Looking Ahead…

It’s that time of year again; another disappointing Super Bowl (all Super Bowls that don’t feature a Colts victory are disappointing, in my humble opinion), the Evil Empire of the East is, once again, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and the Indianapolis Colts had another 11-5 season…complete with a shocking upset over Denver in the Divisional round and an upsetting shock in the AFC Championship game…such seems to be the life of a Colts fan.

Here in Colts country, we have had a lot of confidence in Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson, but one cannot shake that feeling, despite the postseason progression we have seen over the last three years, that Indy has been here before.  The Colts, quite literally, are only going as far as Andrew Luck can take them, just like Peyton did before him…let those words sink in for a minute: just. like. Peyton.  The Colts need to add more pieces to this puzzle if they are going to cross that threshold and become a truly elite NFL team.  In the beginning of the Manning era, Colts fans were convinced that, after years of futility, we were finally going to have our day in the sun; we were going to be one of those great NFL dynasties like the Steelers, the Niners and the Cowboys.  We had the man who would surely finish his career as the Greatest of All Time at the QB position; the world was our oyster and it would soon be raining Lombardi Trophies in Indianapolis, but…it didn’t.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining…Indianapolis and its fans were richly blessed to have Peyton Manning leading our team for all of those years, he gave us confidence that, even in the most difficult of challenges, our team would prevail and when they didn’t, Colts fans could honestly look forward to next year.  The cup of Colts fans still runs over to this day; how many teams have we seen lose a legendary QB and spend the next decade or so in football purgatory trying in vain to recapture that glory?  Colts fans didn’t experience that…we bid a fond farewell to “the Sheriff” and welcomed another budding superstar with open arms, and he has given us his all.  No, I’m not complaining at all, but like the fans of any team, Colts fans are not content to have what may well be more than a quarter of a century’s worth of astonishing quarterback talent leading our team and only see a couple of Lombardi Trophies find their way to the Circle City.

Ryan Grigson has done a respectable job of picking a few shimmering gems to surround Indy’s magnificent crown jewel via the draft, while raggedly mending holes in the mantle with a patchwork of free agents.  However, there’s been some missteps, Jerry Hughes was starting to show signs that, just maybe, he was going to be the guy Bill Polian thought he was drafting in 2010; Grigson didn’t see it that way and traded him away to Buffalo for Kelvin Sheppard.  There was the Trent Richardson trade..that 2014 first round pick could have been used to trade down and pick up a couple of players that were desperately needed.  Imagine if Grigs had traded down to pick up Timmy Jernigan to bookend with Arthur Jones and Cory Redding or what if Carlos Hyde had been in the backfield.  Okay, I know that neither of these guys were world beaters their rookie seasons, but either would have contributed so much more than Richardson did.  The 2013 draft was mind boggling in how absolutely bad it was…I can’t think of anyone who thought Bjoern Werner was a good pick, especially with Xavier Rhodes and Datone Jones sitting there; hell, we could have traded down and got Darius Slay to line up across from Vontae…how much better would Indy be with Jonathon Cyprien at safety instead of Landry?  The jury is still out on the only other notable picks from that draft, Thornton and Holmes.  This is the year that Grigson needs to add that key talent around Andrew Luck to make the Colts true contenders in the AFC.  The Colts need a nose tackle that can clog up the middle and allow our linebackers to make plays, a pass rusher that makes opposing QB’s scramble for dear life instead of standing there for six or seven seconds trying to decide which receiver deserves a catch on this play, a strong safety that can range sideline to sideline, ala Earl Thomas, that allows our free safety to be an enforcer against tight ends and receivers running shallow crossing routes.  Finally, he needs to get a running back that doesn’t make Indy’s play action passing game an NFL version of “Stupid Pet Tricks” and some offensive linemen that can step in and take over if one of the starters go down without the entire protection scheme falling apart like a game of Jenga being played by a two year old.

This is the year.

Chuck Pagano has spoken of “Building the Monster” since the first day he came to Indy, but despite the intentions, the results have not been there.  The players love Chuck, for good reason…he’s the consummate players coach; Indy had good coaches during the Manning era, too.  Jim Mora was a good coach, but he wasn’t the guy that could get that team to perform at a championship level.  The Manning Colts never realized their potential until Tony Dungy took over; if this past season has proven anything, it’s that coaching matters.  New England and Seattle both had horrendous starts to the season, but Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll righted the ship and both teams went all the way to the Super Bowl.  Bruce Arians took his Arizona team to the playoffs and, for awhile, had the best record in the NFL while being stripped down to Ryan Freaking Lindley as his starting quarterback, for Heaven’s sake.  Coaching matters.  This is the year that Chuck needs to stop Building the Monster, this is the year when Chuck needs to Release the Monster.

This is the year.

As a Colts fan, I can’t help but feel terrible about the words I have written.  Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano have played a huge role in preventing this franchise from descending into the abyss, like Jacksonville, Tennessee or Oakland, but the fans of this franchise are tired of playing second banana to the likes of New England year after year.  They love seeing the progress this team has made in the playoffs these past three years but are tired of the season coming to an end with a horrendous curb stomping.  In 1995, Indy made it to the AFC Championship game, losing to Pittsburgh in heartbreaking fashion when Aaron Bailey dropped the game winning touchdown in the endzone.  The Colts played with incredible hear and reckless abandon in that game, but the one thing I remember more than anything else was, then Head Coach, Ted Marchibroda stating that “we were just happy to be here.”  There may have been some truth there, considering that the Colts were an 8-8 team going into the playoffs, but I couldn’t help but think to myself “Who in the hell is just happy to be here when they lose the AFC Championship game?”  Lately, it seems as if this front office and coaching staff has been content “just to be there”…and the fans may have felt that way in year one of the Luck era, but now the fans are thirsting for more.  The losses to New England have been humiliating and the fans of the Colts deserve much more than what they have been given.  This is the year that it all must come together…it doesn’t necessarily need to end with Andrew Luck raising the Lombardi Trophy triumphantly, but this team needs to get to the AFC Championship again…and God help the Patriots if they get in our way.  If not, then maybe it’s time to find the leaders who will make it happen.

This is the year.

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Winter is Coming…

The jury’s still out on whether there was any chicanery on the part of the New England Patriots in the so-called “Deflategate” scandal, so I’m not going to speculate whether the organization is guilty of cheating; however, if it should turn out to be the case that the investigation concludes that tampering did indeed occur, the NFL has no choice but to come down hard on the Patriots organization.  Many pundits and fans alike have been guilty of poo-pooing this as a fake scandal; they’ve pointed out such facts as it didn’t make a difference in the outcome of the game and Phil Simms remarking that Arron Rodgers likes the football overinflated, even speculating that all of the teams do it.  These are all nothing but red herrings designed to distract from this one simple reality: it’s a violation of the rules, and if the New England Patriots intentionally did this, whether it was Bellichick himself or a ball boy, it will not be the first time the Patriots have been caught cheating.  Arguments such as these should be ignored as the product of a shallow an biased intellect that they are, and if made by a “journalist”, is worthy of a healthy flogging with ye olde’ cat ‘o nine tails.

Roger Goodell has no choice but to come down hard on the Patriots if the allegations turn out to be true.  It makes no difference if some lowly ball boy or equipment manager is the culprit or if Bob Kraft himself came down and deflated the balls; I repeat…it makes no difference.  This would make this organization repeat offenders and the violations are “integrity of the game” level violations, I don’t care what the politically correct crowd thinks, this is far more serious than the Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson incidents…this, if true, is something that actually affects the game of football and casts a shadow on the entire league, just like the “Spygate” scandal or the Saints bounty scandal.  Therefore, Goodell must pass harsh sentence if it comes down to that.  This is a situation the commish has put himself into, his tenure has been riddled of instances, especially this season, where he has acted more like Caesar passing “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” judgments on defeated gladiators just to appease the unruly mob of fickle football “fans” that have crawled out of the woodwork like filthy roaches during the NFL’s rise to supremacy of the American sports world.  He has used “player safety” as an excuse to neuter the hallmark of the game, defensive play, while hypocritically pushing for an 18 game season and extended post-season play by adding more teams to the playoff mix.  The convoluted rulebook that has been created during his tenure resulted in weekly officiating debacles that have been the deciding factor in games as much as the players.  He has, without a doubt, been the worst commissioner the NFL has ever had; frankly, I’m hoping that this scandal will be the end of him in that position.  Additionally, I’m also fervently hoping that the scandals and events of this season finally drive away the bandwagon fans who have leached onto the game over the last decade or so along with their “social conscience” drivel…Goodell’s Commissionership has truly been the bastard spawn of these despicable people.

Go back in time to the bounty scandal; Goodell told Sean Payton that “ignorance is no excuse” in, rightfully, passing a yearlong suspension on the coach.  Well, those words must come back to haunt him if this is found to be true.  Suspension for Bellichick should be a foregone conclusion, how long?  I don’t know, but four games sound about right to me.  Loss of draft picks?  Absolutely, they lost a first rounder for Spygate, multiple picks is the only appropriate penalty for a repeat offender.  Fines need to be levied against the organization, fines that will cause Bob Kraft some pain in the pocketbook and make him think twice about tolerating the “win at all costs” mentality that permeates his organization.

Regardless of the outcome, it is high time that fans call for the toppling of Goodell’s empire of shame.

Observations on Championship Sunday

Championship weekend is over.  For me, both games were nothing short of head scratchers; how could a team / coach with a pedigree like the Packers and Mike McCarthy play small ball the way they did in the Conference championship?  How could any NFL team look as lost and unprepared as the Colts did in New England?  Did they think Belichick was going to suit up the Titans in an attempt to throw them off their game?  That would explain the game plan, at least.  Today, the news broke that the Patriots are being investigated for ball tampering during last night’s game…I’d like to make one thing clear: even if it turns out to be true, it had nothing to do with the complete and utter humiliation dealt to the Colts last night.  I’m going to withhold my judgment until the league finishes its investigation; suffice to say though, it won’t surprise me and, once again if proven true, it will be high time that the league does something about it.  We have seen the Commissioner dole out harsh punishments on players this season, some of them before there was even any conviction of wrongdoing and some that were for first time offenders that far exceed what the league rulebook states that a first time offender is supposed to have levied; and these were for behaviors, though reprehensible, had no effect on the game itself other than a handful of fickle fans being OUTRAGED!™ about it.  That’s just a little teaser on what you can expect the Clown to unleash if these charges are found to be true.  Anyway, without further ado, here is the Clown’s take on the Conference Championship games.

NFC Championship Game Seattle 28 Green Bay 22

The Packers jumped out to 16-0 lead by halftime, and their fate was already sealed.  Face it…some losses are bad and some just make you sick, and then there’s…this.  You can point out a lot of different points in the game where the Packers lost control of this game; Rodgers second pick mid-way through the second quarter, the 3rd and 19 conversion by Seattle that left the Packers defense looking more like a bad Pop Warner squad than the NFC’s 2nd seed; Clinton-Dix’s dropped pick; Burnett’s slide after his interception with about 5:00 minutes left in the game; the onside kick debacle or the 2-point hail Mary conversion.  Without a doubt, these plays made a big difference in Green Bay handing this game, all gift wrapped with a pretty little bow, to Seattle, but none of them would have made a difference, hell…some of them wouldn’t even have happened if not for one simple fact: Mike McCarthy played small ball in this game.  Green Bay’s defense produced turnovers on Seattle’s first two possessions Sunday afternoon, promptly driving to Seattle’s one yard line both times.  McCarthy shrunk when Seattle’s defense stopped them short on 3rd down both times and opted for the field goal.  Some advice for ‘ya, coach…championship teams are led by coaches with big brass balls, they get their boot on the opponent’s neck and they don’t, under no circumstances, take it off.  Coach McCarthy…yes, your team played like a second rate JV squad in the second half yesterday, but, the only reason that made a difference in the game is because you didn’t have the stones to take it to the Seahawks when you had the chance.  This one is on you and you earned it.

AFC Championship Game New England 45 Indianapolis 7

Where do I even start?  I think most Colts fans were biting their nails, just waiting for that first disastrous play that would snowball into yet another defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots, and Josh Cribbs didn’t make them wait long.  I don’t know why, but we all knew that Cribbs was a disaster waiting to happen after last week, and, sure enough, the moment he actually calls for a fair catch, the ball hits him in the face mask and it’s off to the races.  That being said, that was an irrelevant drip in the bucket of incompetence displayed by the Indy squad last night while the Patriots thoroughly curb stomped them into humiliation.  Twice…twice this team ran the ball with impunity against this Colts defense in their previous meetings and still the Colts defense allowed them to run it right down the throat and out the anus of the defense…time after time after time after time.  How many times did we see Colt defensive lineman shuttled between offensive linemen away from the runner like some primo ganja being passed down a toke line?  How often did we see Colt linebacker swallowed up by blockers?  How often did we see defenders blow their gap assignments or fail to make a tackle when they actually did display enough discipline to fill their gap?  Bill Belichick made a statement last night: “I have no respect for your defense.  In fact, I have so much disrespect for your defense, I didn’t even put any work into coming up with a game plan.”  The run defense was nothing less than a defense simply getting owned, abused and gang raped by a superior foe who had set their mind to not allowing them to leave Gillette Stadium with anything resembling a shred of dignity.  The pass defense wasn’t any better; I’m pretty sure that the only reason Tom Brady didn’t throw for more yards and touchdowns last night was because he was awestruck by the Colts ability to be so utterly and thoroughly lost that he was partially blinded by the sheer ineptitude on display in front of him; either that or he was afraid that if he continued to throw the ball on Indy’s secondary they might spontaneously combust in a massive fireball that would leave Gillette Stadium a charred and smoldering heap of rubble.  Some people like to say that Bill Bellichick plays chess while everyone else plays checkers; last night, Bellichick played the Colts while Indy played someone else.  The defensive game plan was simply wrong from the start, but I’m pretty comfortable stating that whoever Greg Manusky game planned for, they would have beat his defense too.  Offensively, Pep Hamilton continued to show how he will continue to be nothing more than the token minority that teams have to interview to show they are in compliance with the Rooney Rule.  The offensive line offered nothing more than a pocket that was collapsing upon itself so rapidly that it seemed to be at risk of crushing into a black hole.  Sure, Luck had time to throw, but he couldn’t step into those throws at all; consequently, they were all over the place…except when they were accurate, then they were simply dropped.  I could go on, but, really…what’s the point?  It’s merely becoming and exercise in kicking guys while they’re down…frankly, I don’t think that the Colts performance was worthy of the time I’ve already dedicated to writing about it.

Keys to Victory for the Teams Reasonable People are Rooting For…

Conference Championship time again!  One last day of playoff football before setting off into the bleak and desolate two week period leading up to the Super Bowl; but before we move on to the drek of feel good stories about some guy who, despite growing up in abject poverty, losing his dog when he was eight years old because the family had no choice but to make stew out of it, spent his entire life being told he was too small to play in the NFL, yada, yada…he persevered to experience his dream by securing a spot on one teams roster as the third string long snapper and free kick gunner…let’s find out what it will take for the ‘road dogs’ to win this weekend.

Green Bay:

The Packers come into this weekend with, in my opinion, the best chance to post the upset.  Why?  Simple…they have Aaron Rodgers; even if he is still a bit gimpy from the strained calf, so what?  This is Aaron Freaking Rodgers, man!  Nonetheless, the Pack are going up against one tough defense in an extremely hostile environment this Sunday.  Rodgers or not, Seattle is the real deal.  To win, Mike McCarthy is going to have to have the right game plan, executed to near perfection, if he has any hope of taking his team to Glendale in two weeks…come to think of it, he’ll probably be there either way; I mean, who in the hell wants to go back to Green Bay in January if you don’t have to?  Anyway, here the Clown’s take on what Rodgers & Co. need to do to leave the CLink with a ‘W’

Protect Aaron Rodgers.
I know, this is pretty obvious…real genius observation there, clown.  Hold on a minute, hear me out; two teams made it to this weekend with absolutely putrid offensive line play this year: Seattle and Indy, so it is possible to play championship football while hanging your QB out to dry like a soiled set of sheets on a breezy day…that is if you have Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson.  You can even do it somewhat if you have a healthy Rodgers.  The problem is, they don’t.  Rodgers is playing a little bit hobbled, so even though we have seen that Rodgers is capable of moving around in the pocket on a pogo stick (right, Dallas?), how about we not try to do that against a real defense, humh?  Seattle needs to be able to put constant pressure on the QB with their front four in order for that secondary to work the way it should…neutralize this pass rush and Seattle will have no choice but to start blitzing…which means man coverage on someone…most likely with Richard Sherman.  Crazy?  Yeah, like a fox.  More on this in a minute.

Run the ball.
Eddie Lacy is a hammer.  Hammers were made for pounding.  Pound that freaking front seven of Seattle…pound them mercilessly, pound them into submission.  Pete Carroll will eventually have no choice but to bring Kam Chancellor down into the box to impose his will on that running game; that’s going to leave little help over the top…I guarantee that they’ll shade Earl Bennet to help out on the side opposite Sherman.

If Green Bay has executed these two items flawlessly, that’s going to lead to the final piece of the diabolical plan to unseat the reigning World Champions and silence Richard Sherman’s bloviating self-promotion in one fell swoop…and here it is.

Attack Richard Sherman with Randall Cobb and Davante Adams.
Richard Sherman is a great corner, no doubt about it, but he also has a tendency to struggle with receivers who are quick and shifty off the line.  Don’t believe me?  Go watch this.  Why was Sherman playing T.Y. Hilton so soft?  Here’s why.  Hilton’s not the first receiver to do this to Sherman and he won’t be the last…Cobb and Adams can do it, too.

Shut up the jackwagon, er, I mean Seattle crowd.
Okay, this is impossible…you can never shut up a Seattle fan.  They’re invulnerable to logic and reality, so there’s no way to shut them up, but, you can neutralize the noise.  Green Bay will have to come out with some system of visual cues to communicate at the line.

Indianapolis:

Indy has the tallest task ahead of them; I thoroughly despise the Patriots, but I have to give them their due…they are good, especially in Foxboro.  That being said, the Colts can absolutely beat New England this Sunday, and here’s how they do it.

Stop the run.
Simply put, Indy doesn’t leave Foxboro alive if they let New England’s pathetic stable of running backs romp all over them like they did in week 11 and last year’s Divisional round…no way in hell.  The Colts front seven are going to have to play solid fundamental defense to stop the run; they can’t afford any sloppy tackling this weekend or it’s “wait ‘til next year” time.  D’Qwell Jackson, this is why you got paid by Mr. Irsay…earn your keep.

Clamp down on Gronk.
I don’t like Rob Gronkowski…he strikes me as a self-absorbed meathead, but, the guy is an absolute force of nature on the field and there is no way you take him out of the game with any single player the Colts have on defense.  If the Colts want to have any chance of winning, they’re going to have to bracket Gronk over and under with a safety and linebacker, most likely Landry and Freeman.  If you watch New England, they love to run Gronk up the seam until they get into the Red Zone, if he’s effectively defended in this fashion, you take away the passing lane underneath, but leave someone there to stop the run after the catch if Brady is able to thread it in.  It’s a long shot, but it’s all the Colts have.

Collapse the pocket from the middle and hit Brady.
We all saw it in the Baltimore game…you hit Brady and he starts crying like a little girl; he always has.  The Colts don’t have to make Brady run for his life all day, but they need to get pressure on him; the best way to do that is to collapse the pocket right up the middle.  I don’t care what QB it is, you prevent them from stepping up into a clean pocket to throw the ball, they’re going to get sloppy and throw bad passes.  If the Colts do this, they’ll send Brady crying in tears to the waiting arms of Giselle for comfort and consolation.  Wait…

Protect Luck.
The last thing Indy needs is for Luck to be running around the pocket trying to make something happen against an opportunistic defense like New England…that’s a recipe for disaster.  Luck can’t be throwing picks in this game; if he does, Indy’s dead.

Don’t even pretend you have a running game.
Simple fact…Indy can’t run the ball…in the traditional sense.  Boom Herron only averaged around 2.5 yards per carry last week against Denver, but, when you factor in those little dump off passes and shallow crossing routes in, that average goes up over 4.5 yards per touch.  That is Indy’s running game…c’mon, Pep, embrace it, you are who you are; it’s a lot easier to look in the mirror if you have a Lamar Hunt trophy to show for it.

Revis can’t cover everybody.
I fully expect the Patriots to take away T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne; fine, that still leaves Fleener, Allen, Nicks and Moncrief.  They’ll either put Revis on Reggie and double team T.Y. or vice-versa, but the Colts have a lot more weapons at their disposal.  If the Colts want to come away with the win, Nicks, Moncrief and Fleener / Allen are going to have to come up big.

 

So there you have it.  The formula for the underdogs to advance to the Super Bowl…all wrapped up in a tidy little package.  When we have a Green Bay vs. Indianapolis Super Bowl in two weeks, both franchises can feel free to contact me so I can tell them where to send the checks.

 

Football – A Love Story