Bill Polian, in his 13th season as Colts president, has a resume unique in the NFL. The only man to win NFL Executive of the Year six times, Polian in the 1980s built the Buffalo Bills into a four-time Super Bowl participant. In the mid-1990s, he built the expansion Carolina Panthers into a team that made the NFC Championship Game in its second season, 1996. Since joining Indianapolis in 1998, he built the Colts from a 3-13 team in 1997 and 1998 into one that has made the playoffs 10 of the last 11 seasons, including AFC Championship Game appearances after the 2003, 2006 and 2009 seasons, AFC South titles in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009, Super Bowl appearances following the 2006 and 2009 seasons and a Super Bowl championship following the 2006 season. Each week during the season, in The Polian Corner, Polian and Colts.com will discuss issues pertinent to the Colts and the rest of the NFL.
Q: A 30-17 victory over the Houston Texans on Monday night. A pretty impressive and important victory considering some difficult circumstances . . .
A: It really was a great victory for the whole team, but really for our coaching staff who got a lot of guys ready to play on short notice who hadn't had a lot of opportunities to play before. They did just a tremendous job. This was a Houston team that everybody picked to dethrone us and maybe make it all the way. We did a heck of a job with a very undermanned ballclub. The vast majority of credit goes to the coaches for getting those guys ready to look the opponent squarely in the eye and say, 'It doesn't matter who's playing. As long as you have a blue shirt, on we're going to play up to our standards.' We did, so I'm very proud of all of them.
Q: A couple of real newcomers, Cornelius Brown and Chip Vaughn, really seemed to come up big on special teams . . .
A: They did. Both men are defensive backs. We had to activate them because of the injury situation in the defensive backfield. They really did a great job in terms of contributing on special teams. That was big for us. You can't say enough for Jeremy Kapinos for coming in there and kicking the ball the way he did and kicking off the way he did. He was injured from the shot he took early in the game. He hung in there and kicked the ball and did a terrific job. Great credit to him, too.
Q: He also had to hold for kicker Adam Vinatieri, something else that takes a lot of midweek practice . . .
A: He did and was flawless. Our special teams just did a phenomenal job – great credit to (Colts Special Teams Coordinator) Ray Rychleski for getting them ready to play. Everybody had a positive mindset and went out there and got the job done.
Q: Upon reviewing the tape, what did you notice?
A: (Colts quarterback) Peyton (Manning) did a great job keeping plays alive. We didn't have our best game blocking up front. That said, that's a very good rush front. They rotated seven or eight guys in there most of the night and kept them fresh, so it provided a pretty big challenge. Peyton kept a lot of plays alive. Secondly, the receivers made plays. None of us who had been around here for any length of time was worried about (tight end) Jacob Tamme playing well. We knew he would go out there and play well, and he did. That's no surprise if you've followed our team. In terms of the running game, (running back) Mike Hart couldn't have been better. He was outstanding – finishing runs, vision, making people miss, blocking, blitz pickup, catching the ball, doing everything it took to win a football game. There wasn't anything in that football game that he had to do that he didn't do to the best of his ability and didn't do in a winning fashion. There are not enough words of praise for Mike Hart. He did an absolutely phenomenal job. (Running back) Donald Brown did a nice job when he came in coming back off injury and having to go in there and play at a high level without ever really having tested that thing (hamstring) before. The running backs did a superb job. Defensively, we played the way we're capable of playing defense. I guess the way we played is typified by that sack that (linebacker) Clint Session got. That was a three-way sandwich right there – (defensive ends) Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney and Clint Session. They all met at the quarterback, and it was typical of the way our front seven played all night. They really played hard. They played with fury. They played with fire. They took the fight to Houston, and they did a terrific job. (Cornerback) Justin Tryon – you can't say enough good things about him returning kickoffs. He came within an eyelash of breaking one and did a phenomenal job in the secondary. And then (receiver) Blair White handling (Matt) Turk's punts. Turk is a hard guy in terms of his punts to handle. He makes the ball difficult to handle. He's going to kick balls that are hard for you to handle. He deliberately tries to do that, and he's capable of doing it. Blair did a phenomenal job securing the ball, then getting what was there, and a little more. It was the kind of performance that (former Colts Head Coach) Tony (Dungy) always has talked about, from Day One: Do the Ordinary Things in an Extraordinary Way. We did the ordinary things – blocking, tackling, running, catching, paying attention to detail, getting a hat on a hat – we did those things in an extraordinary way and came out the winner. (Give) great credit to our coaching staff, and great credit to our team.
Q: The Texans seemed to indicate the crowd had an impact, too.
A: They did a great job. Playing at home is a huge advantage for us. The crowd did its part, without question. They did a terrific job of disrupting their communication, so it took them longer to get out of the huddle, took them longer at the line of scrimmage. That split second gives that defensive line a chance to get off the ball and go. We did a terrific job of it, and obviously the 12th Man is there for a reason. They are among the best 12th Men in football, and they did a heck of a job for us Monday.
Q: You talked before the game of eliminating the big plays . . .
A: They really had two big plays, and therein lay the secret of the game. You limit those big plays and you don't turn the ball over, you have a chance to win most games.
Q: How will Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell address the penalties Monday, and what is the solution?
A: You work every week on penalty avoidance. We had more Monday than we would have liked, particularly on the offensive line. We have to clean that up. You work on technique. You work on footwork. You work on making sure that when you're pulling you keep your hands in and throw rather than reaching and running the risk of grabbing a guy and having something called. They're really technique issues, and then the false starts are really just a question of concentration: concentrate, understand what's going on. Don't get nervous. Peyton's up there a long time and your internal rhythm can get disrupted, but you have to concentrate enough to recognize you have to stay put. It's a matter of both technique and concentration. We work on that every week. We have officials here every week who officiate two of our practices, so we work hard to teach penalty avoidance, and we'll continue to work on it.
Q: What are your thoughts on bringing in a big running back to complement starter Joseph Addai's weaknesses?
A: I'm not sure Joseph Addai has any weaknesses, to be very honest with you. It's a great idea. The only problem is you can only dress 45 guys and there is such a thing as a salary cap, and I suspect we'll have that going forward. The salary cap doesn't allow you the luxury of constructing a team that way. In the salary cap era, that has not been done. When I was in Buffalo, we had Thurman Thomas, who of course is a Hall of Famer, and we had two fullbacks. We also had Kenneth Davis, who was a completely different style – a straight-ahead slasher as opposed to Thurman, who was much more like Joseph. Everything was terrific. We ran the ball exceptionally well. Jamie Mueller was our fullback and we even had a backup fullback, but the salary cap doesn't allow you to do that, unfortunately.
Q: Is there any chance of getting more people back on special teams?
A: Probably not. Not in the short run. I thought our special teams were outstanding Monday night. This is no knock on Jeremy, because he did a phenomenal job. But if we had kicked the ball down to the 2- or 3-yard line – where Pat normally does – we would have had a phenomenal night. Our coverage was incredible. It really was. And the one time they got out on a return that got out to the 30, one of our players was tackled at the point of attack. Our special teams did a phenomenal job. Now, we don't have the dynamic return man, but guess what? When you add up the yardage over the course of the night, Blair White did a phenomenal job. We were advancing the ball. We were plus in that situation, and we handled it flawlessly. I would give our special teams lots of kudos Monday. They played really about as well as they could play.
Q: Had Blair had much experience returning punts?
A: No. He goes out there and does whatever you want him to do, and he does it to the best of his ability. That's what Colts players do.
Q: There was a Sunday night NFL game this year during the World Series. Is that going to occur in the future?A: It was done deliberately. It's the first time it has been done in quite some time. The results were pretty amazing. The football game outdrew the World Series in television terms by a relatively significant amount in the ratings. I've heard nothing about whether that will continue to be the policy going forward, but I would imagine that the success they've had with it might indicate that it could. I heard something – and it may have been on (ESPN's) Mike and Mike (Show) earlier in the month that interested me. That was the suggestion that baseball play relatively early on weeknights and leave the weekend alone. That's a radical, out-of-the-box suggestion, but I wonder if it wouldn't lead to more exposure, particularly if you started early enough, where young fans could see the game. We remember the time we were glued to our radios and much later to television. The World Series was once one of the momentous sporting events of the year. In my mind, that hasn't changed, but the numbers indicate otherwise.
Q: Did the Colts do anything differently to allow Hart to run straight down the field on Monday?
A: We really didn't do anything differently. We got some good blocks. We ran toward the bubble they gave us in terms of alignment. A good portion of the time they were in a nickel defense with two linebackers, and we ran at the bubble between the linebackers and the defensive linemen. Mike is what you call a downhill runner. He doesn't fool around. He doesn't pitpat back there. He gets the ball and goes. He has exceptional vision and exceptional ability to avoid tacklers. He's going straight ahead, but he's avoiding people in the process. He had a wonderful night and deservedly so. It wasn't anything different. It was just a great job of running by Mike Hart.
Q: If he hadn't tweaked his ankle he may have rushed for 100 yards . . .
A: I don't think there's any question about it. We had a trap play later on where Javarris James tripped over one of our offensive linemen, otherwise he's in the end zone. I think Mike would have walked in on that one. He did a great job. No question about it.
Q: Do officials get fined or penalized? Seemed like some calls were missed . . .
A: I can tell you what the procedure is. Each crew is graded each week by people in the league office. They grade them on calls that are made and calls that are missed and calls that are no-calls, which means they might have called a penalty, but didn't. At the end of the year, that's all added up. They receive a grade and the highest-rated officials at each position make it into the playoffs. Those who do not make the playoffs essentially go on probation and if they spend a couple of years out of the playoffs, then the likelihood is they will be dropped. That's the procedure. It's a season-long procedure. They are graded game-by-game, but they are not disciplined game-by-game. What we do is send in a questionnaire, a critique sheet each and every week that asks questions and gives opinions on what should have and should not have been called in our opinion. The officiating department then responds to that. That's the procedure, but we have no input whatsoever on grading officials. That's all done by the league office.
Q: Is there any quarterback in the NFL who reminds you of a young Peyton Manning? Maybe Sam Bradford?
A: I haven't seen enough of Sam Bradford yet to be able to give you an educated opinion on that. I really like Matt Ryan in Atlanta. I think he has a chance to be a tremendously good player in this league for a long period of time. I think he has many of the same attributes in terms of work ethic and maturity and leadership that Peyton has. That would be one guy who would come to mind immediately. I may be missing a guy or two. I have not seen enough of (Josh) Freeman down in Tampa Bay to tell you, although when I scouted him as a collegian, I was mightily impressed by his physical gifts. He may be the most gifted young quarterback to come in the league in quite some time. Bradford was also very impressive playing as a collegian at Oklahoma in a very good program in a very high-powered league. Thus far, he has proven to be a really good quarterback. I just haven't seen a lot of tape of him, so it's hard for me to give you an expert analysis if you will. But of those I've spent a lot of time studying or that we've played against, I would say Matt Ryan is the one who's really impressive of the young ones. I'm probably missing someone and slighting someone along the way. (Jets quarterback Matt) Sanchez also is quite gifted. He has really incredibly large hands and he can handle the ball very, very well. He's a great ball handler, great faker, great bootleg guy. He's very athletic. He's very, very competitive. (Baltimore Ravens quarterback) Joe Flacco has an incredibly strong arm. He's a big, tall guy who can deliver the ball. He hasn't had to carry quite as much of the load as Matt Ryan has, because they had a much more complete team than Matt did in the early years. They were a mature team when Joe got there, but I would say those three – of the young guys – are the ones who would jump at me, if you will.
Q: Can you explain the pick play, and why did they seem to be called differently Monday?
A: First of all, on the touchdown to wide receiver (Reggie) Wayne. That wasn't a pick play. That was a bubble screen. We don't use picks. They're called rub routes. It's in the eye of the beholder. The wide receivers converge. The defensive backs converge. To be very truthful, I don't know what standard the officials use to call it. They're obviously crossing. There was one early in the game that Houston completed that we thought might have been a foul, but it wasn't. Then, they got us on a big gainer that we thought wasn't a foul. It's in the eye of the beholder. There is a difference between a rub route where two receivers converge and the bubble screen, where you're trying to get the ball to the wide receiver at or behind the line of scrimmage and get blockers out in front of him. Two different plays.
Q: When scouting a player such as Blair White, where do you factor in intelligence and one-on-one interviews – how a player fits into the system?
A: The football intelligence part of it is very important. We grade that. Our scouts grade it on the school visit. We talk to the coaches about it. You can observe it when you watch a player play. It's very readily observable, and it's a big portion of what we consider to be important. We give psychological tests, which we place high value on. We do have interviews, but we don't conduct them. We use trained professionals to do it. They conduct the interviews, grade them and report back to us. I have never believed I have the capacity to sit down with an individual and talk to him and find out whether or not he's going to be a good football player. That's up to people who are far smarter than I to figure out, and we let them do that. But the bottom line is we place a very high value on football intelligence, on personality, on how a person fits into our culture and the things we think are important.
Q: How do you approach a situation such as what you're facing with Colts safety Bob Sanders?
A: For one thing, there's no divorce on the horizon. We're hoping to keep Bob on the active list. He has been that way for seven weeks. If everything goes according to plan, he would be back sometime around the Dallas game and be ready to contribute down the stretch. That's the short-term plan. Long-term, I think you look at health and you look at the ability to contribute and what kind of labor situation we are going to have. If there is a salary cap, you have those decisions to make with every player, not just Bob. That's down the road. I'm not going to worry about that now. I'm looking forward to having him back and out there and doing the wonderful things he does.
Q: Up next: Philadelphia at Philadelphia. Michael Vick will start at quarterback, and he has yet to throw an interception with the Eagles.
A: He has been very, very judicious with the football. First of all, it's interesting to note that they are 11-0 coming off byes under (Head Coach) Andy Reid. History is on their side, and he knows how to take care of his team and prepare them coming off the bye. Michael Vick has been very judicious with the football. He has been really accurate. He has delivered the ball on time. As we know, he has an incredibly powerful arm and a very fast release. The most important thing he does is keep plays alive with his incredible ability to run. That, and the threat of the option with LeSean McCoy as the running back, presents a whole new vista of defensive problems for you. It's very different than what we've faced this year and the only other time we see it is with Vince Young. Michael can take it the distance anytime he touches the ball. And with Brent Celek and DeSean Jackson, who I expect will be back, they have some people who can really go get the football. It's a high-powered offense. It's a high-blitzing, pressure defense. It was under the late Jim Johnson and continues to be these days, so they present a really formidable obstacle. Like us, they are a November, December, January team. They're just hitting their stride right now.