One Big Storyline
Jeff Saturday approached his first week as Colts interim head coach with an energy, realness and perspective that resonated with players ahead of his coaching debut on Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium.
"I know I can lead men," Saturday said. "I know I know the game of football and I'm passionate about it. I have no fear about – are you as qualified as somebody else? I spent 14 years in the locker room. I went to the playoffs 12 times. I've got five dudes in the Hall of Fame that I played with. You don't think I've seen greatness? You don't think I've seen how people prepare, how they coach, how they GM, how they work? I've won Super Bowls, been to two.
"Here's the deal man, none of us are promised a good job. I may be terrible at this and after eight games, I'll say, 'God bless you. I am no good.' I may be really good at it. I have no idea, but I dang sure ain't going to back down. I can tell you that. If life ain't an adventure, it ain't for me. I'm ready to go do this. I take a challenge head-on."
While Saturday has a Ring of Honor, All-Pro, Super Bowl champion resume, he didn't arrive at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on Monday expecting respect because of what he's done – he knew he had to earn it, and in hearing from players this week, that process of earning trust is off to a strong start.
"He didn't just come in and automatically demand respect and everybody knows who he is and his message — he did it the right way," center Ryan Kelly said. "That comes obviously with the territory of being in this league for a long time. You easily smell out bull––t when you smell it. He did a great job."
"I love his energy," running back Jonathan Taylor said. "You could tell he truly cares about this organization. Obviously being here for so long, he just cares about not only the people in here but the organization as a whole, and he wants this organization to succeed. So being able to feel that from the first meeting, it says a lot. And then of course on the practice field, you can tell he has passion and you can tell he wants us to continue to work every day to get better."
How this all translates to Sunday's game remains to be seen, of course. But the Colts are confident Saturday's leadership will help turn the tide in a 3-5-1 season.
"We're still in this thing," cornerback Stephon Gilmore said, "but we got to get results now."
5 Things To Watch
Does situational execution improve? A handful of offensive numbers – which are all behind the Colts' last-in-the-NFL scoring average of 14.7 points per game – that need to improve in the second half of 2022:
- Third down conversion percentage: 35.8 percent (24th in NFL)
- Fourth down conversion percentage: 22.2 percent (30th)
- Red zone touchdown percentage: 44 percent (31st)
- Goal to go touchdown percentage: 60 percent (25th)
- Turnovers inside opponent 40-yard line: 9 (32nd)
- Yards per play inside opponent 40-yard line: 3.1 (32nd)
"It's always been about us, honestly," wide receiver Parris Campbell said. "We got to do a better job offensively. Just holding each other accountable and finding a way to get better and eliminating mistakes that we've had. But it's always come down to us."
Saturday this week emphasized to his team the red-line need for better situational execution starting Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders.
"We can't beat ourselves," Saturday said. "We have to play consistent football, be disciplined, be tough, be fast, be physical. All the things that I believe in as a man and as a football player, just breathing that into them. Then, the expectation is we execute and execute means that we do what we're coached to do. Ain't no adlibbing. You can't fix problems if we adlib. We do what we're asked to do so we're all on one page. We can make corrections when needed and hopefully that formula wins."
How will Saturday handle in-game decision-making? As Rick Venturi likes to say, a head coach usually has about five critical decisions to make each game. How will Saturday sort through those go-for-it-or-not, when-to-call-a-timeout calls?
"Listen, I'm an o-lineman. I work awfully hard to get points, I'm going to take points," Saturday said. "I am not a – it's a hard living. It's a hard living in there. We'll see what happens. I have two guys (George Li and John Park) that I'm going to be working with in the box on the analytics side. We have not had a chance to meet but looking forward to getting with these guys. The good thing for me is I get to watch a lot of football and criticize a lot of coaches. So, I know I'm going to get that same criticism (laughing). Again, part of the gig. Part of the gig."
What does the offense look like with Parks Frazier calling plays? Elevating Frazier to be the Colts' offensive playcaller should provide the Colts' offense some continuity, not only in coaching duties for guys like quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich and running backs coach Scottie Montgomery, but in that Frazier is the team's longest-tenured assistant on that side of the ball.
Meaning: Frazier knows the Colts' offense inside and out, and has experience in knowing what parts of it to tap into to gameplan for specific opponents.
"You get used to adjusting, adapting to your personnel," Frazier said. "I've been in a lot of meetings going back five years when Nick Sirianni was here, with Marcus (Brady). I've been in a lot of meetings where we sat in there and talked about how are we going to attack these guys, specifically this week? How are we going to utilize our personnel that week to attack these guys? So having that many conversations over five years – and when you take the approach of, 'I see how we're doing it. If I get my opportunity, how am I going to approach it?' Then when you get your opportunity you're ready to step up."
Frazier, of course, wasn't going to reveal any specifics about what the Colts' offensive gameplan will look like on Sunday in Las Vegas. But whatever the plan is, it'll come with an attacking mindset from the first-time playcaller.
"I don't want to get into any details obviously competitively, but I'm still an aggressive thinker in the way that I think," Frazier said. "I think that on the attack is our mission as an offense and that doesn't change. But that can look different in a lot of different ways."
The Colts' pass protection. Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay initially called Saturday during the Colts' Week 9 loss to the New England Patriots not to float the idea of hiring him as interim head coach, but to ask: What's going on with our offensive line?
Quarterback Sam Ehlinger was sacked nine times in the Colts' 26-3 loss, and all those drive-crushing, negative plays were too much for the entire team to overcome.
"We're underperforming on the offensive line right now," general manager Chris Ballard said. "That's got to improve. That has to improve. Then, the turnovers during the year, just look at it. We're turning the ball over. We're turning it over inside of our 50. I think we had nine inside the 38, 11 inside the 50. You can't win games turning the football over in this league. Two things – you can't win when you don't block and when you turn it over. It makes it hard."
The Raiders will present another challenge for the Colts' pass protection group: Defensive end Maxx Crosby has six sacks and is 12th in the NFL with 37 total pressures; while defensive end Chandler Jones only has a half-sack this year, he has 108 in his career and was a Pro Bowler as recently as last season.
The Raiders' offense vs. the Colts' defense. While the Colts will be without linebacker Shaquille Leonard – who had a setback during practice this week and will not play due to his ankle/back – the Raiders will be without wide receiver Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller. Missing those two guys removes half of the Raiders' established skill position playmakers – but leaves wide receiver Davante Adams (48 catches, 658 yards, a league-leading seven touchdowns) and running back Josh Jacobs (138 carries, 743 yards, six touchdowns) as efficient, explosive guys the Colts will have to slow down to win.
The Colts have been strong against the run this season (3.8 yards per carry allowed, second-lowest in NFL) and have been remarkably stingy in allowing long scoring drives: Gus Bradley's defense has allowed only six touchdown drives of 75 or more yards, third-lowest in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Raiders are scoring on 46 percent of their possessions, the second-highest rate in the NFL and only behind the Kansas City Chiefs.
This is one of those classic NFL good-on-good matchups that'll be fascinating to watch play out Sunday afternoon. And how the Colts stop Jacobs and Adams will go a long way toward determining who comes out on top at Allegiant Stadium.
"In my opinion, (Adams is) one of the best, if not the best, in the NFL right now," cornerback Isaiah Rodgers Sr. said. "You just gotta respect everything he does."