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:
acakins on Colts Reddit: "It has been over 2 months since we heard anything about Eason. How has he been looking? Rivers has been fine this year but looking forward, does he seem like he could be the guy next year?"
Walker: To be honest, I don't know what else you're expecting to hear about Jacob Eason at this point. As the No. 3 quarterback who is yet to be active for a game, let alone play in one, there's not much else to say other than he's doing a good job grasping the system and learning from those around him. He's had limited practice reps, too, so while coaches say the physical tools are clearly there, there's not much to go off of at this moment — especially for me or anybody else in the media who can only report on the first 15 to 20 minutes of practice, all of which is just stretching and individual/positional drills. I'd just suggest waiting for the offseason, where we can do a little bit more a deep dive on Eason and his prospects with Chris Ballard, Frank Reich and others on the coaching staff.
BenBlue98 on Colts Reddit: "What would an extension of Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, and Braden Smith look like?"
Walker: Hoo boy. I'm just going to give this initial answer: "I have no idea, but it's going to cost a lot of money." For Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard, especially, an obvious conclusion is that they'll get among the largest, if not the largest, contracts at their respective positions. So, as a baseline, we'll start at guard, where the New York Giants' Kevin Zeitler in 2019 signed a three-year, $32 million contract; last year, the Tennessee Titans' Rodger Saffold signed a four-year, $44 million deal. So we're talking in the $10.5-11 million range in annual salary for those guys. At linebacker, the Jacksonville Jaguars' Myles Jack was recently signed to a four-year, $57 million deal, while the Seattle Seahawks' Bobby Wagner signed a three-year, $54 million deal. So perhaps a good starting point for Leonard based off those deals would be an average salary in the $14.5-18 million range? As for Braden Smith, if we're looking at the highest-paid right tackles just to get an idea, Lane Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles was signed to a four-year, $72 million deal ($18 million average salary), the Las Vegas Raiders signed right tackle Trenton Brown to a four-year, $66 million deal ($16.5 million average salary) and Mitchell Schwartz of the Kansas City Chiefs signed a three-year, $24.5 million contract ($8.1 million average salary). So that's at least an idea what the Colts will be looking at for extensions for Nelson, Leonard and Smith.
Ozzurip on Colts Reddit: "What is going on with the penalties recently? The team isn't typically this undisciplined"
Walker: Yeah, the Colts have typically been extremely disciplined in this area under Frank Reich, but for whatever season, they've been hit with more flags than usual this season. The Colts have had 93 total accepted penalties called against them this season, or about 6.2 per game, which is the 11th-most in the NFL; in terms of yardage allowed by those penalties, the Colts are at 884, which is the sixth-most in the league. The Colts have had 15 accepted offensive holding penalties (tied for fourth-most), three offensive pass interference calls (tied for third-most), three illegal contact calls (tied for third-most) and 10 defensive pass interference penalties (tied for eighth-most). It's certainly a change from Frank Reich's first two seasons; in 2018 and 2019 combined, the Colts committed 199 penalties, which were the fifth-fewest in the league over that span. I'm not quite sure what the answer or the solution is other than expressing a need to play much more disciplined overall, and one has to imagine that will be a major point of emphasis for Frank Reich and his staff this offseason.
RaptorFire on Colts Reddit: "Would the Colts benefit from more 2 back sets with Rivers' mobility issues? An RB on each side could help block to get the tight ends open, with one of them sliding into the flat if need be."
Walker: We actually dove into the two-back usage (or lack thereof) by the Colts this season in last week’s Colts Mailbag. Personally, to your point, I don't think Philip Rivers' lack of mobility compared to other QBs is such a major issue that you need to add extra bodies back there to block for him. Also, you're really taking those backs out of the play if they're primarily in there to block and/or be a final option out in the flat. Now, I am all for creativity, and if you're doing this once or twice a game to spring someone else open, like the tight ends, then sure, why not give it a go? But, as we've found out, the Colts just don't really utilize two-back sets all that often, especially with Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. Perhaps it'll be a wrinkle for the offense if and when the Colts make the postseason? We'll see.
Aleph_Alpha_001 on Colts Reddit: "In trying to wrap my head around the officiating in the second half of the Steelers game, could it be that the officials naturally favor the more aggressive team?
The Colts seemed pretty conservative on both sides of the ball in the second half, especially defensively, where I don't think that we blitzed once. Did that conservatism and a playing-not-to lose mentality eventually spell their doom?"
Walker: As for the officiating in the Steelers game, or any game for that matter, my basic approach is this: during the game, you'll definitely hear me gripe about a call or two here or there (or lack thereof), but there's not much sense in dragging on and on about it beyond an initial reaction or after that particular drive is over. I certainly don't expend much energy at all worrying about the calls once the game has ended, because … what am I going to do about it? That human element of officiating — the good calls and the bad ones — isn't going away, and even if the officials admit after a game they were wrong on a particular call, it won't actually change the outcome. As a team, you just have to try to educate yourself on which crews are more prone to calling certain penalties, but ultimately, you've just got to play your game.
As for the second half of the Steelers game, Pro Football Focus marked the Colts down for four blitzes during the third and fourth quarters; Ben Roethlisberger was 3-for-4 passing on those Indy blitzes for 44 yards for a 110.4 QB rating, including a 34-yard completion down the right side of the field to rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool. So you're damned if you do, damned if you don't; Roethlisberger has pretty much seen it all, and knows how to handle a blitz, so if you do it too much, you're not likely doing yourself any favors.
csmopar on Colts.com Forums: "Is Jonathan Taylor in a pitch count? Looks like he gets about 16-18 carries a game. Sunday, he hit that mark in the 1st half and was gashing the Steelers, relatively speaking, and we rarely saw him the rest of the game. This has been a theme all season it seems. second question, why are we blitzing so little? I get that we're getting real good pressure with the front four but we're sitting back and trying to cover guys. That obviously isn't working anymore."
Walker: Jonathan Taylor, to my knowledge, is not on any sort of pitch count. In fact, he's been playing much more in recent weeks than he was around the midpoint of the season, when Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins were getting a bigger share of the load. This has been explained several times by Frank Reich and others already, but it's not like the Colts just completely abandoned the run the second half of that Steelers game last Sunday; there were several instances in which a run play was called, but quarterback Philip Rivers got up to the line and saw what Pittsburgh was bringing defensively, and decided to check into a passing play. But when those passing plays don't end up working with much consistency, you're really in a Catch-22. Should you go ahead and just try to run it against a defense selling out against the run?
And I addressed the blitzing from the Steelers game above. There were some blitzes called; Ben Roethlisberger just figured out how to beat them, for the most part. Pittsburgh has an outstanding offensive line that can handle the stunts and the blitzes out of the secondary, and it certainly showed that last Sunday.
PrideOfAthens17 on Colts.com Forums: "OK, just to make you work, ha ha, and to try to lighten the mood a little from the doom and gloom around here, how many times in NFL history has a game had at least 3 quarterbacks on the two rosters who all started at N.C. State? For that matter, how many times has a game had at least 3 quarterbacks on the two rosters who all started at the same school?"
Walker: I appreciate the brain buster. Unfortunately, my research tools can't really break down games by roster and where players on each team went to college. especially if we're just wanting to know guys who are dressed for the game but don't necessarily play, such as a backup quarterback.
To my knowledge, there have been seven NC State quarterbacks make it in the NFL: Roman Gabriel, Erik Kramer, Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Mike Glennon, Jacoby Brissett and Ryan Finley. Since Wilson transferred to Wisconsin for his final year, he's technically listed as a Wisconsin product in all official NFL rosters/stats, so apologies to fans of the Wolfpack, but I can't officially count him as an NC State guy. I was able to break down games in which an NC State product played quarterback and had an official offensive touch, and, as you can imagine, the list is quite long. Gabriel and Kramer would've never crossed paths, and Kramer stopped playing a few years before Rivers entered the league, so cross those two off the list. Glennon's first offensive touch came early in the 2013 season, and I can find no instances since that time in which he's actually played against either Rivers, Brissett or Finley (I'm sure he's been active for games against them, but hasn't played). Rivers (Chargers) and Brissett (Colts) squared off in Week 1 last season.
So, if I had to guess, earlier this season, when the Colts took on the Bengals, that was likely the only other instance in which three former NC State starters (not counting Wilson) have been on the active rosters of both teams (Rivers and Brissett with the Colts, and Finley with the Bengals). Not exactly scientific, but, hey, I tried.
richard pallo on Colts.com Forums: "Brady signed with the Bucs for two years showing his commitment and the teams commitment to winning a SB with him at QB. Rivers only signed for one year. Whose decision was that? Totally Rivers? Totally the Colts? Mutual? Did we want him for two? If we were not ready to commit for two it pretty much signals we are prepared to move on after this year IMO. You work for the team so I truly believe you know the answers. But of course you can always take the fifth. lol Thanks Andrew."
Walker: The Colts and Philip Rivers agreed to a one-year free agent deal back in March, although both sides acknowledged at the time that under the right circumstances — mainly good health and quality play — that there would be a high likelihood that Rivers could be brought back for a second season in Indy in 2021. Outside of a nagging toe injury these last few weeks, Rivers has stayed healthy and has played well enough to earn consideration for that second season with the Colts. But let's not forget: Rivers has a major say in this, too. We know he has been named head football coach-in-waiting at St. Michael Catholic High School in Fairhope, Ala., and we know that he would love to coach his two sons, Gunner and Pete, who in 2021 will be entering the seventh and fourth grade, respectively. So, as of now, all signs point to Rivers potentially returning to the Colts next season, but those conversations are obviously on hold until this season is officially over.