Week 1 Postseason, Jets at Colts
*Colts Vice President and General Manager Chris Polian on Monday discussed the Colts' 23-20 victory over Tennessee Sunday and other Colts- and NFL-related topics . . .
Q: A 23-20 victory for the Tennessee Titans Sunday. As was the case often for the Colts his season, it was a close game and one that went down to the wire . . .
*A: One thing we've done all year, and this is a great credit to (Colts Head) Coach (Jim) Caldwell and our players, is play 60 minutes. Regardless of the ebbs and flows of the game, and the emotional highs and lows that you go through in those three hours, we have played 60 minutes – every game, we've played hard. We've played smart for the vast majority of the season and once again, playing Colts football like that paid off for us Sunday.
Q: The team in recent weeks has played some teams that are ranked high in the NFL in penalties. How does that impact how the team plays?A: We had a little bit of an issue in Oakland and I don't fault anybody for that penalty there, but usually, that's what occurs. They draw you into things after the whistle and the second guy gets the penalty. We had a few false starts Sunday, and it does make it tough on those drives. Those drives stall, a lot of the drives, when you do get penalties and it's tough to overcome, but we coach penalty avoidance. We have officials here one day a week, not only to help us in penalties, but in two-minute drill – spotting the ball. That has been very productive for us, and it's something Coach Caldwell focuses on. Your margin for error in this league is small. To make things harder on yourself is just something we don't believe in. Coach spends a lot of time on coaching penalty avoidance, and it pays off.
Q: The Titans played hard and played well. Does that help getting ready for a playoff game?A: They came after it. People in our division know how to play us. These are all tough games, all division games are. We've had a lot of continuity within the division. That does not happen a lot. We all know how to play each other. We know their weaknesses. They know ours – vice-versa with strengths. They're always tough, hard-fought, competitive games – physical games, whether it's Tennessee, whether it's Jacksonville or whether it's Houston. We had a lot on the line, but it was another hard-fought division game. I think that's what you expect. Certainly, with (Titans Head) Coach (Jeff) Fisher, we have a tremendous amount of respect for them, having to play them twice a year. That's kind of what we expected going in.
Q: The Colts technically clinched the AFC South a few minutes before the end of the game Sunday, but that didn't seem to change things either way on the play late in the game.A: Didn't matter. It was the same way in Oakland (the previous week). Coach (Caldwell) said, 'Keep your heads down. Let's go play. Worry about us. Worry about what we can control, which is our performance, our effort, our preparation.' It was the same way in Oakland last week: 'Let's just go out and do what we have to do to win.' Obviously, both games (Sunday) started at four (o'clock) for that purpose, so we knew both teams (Jacksonville and the Colts) had to go out and play a lot of players. Obviously, we found out what the score (of the Jaguars game) was (before the end of the Colts' game). I don't know if the players even knew on the field. My guess is they didn't. I know Jim did not. So, we were in the game and the competitive juices were flowing, and we wanted to win. We knew if we won, we were in, and from Day One, if you win your division, that's the easiest way to the playoffs. It's one of the hardest things to do, but it's the easiest way into the playoffs and we always said, 'Winning the division and reaching the playoffs is our first goal.' That was our focus, and we were able to accomplish it.
Q: Talk a bit about the New York Jets, the opponent Sunday. The teams played last season in the AFC Championship Game. Any similarities between this year and last year . . .A: There are similarities in names and approach. Every season, every team, every challenge you face every week is different. They have lost some people to injured reserve, and we have lost some people to injured reserve. They've had a tough spell where they've had some difficulty scoring a couple of weeks ago, but they have come back and scored over 30 the last two weeks. Everything has its own ebb and flow and each season, each team, is really a separate entity. You have a familiarity with their personnel, with their approach, but we have to take care of business in this season. What occurred last year is not going to have any effect Saturday evening.
Q: The Colts have brought in a slew of new, unknown players this season. Injuries have forced that, and yes, the team has continued to have success . . .A: The credit starts with the scouts – college and pro scouts – putting together all of the information. We've had to bring a lot of new guys in (this season), unfortunately, and credit goes to the coaches and the more established veterans as well, in terms of helping guys get settled and understand what we're trying to do. It's one of those situations where it is what it is. You get ready, go out and play, but the coaches have done a great job as well as the veterans getting guys indoctrinated.
Q: Any idea how many players have been on the roster this season?A: What we count is a combination of 53-man roster plus practice squad spots. Our average is somewhere in the mid-70s from '03 to '10. This season I believe we're in the 90s.
Q: Only eight players started all 16 games and just 18 played in all 16 . . .A: It started with (Colts Head) Coach (Tony) Dungy and Coach Caldwell has kept it going: 'Next Man Up.' There isn't any sympathy. The schedule says you're playing Sunday at 1:00 (p.m.), then you're playing Sunday at 1:00 (p.m.). Unfortunately, part of this business is injuries. We expect it. To expect to go through a year without injury would be foolish, so you expect it and you have an organizational approach to dealing with it. Your coaches understand you have to get guys ready and it's just part of what we do, unfortunately.
Q: Can you discuss the so-called "Don Beebe" helmet as it pertains to concussions? And where do you think helmet technology is headed?A: It was actually Mark Kelso, the safety for Buffalo, who wore it. It was a protective foam shell that went on the outside of his normal helmet. He did look like Kazoo, from the Flintstones. Mark talked about that prolonging his career. I believe there was an offensive lineman from San Francisco who wore one as well in the mid-1980s, if I'm correct. Not many people have worn it. Some of it is probably related to vanity. I think we'd be naïve if we said that it didn't. There was some debate in terms of heat retention as well as increasing surface area, if I'm not mistaken. The helmet technology has advanced a lot in past years. The Commissioner (Roger Goodell) did recently call together a committee of neurosurgeons and equipment specialists to review the technology that is out there, as well as encouraging advancements in that technology. Our consulting neurosurgeon, Dr. Hank Feuer, is part of that committee. Bill Simpson is kind of working along those lines. There are a lot of good people, and a lot of smart people, focused on that. A lot of it still comes down to what the player is comfortable wearing and confident wearing. Some of it changes when they go from college to pro. Colleges may only have one type of helmet in the equipment room. That's what the player is used to wearing, whereas we (in the NFL) can go with different suppliers and such. It is going to be an issue they continue to look at and continue to try to improve and continue to try to educate everybody on. I think it's one of those issues where – and the Commissioner does talk about this a lot, 'It's not perfect and let's get to work and see if we can improve it.' There are a lot of good people working on it. Hopefully, there will be a lot of advances to come.
Q: Not related to Colts-Titans Sunday, but there are more penalties being called. Is that related to this issue?
A: I don't think there's any question player safety has been part of his (the Commissioner's) agenda. Trying to take out some of the real borderline collisions, particularly in the head and neck area, is what they are focused on with the concern about the concussion issue. They have had plenty of dialogue about it with the coaches and organizations. It's something they'll continue to be focused on and that they'll continue to talk about.
Q: Can you address rookie running back Javarris James' lack of playing time in recent weeks?
A: It's just been a matter of getting the 45-man roster set. I believe we're carrying five backs right now. Javarris is healthy. Mike (Hart) has been healthy. Mike practiced full last week. He's healthy. We have to select 45 players who can be active on Sunday. Javarris played well on (special) teams and in goal-line situations. He's a really tough guy, but we've opted in the last few weeks to go with Joseph (Addai), since he's back healthy; Donald (Brown) and Dominic (Rhodes). We can only dress three in balancing out the roster. Those are some of those decisions that Coach and the staff struggle with during the week in terms of who you want your backups to be and who's going to contribute on the most special teams. But now that we're back at full health, we're kind of going with the guys who started the season for us.
Q: Can you discuss what might happen with linebacker Gary Brackett after the penalty Sunday?
A: On Gary, that rule went in two years ago, I believe. It was a player safety initiative in response to a hit (Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver) Hines Ward had that broke the jaw of one of the Cincinnati linebackers. The rule is that a defensive player is granted the same protection as a defenseless offensive player – a receiver in the act of catching the ball, a quarterback in the act of throwing, anything like that. If you come back and contact a defenseless player in the head or neck area as you head back from a blindside toward your own goal-line, that is an unnecessary roughness penalty. Since it is flagged, obviously it will be highlighted for attention in New York. A player has a right to appeal any fine, but it is a rule on the books. Mike Pereira, the former head of (NFL) officials, said in his column on Fox (Monday), that it was the first time that penalty had been called. It was a great hustle play and a bang-bang play. We got flagged there.
Q: What are the chances Rhodes returns next season?
A: Obviously, Dom is going to be unrestricted at the end of the year. We'll see where that takes us. All of those things will answer themselves over the course of the off-season. It will be dictated obviously by the overarching issue of the labor agreement, which is out of our hands at this point. That will be addressed obviously in the months to come.
Q: Is it a worry that wide receiver Pierre Garcon's end-zone celebrations will draw a penalty?
A: He plays with a tremendous amount of energy and a tremendous amount of passion, not only in the passing game, but in the running game as well. He's a really tough guy. He has been a little more demonstrative than Marvin (Harrison) or Reggie (Wayne). I can't recall any times when he has been penalized or that it has caused us any issues competitively. Due to the veteran leadership, we handle things fairly well in those regards for the most part.
Q: What will a potential lockout mean for the Indianapolis 2012 Super Bowl?
A: Let me preface this by saying whatever the labor situation is, as a club it's really out of our hands. It's in the hands of the league office. The Commissioner has various committees of very qualified people across the league working on it, as well as people at the NFL Players Association. Hopefully, everything works out well, and I think the Commissioner has made some statements to those lines Monday. In everything we have been told, they're certainly working toward that end and we certainly want that to occur. We're in a very fortunate position in the NFL with our fan support. Those things are valued and taken very seriously. Everybody certainly hopes and wishes everything works out productively. There will be contingency plans for everything as part of good management. Certainly, the league office does that, but those things are in the future and there are many variables and a lot of different ways we can go. I know everybody within the league and everybody within the franchise hopes everything moves forward productively, and (the city) is looking forward to being a great host for the Super Bowl. That's a little bit evasive, but that's really where we are.
Q: Can delay of game be called before a kickoff?
A: I think there is a play clock there, and I think if it were called, it would the first time it would be called in the history of the NFL. It's not something I noticed. The one issue you have sometimes is everybody in the stadium – the players, and the officials – are ready for play prior to television. It did occur a couple of times Sunday – and I think Tennessee was on offense each time and the fans were revved up and we got the noise going – where we came out of a timeout and (referee) Ed Hochuli had to step in and actually hold the play back two or three times. Even though you see the stadium shot on television, they still have to run some commercials over that, or give the announcers a moment to set the scene. That may have been part of it. I know that occurred a few times Sunday. If you look to the left of our bench, about the 25- or 30-yard line, you'll see a guy with neon orange gloves and a guy with a neon green hat. They control the timing of the game in terms of the television production. They'll signal to the official whether there's a television timeout or whether we're going to continue to play. They work with the production truck in that regard. The referee in the back of the end zone then signals ready to play for both teams during kickoffs.
Q: Why does it seem the Colts lack a little something on special teams?
A: The one thing I can tell you is a legitimate issue is the trickle down of the injuries has affected us most on special teams in terms of who is out there. We counted one day in practice last week five or six guys on the kickoff team who were not with us in training camp. For example, you have (safety) Ken Hamlin out there, who has been with us two weeks – (cornerback) Mike Richardson, who we brought in last week. I think Mike had two special teams tackles (Sunday) and played well on special teams. It takes those guys a little while to get a little rhythm and a little communication. Obviously, we went in with a little bit of a conservative game plan (Sunday) for special teams with some of the things Tennessee has done in the past. Knowing they didn't have anything to lose, we wanted to make sure that we didn't give up the big play. We gave up one kickoff return where we lost some lane integrity, but we did not give up a big play and we did not give up an easy score, and that was really our bent. It's something, hopefully, if we can inch our way along and get a little better incrementally that should help us a little Saturday night. That's a big challenge against (Jets returner) Brad Smith.
Q: Titans returner Marc Mariani is going to the Pro Bowl, so he's pretty good, too . . .
A: He had a very solid rookie season – a tough guy. He's a north-south, aggressive returner.
Q: What has been the difference in run defense in recent weeks?
A: There hasn't been a dramatic change. Gary (Brackett) getting back has helped us and the one thing we have focused on is trying to play faster. I think we have done that. We have played to our speed a little more. We're getting a lot of people to the ball. We're getting second and third tacklers in there. We saw that again Sunday. People aren't breaking tackles, getting that six or seven yards afterward. We're getting the second and third people there. Those extra hits add up over the course of a game, too, but I think the biggest thing is we do play a fairly simple defense so we can play fast, and we have been playing to our speed.
Q: Can you talk about the impact (wide receiver) Taj Smith has made on special teams?
A: Taj has done a good job since he has been able to come back. He has made some big plays and has made a lot of grinding, dirty-work plays on special teams as well. He has been a solid addition there. He has been with us in training camp and been with us last year. He was able to come in and get going full speed from the get-go.
Q: Talk about the Jets a bit, if you will . . .
A: They hiccupped a bit a couple of weeks ago where they had trouble scoring, but they have come out of that and scored over 30 the last two weeks. They're aggressive, and they'll lock up man and be very aggressive defensively. They're well-balanced and (quarterback) Mark Sanchez continues to progress. Obviously, with the two running backs, two receivers and the tight end, it's a balanced offense and aggressive defense with big-play capabilities on special teams with Brad Smith.
Q: Has free-agent running back LaDainian Tomlinson helped the running game?
A: He has taken some of the load off Shonn Greene. He has brought a veteran presence and hunger to them.
Q: And as you said, last year doesn't matter Saturday . . .
A: They're the same team and a lot of the same players as last year, but every game will take on its own complexion. This one will. It will be up and down, as they all are. We know we'll have a great presence with the 12th Man and it will be rocking Saturday night. It will be a great atmosphere and a great game, hopefully.