*EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J — *Each week, Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.
This week’s edition is coming at you from the East Rutherford, N.J., area, where the Colts are taking on the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon.
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:
» Stephen S. (Carmel, Ind.): “We closer to being healthy? ”
Walker: Short and to the point, Stephen. I like your style. And my short answer is: yes. The Colts are much closer to being healthy than they were at this point last week. Whenever your number of available players dips into the 30s, it’s not ideal, and that’s what Indy was facing last Thursday when they played the Patriots with nine players ruled out prior to kickoff, and then four more players knocked out of the game with injuries. But I guess the positive part of any Thursday Night Football game is the rest period you get until your next game — about 10 days or so. So, in that time, the Colts have seen many players improve with their health status, many of whom could play on Sunday against the Jets: tackle Anthony Castonzo, cornerback Nate Hairston, linebacker Darius Leonard, running back Marlon Mack, defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, linebacker Anthony Walker and cornerback Quincy Wilson. So while we now know seven players are already ruled out against the Jets, that’s a lot better news than the 14 or so players who were unavailable heading into the week.
» Dylan M. (Marshall, Ill.): “Do you think the main issue on defense is our lack of pass coverage skills in our linebacker core? It seems like we can't stop a mid range pass at all, which is causing us to give up a lot of first downs on 3rd and 4-8 yard plays.”
Walker: You know, Dylan? I really don’t see this as a major issue. I explained this last week, but when you switch to the 4-3, Tampa 2 base defensive style that the Colts have re-adopted this season, the keys are getting pressure up front, and then making sure you don’t allow anything deep. So what you see, oftentimes, are opposing offenses taking what they can get and attacking the middle of the field. There’s going to be some smaller chunk pass plays allowed by this defense, but it really has nothing to do with how well (or how poorly) the linebackers are covering. The Colts this season have the third most sacks (17) in the NFL, and have allowed the third-fewest big plays of 25-plus yards (six) in the league so far. I’d say the defense is doing what it needs to do, for the most part.
» Eric M. (Terre Haute, Ind.): “Injuries have been a big issue, but so has coming back too soon from injury which may retard the healing process. (Especially with hamstrings as of late.) What steps do players and staff take to decide whether or not someone is ready to take the field again?”
Walker: I wouldn’t necessarily say anybody on the Colts has been rushed back from injury this season. If memory serves me correctly, there have been two instances in which players have suffered what would be considered “setbacks” in their recoveries, and both have been with hamstrings — and those players are Anthony Castonzo and Marlon Mack. Neither Castonzo nor Mack were brought back (twice in Castonzo’s case) into the fold before they had spent significant time out rehabbing their injuries, however. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a hamstring injury, Eric, but being the elite athlete I am, I know I’ve battled a couple pulled hammys before in recent years on the softball circuit, and it’s about the most unpredictable of all injuries out there. The initial key is rest and recovery, but even then you could think you’ve done everything you need to do to get back, and then you pull it again. The unpredictability makes these kinds of issues really hard — and that’s the case across the entire league.
» Bryan T. (Tylertown, Miss.): “Why is we losing like that?i know our offense line need to step they game up and keep our QB safe ”
Walker: Hey Bryan, thanks for writing. Would you believe me if I told you the Colts’ offensive line ranks sixth in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass attempt? Sounds like they’re stepping their game up and keeping the quarterback pretty safe to me. I mean, look at all the moving parts up front so far this season, and they’re still able to limit the hits on Andrew Luck week in and week out. Yes, there are going to be some sacks and quarterback hits from game to game, but I’d be more encouraged by the adjustments made to slow down opposing pass rushers (the last two weeks, particularly) than worried about anything protection-wise.
» Tyson S. (Shelbyville, Ind.): “Hey Mike, First I'd like say that this is great way to get info on our Colts, so thanks. With our pass defense struggles will we look to free agents to fill them gaps. Plus do you think we can win out before the bye week and get back on track. Thanks”
Walker: Hey Steve, thanks for thanking us for the Mailbag. As it pertains to the pass defense struggles, I’ll once again allude to the fact that, yes, the Colts allow some 10- to 20-yard completions down the field each week, but A.) Any passes longer than 25 yards against this defense are rare (about one a game), and B.) The Colts are capitalizing on mistakes by opposing quarterbacks, as evidenced by their five interceptions (again, one per game). And it’s easy to look at the three remaining games leading up to the bye week and be confident about the Colts’ chances, but I will say each and every opponent Indy is playing — the Jets, the Bills and the Raiders — have all been so up and down this year that it’s hard telling just how any of those games will actually go.
» Carol V. (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil): “We have seen many injuries affecting the depth of the offensive line. This was one of the sectors of great concern during the offseason, and Chris Ballard spent a lot of time evaluating Draft players and free agents to meet our needs. In the last game we saw a solid performance of Braden Smith as RT and we had Quenton Nelson for the first time appearing in PFF's team of the week. Thus, how can we evaluate the evolution of the rookies and how important is their role for the rest of the season? Thanks for the opportunity to interact with the team, even if it's far away, here in Brazil. Go Colts!”
Walker: It’s so awesome to have international participation for our Mailbag. Thanks for writing, Carol, and great question. I think Chris Ballard’s focus on adding depth and talent along the offensive line this offseason is really paying dividends now, as the team has been able to keep things afloat up front, despite the fact they’ve been without their starting left tackle all season, and the right tackle spot continues to be a revolving door thanks to injuries and other issues. The Colts want to improve in their run blocking, for sure, but the sack numbers are way down, which is certainly encouraging. As for Nelson and Smith, there’s no better time than now to see what these rookies can do. Smith performed very well last week at right tackle against the Patriots, and now with Matt Slauson out at right guard, the team could decide to keep Smith at right tackle, or have him replace Slauson, and be perfectly fine with either decision.
» Shawn C. (Houston): “Will you be bringing fountain back? The 5th round draft pick”
Walker: I answered a Reece Fountain question in last week’s Mailbag, and I get it — with T.Y. Hilton out the last couple weeks, fans want to see what the rookie wide receiver is made of. Fountain remains on the team’s practice squad, but has seen his activity increase in recent days, as we learned from offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni this week: “Yeah, I think he has looked good. I think he has played well in the scout team areas and with four receivers right now as T.Y. (Hilton) is out right now, just a little banged up. He’s getting some reps with Andrew (Luck), also just to fill a role. I have seen him continually develop. He is still developing and I have seen him make plays on the scout team and know what to do when he goes in with us and our plan. That’s a tribute to him that he is studying like he is playing, which will bode well for him when it is his opportunity. So I think him and Steve Ishmael have done a good job and they run all day. So I see a lot of fight in those guys because they are doing a lot, a lot, a lot of reps because not only do they have to help out when the offensive is up, they are also getting every rep without a break for the defense. I see development in those guys. Again, that’s a tribute to them and obviously their coach, Kevin Patullo.”
» Glenn W. (Powhatan, Va.): “Can we have the best Colts room contest? I have been collecting for years. Would love to show off my room and I am sure others would too. We own 60 jersies going all the way back to the Baltimore Colts. Just wondering ”
Walker: That’s a good idea, Glenn. Your collection sounds impressive. I’ll pass this along to the proper people.
» Lauren M. (Indianapolis): “HOW CAN I WIN TICKETS?!?!?!?!”
Walker: I’d give our Colts Fans Page (click here) a good look to keep track of when the team does do ticket contests/giveaways. Also, team owner Jim Irsay is pretty consistent about his trivia-based ticket giveaways on Twitter, so follow him there (click here), too.
» Ta’riq T. (Woodstown, N.J.): “Questions for Andrew Luck: What piece do you think is missing from this team? Do you think a certain player can boost the energy of this offense?”
Walker: I’ll pass these along to Andrew.
» David S. (Midlothian, Va.): “2 questions: 1.) It was mentioned earlier in the preseason that we could use two back sets but haven't been seeing it yet? Any thought to when that may come into play? 2/) If we're short in the secondary because of injuries, why not sign a veteran (i.e. Breeland) instead of bringing up unknown practice squad players (i.e. Pipkins)?”
Walker: To address your first question, the Colts simply haven’t been at full strength at the running back position since, probably, early on in training camp. When Marlon Mack went down with his hamstring injury during the first preseason game, that really took out some of the cool two-back possibilities we saw the team running during camp practices. Robert Turbin being suspended the first four games of the season has also been a factor. But with Turbin back now, and with Mack hoping to be back in the fold on Sunday, I’d expect these looks to increase moving forward. As it pertains to your second question, first of all, Bashaud Breeland was signed by the Green Bay Packers a couple weeks back, so that’s not a possibility anymore. But what you’ve got to remember is that when players suffer week-to-week injuries (like Quincy Wilson’s concussion or Nate Hairston’s ankle), you often times have to just go with what you’ve got elsewhere at the position and maybe add one outside piece to help out. Because if you sign a player at cornerback, let’s say, but still keep the injured player(s) on your 53-man roster, then you’ve got to find other positions to cut from to make room. So it’s a delicate balance.
» Eric E. Sr. (North Plainfield, N.J.): “When Doyle Returns To The Field Of Battle Will Indianapolis Look To Boast A Dual TE Offense and Are The City Of Indy And The Colts Organization Pleased With #85, that Ebron Kid?”
Walker: Well, Mr. Eric E. Sr., whoever you are, I think there’s no doubt the Colts are eagerly awaiting the return of Jack Doyle from his hip injury so that they can keep the momentum going they had at the tight end position through the first two weeks of the season, when Doyle was doing his thing as both a receiver and a blocker, and Eric Ebron was still being used each week as a mismatch nightmare. Ebron has done a terrific job filling in for Doyle as the top tight end, and with T.Y. Hilton out the last couple weeks, it’s been Ebron that’s understandably been Andrew Luck’s go-to target in the passing game. And I think the city of Indianapolis and the Colts organization is certainly pleased with that “Ebron kid,” Mr. Eric E. Sr. He makes tons of plays on the field — he leads all NFL tight ends in touchdown receptions — but he also just always has a smile on his face. That’s not exactly easy when you’re playing through some nicks and bruises like Ebron has the last couple weeks. I think he’s found an ideal home in Indy.