.

Did anyone miss LaRon Landry? I didn't think so. Sergio Brown had a solid game, and he doesn't have roid rage.

I bring in da good stuff, coach! It seemed like Bjoern Werner was everywhere against the Ravens. He disrupted several plays, rushed the passer, and finished with a pair of sacks. It was the most active I've seen him so far for the Colts, who have struggled (understating it) to rush the passer in the absence of Robert Mathis. On one sack, Werner bullrushed the offensive lineman, bowled him over, and then sacked Joe Flacco. I thought it was a pretty impressive showing.

GRIFFNATION! What's wrong with Griff Whalen? He's been a reliable punt returner but made two major mistakes this week. In one case, he let a punt go and it ended up backing the Colts way up. Not cool. In another case, he fielded a punt near the 10 yard line without calling for a fair catch. He ended up fumbling the ball, giving the Ravens a key turnover at a critical moment of the game. Later, he took a kickoff from nine yards deep in the end zone and barely made it past the 15. Griff's my guy, but he's on the roster because he's got good hands and makes good decisions. Neither was on display this week.

Fourth and uh oh. On their first drive, the Colts decided to go for it on fourth and one. Ahmad Bradshaw got stuffed, and the Colts turned the ball over on downs. In retrospect, the decision to forgo a field goal actually worked out, since the Ravens fumbled the ball on their first offensive play, giving the Colts another chance on offense. They eventually settled for a field goal after the turnover.

Ageless Reggie Wayne. Seven catches, 77 yards. He also got flagged for offensive pass interference and holding. Sometimes you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, right? Wayne also got shoved in the back on what I'm pretty sure wasn't a case of "incidental contact" on a third down play in the end zone. Speaking of which, let's talk about...

Crappy officiating. This was not one of the better officiated games in the league this week. Most of my observations are Colts-centric, as I am a Colts fan and look favorably on the team. However, the Reggie Wayne missed call was a bad one. Greg Toler ended up with a pass interference penalty on a play in which he had solid coverage. Vontae Davis was also flagged for PI on a play that should've ended in an interception by Darius Butler. How the officials can call the Wayne call "incidental contact" (he got pushed in the back!) but flag Toler and Davis is beyond me. I also thought Ahmad Bradshaw made the first down on the fourth and one call, and felt the spot was a bad one.

The lion's share goes to Bradshaw. While Trent Richardson got the start, Bradshaw was the guy the team leaned on. He carried 15 times and was even in for short yardage situations. It seemed clear to me this week that the coaching staff wanted to get Bradshaw more touches. Bradshaw carried 15 times to Richardson's nine. Both averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry (Bradshaw 4.5, Richardson 4.1). The Colts ran for 117 yards as a team even though their play selection tilted heavily in favor of the passing game. But then...

The unthinkable. The Colts marched down the field, putting together a game-clinching drive that started from their own 16 and moved deep into Baltimore territory. All they had to do was keep running the ball, force Baltimore to use its timeouts, and then kick a field goal. Bradshaw--reliable Bradshaw, mind you!--fumbled, giving the Ravens new life.

The tight ends. Dwayne had four catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. Still, you can't help but feel the Colts need to give him more touches. Fleener had only one catch for 30 yards. Fleener also, to my utter surprise, had some solid blocks in pass protection and the running game.

Time of possession. The Colts held the edge, 38:43 to 21:17. The thing about time of possession is that it doesn't matter if you fail to score points. Had the Colts taken better care of the ball, they would've won this one comfortably. We may have even seen some Hasselbeck late in the game.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 4 vs. Titans

Quick summary:

After a breather last week against FCS Jacksonville, the Colts get a visit from MAC opponent Tennessee. Early mistakes help Indy surge to a quick lead. A stupid turnover is stupid but has no impact on the game as the Colts score 41 points. That doesn't make it any less stupid.

Four score encore. Andrew Luck carved up the Titans, throwing for 393 yards and four touchdowns. A similar performance last week against the Jaguars earned Luck AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Will we see a repeat?

Hot start! Hot start! I've heard a lot of talk about the start Andrew Luck is off to. Before we think about how he's going to break Peyton Manning's single-season touchdown record, keep in mind he threw eight of his 13 touchdowns in back-to-back games against the hapless Jaguars and Titans.

#GRIFFNATION, Part I. Griff Whalen had a solid recovery on an onside kick, thanks to a "block" from "Jack of All Trades" Doyle. It was a great kick, of course, from Pat McAfee.

#GRIFFNATION, Part II. Griffer had a couple of nice punt returns again this week...but they didn't count because of penalties. One of these days, he'll have a long return and it will actually count. Maybe.

Ageless Reggie Wayne. In my Colts preview post, I wrote of Reggie Wayne: I won't believe (he's back) until he goes off for about eight catches and 100+ yards. Seven catches, 119 yards, touchdown. He's back.

Ahmad Bradshaw: Red Zone Secret Agent. Bradshaw has been the go-to guy in the red zone. I was going to make a joke about how people might want to cover him inside the 20...but it wouldn't be relevant given that this week's TD came from a sick move and a broken tackle.

Ground pound. The Mistake finished with 47 yards on 20 carries...a meaty 2.4 average. His longest run was 10 yards and he did have a touchdown. The Colts keep sending him "into the garbage" at the line of scrimmage and expecting he'll get out of it. He won't.

Richardson in the passing game. Richardson had a drop on a poorly thrown ball from Luck. Other than that, though, he did some nice work out of the backfield, catching four passes for 54 yards. I hate it when people say they need to get a certain player out in space (I think about "Pigs in Spaaaaaaace" every time), but Indy needs to give Richardson a couple chances on screens and swing passes. He's show he can be effective there.

T.Y. triumphant. T.Y. Hilton had six catches for 105 yards. He was really, really good in the first half. The Colts moved him around and he hurt the Titans on all kinds of routes.

I love it when M. Adams does well. Mike Adams had two interceptions against the Titans. Both were kind of "right place, right time," but they still count. He wears number custom Colts jersey is number 7. Nine minus two equals seven, you know? Coincidence? Oh, yeah, totally that.

Maybe he should get mugged every single time? Coby Fleener, left completely by himself last week when dropping a pass, made a nice TD catch this week after getting absolutely mugged. He stuck with the play, though, and made a nice catch.

Four TDs, four different guys. Dwayne Allen, Reggie Wayne, Coby Fleener, and Ahmad Bradshaw were all recipients of TD passes this week for the Colts.

One of the greats. How good is Reggie Wayne? How about a third down catch that he went up and got? Or a sideline back shoulder throw in which he caught the ball, spun, and got into the end zone? Or there's this: he's seventh on the NFL's career receptions list and 10th in career receiving yards. He's caught three or more passes in 75 straight NFL record.

The interception. What did Andrew Luck see there? Who was he trying to get the ball to? Those are answers only No. 12 knows. As soon as he threw the ball, he knew it was a mistake and sprinted downfield to make the tackle. Still, the bonehead play opened the door--just slightly--for the Titans. You can't make those kinds of mistakes against anyone.

Turnover battle. The Colts keyed on a pair of early turnovers to take control of the game. While the Titans did draw within 20-10, the game wasn't close.

Gutsy call. The Chuck Pagano Colts aren't known for rolling the dice or doing anything particularly risky. Indy flipped the script with an onside kick after their first touchdown. They caught the Titans sleeping, and it was a beautiful thing. Even if it hadn't paid off, I would've appreciated it.

Robert Mathis' suspension is over! Not that it matters.

Monday fallout. Speaking of players who won't be with the Colts, Da'Rick Rogers was dismissed from the team after a drinking and driving arrest. Then we learned LaRon Landry earned a four-game suspension for violating the league's PED policy. Great job, guys. Dismissing Rogers? He had zero impact on the team, but his size and speed kept him on the roster, so it's not a big loss if the Colts stay healthy at wide receiver. I've criticized Landry, but you never like to see a starting player miss four games.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 3 vs. Jaguars

Quick summary:

The Colts get a breather against FCS foe Jacksonville in a game that emphasizes their strengths and reveals few of their flaws. The most exciting part of the game is the debut of Jaguars rookie QB Blake Bortles, who threw three touchdowns, including one to Greg Toler.

People have to pay to see this. Poor, poor Jacksonville fans. The stadium added pools to give the place a unique feel, but the team is horrible. The first half was lifeless ineptitude on offense and defense. The Colts scored points on their first six possessions. They put 20 points on the board before the Jags even got a first down.

He's pretty Lucking good. Luck was pretty much flawless in this game, getting plenty of time in the pocket for the most part and hitting his receivers on the mark in most cases. He threw four touchdown passes (and really should've thrown five), one each to Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks, Coby Fleener, and Dwayne Allen.

Improved pass rush. Listen, it's really hard to tell if the pass rush was really that effective since the Colts were playing AAA-affiliate-caliber Jacksonville. Still, they finished with four sacks and put consistent heat on the Jags' hapless offensive line by bringing pressure with different looks and personnel.

That time Reggie Wayne intercepted a pass intended for him. One of my favorite moments of the game was when a Jacksonville defender sat back in coverage and licked his chops for an interception only to be let down when Wayne stepped in front of him and made the catch. Then the Jacksonville players started whining to referees about a push off or some nonsense like that. It was fun.

Some turnovers. Vontae Davis and Greg Toler both had interceptions. D'Qwell Jackson forced a fumble and Darius Butler recovered it. Again, it's kind of like taking candy from a baby when it comes to the Jaguars, but it was still good to see the Colts force the issue and win the turnover battle.

Why is Stephen A. Smith talking to Richard Sherman in a Gorton's fisherman outfit? These commercials made zero sense and played about a billion times.

Money. Adam Vinatieri, Mr. Reliable. Good from 48, 43, and 25 yards.

Ground it out. For the second straight week, the Colts' ground attack was productive. Neither Trent Richardson nor Ahmad Bradshaw lit up the stat sheet, but they were able to break some good runs. Richardson's 27-yard scamper was particularly notable. The Colts averaged five yards per attempt.

But it's not all good. Richardson couldn't punch it in after two consecutive carries from the 1-yard line. The Colts brought this guy in to steamroll defenders in situations like this. No dice.

Hasselbeck! It's a good sign when you see the veteran backup enter the game. It means the Colts are rolling along.

Fleenered! How open was Coby Fleener? Waaaaay open. How did he drop the pass? The world may never know.

Hilton active. Five catches for 80 yards this week for T.Y. Hilton. He left the game with an ankle injury that we're hoping isn't severe. After a middling start to the year, it was great to see him make a few plays.

Gus Bradley's Red Flag of Discontent. The Jaguars head coach threw a challenge flag with under two minutes left in the first half. It was stupid. However, in the "old days," throwing a red flag would've nullified the ability for the play to be reviewed. The NFL changed the rule, though, taking a useless timeout from the Jaguars as recompense for Bradley's stupidity. If the Jaguars hadn't had a timeout at that point in the game, they would've been penalized...but the play still would've been reviewed. This rule change--which protects boneheaded coaches who do boneheaded things--was changed thanks to Jim Schwartz's Thanksgiving Anti-Miracle.

Ageless Reggie Wayne. Four catches, 62 yards. Nothing flashy or spectacular for No. 87, but a solid performance nonetheless.

Donte Moncrief. Moncrief saw more playing time this week because of an injury to Hilton and the fact that the Colts were destroying the opposition. He had four catches for 55 yards and one rush for seven yards. I think the Colts have to get him on the field more, as he's shown explosion and elusiveness after the catch.

Probably should've held them to three points. Blake Bortles' first career NFL touchdown pass had little to do with him, actually. Receiver Allen Hurns broke through tackles from Darius Butler and Mike Adams (no relation). I haven't seen tackling that bad since I played defensive end at Northeastern High School.

Probably should've held them to ten points. Bortles used the fake spike to lull the Colts defense into "don't even try" mode. This one was waaaaaay too easy.

Toler's big play. It wasn't a pressure situation or particularly necessary, but Greg Toler showed his ballhawk tendencies by picking off a Bortles pass and taking it all the way to the house.

The future? Jacksonville wasn't going to make the playoffs (or even be competitive, apparently) with Chad Henne under center. It's the easiest coaching/personnel move to make after an 0-3 start: let Bortles play. The fans will pay to see him, he'll get to develop with no pressure, and you'll get a full account of what he can do.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 2 vs. Eagles

Quick summary:

Colts unleash power running game and roll over Eagles in the first half. A key fumble in the second half helps fuel a Philly comeback, and Mr. Clutch Andrew Luck can't lead Indy to victory.

Bad calls and no-calls by the officials did not lose this game. The Colts lost this game when Trent Richardson fumbled the ball in the third quarter. The play changed the entire landscape of the game, allowing the Eagles to quickly tie things up. I know, I know...the Colts retook the lead later and still had their chances, but the fumble signaled the complete transfer of momentum from Indy to Philly.

That running game. Man, I didn't think the Stanford ground-em-out playbook would work in the NFL. The Colts had great success with it, using three tight end sets and unbalanced lines to smashmouth their way down the field. I never saw that coming. The Mistake had 21 carries for 79 yards and The Guy Who Should Start had 13 carries for 70 yards. For the most part, Indy ran at will. You know, until it counted.

The most valuable tight end? Coby Fleener? God, no. Dwayne Allen? A respectable answer. The real answer is Jack "Harry" Doyle, who caught a touchdown pass and provided some excellent blocking in the running game. I'm betting he wasn't on the scouting report breakdown for the Colts.

I'll take things that are missing for 200, Alex. The answer: It's what gives opposing quarterbacks so much time to throw. The question: What is the pass rush? My goodness, I knew the Colts would miss Robert Mathis, but I thought they'd generate a pass rush on occasion even if by accident.

Darren Effing Sproles. Little dude can ball, that's for sure. It feels like he'd be a first ballot Hall of Famer if he got to play against the Colts every week. It doesn't matter if he plays for the Chargers, Saints, or Eagles--Sproles is a bona fide Colts killer.

Adventures in playcalling, part one. It's curious that when the Colts need to play it safe and a field goal would do, they come out on 3rd and 9 and try to pass. The play ended up in an interception (and, maybe, it could've been pass interference), but why not swing it out to Ahmad Bradshaw or just hand him the ball? You know Vinatieri's going to nail that field goal, giving the Colts a two-score lead.

Adventures in playcalling, part two. On the Colts' final drive, Richardson picks up six yards with a decent run on first down. On 2nd and 4, the Colts run it again for a loss. This would've been a great down for a play-action pass or a nice, safe throw to Reggie Wayne. So, yeah, I complain in one situation because they passed when I thought they should've run, and then suggest they should've passed here instead of running. We're talking about two completely different game situations and two completely different parts of the field.

Maybe roll him out? The Eagles loaded up the middle and put a lot of pressure on the interior of the offensive line. Gruden talked often about how the rush was getting Luck off his "mark" in the pocket. Why not roll out Luck out on a handful of passes so the "mark" changes?

Robert Mathis tweeted during the game. It was kind of surreal to see tweets from Mathis show up on my timeline. Unfortunately, nothing No. 98 wanted to happen actually transpired. For example:

Still, it was a good effort and I'm glad he's supporting the team.

#GRIFFNATION! Griff Whalen will break a big punt return one of these days. It'll just take a flag-free performance by the rest of the special teams unit.

From the "At least we don't have to hear it anymore" department. "Andrew Luck hasn't lost back-to-back games in his pro career." Silver linings, people. Silver linings.

More than Toler-able. That interception at the end of the first half by Greg Toler was absolutely incredible.

Secondary concerns? The unit played pretty well for the most part. There were a few illegal contact flags and a huge one on Vontae Davis that set up a key Eagles score. I feel for these guys because they're out there covering receivers as long as they can because there's absolutely no pass rush whatsoever.

Horse collar call was horse s***. I don't know if the Colts would've stopped Philadelphia on 3rd and 6, but I do know they should've had the chance to try. The man I called LaWorthless last week made a great play. His reward? Automatic first down for Philadelphia.

Not time to panic. The Colts will pick themselves up. If there's anything we've seen from Chuck Pagano's team, it's resiliency. The team has lots of issues, though (shaky interior offensive line, no pass rush, safety play, to name a few).

How do you spell relief? J-A-G-U-A-R-S.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 1 vs. Broncos

Quick summary:

Colts show signature lackluster start before deciding it's actually time to play football. A furious comeback ensues, but such comebacks do not dwell in the House of Elway.

Another bad start. What do the Colts have to do to get motivated to play well in the first and second quarters? Should the scoreboard say "Away Team 50, Home Team 0" when they run out of the tunnel for home games? The absolutely awful starts are nothing new and neither are the comebacks. Andrew Luck's ability to rally the team is pretty cool until you consider that he has to do it every freaking game.

That said, at least they showed some moxie. They could've cashed it in early on this one, given up, and watched the Broncos roll to a 40-3 win or something like that. Instead, the team caught a few breaks in the second half and put in a superior effort on offense and defense. Even though they start about as well as my old 2003 Pontiac Grand Am, at least the Colts refuse to give up.

The running backs. Not much production in the ground game, though a lot of that is due to the "let's fall behind immediately and make it interesting in the end" strategy the Colts insist on perpetuating. Some fans will say Ahmad Bradshaw was fantastic and Trent Richardson was crap. Hate to break it to you, but neither back was particularly wonderful in the ground game. Both showed some flashes in the passing game, though, with Bradshaw hauling in 5 passes for 70 yards. Richardson had 3 catches for 31 yards.

So many weapons! Andrew Luck has so many weapons! Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen (who had a really nice game and a big TD grab), Donte Moncrief, GRIFFNATION, Ahmad Bradshaw, Trent Richardson!* But what good is a loaded gun when your hands are tied and it's lying on the ground? Or the defense is coming up the middle to kill you?

With the offensive line, it's like everyone is Hawkeye (cheap shot, I know)

Cornering it. I thought the corners played well. Sure, Greg Toler got flagged a few times, but the Colts corners showed some aggressiveness. That's about the only way to really slow down an offense like Denver's. The unit had a chance at a couple of interceptions early in the game. They've got to capitalize on those chances. Vontae Davis and Darius Butler were solid as well.

LaWorthless. I think I could've scrapped with Julius Thomas and provided better coverage than LaRon Landry, even if that meant tackling him before the ball was thrown and picking up an illegal contact penalty. It's like Landry looked across the line of scrimmage, realized Thomas was already having a good day, and then said, "Sure, go ahead. Have a touchdown. It's on me."

The QB sneak. I think this was a case of Andrew Luck trying to pull a fast one on the defense, but it was pretty clear the Broncos were stacking up the middle to combat the sneak on fourth and goal. I was shocked Luck didn't check out of it. The whistle was also a bit quick on the "handoff" to Ahmad Bradshaw, but based on the doomed nature of the play, it's probably for the best.

GRIFFNATION's punt return. You know the one I'm talking about. The one where Griff Whalen was clearly down twice and yet managed to return a punt for a touchdown. Imagine, if you will, a world in which scoring plays weren't automatically reviewed and John Fox had already used his challenges. Imagine this, and then smile at what could've been.

Reggie's back. In my preview post on the Colts' season, I said I'd have to see Reggie catch eight balls for 100+ yards before declaring him back. Nine catches for 98 yards is close enough for me. He had a scary moment after slipping awkwardly on the turf but appeared to be all right. Great to see No. 87 back.

Interior decorating. Inside line play was pretty rough for most of the night. I think most of us expected that. Luck still has that tendency to hold onto the ball a little too long sometimes, which certainly doesn't help. The makeshift trio of AQ Shipley, Jack Mewhort, and Hugh Thornton didn't do much to allay fears about the line play.

Solid bookends. On the plus side, Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus held down the edges fairly well. Castonzo had a tough assignment against DeMarcus Ware but did a good job overall. After a brutal preseason, Cherilus settled down and protected Luck well.

So many blown opportunities. Missed interceptions, dropped passes, an oh-so-close fumble recovery, missed tackles, and poor red zone efficiency made it extremely hard for the Colts to hang around. They managed to make it interesting, but some killer screw-ups--particularly the failure to recover the fumble and the inability to tackle Montee Ball in a critical first-and-goal situation--really hurt. The fumble came on what ended up being the game-winning drive. If the Colts recover it, things work out differently. Even then, if they could've held Denver to a field goal on that drive, they only need three points to tie things up at the end of the game.

The! It was fun to see the Colts recover an onside kick at a critical moment. It wasn't so much fun watching the drive end in an interception after a pass bounced off of Coby Fleener's hands.

We got Fleenered! Targeted 8 times, Fleener caught 3 passes. His most memorable catches...were drops. He couldn't haul one in on the first drive, resulting in a botched field goal attempt that ended up becoming a punt. He couldn't make a tough grab on a touchdown pass; Al and Cris think he mistimed the jump. And, of course, he was good for that deflection interception, which was really, really awesome.

Peyton couldn't close. After Luck's second interception, the Broncos could've pretty much closed the door. Instead, they went three and out. I was really surprised Manning didn't pick up a first down. When Denver got the ball back after the Colts scored a touchdown, Denver went three and out again. Really couldn't believe it. I've seen No. 18 stick the knife in the other team plenty of times in similar situations.

Where's the pass rush? Aside from a couple of plays we'll call "flukes" based on the general lack of a pass rush, I don't know what the Colts will do. Things were going to be tough without Robert Mathis for 4 games. Now they'll be tough for the whole season, since Mathis tore his Achilles.

*T.Y. Hilton was not included in this lineup, as there was no evidence that he showed up in this game.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

10 questions (and one easy answer) about the Colts

Will Andrew Luck lift himself to elite standards? The quarterback position has been secure for more than a decade in Indianapolis (minus featuring Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky), due mostly to a certain No. 18 who now wears orange. The rift that divided Colts fans after Peyton Manning's departure has never fully healed and probably never will. Still, there's a lot to love about "the next guy," who's entering his third season under center for Indy. Andrew Luck is known for his clutch play and late-game heroics. Will he elevate his play to be "The Guy" and bring more consistency to complement his winning ways?

How much will they miss Robert Mathis? A lot. You can't replace a guy like Mathis. No matter how great Bjoern "I bring in da good stuff, coach" Werner has looked in camp and the preseason, Werner isn't Mathis. That's not the second-year player's fault, though. Simply put, no one is Robert Mathis. If the Colts can survive a four-game stretch without their premier defensive player, they'll set themselves up for a good year.

Is the secondary a primary strength? Vontae Davis got a huge contract. Greg Toler--when healthy--has shown flashes. Darius Butler is solid at the nickel. Man-to-man/press coverage should be a strength of this group. It's the back end that scares most fans. LaRon Landry delivers huge hits but commands a big salary. He's not a great cover guy. The second safety spot, anchored for years by Antoine Bethea, remains a huge question mark. It looks like veteran Mike Adams will get the start, and while he's got a terrific last name, it's hard to know what we'll get. Delano Howell, who filled in admirably last season, may not even see the field this year.

Can the offensive line keep defenders off Luck's back? This is the question. We're entering the third season of this being the question. Luck is adept at running and will make plays with his legs, but I'd prefer not to see him running for his life yet again this season. After a decade-plus of solid protection for Manning, the Colts can't get things figured out on the line. Injuries certainly play a role here, but some questionable decisions--like the big contract for Samson Satele and the team's stubborn delay in rectifying that situation--also contribute to chaos along the line. A young group will be responsible for keeping Luck's jersey clean. Will they be able to do it?

Will anyone in the AFC South challenge the Colts? It seems Indy is a lock to win the division, based on what I keep hearing. The Texans have great defensive talent but lack a top-caliber quarterback and underachieved last year. The Jacksonville Jaguars are biding their time until Blake Bortles becomes the everyday starter. The Tennessee Titans simply haven't been any fun since Jeff Fisher left. I can't predict if the Colts will run the table in the division but they're certainly capable of it.

Will Reggie be Reggie? From all indications, it seems like Reggie Wayne is back. I won't believe it until he goes off for about eight catches and 100+ yards. I certainly hope No. 87 is back in top form. The Colts looked lost without him last year until the lights came on for T.Y. Hilton. I hear analysts say Reggie's a "fringe" hall of famer. While I don't agree with that sentiment--I think he's worthy of the yellow jacket--a strong comeback would give his team a boost and help cement his legacy as one of the greats.

Will Colts fans ever get over Peyton? No doubt about it, it stings to see Peyton in orange. We're doing this for the third season, if you can believe it. He's still all over the place in commercials and NFL promos...and each time I see that orange jersey, it just feels wrong. I've made my peace with his departure, but many fans haven't. The Colts traded a jammed salary cap for youth. There's no way the team would've been able to keep Peyton and field a championship-caliber team. At the time of his release, it wasn't really clear if he'd regain his form even though everyone knew he'd do everything he could to come back. I think Colts fans took last year's Super Bowl implosion harder than Broncos fans. That's how much we love Peyton.

Will the defense finally dominate? The Colts were embarrassed by Kansas City before a miraculous comeback and were subsequently beaten to a pulp by New England. They showed flashes last year of being an elite defense...or at least a top 10 one. This needs to be the year everything comes together. There are no more excuses about new schemes or players who are unfamiliar with each other. Chuck Pagano is a defensive-minded coach. Let's see some pride from the unit.

Will Richardson prove his worth? You can't write about the Colts without mentioning Trent Richardson. The target of a major trade last season, Richardson is in the crosshairs. His blitz pickups are pretty good. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can...well...he's supposed to be able to run the football. It would be great to see him elevate his game. Let's face it, a strong running game (or at least the threat of it) would make life a lot easier for everyone on the team.

How can the Colts slow down the Broncos' offense? Amphetamines.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Do you have any books with a girl superhero?"

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to speak to some students at my old elementary school.

I talked to kids enrolled in Northeastern Elementary's (Fountain City, Indiana) summer enrichment program about writing and publishing. I found it challenging for a couple reasons. First, the students ranged in age from kindergarten to sixth grade. That's a pretty big age range. Second, I wasn't sure how much kids would care about the writing and publishing process.

I had to fill an hour...and I wasn't sure I'd be able to do it. I put together a brief presentation and hoped we'd be able to fill the rest of the time with questions from the kids.

They came through in a big way, thank goodness.

They were (mostly) spellbound

I told the students I went to Northeastern and graduated from the high school in 1999. The room where I made the presentation was the art room--yes, the same art room where I attended art class in elementary school. I stressed to them the importance of reading. I didn't want them to see me as "big shot author" because that's a horrible way to talk to people and I don't even remotely qualify as a "big shot author." I simply like to write and I've devoted more and more time and energy to it over the years. I mentioned some of my favorite books as a kid: I am a Puppy; There's a Monster at the End of This Book; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; and My Teacher is an Alien.

When I'm actively working on something, I try to write about 10 pages a day. I brought a typed manuscript that was 2,000 words as a visual aid. Then I showed them a 50,000 word manuscript--one of the early (and frankly awful) versions of I, Crimsonstreak. Next, I held up a 95,000 word manuscript of I, Crimsonstreak that's very close to the finished version. And, of course, I had a paperback copy of the book to show them the final product.

They were inquisitive. They wanted to know about my writing routine, how I came up with my ideas, and how long it took to write a book. The answers vary from writer to writer, but I shared my experience with them. They had more questions.

One really stuck with me.

"Do you have any books with a girl superhero?"

To tell you the truth, I didn't expect to get that question from the class. I managed not to hesitate too much. I explained to her that the main character in my book is a guy and that his mother and girlfriend play major roles. One of the things my publisher liked about the book is that my female characters weren't props or damsels in distress, even if they weren't the main protagonist.

How do you explain that to a little girl in an elementary school? Does she care that the publisher thought the females in my book are good "side" characters? Of course she doesn't. She wants a superhero book with a protagonist that she can relate to, and that book isn't I, Crimsonstreak.

I've heard the comments about DC's failed attempts to get Wonder Woman on the big screen and grumbling about the lack of a Captain Marvel movie, but I haven't given these things enough thought. Let's face it, The Avengers is primarily a boys' club (and I love the movie and what Marvel has done with its cinematic universe). You've got Black Widow and Maria Hill, but that's about it. Shouldn't there be a movie girls can look up to and say, "I wanna be Captain Marvel," just like boys can see Captain America and say, "I wanna be Cap"?

I'm a guy, okay? I like explosions and sports and I love seeing the Hulk throw Loki around like a ragdoll. My sense of humor borders on the psychotic at times, and I joke about a wide range of topics. But the more I think about, the more I realize there has to be something out there other than dollhouses or Barbie's pink car. This stuff is important, even though I lack the eloquence to say exactly why.

Then again, I don't really need eloquence in this case. I see that little girl, raising her hand and politely asking, "Do you have any books with a girl superhero?"

After talking briefly about Crimsonstreak,, I remembered to tell her that one of my unpublished novels features a female superhero who controls fire. Her response?

"When you get that one published, I want to read it."

They thanked me...but really, I should thank them

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

First draft complete!

I finished the first draft of The Exclusive yesterday afternoon! I ended up with about 82,000 words. I imagine I'll add 2,000-3,000 words in the next draft to clean up a few things related to the ending. I'm now in the same place I was about a month ago, when I blogged about what I wanted to write next.

Yep, exact same situation right now. The Exclusive gets shelved for a while--probably three weeks to a month--before I start going back through it. I'll come up with a revision plan and work on improving the book during its first revision. After that, it will go off to Beta Reader Supreme for both a bigger-picture look and a proofread. After that, more revisions.

My thoughts on the process of writing a first draft via Twitter:I've started the querying process on one of my novels. I haven't seriously queried a novel in a very long time. In my next blog post, I'll write a little about why it's taken so long for me to query projects. I'm sure it'll be a thrill.