INDIANAPOLIS — Each week, Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.
Let's jump right into this week's questions:
rwjehs on Colts Reddit: "Why don't we use Pittman in red zone packages? Whats going on with Braden Smiths finger and the turnstile at RG? Why are roof racks for trucks SO expensive?"
Walker: The "we should use Michael Pittman Jr. in the red zone more often" comment/question comes up quite frequently, but I guess I'll say this: I personally have just enjoyed watching him grow by leaps and bounds seemingly with each passing week in his rookie season. In training camp, Pittman Jr. was just trying to find his way, but you could tell Philip Rivers was clearly intent on feeding him the ball over and over, just trying to work out the kinks and find some kind of rhythm heading into the regular season. By Week 3 against the New York Jets, Pittman Jr. was clearly on the rise in terms of his role within the offense, but that's when he suffered his lower leg injury that landed him on injured reserve. He came back for that Detroit Lions game after the bye week, and then, starting the following week against the Baltimore Ravens, he's really started to ascend; over the last three games, he's been targeted 18 times and caught 14 passes for 223 yards (15.9 avg.) with one touchdown. But, to the point of your question, it's not like Pittman Jr. just isn't in on the field when the Colts enter the red zone, and, going further, he's had a few chances inside of the 20, too. Pittman Jr. this season has five targets inside the red zone with four total receptions; in fact, it was against the Tennessee Titans in Week 10 that Pittman Jr. had three red zone targets, the last of which was a six-yard reception that resulted in him being tackled at the one-yard line. So I'm pretty confident this is one of those "give it time and it will show itself" type of things.
Braden Smith's thumb seems good to go now, as he was a full participant in practice all week and doesn't even have a questionable or doubtful status for the game.
And why are roof racks for trucks SO expensive? Heck if I know. Supply and demand? Or, as mycargoracks.com points out: "The biggest reason why roof racks are expensive are because of the high-quality designs. Roof racks must be able to withstand high speeds and wind resistance. This requires a lot of special design features and high-quality parts in all sections of the roof rack."
kobegriffreysanders on Colts Reddit: "So uh... Holding... What are your thoughts on the many holding calls against us late in the 4th quarter? Most of them seemed to be correctly called, but I simply cannot fathom how many times holding was called against us in such a short time, especially given the decrease in the number of holding calls across the league this season compared to previous seasons. Congrats on the exact outcome prediction btw. Those are sweet to call"
Walker: I was probably like everybody else who follows this team as the yellow flags came raining down late in last Sunday's game against the Packers; in fact, speaking of the Packers, I'm guessing at one point I uttered the famous Vince Lombardi phrase:
I can't say I've ever seen anything like that — at any level of football. They say you can technically call holding on just about every play in the NFL, and, well, that crew certainly took that to heart at that point of the ballgame (well, except when the Packers had the ball). But I can also say this: while I'm not a robot and I'll grumble (or at least hint at grumbling) about some calls from time to time during the course of a game, I can also acknowledge that these NFL officiating crews are incredibly good at their jobs overall. To your point, pretty much every holding call on the Colts at that point of the game was legit (except for one, in my opinion). When it comes down to it, if you're the Colts, you just can't hold in those situations; they had the game in the bag, and they almost gave it away — not the officials. Fortunately that didn't end up happening and this team had enough resiliency to find a way to win in overtime against a really good Green Bay squad.
And, for those unaware — and I really don't want to bring any added attention to this, but since you brought it up — I wrote the following in this space last week when asked for my prediction for the Packers game:
Rodrigo Blankenship knocks in a 37-yard field goal to give the Colts a 34-31 win over the Packers and completing Indy's sweep of the NFC North Division.
I was off by two yards; Blankenship's game-winner was from 39 yards out.
But it's not a big deal at all. I don't want to make a big deal out of it.
flipsk8r5586 on Colts Reddit: "Julian Blackmon has started to pick up some recognition for DROY consideration outside of just colts fans and writers after this weekends home game vs the Packers. How do you see his chances versus other DROY candidates as it stands now? Also, what would he need to do to put himself into a lead contender spot over the next 6 games?"
Walker: It was at this point of the season in 2018 when I was unabashedly starting to campaign for Darius Leonard to be the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year; not only was Leonard getting it done on a week-to-week basis, but he was making multiple game-changing plays, which, I thought, were separating him from the pack. I turned out to be right in that instance.
Julian Blackmon's forced fumble in overtime last Sunday against the Packers, which was recovered by DeForest Buckner and led directly to Rodrigo Blankenship's game-winning field goal four plays later, was the third time this season the safety out of Utah has made what I would consider a game-changing play: early in the fourth quarter of the Colts' eventual Week 4 win over the Bears, it was Blackmon picking off Nick Foles to seal the victory; two weeks later, Blackmon picked off quarterback Joe Burrow late in the fourth quarter deep in Indianapolis territory to foil a possible comeback win for the Bengals.
So while there are some other defenders having quality rookie years so far — Washington's Chase Young, Baltimore's Patrick Queen, Tampa Bay's Antoine Winfield Jr. and Carolina's Jeremy Chinn among them — I think Blackmon is in the same position as Leonard three seasons ago; he's getting the job done on a weekly basis and has a clear knack for making game-changing plays, which, to me, sets him apart from the pack at this point.
I sure hope, like 2018, a players' performance, and not the name on the back of the jersey or the team on which he plays, makes the difference in minds of voters.
thedudeofficial on Colts Reddit: "Can we expect a similar strategy against the Titans this go round? Or should we expect a tweak here and there to keep it fresh against the most dangerous division rival? Can we expect to see more of Pittman? What's the hot and cold dynamic with the backfield, and what should we be paying attention to there? As always thanks and I look forward to reading the article. Happy Thanksgiving to the crew!_"
Walker: The main strategy that stuck out to me in that Week 10 win over the Titans was how the Colts' offense, in general, sped things up, running at a much quicker pace than usual. Head coach Frank Reich said he took that approach from his time on the Colts' coaching staff with Peyton Manning; he said Manning during short weeks liked to speed things up to take advantage of a defense that had less time to prepare. It's hard to disagree with that strategy, as Manning and the Colts were 5-0 in games played on Thursdays when Reich was on their staff from 2006 through 2011.
Can we expect that again in Sunday's game? Perhaps, but, I mean, at this point, you've got two teams that know each other very well. On both sides of the ball there might be a wrinkle or two — or, heck, just a simple adjustment to try to address what didn't quite work all that well 17 days ago. But I think this is one of those "do what you do best" type of situations.
The one dynamic that bears close monitoring is the depth up front for both teams, whether it's the defensive line for the Colts (who will be without two starters in DeForest Buckner and Denico Autry, who are on the Reserve/COVID-19 list) or the offensive line for the Titans (who are down to their third left tackle, and whose left guard and center are both battling nagging injuries and are questionable heading into the game). Whichever team's depth up front is able to contribute more could make the difference.
Quickly on your other questions: I think Michael Pittman Jr. has clearly earned a major role within this offense; at this point, it might not be out of line to say he's the team's No. 1 receiver. And while the Colts have seemingly had a different running back leading the way in recent weeks, I think Reich and running backs coach Tom Rathman have done a good job identifying the "hot hand" throughout each game, whether it was Jordan Wilkins against the Lions, Nyheim Hines against the Titans or Jonathan Taylor against the Packers.
And thanks for reading, and I hope you and your crew had a happy Thanksgiving, as well!
J805 on Colts Reddit: "Thank you for doing the mailbag Q&A. I'm a long time reader. My question for this week is there any chatter about Eason being active this week? I believe he hasn't been active at all throughout the season. Seeing Rivers get a little banged up wasn't a good feeling while watching the game. I know Rivers has never missed a start. Any updates on his injuries if any are still lingering?_"
Walker: Thank you so much for being a dedicated Mailbag reader. And I'll be honest: that's a really good question, and while I'm not sure Frank Reich would've given a direct answer — he's big on trying to keep the competitive advantage when it comes to stuff like this, and I don't blame him at all for taking that approach — it's probably something we should've asked about this week. I wouldn't be surprised at all if making Jacob Eason active for the first time all season was at least a topic of conversation this week due to Philip Rivers' nagging toe injury, but the team also has plenty of other positions to consider when it comes to who's active and who's inactive on Sunday, such as along the offensive and defensive lines, at linebacker and at safety, particularly. So Eason could be active on Sunday for sure, but then again, I also don't look at this like last season in Week 10, when Jacoby Brissett was battling his knee injury and Chad Kelly was active to back up Brian Hoyer against the Miami Dolphins; Kelly, if you'll recall, was on the inactives list for the rest of the season after that. Reich typically sticks with two active quarterbacks on gameday, and I'd venture to guess that'll be the case on Sunday, too.
bodiepartlow on Colts Reddit: "How do we shuffle the d-line to make up for potential absence of Buckner and Autry?"
Walker: I potentially see a starting defensive line tomorrow consisting of Justin Houston and Al-Quadin Muhammad at defensive end, and Tyquan Lewis (three tech) and Grover Stewart (one tech) at defensive tackle. Kemoko Turay could very well see his snap count increase considerably in this one to provide a spark off the edge, while Taylor Stallworth will continue to be counted on to provide quality reps inside. Here's where things get a little murkier, however: will Ben Banogu be a healthy scratch for a fourth straight game? Will Cassius Marsh be active for a third straight week? Is rookie Rob Windsor, who made his NFL debut last week, now going to be the backup three-tech behind Lewis? Undrafted rookie Kameron Cline was also elevated for Sunday's game; could he get into the mix, too? Lots of moving pieces, for sure, and some unsung heroes might need to step it up against the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry and this Titans offense.
superrep1967 on Colts.com Forums: "Is there any word on Campbell and whether he can make it back this year or not?"
Walker: Here's the short version (for, like, the fifth time this season): because of the injured reserve rules put into place exclusively for this season, which allow teams to bring back an unlimited number of guys from IR throughout the year (as long as they sit out a minimum of three games), the Colts aren't going to go as far as officially ruling Parris Campbell out for the rest of the season. Head coach Frank Reich has said it doesn't seem likely Campbell will be able to get back by the end of the year, but because of the way he knows Campbell is attacking his recovery and rehab work, it'd be foolish to just assume he won't at least try to make it an interesting point of discussion here in a few weeks.
danlhart87 on Colts.com Forums: "This was brought up in a topic earlier but is their a reason for up and down defensive performance every week? Seems like Eberflus and the crew always come out flat then play lights out in the 2nd half. I enjoyed Taylor getting 22 carries last Sinday after following limited carries so do you expect that trend to continue as the season progresses? Another topic I brought up was how willing people were to bring Rivers back another year. I support him and would enjoy his presence another year so what are your thoughts?"
Walker: It's completely fair to want the Colts' defense to come out playing lights out from the beginning of games, and I can't specifically point to one reason or another why that hasn't been happening more frequently. But there's also something to be said for having the ability both as coaches and as players to not only make in-game adjustments, but to have them pay off so well. Jaguars, Browns, Bengals, Lions, Titans, Packers — it's happened in all those of those games, and Indy is 4-2 in those contests.
Your Jonathan Taylor question was submitted before he was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday, so we'll put that on hold.
And I've always just worked under the assumption that Philip Rivers will likely be brought back for a second year in Indianapolis in 2021 until we're told differently. That's been the message really from the time that he signed his free agent deal with the Colts; that it was officially a one-year deal for 2020, but both sides have acknowledged that with good health and quality play, they hope Rivers' stay in Indy will extend beyond this season.
PrideOfAthens17 on Colts.com Forums: "I'm seriously tempted to team up on another prediction question and answer, just to see how far you can take it, but I think this may be one of those things best left as a one time magical moment :D. So instead, I'll just ask about something else I'm curious about. With the (earned and very well deserved) publicity recently about the impact of this rookie class, how has the development been going with the only two of this class's draft picks who have yet to see any playing time - Eason and Patmon? And as always, thanks for doing this for us."
Walker: I'm with you; while I'm confident in my prognostication skills, I think I'd rather just opt for the intrigue this week.
As for Jacob Eason, we were able to talk to both him and quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady about a month ago, so I can't imagine a ton has changed in that regard, but here and here are a couple refreshers.
When it comes to Dezmon Patmon, here's an update from Frank Reich on Nov. 16:
"He looks good and continues to work really hard at practice. We're really excited that we have a really strong core of young receivers. We see them fitting into certain roles. So as there have been opportunities earlier in the year for guys to step up into certain roles that we needed, we made the moves we thought were best at the time. But we feel very good about Dez (Dezmon Patmon) and his development and what he is doing right now."
Hoose on Colts.com Forums: "Any word at all from the players who chose not to play this year? Especially Tell? Just curious as to how they are doing and what they are doing to stay in shape. Also, what are their plans for next year?"
Walker: Yeah, I guess it is important to keep in mind that the Colts had three players — safety Rolan Milligan, linebacker Skai Moore and cornerback Marvell Tell III — decide to opt out of the 2020 season earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To be completely honest, since they haven't been in the picture, I haven't really kept tabs on these three players over the last several months. Perhaps we'll ask general manager Chris Ballard more when the season comes to an end?