Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Studicus Selects 2013

Once, long ago, I posted on the internet as Studicus, an in-joke nickname related to a skit from high school. When I first started blogging, I called my year-end entries "Studicus Selects." The tradition has continued since 2005...although I skipped 2006 for some unknown reason.

You'll find past entries here (scroll down for the 2013 picks):

Studicus Selects 2012
Studicus Selects 2011
Studicus Selects 2010
Studicus Selects 2009
Studicus Selects 2008
Studicus Selects 2007
Studicus Selects 2005

Best sports game mode from 2011. That's not a misprint. I'm talking about NBA 2K12's My Player mode. I'm obsessed with this game. I bought it at Gamestop (while also purchasing other past-their-sell-by-date games like Assassin's Creed II and Red Dead Redemption) during a buy 2, get 1 free deal and dove right in. I'm a 6'11" power forward for the Phoenix Suns. Kobe and the Lakers bounced us out of the playoffs last season. We shall write a different script for this season, Mr. Bryant. The Lakers shall burn.

Strangest gift given, meat category. Meat cards! After my brother-in-law sponsored a llama last year, I had to strike back somehow. My solution? A beef jerky "business card." I got one for each of my brothers-in-law. One thought it was the best Christmas present ever; the other simply thought it was weird. If you're ever looking for a unique gift sure to leave your loved ones scratching their heads or extolling your gift-giving prowess, go buy them Meat Cards! For years, we will have a family joke when someone opens a gift: "And it's made entirely of beef jerky!"

Newest Crimsonstreak book, sequel category. We went Crimsonstreaking again with II Crimsonstreak! Last year marked the release of my very first novel; this year marked the release of my very first sequel. The book ends with a cliffhanger--a decision that readers either love or loathe--and I'm hard at work on prepping III Crimsonstreak for submission so everyone knows what happened to Chris Fairborne and his family. I think it may include some time travel. Actually, I'm 100% sure that it does. I'll send it off to Candlemark & Gleam very soon.

Best television show, program I never thought I'd watch category. Breaking Bad is a show I never expected to like. Seriously, Tim Whatley is a cancer-stricken science teacher who decides to make meth to earn money for cancer treatments? No way. Not interested. Sounds completely absurd. People said it was great. I ignored them. They said the finale was incredible. My Twitter feed exploded during the "Ozymandias" and "Felina" episodes. I became intrigued and started watching it on Netflix. I shotgunned the series in about three weeks, and had to get "creative" to find the second half of the final season. What an incredible show...from the acting to the production and writing. I loved how Walter White and Jesse Pinkman couldn't get away from each other. I thought the final scene was absolutely incredible:

Fondest farewell, Little Muchacho. Our KIA Sportage was a fantastic little car. We miss the SUV affectionately known as "Little Muchacho." I eulogized him in this Facebook post from July:
Today we honor the 2000 KIA Sportage my wife and I called Little Muchacho, a car that "just kept running" past the 200,000-mile mark. He began his life driven primarily by my father-in-law on sales trips around the state before spending the last half of his life as Anne's trusty sidekick.

I had just spent the day with him Sunday, when we stopped for breakfast at Hardee's before catching a morning matinee of "Man of Steel." I filled his tank and put air in his tires, and all seemed to be fine. Last night, his engine stopped for good.

Anne promised to replace him with another KIA, so we bought a KIA Forte last night.

It's hard to say goodbye, but here's to you, Little Muchacho:

Biggest acquisition, family category. And so my wife and I welcomed a new car into the family. With Little Muchacho's passing came the arrival of this KIA Forte. Anne was reluctant to warm up to him, but she's given him the nickname "the Blue Bandit," so we're getting there. The car gets awesome mileage and offers a smooth ride along with some cool extras like Bluetooth phone connectivity and steering wheel buttons that allow you to adjust the radio volume.

Favorite Twitter non-trend, Colts category. I'm a dedicated Colts fan, and I've been a huge supporter of Griff Whalen since the team signed him last season. He was sidelined by a foot injury and missed last year. In this year's campaign, he's been moved to the practice squad and elevated to the main roster approximately 8,000 times. But while some fans call him "Griffer," I prefer to call him GRIFFNATION. Will you join GRIFFNATION? Will you?

Most bittersweet homecoming, NFL legend category. After Peyton Manning's release, some Colts fans suddenly became lifelong Denver Broncos fans. That's fine for them. That's not how I roll. Look, I loved Peyton. Only the most stubborn fans can fail to see how there was no real way for the team to keep him and put together a well-rounded football team. It was a move they had to make given questions about his health and (the really big factor) his gigantic contract. That doesn't mean I love Peyton any less; he's a legend and I want him to win.

His return to Indianapolis couldn't possibly live up to the hype, could it? A Sunday Night Football game at Lucas Oil Stadium against his old team and the guy who replaced him? What we ended up getting was a classic, with Peyton and the Broncos jumping out to a quick lead and the Colts systematically dismantling Denver to build a huge lead in the second half. Then, in classic Peyton Manning fashion, he nearly pulled off an improbable comeback.

For me, the best moment was just before the game, when the Colts showed a video tribute to the beloved QB and the crowd gave him the most heartfelt cheer anyone's ever gotten in all of sports. Peyton got a little misty eyed; I did, too. It's one of those things I'll never forget. It was the fans' way of saying, "We'll never forget you, No. 18. We love you and we didn't get to say goodbye."

A perfect moment.

Best post about a scuttled video game studio. LucasArts had to shut down this year. I grew up playing countless LucasArts games and gave the fallen studio my own little love letter. It was one of my most popular posts of the year. Star Wars games by LucasArts dominated almost every era of video gaming for me, from the NES to the Xbox 360 and all my consoles in between.

Best movie I liked that no one else did, superhero category. I adored Man of Steel. I didn't get the common reaction that the movie was "cold and lifeless" or that it's "the movie where Superman murders everyone." People commonly said things like "that's not MY Superman," and I think they missed the point. It's not your Superman, and it's not supposed to be. This was a portrait of a man who isolated himself from society and didn't know how to handle his own gifts. While he wore the S-shield, he's not Superman yet. I'll give the filmmakers credit because they've given Superman room to grow and to learn from his mistakes (we're hoping DC/Warner Bros. can do the same thing, but...you know there's this website). I also thought Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, and Kevin Costner were terrific in supporting roles. Maybe it was my Midwestern upbringing talking here, but I felt a connection to Clark and his childhood in Kansas.

Best internet/Twitter freakout, movie casting category. Ben Affleck is the next Batman. People called him Batfleck. I called him Batben. Batfleck won. But the real winners were those of us who watched the internet burn and contributed things like this:

Most inept attempt at a homegrown internet meme, presidential surfing category. My wife volunteers at the Benjamin Harrison Home in Indianapolis. Harrison is the only U.S. president from Indiana. One day, she blessed us with the following gem on Facebook about her experience with a group of touring students:
Had a group of 2nd graders at Harrison Home today. When I took questions at the end of the tour, one little girl raised her hand.

"You said Mr. Harrison passed away after being sick. What does that mean? Where did he go?"

I have to admit, I was at a loss for words. How do you answer this question in an appropriate manner to a public school kid without bringing your personal beliefs into it or scaring the kid. My saving grace was one of her classmates, who chimed in with this tid bit:

"When my grandpa 'passed away' my Mom said he went to visit my Uncle in Colorado, but I didn't believe her, cause my Grandpa didn't like my Uncle Rob. I think he's in Hawaii surfing and I'm going to visit him there someday."

Then he turns to me, "That's probably where Mr Harrison is, too, right?"

Thank God, Roger came in right then and said that bus was there, otherwise I might have found myself saying, "Yes, Mr. Harrison is catching waves and rays in Hawaii." lol!
And, lo, did Benjamin Harrison surf:

I usually play this post for laughs, but I also have some serious business to attend to.

I gained a sister-in-law. It was a lovely August wedding in which she married my brother-in-law. I think this photo says it all:

Last, but certainly not least, I want to remember a few people we lost this year.

Grandpa Riley. My grandfather passed away in March. It was unexpected. My grandparents live in Tennessee and I don't see them but a few times a year. Still, they were an important part of my life and were always interested in what my brother and I were doing. I remember Grandpa visited us when I was playing in a fall baseball league and I had the best game of my life at the plate. He also witnessed the infamous game in which I, a first baseman, got called for a balk in a nebulous umpire ruling that remains incomprehensible to this day. Going down to Tennessee to say goodbye was hard for the whole family, especially after we heard his back surgery had gone okay. Gene Riley was many things to all of us, but we'll remember him best for being a great man who was the rock of our entire family. I don't think his passing really hit until we went down to the annual family reunion in July and he wasn't there. Find his obituary here.

Jim Ladd. Jim Ladd was a good friend of my grandfather, and it seems fitting that they both passed in the same year. For several years, I had a paper route in Williamsburg, Indiana, and Jim was one of my customers. We had a fun little rivalry while I was a paperboy. At one time, Jim raised exotic animals. I had my brother call him and tell him that the FBI was investigating him for improper licensing, and Jim bought it hook, line, and sinker until I came to his door in a trench coat. He knew he'd been had. Things escalated from there, with Jim posting my face all over the local post office for "impersonating a paperboy" (he claimed he never saw me deliver a single newspaper). I also once made a mockup of the front page of the local paper (the Palladium-Item) in which the cover story was about an animal scam Jim was running. When I delivered the paper to him, he was talking to a couple people about some emus, and I remember his eyes got big as dinner plates when he saw the fake headline and quickly tucked the paper away. Find his obituary here.

Mike Ryan. If two polar opposites ever coached baseball together, it would be my father and Mike Ryan. My father was quiet, reserved, and never yelled at his players. Mike was fiery, opinionated, and always yelled at his players! He coached me for several years in youth league, where he uncorked a few gems. When a player would recoil at an incoming baseball, Mike would yell, "You're ten times bigger than that ball! That ball can't hurt you!" That maxim remained true until Mike got belted in the side by a foul ball. As he walked around in pain, my father reminded him that he's "ten times bigger than that ball," and Mike wasn't very appreciative of the gesture. I also quote him often when something goes wrong. "Ain't nobody hurt, ain't nobody hurt," Mike would say when someone made an error or a mistake. Find his obituary here.

These three men helped guide and shape me throughout my life, and I will certainly miss them.

On that note...here's to a great 2014.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 17 vs. Jaguars

20 points. That's how many points the Colts defense has given up over the last three games (vs. Texans, vs. Chiefs, vs. Jaguars). Had it not been for a true garbage time touchdown by the Jags, the Colts would've surrendered just 13 points over a three-game span. To put it in perspective, consider how the Colts gave up 38+ points in three games this year (38 vs. Rams, 40 vs. Cardinals, and 42 vs. Bengals).

17 points. That's how many points the Colts scored in the first quarter this week. It's in stark contrast to the losses mentioned above, when the Colts failed to muster a touchdown in the first quarter (they scored a field goal in the first quarter of the Cardinals game).

1,083 yards. T.Y. Hilton had a monster game, catching a career high 11 passes for 155 yards. He also finished the season with 1,000+ yards for the first time in his career. During the current three-game winning streak, Hilton caught 24 balls for 285 yards. The Colts offense worked itself into an awful funk after losing Reggie Wayne, and other teams focused on keeping the ball away from Hilton. The Colts made adjustments and emphasized getting the rock to No. 13.

And why didn't you do that earlier? The Colts came into the season hoping to pound the ball. They kept pounding. And pounding. And pounding. It was like hitting your head repeatedly against a wall after Reggie Wayne went down. They finally adjusted, running more spread looks with an uptempo pace. Since the second half of the Bengals game, the Colts offense has looked completely different.

GRIFFNAAAAAAATION! Another touchdown for Griff Whalen this week, who has found the endzone twice in the last three games. He didn't have a great game--just 4 catches for 32 yards--but he has emerged as a reliable target. Why Matt Hasselbeck tried to kill him with a pass over the middle in the fourth quarter is anyone's guess. That could've been a scary play.

Two more sacks. Robert Mathis further cemented the best year of his career with a pair of sacks against the Jags. He finished the season with 19.5 sacks and should get consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. He is the Colts' lone Pro Bowl representative.

Early turnover. The Colts forced an early fumble by Maurice Jones-Drew, a play that set the tone for the game. Was it a fumble? Was the ball out before his forearm hit the ground? I have no idea. I half expected the officials to award the Jaguars a touchdown out of spite, given the Colts' recent bad luck with official reviews.

Another big game. After putting together a phenomenal game last week, Jerrell Freeman had another great week, finishing with 8 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, 2 passes defensed, and a pair of QB hits. He was, again, everywhere.

Solid Butler. Darius Butler recovered a fumble and finished with 8 tackles. It seems like this guy's always around the ball. Over the last three weeks, he's been a big part of the defense's resurgence.

Some injuries. The Colts had something to play for this week with the possibility of improving their seeding in the AFC playoff picture. No resting this time. No "build a lead and throw in Painter." Still, starting the regulars has its risks. Vontae Davis left the game with a groin injury. Bjoern Werner and Aubrayo Franklin also left after getting hurt. I hope the injuries weren't serious.

The running game. It was far from spectacular, as the Colts finished with just 80 yards on 28 carries (a 2.8 average). Both Donald Brown and Trent Richardson had rushing touchdowns in the first quarter. ODDITY ALERT: Richardson had a better average than Brown (3.1 vs. 2.6) .

The turnover battle. The Colts forced two turnovers: a fumble by MJD and an interception of Chad Henne by Antoine Bethea. The interception came at a key point late in the second quarter. If the Jags scored on the drive, it would've been a 17-10 ballgame. Instead, Bethea picked off the pass and the Colts drove down for a late field goal to make it 20-3 at halftime. Big swing there.

Air Donald. Loved Donald Brown's fearless plunge into the endzone on the Colts' first possession. He wasn't going to let anyone keep him out.

Going for it. Chuck Pagano showed, for better or worse, that he's willing to roll the dice. The Colts clearly wanted to put this one out of reach early, so on fourth and goal from the two, they went for it. Trent Richardson powered his way to the score with some good blocking from the offensive line.

Better protection. The Colts' switch to a spread/short passing/uptempo offensive philosophy has paid off. Even with constant juggling of the offensive line, Luck has been sacked three times in four games. Think about this: in a three-game span that included games against the Texans, Rams, and Titans, the Colts gave up 12 sacks (they managed to win two of those three games, despite surrendering five sacks to the Titans).

Efficient day. Andrew Luck wasn't flashy; he hardly ever is. Still, he completed 70% of his passes and threw for 282 yards and a TD to Griff Whalen. He had a couple close calls--including one in which he tried to squeeze an endzone pass for Hilton between two defenders--but took advantage of great field position and seemed to find Hilton whenever he needed a third down conversion. The Colts were 8-16 on third down.

Playoff momentum. It's up in the air who the Colts will play as of this writing, but Indy definitely has some momentum going into the postseason. They're looking more like the team that started the season than the win one/lose one team that started games slow and couldn't find any offensive rhythm. The only thing that gives me pause is that the competition hasn't been stellar. The Texans (2-14) cashed it in weeks ago and the Jags (4-12), while much improved from the week four meeting, aren't very talented. Only the Chiefs had a winning record. We'll see how it all plays out next week.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 16 vs. Chiefs

Big win. The Colts needed this one, a quality win on the road against a good football team. They showed us some of the things that had been sorely lacking during an up-and-down stretch of games after the Denver win. We saw the dominating defense and a versatile offense that could move the ball. The offensive line held up well (especially in pass protection).

Turnover battle. The Kansas City Chiefs came into the game +21 in turnover margin. They left the game +17 (-4 vs. Indy). The Colts forced four turnovers: two fumbles and two interceptions. They took care of the ball on their end.

Rough start. The Colts didn't get off to an ideal start. They went three and out on offense after failing to convert a short run on third down. They gave up a 25-yard punt return to the dangerous Dexter McCluster. The defense then proceeded to surrender a 31-yard touchdown run to Jamaal "Two A's are better than one" Charles. Then, another three and out. After they stopped KC, Adam Vinatieri missed a 34-yard field goal. Again, Adam Vinatieri missed a 34-yard field goal. But then...

They got back on track. The defense forced another KC punt, the Colts put together a drive in which Vinatieri nailed a 46-yard field goal, and then Robert Mathis (or maybe Jerrell Freeman...it's hard to tell) forced a fumble by Knile Davis. The turnover took the crowd out of the game and completely turned things around. From that point forward, the Colts completely dominated, shutting down the Chiefs offense and dominating time of possession. Seriously, the Colts held a 38:20 to 21:40 advantage in time of possession.

And they should've had another turnover. Late in the second quarter, Junior Hemingway "caught" a pass and then "fumbled" it. The officials ruled he never controlled the ball (incomplete pass). At first blush, I thought that was the case. Then I saw a replay. Hemingway caught the ball, tucked it away, and took several strides before the Colts jarred the ball loose. This is clear from the review. The officials, on the other hand, let the play stand as called. So instead of another turnover, the Chiefs had a chance to score a field goal (although they ended up missing it).

After the embarrassing blown call in the Bengals game ("The Phantom Touchdown"), I'd like to hear an explanation for this one.

Fortunately, officiating guru Mike Pereira said the following on Twitter:

Wait. I should've specified that I wanted a good explanation. I should've clarified that. If "in real time, you have to stay with the call," then WHY ON GOD'S GREEN EARTH DO WE HAVE INSTANT REPLAY?

Ahem. The Colts ended up being the beneficiary of a couple of calls (including a taunting penalty that kept a drive alive), which I can only say must be a karmic offsetting of this idiocy. I think it's safe to say NFL officials have had a very, very bad year. Who thought things would get worse after TOUCHCEPTION last year?

O Canada. Jerrell Freeman isn't from Canada, but he played in the CFL. Anyway, he was a beast Sunday. He was "only" credited with five tackles, but he had a sack, a QB hit, three passes defensed, a forced fumble, and two interceptions. One of those interceptions came right at the goal line, killing any chance the Chiefs had for a late rally. He has to be the defensive player of the week.

Look there, a pass rush! The Colts harassed Alex Smith all day, finishing with four sacks. Freeman, Ricardo Matthews (0.5 sacks), Fili Moala (0.5 sacks), Cory Redding, and Bjoern Werner all sacked Smith at Arrowhead. It was great to see the interior of the defense create pressure. It's something we haven't seen much this season.

Nothing secondary about it. The Colts were terrific in pass coverage. KC lacks star power in the receiving corps, but Smith is an underrated passer who plays behind a good offensive line. Vontae Davis and company had a fantastic game in coverage. Josh Gordy kept tight coverage on a pass that would've resulted in a touchdown. They were physical and wouldn't let the Chiefs run free downfield. Because passing windows were tight and/or took long to develop, it helped the defensive line feast on Smith.

Bethea brings the lumber. I've heard rumbles that Antoine Bethea is losing it. While he's certainly been beaten a few times in pass coverage, he can still lay the lumber over the middle. He delivered a couple big hits Sunday that rattled my teeth. He helped set the tone on defense, for sure.

Bad, Bad Donald Brown. Sometimes "bad" is good, right? That's definitely the case here. Donald Brown provided two big plays that resulted in touchdowns: a 33-yard reception and a 51-yard run. Both were worthy of the highlight reel, even though the run was the real showstopper.

Here's a GIF courtesy of GIFD Sports:

Richardson Watch. 16 carries, 43 yards (2.7 YPC). 3 receptions, 15 yards. Clearly, Brown was the more productive back (as usual). Still, Richardson was out there in short yardage situations and toward the end of the game as the Colts tried to grind down the clock. I think he's finally settling in, but he's not a threat to break huge runs like Brown. He also picked up a crucial conversion on a fourth down play in the second quarter.

GRIFFNATION! Shame on the Colts for cutting, re-signing, cutting, and re-signing Griff Whalen. While their woes without Reggie Wayne will never disappear, Whalen is a reliable target who makes plays. He led the Colts in receiving (seven catches for 80 yards) and was the go-to guy on third down. He needs to stay on the field. My favorite was the one in which Whalen made two KC defenders collide before scampering for a first down. While we suffered through weeks with David Reed and Darrius Heyward-Bey sucking it big time, GRIFFNATION was reserved to the practice squad. PLAY HIM.

And speaking of DHB... I do hope something good happens to Darrius Heyward-Bey one of these days. He made a couple big special teams plays, dropping McCluster on a punt return and downing a punt at the 5-yard line. It takes a certain type of guy to have his role severely diminished on offense only to suck it up and shine on special teams. DHB, apparently, is that type of guy.

He really read the green well there on the chip shot. Pat McAfee tackled a guy this week. He also had an awesome golf-inspired celebration after pinning the Chiefs deep in their own territory:

Great adjustment. Andrew Luck found T.Y. Hilton as wide open as he'll ever be. Facing pressure, Luck lofted the ball to Hilton, who made a great adjustment and reeled it in for a 31-yard reception.

Playoffs? Playoffs! The Colts are in (they were in after the Broncos beat the Titans in Week 14). They're not yet locked into a seed as of this writing.

And it's worth mentioning... I still love Peyton Manning. If you were a Colts fan at any time, you want No. 18 to do well. I'm glad to see him take back the single-season TD record. Fittingly, it came against the Texans. Poor, poor Texans.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 15 vs. Texans

A first half to be proud of...finally. After several lackluster first-half efforts since the loss of Reggie Wayne, the Colts put together an actual first half with scoring and everything! They looked terrific on their first drive, converting a couple of short third down opportunities on their way to a TD pass from Andrew Luck to Griff Whalen. The Colts spread the field and went no-huddle on the drive, something fans have been screaming for, for weeks. You wanna be a power run team? Fine. Get the pieces and make it effective. When it's clearly not working, you have to make a change. Glad to see it.

GRIFFNATION! I thought Whalen was a guy who could provide a spark for the Colts. His numbers weren't jaw-dropping: 4 catches for 45 yards and 3 punt returns for 67 yards. Still, he gave the Colts some plays they sorely needed, including a TD grab and a 51-yard punt return that set up a field goal. Look, I know Whalen isn't going to physically dominate anyone. I know he's not the Flash out there. I get it. I still think it's worth having him out there as a third or fourth receiver because he has good hands and is someone Luck won't hesitate to throw it to.

A good win, but... The cynic in me has to come out on this win at least a little bit. While it was good to see the Colts put together a good all-around performance (and their best game since the win vs. Denver), we have to remember it came against a Texans team that hasn't won a game since September. The Texans have lost 12 games in a row and have never beaten the Colts in Indianapolis (not even during the Kerry Collins-Curtis Painter-Dan Orlovsky "Era!"). They've fired their coach and are inexplicably in line for the top pick in the draft. Despite the many great pieces on this team--Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt, etc.--they were listless and terrible. I do think the Colts played with some extra fire, but it's hard to gauge this win. A truer test will be next week against Kansas City.

A day of firsts. GRIFFNATION caught his first career TD pass. Bjoern Werner notched his first (full) career sack. Trent Richardson caught his first TD pass as an Indianapolis Colt. Antoine Bethea downed Case Keenum for his first sack of the year. The Colts got contributions from guys when they sorely needed to build some momentum toward the postseason.

Darius Butler. Remember Case Keenum's first start against the Colts when he threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns? Well, that didn't happen this week. The Colts made Keenum look purely pedestrian, although that's been pretty much the norm for him over the last five games (2 touchdowns, 6 interceptions over that span). They hurried and harassed him, and no one dogged him more than Darius Butler, who picked off two of Keenum's passes and darn near had a third that would've been a pick six. The Colts secondary was physical and stingy overall, and Butler was a major factor in that. He was also credited with three passes defensed.

Trent Richardson. I'm not ready to pop the champagne here. But after a decent game last week, Richardson built on that against the Texans. He had a couple big catches and broke a couple runs. The consistency isn't there yet (well, I guess it is, since we're all used to a good one-, two-yard plunge into the line of scrimmage...), but I saw some potential there. Tough running, evasiveness, more decisiveness. It wasn't there on every play...he still got buried plenty of times. Still, there was something positive to take away from this game when it comes to Richardson, and I'll take it.

DHB on special teams. The Colts pretty much conceded that DHB was a bust when they handed Da'Rick Rogers playing time. They further diminished DHB's role this week, when I saw him play on special teams. I think he was out on the field in some passing formations, but his role was severely limited. The Colts went primarily with T.Y. Hilton (who had his best game in weeks), Rogers, and Griff Whalen in the receiving corps. We also saw a good bit of Jack Doyle and Weslye Saunders as second tight ends/fill-ins for the injured Stanley Havili.

Better line play. Without really scrutinizing the game, I think the line play was better for the Colts. The unit seems to perform better with Mike McGlynn at center (instead of Samson Satele at center with McGlynn at guard). Joe Reitz started in McGlynn's usual guard spot, but ended up leaving the game with an injury. Xavier Nixon stepped in and seemed to play well. Luck was hit less this week (and Pep Hamilton rolled him out several times) and seemed to have a solid pocket for most of the game. He was sacked one time.

Pressure! The Colts called a very aggressive game on defense. They brought in Bethea on a couple of safety blitzes and generally did a good job of putting heat on Keenum. Bjoern Werner came in unblocked for a sack while Erik Walden, Cory Redding, and Bethea also had sacks. The Colts were in Keenum's face all day, sacking him four times and hitting him eight.

Fake punt? Double reverse? The Colts tried some different things this week, including an odd fake punt near midfield and a double reverse that gained nothing. I liked how the team tried to change things up a couple times. With their playoff position assured, they're trying to work out the kinks before the postseason.

Speaking of the playoffs... The Colts are the fourth seed right now, but losses from the Patriots and the Bengals opened the door for the Colts to get the second or third seed. The former isn't likely to happen, but if they could climb to the third spot, they'd host the last team to get into the playoffs instead of Kansas City or Denver.

Second half coma. The Colts were not very exciting in the second half, but they didn't have to be. We saw some good things from Richardson after Donald Brown left the game with a stinger. The defense was rock-solid, so no complaints there. I'd prefer that the Colts had a more efficient second half on offense (they were abysmal in third down situations and produced only a field goal thanks to a punt return by Whalen and a safety from...the defense).

Da'Rick Rogers, week 2. Not a whole lot to say about Rogers in his second week. He caught a pair of passes for 23 yards and ran once for no gain. He wasn't likely to have a big game after last week, but a lot of fans wanted more. By the way, Coby Fleener was only targeted once this week and finished without a single catch.

T.Y. Hilton. The first pass of the game went to T.Y., and it was clear the Colts figured him into their game plan this week. He had a fantastic grab on a 41-yard catch and dropped a ball that looked like it would've gone for a long way. He finished with eight catches for 78 yards.

Saving the best for last. Fans should take the time to enjoy watching Robert Mathis. He set the franchise's single-season and career sack marks when he blindsided Keenum for a signature sack-fumble that resulted in a safety. The play recalled Mathis' sack-fumble-safety of Peyton Manning in the Broncos game. Many are making the case for Mathis as Defensive Player of the Year, and he certainly has my (non-existent) vote.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 14 vs. Bengals

Peyton wins the AFC South...again. Peyton Manning put this team on his shoulders and delivered another trademark performance, beating AFC South rival Tennessee for another division title. The headline could've come from pretty much any season from 2002 through 2010, though a few things have changed since then. Like, Peyton plays for the Broncos now.

The Colts just sucked less than the other teams. The Houston Texans imploded. The Titans are mediocre. The Jaguars managed to win four more games than anyone thought possible. Basically, the Colts play in a weak division and got off to a great start...that's the sole reason they've "won" a division title. Would've been nice to clinch it on their own, but I guess it still counts. Kind of.

Flat. Do the Colts eat Thanksgiving dinner before the games start? Their putrid offensive and defensive performances to start the last several games have been absolutely embarrassing. It's like they take a nap in the first half to rest up for the second half. Clearly, the team has no idea why this is happening and has done nothing to stop it. I'd suggest upping the tempo on offense right out of the gate and playing with a sense of urgency. Just a thought.

They hang their hat on defense! The Chuck Pagano Era will hang its hat on defense. No more of this "soft" defense and "finesse" offense. Yet, the Colts defense has been terrible since the Denver game. Vontae Davis is part of a balanced breakfast every week (toast). Darius Butler and Cassius Vaughn are defensive holding penalties just waiting to happen. Even if you gave him a bed sheet, LaRon Landry couldn't cover anything. The usually reliable Antoine Bethea has struggled as well. But it's not all on the secondary...you can't ask guys to keep covering receivers while the quarterback sits in a clean pocket and grabs a Kindle to read a few pages before finding a wide open receiver. No pass rush = crappy secondary play. It's a vicious cycle of dysfunctional parts.

You're fired, Kelvin Sheppard. The Outstanding Moron Award this week goes to Kelvin Sheppard, who buried Marvin Jones for a three-yard loss on a running play and then decided to taunt him, a display of pure unadulterated machismo that cost the Colts 15 yards and swung the momentum at a key point in the game. The Bengals ended up scoring on the drive to go ahead 35-14. Taunting your opponent is stupid when you're down by two touchdowns; even dumber when said penalty pushes that lead to three touchdowns.

And then LaRon Landry ripped off a guy's helmet. You can, in fact, tackle guys without ripping off their helmets. I've seen it happen. It strikes me that Landry is Bob Sanders without the likability. I keep hearing announcers tell me how much he affects a game, yet the Colts defense keeps surrendering points. So, what's the deal with this guy?

Jeff Triplette either has X-ray vision or he's an idiot. Look, if BenJarvus-Green-Ellis-Cumberbatch's plunge into the endzone is originally ruled a touchdown and the referee reverses it when there aren't really any definitive camera angles, that would be wrong. It is then equally wrong for the ruling of down by contact to be reversed when there is no clear video evidence that he was not touched. The NFL uses the phrase "indisputable video evidence" all the time. Did I see a definitive angle showing me that Josh Chapman got a paw on the runner's foot? Kind of (later still shots were much more definitive than the actual video). Did I see a definitive angle showing me that he didn't touch the runner's foot? Absolutely not. The call should have stood as ruled on the field. I would say this even if this call went the other way (i.e., a touchdown is ruled originally and then called back).

This was an egregious example of an official failing to follow the league's own mandates. There is nothing on the tape showing, with 100% clarity, that Green-Ellis stumbled on his own. He was ruled down by contact, and it should've remained down by contact. I don't think the call made that huge of a difference--Andy Dalton and the Bengals scored at will on the Colts--but it was flat-out wrong. Shockingly, mind-numbingly wrong. Triplette deserves a suspension for that call and his crew's blunder in the Washington game last week. Or, as Boomer "Mr. Bengal" Esiason, suggested, perhaps Triplette should be permanently relieved of his duties.

Trent Richardson watch. He carried six times for 20 yards, including an eight-yard (!) run. Still, the average was his pedestrian 3.3 YPC. He was active in the passing game! In garbage time! Actually, I thought he had his best game as a Colt, even though that's like saying this guy had his best day as a henchman:

The new receivers. While the game provided few positives, at least Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill showed something. With a couple of big, tackle-breaking receptions, they nearly got the Colts back into the game. Neither can replace Reggie Wayne (DUH!), but together, they just might supplant Darrius Heyward-Bey. Hell, Rogers had more touchdowns in his one game than DHB has all season. Chew on that. Speaking of which...

And you shall be known as Featherstone. After seeing DHB let another one go right through his hands, I'm reminded of the great Featherstone from Necessary Roughness. I think the character was actually based on the Colts receiver. Check out the Featherstone montage about 50 seconds in:

300+ yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions. Andrew Luck's day looked good on paper. It was awful to watch on TV. Oh, he was also the team's leading rusher--the team with the power running game, mind you--with 32 yards.

They ruled third down. The Colts were 2-10 on third down conversions. That's...um...not good.

Limping to the finish. This is exactly what the Colts are doing. Unless they turn it around in the three remaining games (in all phases), expect a quick exit. They're just not talented enough to go very far if they're going to play like this week in and week out (which they have since Wayne went down).

But please remember... This team is two seasons removed from 2-14 and shocked everyone at 11-5 last year. Despite the many free agent acquisitions, it was going to be tough for the Colts to match last season. Their quick start tantalized us, giving us a glimpse of what the team could be. Sadly, that appears to be an illusion.

Antoine Bethea had 17 tackles. I complained about the secondary plenty earlier. But if Bethea finishes with 17 tackles, that means the Colts aren't stopping the run, they're losing the battle at the line of scrimmage, and the linebackers aren't getting off their blocks. Landry finished with nine tackles. That's a lot of tackles for your safeties--never a good thing.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 13 vs. Titans

Division within reach. Barring an epic collapse, the Colts will win the AFC South. They have a three-game lead over the Titans and hold the tiebreaker. Essentially, the Colts would have to lose their last four games and the Titans would have to sweep their last four for the Colts to miss out on a division title.

Vintage "Money." Adam Vinatieri nailed five field goals for the Colts (with a long of 49 yards). On a day when the offense stalled repeatedly, the Colts needed Vinatieri to come through, and he did. He's having a fantastic season.

The turnover battle. The Colts forced four turnovers: three interceptions and a fumble (all from Ryan Fitzpatrick). Cassius Vaughn--relegated to third cornerback after a couple rough starts in place of Greg Toler--picked off two passes. Indy turned the ball over early in the game after a pass from Andrew Luck went off T.Y. Hilton's hands and bounced into the hands of a waiting Titans defender. The Colts defense forced a punt.

Thank you, Jerrell Freeman. The linebacker was all over the place Sunday, finishing with nine tackles and asked to cover Chris Johnson when Tennessee split their running back out wide a few times. He saved his best play for last, picking off a Fitzpatrick pass as the Titans tried to rally for a touchdown and two-point conversion to send the game to OT. Freeman also recovered a fumble after a sack by Robert Mathis.

Why is Darrius Heyward-Bey a professional football player for the Indianapolis Colts? Hey, it worked last week with David Reed. DHB drew a couple pass interference penalties and caught a pass for 23 yards. Those were his good things. He also got buried for an 11-yard loss on an ill-advised running play, was whistled for offensive pass interference (in his defense, the call was iffy), and--in glorious DHB style--dropped a pass that killed a potential touchdown drive. Sigh.

Donald Brown gets the start. Honestly, he should've started last week on the heels of his great second half against this same Tennessee team. He didn't do much until the last drive, finishing with a relatively unimpressive 14 carries for 54 yards and a TD. The key is when the bulk of those yards came--Brown had 46 yards on the game-clinching drive.

Luck uses his legs. His offensive line can't protect him. His receivers can't get open, and when they do, they drop passes. Luck showed that extra dimension he can bring to the offense when he scrambled for 32 yards on the last drive. He was the team's second-leading rusher, scrambling five times for 42 yards.

Still can't Protect the Franchise. The Colts offensive line is abysmal. Luck got dropped five times; there was an occasion or two in which he held onto the ball too long, but most of this goes on the offensive line. What does this tell us? Despite opening the checkbook and making big moves, the Colts and GM Ryan Grigson failed in their primary mission to protect Andrew Luck. Swapping out Mike McGlynn for Jeff Linkenbach didn't make a noticeable difference.

Richardson demoted. It just hasn't worked out. The Colts made a splash by pulling the trigger on the Richardson trade, and I don't think the "jury is still out" on this one. The Colts have gotten about as much from this former first-round pick as they could've gotten out of a guy from the scout team at the cost of next year's first-round pick. It's expensive mediocrity, even though I'd really like to see him prove me wrong. Earlier, it looked like Donald Brown was being successful because the Colts ran him in certain situations (and with more spread formations). Lately, though, Brown has hit the hole hard in the power formations and found success.

Time to unleash Da'Rick Rogers. Since the Colts are getting nothing from DHB, it's time to give Da'Rick Rogers more playing time. Even though DHB "knows the offense," it doesn't matter because he's not a reliable target. Rogers may suck; I have no idea. But the truth is that he can't hurt the team anymore than DHB. And maybe, just maybe, he'll find himself in the right place and catch the football.

Goal line stand. The Colts stiffened when the Titans tried to get the ball into the endzone from the two. They stuffed Tennessee three times before a little gimmick/misdirection pass resulted in a touchdown. By the way, when you watch that play at regular speed, it kind of looks like Chris Johnson dropped the ball and "didn't complete the catch." It looks a lot different on the replay.

Robert Mathis: Master of the Sack-Fumble. Robert Mathis is having a season for the ages. The Colts pass rush didn't do much Sunday, but Mathis forced a sack-fumble after getting around the edge and knocking the ball away from Fitzpatrick. The Colts ended up salvaging a field goal from the drive.

Your free gift: three points! As time wound down in the first half, the Titans' Moise Fokou (a former Colt) decided to level Stanley Havili. If he'd kept his cool, the half would've ended because T.Y. Hilton caught a pass in bounds and the Colts were out of timeouts. Instead, the idiotic penalty put the Colts in prime position for a field goal.

Return change. With David Reed gone, the Colts turned the return game over to Chris Rainey, who handled both kickoffs and punts. He wasn't measurably more effective than Reed on kickoffs. Rainey filled in on punts for T.Y. Hilton and turned in a nice return for 18 yards. On the flip side, he also muffed a punt return. Thankfully, special teams standout Sergio Brown was there to recover and advance. Brown has quietly had a fantastic season in the third phase of the game.

Ain'tcha ever comin' back, ain'tcha? What's the deal with Greg Toler? The Colts haven't put him on injured reserve and he's been "trending in the right direction" for approximately forever now. The secondary hasn't been the same since Toler's been out. I hope he returns to the lineup soon, because I could think of a few positions that could use that roster spot.