Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Navigating The Quarterback Situation, Darius Leonard's Pro Bowl Credentials, Recent Defensive Struggles

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INDIANAPOLIS — Each week, Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

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:

Matthew S. (Greenwood, Ind.): "Any word on Lewis. Never hear his name called. Whole d line has been a disappointment from stand point of consistancy about rushing the passer."

Walker: Tyquan Lewis is actually starting to pick it up a little bit after being inactive seven of the first nine games of the season. He had a couple tackles Week 14 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and then he logged his first tackle for loss on the season Monday night against the New Orleans Saints, bringing down receiver Michael Thomas on a screen play for a loss of two yards on 3rd and 8, forcing a punt. Lewis has been averaging about 30 defensive snaps a game over the last three weeks, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him handed an even larger role on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, with starter Denico Autry ruled out with a concussion. And, yes, I think it's fair to say that the Colts would've liked to have seen more pass-rush consistency from its defensive interior through their first 14 games; Denico Autry (3.5) and Grover Stewart (2) have combined for 5.5 sacks on the year, and that's it in terms of primarily interior defenders on the roster. We'll see if this is a focus for the team this upcoming offseason after sticking with the same primary interior defenders this last offseason.

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Andre M. (Indianapolis): "How can I get my 2 boys season tickets how can I afford to get that for them"

Walker: 2020 Colts season tickets just actually went on sale, and you can find out more information by clicking here. I do know that the team offers flexible interest-free payment plans, so hopefully that helps!

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Scott O. (Elizabethtown, Ky.): "Chris and Frank always talks about creating competition in the different groups I thank they need to keep Chad Kelly for 1 more year and make it true competition in the QB room all through OTA 's and preseason and then let the best player play I think Chad showed some good playmaking thing last preseason"

Walker: The Colts don't typically carry three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster, so the fact that the team has had Chad Kelly as a third quarterback all this time, even after starter Jacoby Brissett was cleared from his sprained MCL suffered back in Week 9, to me, means the Colts don't want to risk losing Kelly for the upcoming offseason. Frank Reich even said as much on Friday: "We thought Chad has earned the right," Reich said of Kelly being on the 53-man roster as a third quarterback. "He practices hard, we like him and gave him a chance. Obviously, when Jacoby got hurt he had to come up. We feel like once you bring a quarterback up, you don't want to lose him. You're just afraid that you might lose a guy – especially at quarterback – that you like and think has a chance." So what does that mean about Kelly's prospects heading into the offseason? That's yet to be seen, as the Colts could go any number of ways at the quarterback position. But clearly this staff wants to see if Kelly can keep progressing and developing.

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Josh G. (Mountain Grove, Mo.): "I was wondering what you make of our quarterback situation. I love Brissett, but I still don't believe his ceiling is any higher than the top backup quarterback in the league. So with that being said, do you think we will pursue a quarterback heavily in this years off season whether it be in the draft or free agency? Again, I love Brissett but I just don't see him for the long term future."

Walker: While I certainly understand a desire to have immediate answers about the quarterback position — and, trust me, dozens of you asked this same question in varying ways this week — I'm not so sure there can be any definitive answers provided once the season ends in a couple weeks. To me, there are only a couple possible ways this plays out during Frank Reich and Chris Ballard's end-of-season press conferences: they say definitively that they still believe Jacoby Brissett is the team's starting quarterback moving forward; or they say that every position on the roster will continue to be evaluated heading into the offseason. Realistically, I wouldn't expect the Colts to tip their hand one way or another, as lots can happen between now — remember, there are still two games left — and the start of free agency and the NFL Draft process. So, yes, the fans want answers, and, yes, it's the most important position on the field; it's just really tough right now to project.

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James B. (Lucerne Valley, Ga.): "I'm a huge colts fan and a former state chapion in basketball out of Southside Apistolic Tabrinacle in Muncie, Indiana in 2000. Anyways I'v been a fan of the team since 92 my favorite player hands down marvin harrison he just got it done. Anyways here is my question after getting snubbed in the pro bowl last year and having a monster year at that, and being on a team with a winning record, how does Darius leonard feel about getting it now after being eliminated from the playoffs and having a losing record. And my final question is to the NFL I've had record stats. And I got recognized for it. Why did it take a mid level season by Leonard and a losing record for his team for you all to select him as a pro bowler seems fishy somewhere and not to logical. Thanks and I cant wait to see or hear the reply. JB ( stay scared muncie central lol)"

Walker: Muncie Southside?! You do realize I'm a Muncie Central grad, right? The Bearcats and Rebels played 30 times during a 20-year span from 1993-94 through 2013-14 (before Southside unfortunately closed), and Central won 20 of them. When I was in high school, the Bearcats won 3-of-4 matchups by an average margin of victory of more than 20 points per game. So not much to be scared of there. I will give you credit, though — those 1999 and 2000 Southside teams were legit.

And the Colts didn't select Darius Leonard for the Pro Bowl — the fans and other players and coaches across the league did. And while wins and losses usually correlates into how many Pro Bowlers each team has, do you seriously not believe Leonard to be one of the top linebackers in the league, regardless of the Colts' record? Yes, his tackles-per-game numbers are down from his historic rookie season, and, yes, he missed three games with a concussion earlier in the year, but Leonard is still getting those splash plays — sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, etc. — at a rate just as high, if not higher, than the top players at his position. Leonard is first among linebackers in interceptions (four) and he's the only player in the league with at least 100 tackles and 5.0 sacks. If that's not Pro Bowl worthy, then I don't know what is.

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Tom W. (East Greenbush, N.Y.): "Which couple of players do you think could impact plans the most with either a strong final two games solidifying themselves for next season or with less than solid efforts forcing the Colts to address position(s) in the draft?"

Walker: I'm looking at a couple areas specifically over the last couple games: wide receiver and cornerback. At wide receiver, I think a couple guys, specifically, have proven they should at the very least get a chance to compete for major roles next season, and that's Zach Pascal and Marcus Johnson. Frank Reich has talked about a couple tweaks they're going to make to the offense over final two games, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if that results in some top performances from both Pascal and Johnson, giving them plenty of momentum heading into the offseason. At cornerback, the Colts need to keep figuring out their depth, particularly at that nickel cornerback spot. With Kenny Moore II missing his third straight game on Sunday with an ankle injury, the Colts have shuffled multiple players into his role, including Shakial Taylor (who was injured and then waived), Rolan Milligan (who was placed on injured reserve this week), Quincy Wilson (who exited Monday's game against the Saints with a shoulder injury and is out Sunday against the Carolina Panthers) and rookie Marvell Tell III (who was originally intended to be exclusively lined up on the outside).

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Nicholas K. (Lebanon, Ind.): "Why does everyone hate Jacoby? Personally I believe he has what it takes. He's obviously hit a rough patch here in the last part of the season. But which quarterback hasn't? Especially in their first year as a starter. Just look at where he's come since 2017. Do you believe we will keep him or will we be drafting a new quarterback? I am excited for the future with Jacoby."

Walker: I think you're taking a very reasonable stance, Nicholas. But I always keep in mind that fans are fanatics for a reason, and they are riding the roller coaster each season provides. It always seems to be a "what have you done for me lately?" approach, and saying that, I can understand the frustration when your team starts 5-2 and is in the division lead midway through the season, and then loses six of its next seven games and is all of a sudden eliminated from postseason contention with two games to go. Jacoby Brissett's play has been a factor down the stretch, but it certainly hasn't been the only factor. On one hand, Brissett is only in his first full season as the starting quarterback in Reich's system, which is noteworthy; but on the other hand, he has now started 30 games total across his four NFL seasons. In some aspects, that's a large enough sample size to know his general strengths and weaknesses as a quarterback. I think Brissett can make big strides with a full offseason to go over the film from the 2019 season, but I also wouldn't be surprised if the team added some competition to the position over the next few months. Either way, it'll be an interesting offseason, for sure. 

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Scott W. (Pleasant Hill, Ohio): "Yes... is it possible we will have a defensive plan this week (including McCaffrey) or do you think it is fair to say complex defensive schemes are beyond the level or ability of this team and or the DC? It's really not that easy to find other teams or games even where the number of free roaming opponents receivers are as bad as what we have consistently seen from the Colts this year despite spending several high picks for DB's over the past few drafts. Talent or Coaching/ Schematics?"

Walker: It's not that the Colts aren't calling a variety of coverages and blitzes to try to counter opposing offenses, Scott. The execution just hasn't been there, especially the last couple weeks. Remember Weeks 5 through 13? The Indy defense allowed just 311.5 total yards per game, which ranked 10th in the NFL over that span. I think that's closer to the type of defense this Indy unit really is, as opposed to the last couple weeks in stinkers against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints.

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Tina S. (Eden Prairie, Minn.): "We are coming from Minnesota for my daughter's 18th birthday and can't wait to see the Colts play!!! Are we going to go with our usual starters? Really want to see our guys all play and go full throttle on the Panthers. Go Colts from Minnesota!"

Walker: No worries there, Tina. The Colts are 100 percent playing to win the last couple weeks of the season. Of course, the team will be without starters Denico Autry (defensive tackle) and Kenny Moore II (cornerback), as well as Quincy Wilson (cornerback), as they have already been ruled out with their respective injuries, but it's all hands on deck to try to at least get to 8-8 to end the year. Safe travels!

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Steven L. (Port Richey, Fla.): "In my opinion I thought Chad Kelly was by far the best quarterback in preseason is it because of his past that you won't give him a chance to show what he can do in a regular season game now that we can't make the playoffs what is there to lose?"

Walker: The Colts have expressed a desire to finish out the season with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback because they still feel as they have some work to do in terms of getting better as an offensive unit heading into 2020. To put a brand new guy in at quarterback would be a major adjustment for the rest of the offense, as well as for those calling the plays. "We need to continue to learn and get better," head coach Frank Reich said on Tuesday. "(Brissett's) our quarterback, so we need him in there to work through those things."

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William S. (Muncie, Ind.): "I still cannot understand how the Colts played so poorly in the Saints game. They were horrible in all facets of the game. There has to be an explanation of some sort for that performance. I have heard some excuses but no real explanation. As a die hard fan of the Colts I need to know, are we that far from being a competitive football team. Is it personnel, coaching, or New Orleans voodoo? Please just something that makes sense so I can face my Patriot loving friends."

Walker: I think you pretty much summed it up, William: the Colts struggled mightily in all three phases against the Saints on Monday night. Is there really an explanation beyond this that will do it for you? And, yes, they had a clunker — no doubt about it. The fact it was in front of a national audience didn't help matters. But to say this Colts squad isn't a "competitive football team" is really a stretch considering how the rest of the season has panned out, and how many one-score games — resulting in both wins and losses — this team has played. The Colts have proven to be extremely competitive, but just have lacked the ability to find ways to make the plays needed to shut the door here over the last half of the season.

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Jessé P (São José dos Campos, Brazil): "Hello. My question is about Marvell Tell III. We took him as a project, he saw increase of snaps and grow up as a pro, so now his playing time go down , despite the injurys off our CB room. What happened?"

Walker: In short, the reason Marvell Tell III got so much playing time there for a few weeks was due to the absence of Pierre Desir, who was battling through a nagging hamstring injury for the better part of two months. With Desir back in the fold the last few games, that relegates Tell III back to more of a reserve role. And because Tell III has strictly been utilized as an outside cornerback, he hasn't really been in the mix to play snaps in place of injured slot cornerback Kenny Moore II in recent weeks, which could change a little moving forward due to injuries at the position. So I definitely think you're correct in your assessment of Tell III growing with his opportunities throughout his rookie season, and there's a chance he could continue to get some added reps the final two games due to injuries to head into the offseason with a good bit of momentum going into Year 2 in 2020.

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Andy H. (Bloomington, Ind.): "I was listening to Rick Venturi on 1070 the Fan wrap up the Monday night debacle and he listed out some very concerning numbers. Over the last two years, our defense has allowed a 72% completion rate and they currently sit at the bottom of several pass defense statistics. This is very concerning as a fan as you would expect the defense to improve in the second year with experience and players. He compared the scheme that we run to a elementary degree scheme versus a doctorate in that we don't disguise any of our schemes and don't play any hybrid man/zone, which he said is unheard of in today's NFL. I know the our scheme is designed to prevent the big play and cause turnovers, but it doesn't seem to be working that way and elite/average QBs seemingly set a new record against it each week in passing. I don't believe the defense has been the biggest issue in our losses (that's on our inability to score and pass the ball efficiently), but it seems to be an under-the-radar concerning issue. Unlike the offense, they have also been relatively healthy. What do you believe the team needs to do to improve defense for 2020? Thanks!"

Walker: I guess I'd offer this as a response, Andy: the Colts ran a complex 3-4 base defense from 2012 through 2017, and were more often than not among the bottom-ranked teams in the league in terms of more important defensive metrics. Since switching to the more simplified 4-3 defense last year under Matt Eberflus, the Colts have finished just outside of the top-10 in these same metrics in 2018, and are about middle of the pack through 14 games this year. Each defensive philosophy has its selling points and its issues, but Chris Ballard and Eberflus believe that for younger players to have the ability to make a bigger impact earlier in their careers, that a more simplified "see ball, get ball" approach is the way to go. Now, when you have the communication issues that have plagued this defense the last few weeks — leading to multiple big plays for the opposing offense — that's going to be an issue for any unit, no matter what scheme it's playing.

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Bob B. (Deltona, Fla.): "Hey Walker , what excuse will U use now................Willis & Desir R a joke...............no pass rush..........Quincy Wilson is pathetic...................I'll bet Matt Eberflus is REALLY PROUD of his defense 2 night..............................and Ballard is watching his team get flushed down the toilet................."

Walker: Hey Bob. Happy Holidays.

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Jacob S. (Greensboro, Ind.): "Let me thank you for all the work you do for US. All the time invested like a full time job. I asked you a hand full of weeks ago about "if" the Colts don't have a legit shot at a post season run., what would u think about putting Chad Kelly in if nothing else for draft capitol. Your response painted me out to be a fair weather fan. . . Wrong. . . Jacoby is not the future of this franchise. Your stance is that Jacoby "deserves" to see this season out. . . After seeing him play the last 2 months, am I finally making any sense to you or do you double down in that I am naive and I'm not giving Mr. Brisset the respect he deserves? Just curious -bleedbluefanatic-"

Walker: Hey Jacob, first off, thanks for your kind words. Secondly, I want to be clear: I never intended to make you or anyone else out to be a fairweather fan. If you're taking time out of your day to submit a question to the Colts Mailbag, there's a good chance you know your stuff. And believe me: I get the perspective from some fans that would like to see Chad Kelly get a shot at quarterback to finish out the season. But because Frank Reich has clearly stated the plans to stick with Brissett, and why, there's no reason on my end to challenge that line of thinking, which also makes plenty of sense heading into 2020.

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