JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Each week, Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.
This week's Mailbag comes straight to you from Jacksonville, Fla., where the Colts are in town to take on the AFC South Division rival Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at TIAA Bank Field. Indy is looking to sweep the season series over Jacksonville, which would give the team its sixth straight victory overall.
Missed out on the party this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for next time by clicking here.
Let's jump right into this week's questions:
» Daylen E. (Arlington, Texas): "How can u guys find more way of giving nyheim hines the ball so he can make explosive plays up field. and how can u find more ways of getting the ball to number 13 aka the ghost "
Walker: Hey Daylen, I think you've actually hit on something that, I believe, will be a major theme these next few weeks, and that's an increase in touches for Nyheim Hines — particularly in the pass game. The loss of No. 1 tight end Jack Doyle for the season certainly stings, but one theme we saw earlier in this season when Doyle missed a big chunk of games was his absence actually created more opportunities for Hines to be a threat as a target. Doyle missed Weeks 3 through 7 with a hip injury, and during that time, had 24 receptions for 149 yards and two touchdowns through the air — or, averages of roughly five receptions and 30 yards per game. In all other games this season, Hines has averaged less than three receptions and 17 yards per contest. So perhaps with Doyle out the rest of the year, Hines will be the beneficiary, once again, of more opportunities in his place. And as for T.Y. Hilton — yes, it'd be great to get the ball his way more often. But I think at this point it's more nitpicking if you have any issues with the way this offense has been playing the last several weeks. Sure, there are still games in which Hilton's stat line isn't as robust, but we've found that this time around, whenever that happens, it's mostly because the opposing defense is giving him a ton of attention, which, in turn, opens things up for other players to make plays — and they've been making them.
» Armon D. (Anderson, Ind.): "Hey guys thank you for taking my question and I really enjoy reading the mailbag. But I have a question, much like Frank Reich last year, do you see us losing Nick Sirianni next year? Due to our teams offensive success? "
Walker: Thanks Armon! Appreciate you reading and participating. I will say this: I believe Nick Sirianni has done a great job putting himself on the same path as a guy like Sean McVay. McVay was tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins for a couple years, was bumped up to offensive coordinator when Jay Gruden was hired, spent a couple seasons guiding one of the top offensive attacks in the league, and then was hired as the youngest head coach in the NFL last year with the Los Angeles Rams. And now look at the way that franchise has taken off. I have no doubt in my mind Sirianni can one day be an NFL head coach — and a very successful one at that. He's got a terrific demeanor about him: he's personable and relatable with those he deals with each and every day, but he also isn't afraid to get in your face when you need reminded of certain coaching points. I guess, to your point, though, when will these opportunities come Sirianni's way? You just never know. For now, however, Frank Reich — whose relationship with Sirianni goes back years to their days together on the San Diego Chargers' staff — is very happy with the job his offensive coordinator is doing. "A lot of hours and a lot of blood, sweat and tears going back-and-forth over things – we have the kind of relationship where we don't hold anything back," Reich said of Sirianni. "It's not very cordial, let's just put it that way. It's not real cordial. We will just get after it, give strong opinions and challenge each other's opinions because all that matters is that we get it right for the players."
» Robert H. (Evansville, Ind.): "I like the trick plays with Jacoby Brissett in at quarterback. Here's my idea: have both Brissett and Luck lined up behind the center side by side and the other team won't know for sure who is getting the ball snapped to them. Which ever one that doesn't get it snapped to will become the outlet receiver in the slot for the other in the event that no one else is open. I hope that made sense. What do you think of this idea for a trick play? Thanks for the great job you do every week."
Walker: Robert, I think you're on to something. I'll pass this along to Coach Reich.
» Pam S. (Greenwood, Ind.): "Congrats on 5 wins in a row! Why are we running "trick plays" on our offense? Colts have one of the best QB's in the league....Andrew Luck is THE Colts franchise player! Why did we use him as a receiver in Sunday's game? There enough injured players this season, why risk getting Andrew hurt?"
Walker: Hey Pam, thanks for writing in. I think many Colts fans were a little stunned when Jacoby Brissett came into the game last Sunday on 4th and 1, were even more stunned when they saw Andrew Luck lined up as a wide receiver, and then their jaws dropped when Brissett actually threw the ball to Luck, who made a nice play to go up and secure a high throw, come to the ground and take a decent hit from the safety to get the first down. Did that scenario end up playing out the way Reich envisioned? No, not exactly. But no harm, no foul; lesson learned, and now opposing teams will think twice about leaving Luck wide open if they ever try that formation again. I will say this: you have to mix it up every once in a while. Reich has a solid offensive system, as we've all seen. But I think throwing a wrench in the gameplan every so often and putting in a trick play here and there keeps things fresh for the players and the coaches — and keeps things much less predictable for the opposing defense.
» Scott O. (Elizabethtown, Ky.): "Do you think DL the manic will get defensive rookie of the year he is having great year"
Walker: Scott, I do. I really do think Darius Leonard, at this point, is far and away the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year — and I've thought that throughout the entire season. I have faith that those charged with voting for this award will be smart enough not to buy into the hype for players who have had great rookie seasons in their own right, but because they play in bigger markets or for teams that garner much more national coverage, they might get the nod over Leonard despite the fact their overall impact doesn't even come close to touching his. Leonard does everything for this Colts defense. He leads the NFL in tackles — by far. He leads the NFL in solo tackles — by far. He's second among all NFL rookies in sacks — despite the fact he rarely blitzes. He is the leading rookie, or in the top two or three, in forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, and he also has an interception. He's had two or three game-changing plays that have led to Colts wins. Again, there are other terrific candidates out there. But I sure hope "what have you done for me lately?" doesn't trump the true definition of the award. Who is the best defensive rookie in the league? There's no doubt that Leonard fits that description.
» Rich C. (Indianapolis): "Do u as a team find that u r meeting your goals this season?
With that being said happy holidays and go Colts"
Walker: Rich, I think we'll have to wait a few more weeks until we can answer that. There are built-in goals each and every season for the Colts: qualify for the postseason, win your division and then make a run and win the Super Bowl. So, obviously, those goals are still out there for this Colts team. As far as meeting some other, smaller (but still important goals) that were set at the beginning of the season, I think there's no doubt some of those have already been met. The Colts wanted to improve their physicality up front on both sides — they now have the best offensive line in football, and their defensive line has certainly showed plenty of flashes and has good, young talent. You wanted to expose a large rookie class to plenty of playing time — that's certainly happened. Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, Braden Smith, Kemoko Turay, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin have each gotten a ton of exposure already, and Tyquan Lewis, Skai Moore and George Odum aren't far behind. You wanted Andrew Luck to get back to his pre-shoulder injury form — he's been able to do that, and then some. You wanted to implement a new 4-3 defensive scheme and get buy-in from the players — there's no doubt that's happened with this team, and despite the fact it's still a young, building unit overall, the foundation is certainly there. So, yeah, several goals have been met already, but still several huge boxes are left to be checked.
» Julianne N. (Urbana, Ill.): "How do you refocus after a bad play or bad play call?"
Walker: Gorging myself with food in the press box usually helps a little.
Oh, you mean the actual team? Well, they're human beings, so frustration is going to be natural after things don't go your way (and that frustration builds if things don't go your way over and over again). But one thing I've noticed with Frank Reich: he doesn't flinch. Much in the same way Tony Dungy stayed even-keeled when things were good, bad and in-between, Reich just always seems like he's never fazed — and I think that certainly has rubbed off on his players. Any NFL team will tell you they take things one play, one game, one week at a time, but Reich truly embodies that.
» Cole C. (Fort Wayne, Ind.): "With Cody Kessler starting for the Jaguars, do you believe the Colts should prepare accordingly to as if Bortles was starting because I know Kessler is a proven thrower and the Colts secondary should be well prepared in case Kessler comes and has a good game. "
Walker: To me, this is actually a pretty tough assignment for the Colts' defense. Think about this: the Jaguars are entering Sunday's game with a new offensive coordinator, a new starting quarterback, without their starting running back, and with their All-Pro guard now on IR. So what, exactly, do you study if you're Indy? I mean, Cody Kessler started eight games as a rookie with the Cleveland Browns three years back, and has played sparingly this season, so you can take a look at that film — as well as his preseason highlights — but there's still not much to go off of. I think if you're Matt Eberflus this week, you just really focus on yourself. Give your defense a few key points to really hone in on that really have nothing to do with the Jaguars and everything to do with yourself. Because if the Indianapolis defense is sound with the basics — getting some pressure up front, providing solid coverage in the back end and bringing ballcarriers to the ground — then one would assume that should translate into a positive result in this matchup against the Jaguars.
» Tara F. (Brazil, Ind.): "Tough injury for Jack Doyle. I hope he recovers fully and as quickly as possible. Believing all things are possible, if the Colts were to be in the playoffs and go deep, is there any chance Jack could return? Also, looking toward the future at wide receiver, how is Deon Cain progressing? Thanks! "
Walker: Tara, while your optimism is certainly always welcomed, unfortunately, Jack Doyle won't be able to return to the Colts' active roster this season. There are a couple reasons for that. First off, just medically, he needs time to fully recover and get back from the procedure done on his injured kidney, so while the team is confident he'll be good to go for next season, he just would never be ready in time, even if the Colts made a deep postseason run. The second reason is because Indianapolis only gets two return-from-injured reserve candidates each season, and the team has already used both — one on defensive tackle/end Tyquan Lewis, and the other on tackle/guard Joe Haeg.
» Rob K. (Mackey, Ind.): "By reading the snap count articles you wrote that Najee Goode and Zaire Franklin seldom play defensive downs. I am blind, so I am not aware, do the Colts play a lot of nickel and dime defenses or am I missing something? This week I heard Darious Leonard on the Rich Eisen Show on Fox Sports Radio. It is great to finally have someone recognize his greatness on the national level. Now, only if more sportcasters would talk about him on the national level. He will win Defensive Rookie of the Year and everybody will be wandering where he came from."
Walker: Hey Rob, appreciate you taking in the Snap Counts articles each week. Tell your friends. So here's how it shakes out as it pertains to Najee Goode and Zaire Franklin and the Colts' defensive alignments: there's actually been a shift in recent weeks, in which when the Colts play their base 4-3 defense, Matthew Adams is actually the primary SAM linebacker. But you are onto something: the Colts do usually play a lot more in their nickel and dime packages each week than they are in base. Goode and Franklin have been really solid on special teams, however, so those are two guys that can get it done at linebacker at needed — along with Skai Moore — but Adams' stock seems to be up lately.
» John P. (Muncie, Ind.): "Is it a possibility that dayveon Bell is going to come too Indianapolis and the running back for our team"
Walker: Never heard of him.
» Mallory T. (Richmond, Ind.): "Can you guys come to Richmond, IN"
Walker: Been there many times. Great North Central Conference city. But I'll pass along to the team to see if there are any plans to see its great fans in Richmond this offseason.
» Aditya D. (Dunlap, Ill.): "Hi Andrew, I'll be heading to the Giants Colts game in Dec. and was trying to figure out which section is the tunnel that the colts come out of? Also are we able to try to get autographs during warmups? Thanks for doing the Mailbag again!"
Walker: Aditya, welcome back to the Mailbag. It seems as though fans like to hang out around the tunnel leading to the Colts' locker room before the game — that'd be around Sections 129, 132 and 135. Best of luck!