INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard tonight joined Colts.com’s Matt Taylor for his weekly quarterly wrap-up on “Colts Roundtable Live.” What all did Ballard have to say about a range of topics, such as how the team needs to overcome a slew of injuries, overcoming blocked kicks, Jacoby Brissett’s play and much more?
Here is that conversation in full, which you can listen to in its entirety below:
What was your evaluation of the team after its tough loss to the Titans, and its performance overall at 6-6 through the first three quarters of the season?
Ballard: “Yeah, it definitely was a tough loss — you know, especially where you look at one point of the game, we’re up 17-7, we just had a great drive to start the third quarter, and then they drive down the field — they got two explosive plays on us to go 17-14 — then we turn the ball over, and 17-17; and then with five minutes left in the game, to get the field goal blocked for a touchdown was a difficult, difficult circumstance. And then we end up turning the ball over again and they hit us on the shot — kind of the dagger. It shows the impact that each and every play has in a game. I’ve always said, you can’t ever nail it to just one play — every play matters — and so your focus and your detail and your execution has to be on.”
With the team losing four of its last five, what’s the mindset of this locker room heading into the final four games of the season?
Ballard: “Look, and this comes directly from our owner and from Frank — we have two men that are steady and have great leadership, and that just trickles down to our players. And our locker room is great. They understand that each week is a different week, and we’ve gotta prepare each week just like we’re 0-0. And that’s what we’ll continue to do — we’ll continue to live the 1-0 mantra, and it’s time to get us a win on our side.”
What did you make of the defensive performance against the Titans — six sacks, two takeaways — and just how this defense has played overall the last five or six weeks?
Ballard: “It’s been really exciting to see, and the future is really bright defensively, as many young players that we’re playing. And I thought they played good football on Sunday. I mean, I think we had some moments that they all would like back — especially when we went up 17-7 and we give up the 34-yard explosive run to (Derrick) Henry, who’s a heck of a back — but overall I thought they played really well. They took the ball away — had two big strip turnovers that were outstanding, both by (Anthony) Walker and (Bobby) Okereke, which was great to see — and for the most part played really good football, and they have for the entire year. I mean, Matt Eberflus and his staff have done a tremendous job. I mean, we’ve overhauled the unit here in the last two years, and I think we have three players left from ’17, and to watch this unit come together and grow and all the young players that they’re playing, to see these guys grow together and start to understand what Matt wants — the effort he wants, the techniques he wants and the execution he wants — I think over time the more they play together they have a chance to create something really special.”
Offensively, especially at the skillset positions, has had its fair share of injuries. You had another one on Sunday with Chester Rogers going on IR. Do you have to go out and make a move at wide receiver?
Ballard: “Yeah, we’ll see. We’re working through some options (with) what we have. We have some players we like on the roster and on the practice squad. And, look: one thing we will never do is make excuses. It’s our job as a personnel staff to give our coaches good enough players to win, and we have to be able to do that. And our roster understands that if you’re on the 53-man roster — really, the 63-man roster — you have to keep yourself ready to go, because each week it’s gonna be your opportunity to play, and when that opportunity comes, you’ve gotta be able to produce.”
Speaking of injuries, Devin Funchess goes down Week 1 with a clavicle injury, and just can’t get all the way back this season. How tough was that for the team, and how do you evaluate him moving forward as he heads into free agency going off just one game here in Indy?
Ballard: “Yeah, that was a tough break for not only Devin, but for the team. We had big expectations for Devin, especially after training camp, seeing what his big frame and skillset was gonna do for our offense, and then playing well in that first game vs. the Chargers. And I give Devin a lot of credit; he really bought in to everything we were doing here. He’s a good teammate, he works. It’s a shame that it’s worked out the way that is has — you never know what the future gonna hold — but we were very pleased with who he was as a person and teammate here over the last few months.”
What needs to change in the field goal unit to prevent the blocked kicks? What breakdowns led to the blocks against the Titans?
Ballard: “Well, I mean, the breakdown was in the D-gap. And Tennessee does a tremendous job; I give Tennessee a lot of credit. I know their general manager and their head coach very well, and they’re a very well-coached, talented football team. And their special teams coach does a tremendous job, and, look, they had a history of blocked kicks — they won the Kansas City game with a blocked kick at the end of the game — and we’ve gotta execute our technique better and do the things that our staff wants done to get that unit going.”
From a quarterback perspective, how do you balance being perhaps too conservative like the Week 12 Texans game vs. perhaps too aggressive at times like in the Week 13 Titans game?
Ballard: “Well, it’s kind of how the flow of the game is going. I mean, against Houston, I thought we were in a really good spot. We get down to the end of the game and we’re playing a good Houston team on the road on a Thursday night where the odds are against you, and it’s a 20-17 game, and I think we ended up running for 175 yards in the game. And you’ve gotta be able to take your shots when you take them, and I thought we did take enough shots in that game; just didn’t execute, just didn’t finish the play, which was uncharacteristic by T.Y. (Hilton), who had one drop I thought that on a normal (week) when he’s practicing and functioning well, he makes the play. We just didn’t connect. And same with being too aggressive this week — yeah, I mean, sometimes you do what the defense is giving you, and they were giving us some things in the passing game, and we thought we could take advantage of them. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out. Give credit to Tennessee.”
I know you won’t use excuses, but how tough has it been to scheme up an offense that doesn’t have the playmakers you thought you were going to have entering the season, like T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell, Eric Ebron, Devin Funchess, Marlon Mack, etc.?
Ballard: “Well, you’re right, we won’t make excuses. It’s our job to figure it out. Our job as a personnel staff, to make sure our coaches, and Frank and Nick (Sirianni) and the entire offensive staff, I think, have done a tremendous job finding out what our players can do and putting them in a position to do it. We’ve just come up short here in the last month. And they’ve been nip-and-tuck games; these have been nip-and-tuck games in the fourth quarter, and just the other team’s made some more plays than us here in this quarter of the season.”
Does the role of Mo Alie-Cox change going forward, or does Ross Travis take over the Eric Ebron duties?
Ballard: “Well, look, Mo is a true professional. You know, he breaks his thumb against Jacksonville about halfway through the game, finishes the game, plays with a broke thumb against Houston, surgery on Friday and shows up and plays again this week. So in terms of the pass catching, we think this week he’s starting to be able to function better with the thumb. And so he’ll get his share of balls thrown his way here going forward. But we liked Ross. We liked him in camp, it just became a numbers game. He was coming off the ACL, and now we think we’re seeing a fully healthy Ross Travis. So I think between him and some of the stuff that Frank does with his receivers, we’ll be able to use those players to offset what Eric gave us.”
The last quarter of the season starts with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are led by a gunslinger-type coach in Bruce Arians. What kind of challenge will this be?
Ballard: “Well, Bruce Arians is an excellent head football coach. I’ve gotten to know Bruce here the last few years, and not only is he fun to be around, but he is a heck of a football coach. And, yes, does he have gunslinger (tendencies)? Yes, he does. But he coaches fundamentally-sound football teams that play extremely hard for him. And they’re a talented group; they’re an explosive offensive unit with two 1,000-yard receivers and a quarterback who can get them the ball, and they have a coordinator, Todd Bowles, who’s a heck of a defensive coordinator, and they’re been playing good defensive football. So we definitely have our hands full and have got to have a great week of preparation and get ready to go in Tampa and play a great game.”