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 27-24 victory over the Washington Redskins Sunday. That gets the Colts to 4-2 with two road victories entering the bye week.
A: It was a good victory and very much a short night. As (former Colts offensive coordinator) Tom Moore is fond of saying, 'Sleep fast.' We had to do that, but it was a good victory – not clean, by any means, but in many respects a solid victory against a very much improving football team who I think will be in the race in that division all year. To win down there, and I think it's first time since the 1960s that we've won down there, to come out on top is terrific. It's one of those games – and we've had a couple of them this year – where the score could have been 35-14 early. But it didn't work out that way and we hung on and won it.
Q: The 21-yard catch (Colts wide receiver) Pierre Garcon made in the second quarter may rank as one of the best. Not sure how he caught the ball, but he did.
A: He surely did. Give him his due, he practices that stuff day in and day out. He's tremendously dedicated when it comes to that. He takes extra balls after practice every day and really works hard on his hands. It has borne fruit. It was really a terrific job. In my time here, in my memory, that ranks right up there with (former Colts wide receiver) Marvin Harrison's one-hander in Tennessee – one of the great ones of all time.
Q: It looked like the offensive line really played well Sunday.
A: They did a good job, and (running back) Joseph (Addai) really, really ran tough. He did a great job. He was getting contacted at the second level by their linebackers, who are really good and pack a wallop. He was making them miss or running through tackles. He did a tremendous, tremendous job. That might be the best game Joseph Addai ever has had. It might not be statistically, but just in terms of effort and want to and sticking the ball in the end zone when you had to do it. That was the best game he ever has had for us. He has played that way all year, and we're fortunate to have him.
Q: He had a career-long 46-yard run, but the 13-yard touchdown was particularly impressive . . .
A: It really was. He ran through two guys and made a guy miss. It was a spectacular run, a spectacular 13 runs. He performed admirably.
Q: What does it take to run that way in the red zone?
A: He has special talent. If you remember when he came out, the pundits had it rated: (Laurence Maroney, (Maurice) Jones-Drew, Joseph. We chose Joseph because we felt like his combination of receiving skills, the ability to make you miss, acceleration in the hole – all of that kind of thing – was best suited to our offense. As it turned out, Jacksonville made the right decision for them. We made the right decision for us. Maroney did not pan out for the (New England) Patriots. That's the way it goes in the draft. But Joseph is ideally suited for what we do. He can block. He can catch. He can get through the hole. He can make people miss at the second level. He has speed. All of those things are terrific. He has played well every game. There have been some times he hasn't had a lot of running room, but even then he will make it. We were tremendously efficient Sunday night because they gave us run looks with the dime defense. We were able to get after it.
Q: Backup running back Mike Hart did a solid job for a second consecutive week.
A: You can count on Mike week in and week out. He's going to give you everything he has and he has scoot and finish at the end of every run. He finishes runs as well as anybody in the National Football League. He is dependable and reliable and will be there day in and day out. We're very fortunate to have him.
Q: You mentioned it wasn't a clean game, and there were three turnovers. But that's the kind of game Washington likes to play, correct?
A: (Redskins quarterback) Donovan McNabb can still throw it and he can throw it from the dangdest positions – sidearm, on one knee, running around 14 yards from behind the line of scrimmage. And he's accurate with the ball, by and large. That makes it tough. If we were up against any other quarterback but him we might have had five or six sacks. We ended up with three. He makes it very tough. You knew that going in and you knew they had the bootleg game, which is difficult for us to handle. They didn't do as much damage on that as we were worried about. We did a great job handling that. Conversely, we missed far too many tackles. We had guys running free in the backfield, hitting the running back and not knocking him over. That can be a couple of different things. Sometimes, it's the fact that you don't have your legs with you 100 percent. I suspect that may have been the case. We'll see as time goes by, but the special teams turnovers and the low kick – I don't know if it was blocked or it wasn't blocked; it just came out funny – really counts as a turnover, so we had three special teams turnovers, and you absolutely cannot win doing that. (Washington defensive end Brian) Arapko caused the sack/fumble. (Right tackle) Ryan (Diem) did a great job blocking him. He's a great player and he reached in and swiped it. Good for him. The other turnovers, if you're going to do that, you're going to lose most of the time, not win. Kudos to our defense for bucking up and making plays when they needed to, including the great interception by (safety) Aaron Francisco to end the game. All in all, we're very happy to go on the road four times out of the first six and win two, so we're looking forward to a little home cooking.
Q: And looking at the schedule, the Colts have more home games remaining than other division teams.
A: We've come through a very tough stretch and a very tough training camp in terms of injuries and the way the schedule was set up – and a tough stretch here. Hopefully, we'll get people healthy and be back ready to have a good second half.
Q: Why do the Colts not use the stretch play as much as they once did?
A: Two reasons. No. 1, we decided we were probably better served to run the ball inside off draws and off belly action – that that would give us a better chance. Second of all, as (tight end) Brody Eldridge gets more comfortable playing in his rookie year in the National Football League, you'll see more of the stretch play. The way people play us, if you're going to put a dime back in the game and play him essentially as a third linebacker, what it's telling you is to run the ball inside. We've had success doing that. You do what the defense dictates and in this particular case Sunday night we had a heck of a night running inside, although there were a couple of runs we did run the stretch play and Joe cut it back. He saw the first daylight, cut it back and went up for big gains. It's still in the arsenal, still there and ready to go when we need it.
Q: If you take out quarterback kneels, the Colts rushed for 3.9 yards a carry Sunday.
A: That's where you want to be. After a while, I get a little tired of statistics. Everybody quotes the statistics – this service, that service. They have analyzed this, that and the other thing. At the end, it really doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot. Nobody gives you the asterisk in the fine print that says, 'Oh, by the way, the quarterback kneels don't count.' When you're kneeling a game out, two or three kneels in a row, you're losing yard and it counts as a carry. I don't put a lot of relevance in it.
Q: What's the real status of safety Bob Sanders?
A: His status is he's still on the active roster and therefore eligible to come back. He's not on injured reserve. Our hope is that he continues with his rehabilitation. If he stays on the same schedule he was last year, it took about 12 weeks from the time of surgery until the time he was ready to go with the bicep. There's no complicating issue. Last year, his knee was a complicating issue. This year, there isn't any. Our hope is some time between Week 10 and 12, he may be back.
Q: Can you explain the approach on the drive with just less than three minutes remaining? The Colts had the lead, yet threw three passes and drained less than 20 seconds of the clock . . .
A: They had eight in the box. We had Mike in the game. The situation was such that we had to get a first down. If we had gotten a first down, we make them use all of their times out. We felt like the slant was a good, safe pass to throw. (Cornerback) Phillip) Buchanan made a good play on it. They covered us up pretty good on the next two throws. When you throw and don't connect on the first play, the likelihood is you have to throw again because you have to get a first down. That's what you're thinking – first down – in that situation. Once you throw on first down, the rest is sort of pre-programmed. We're very efficient at doing that. We just didn't get it done. Had we, it would have been the perfect situation. It didn't end up being that way, so our defense came in and made a good play. Pat (McAfee) did a good job punting, and the defense made a play at the end. We sealed the victory, but as I say, it wasn't as clean as you'd like. You'd like to be able to connect and end the game that way. Whatever you did, you should have done the other thing if it didn't work.
Q: Do you think the Colts will run more coming out of the bye?
A: It depends entirely on what kind of a defense you get from the opposing team. If they're going to put dime defense in there and play six defensive backs, they're inviting you to run the ball. You really need to do that, unless you get the linebackers up there and they have a strong safety in the box. If they're going to play the way the Redskins did, you probably need to run the ball. If people are going to play coverage as Kansas City did against us, you can run the ball, too. If people are going to put seven or eight in the box and say, 'We're not going to let you run on early downs, then you have to throw the ball. It's really six one way, half dozen the other. Fortunately, our quarterback can get us in and out of the right plays. Not every team has the luxury to do that. We can, so more often than not we're in the right play at the right time.
Q: Washington played an odd defense – often with only one player in a stance before the snap and a lot of walking around, a difficult situation for the offensive line.
A: We negated that to some degree by going up-tempo. Washington either had to declare, or we caught them off guard where they weren't ready for the snap. That helped that a lot. We were able, with the up-tempo situation, to keep people on the field and keep them in the front that we expected they would be in. That was really helpful. If you let them get up there and walk around as they did on the second play of the game – we ended up with a false start penalty because you have to change three times by the time they jump around there. When you go boom, boom, now it's up to them to adjust.
Q: What's the status of wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez?
A: He'll fit in just fine, because we've got any number of bumps and bruises at virtually every position, so our hope is he's back for the Houston game. He'll play a big role down the stretch, no question about it.
Q: Were some of the passes over the middle that the Redskins completed the responsibility of rookie middle linebacker Pat Angerer?
A: Neither were. There were a couple of passes thrown against what we call Cover 4, which is where the corner would have been responsible. There were a couple where the other two linebackers in a zone would be responsible, and the touchdown pass was certainly not his responsibility at all. That was a blown coverage by someone else.
Q: How did Angerer play?
A: I think he did fine – better than fine. He was physical. He was assertive. He ran. He did everything you could expect him to do and more. He plays fast.
Q: With so little time left in quarterback Peyton Manning's career, why wouldn't the Colts trade some future draft picks to strengthen need positions such as left tackle, outside linebacker, etc.
A: For one thing, I don't think Peyton necessarily believes his career is over. He certainly is going to play at least five more years and perhaps more beyond that. It's very likely, given the condition he keeps himself in and barring no serious injury. There is no urgent need to win this year or never. Number two, I'm not sure I agree the players in question would necessarily help us. If you're going to make a trade, you want it to be at the right price. High draft choices are valuable, valuable currency. I would remind you Joseph Addai was a high draft choice. (Wide receiver) Reggie Wayne was a high draft choice. They were low number ones, but they were ones nonetheless. In the last 12 years, we've had draft choices below 20 probably 10 of the 12 years, if I'm not mistaken. You can do a lot with those draft choices. You can get difference-makers. Finally, you have to presume you have somebody to trade with. While the trading deadline is tomorrow, my phone is not ringing. No one has called offering anyone. If someone did, we certainly would consider it. We have made trades in the past, most notably for (defensive tackle Anthony) "Booger" McFarland, but no one is ringing my phone today. I presume there's not a lot being offered. You have to have a trading partner in order to trade. At this point, I don't see it as a viable option.
Q: Is it tougher to trade in the NFL than other leagues?
A: Absolutely. Sure. For example, in baseball and basketball, the system makes no difference. Bill Parcells is fond of saying, 'If you need a left fielder, go get a left fielder.' He and I are great with the baseball analogies, but it's not exactly true. You can take Nick Swisher and bring him from the National League and put him in the (New York) Yankees' lineup and he'll be the same player, by and large. It used to if a pitcher changed leagues or a hitter changed leagues there was a different strike zone. That isn't the case anymore, because the umpires work both leagues. They're essentially interchangeable. Basketball, as far as I know, they're essentially interchangeable. In the NBA, you can really only play man-to-man and help-side defense, so there's no system to learn, essentially. There might be some nuances from team to team, but essentially it's the same system. Football (is) totally different. For example, Manny Lawson would really not fit with our team. He's a very good player, but he's not the kind of fit we're looking for in our system. There are defensive tackles who don't necessarily fit for us, but who are great for 3-4 teams. Football is a completely different situation. You have to make sure the player fits your system and you have to make sure the price is right, and all of us are assuming a salary cap going forward, so you would have to take into consideration the cost of the player in terms of both draft choices and contract. For example, why would you give a high draft choice for a player who was going to be out of contract next year? That's not a very good move. All of those things get taken into consideration, which is why there are far fewer trades in the National Football League than there are in the other two sports.
Q: When are the Colts going to realize that the bottom line on special teams is to possess the ball?
A: I can't disagree. The first thing you teach in the return game is ball security: secure the ball, then do what you can with it, but don't take any chances that are going to cause turnovers. You don't want that. I would say Sunday our problems did not come from returning the ball, it came from not securing the ball. There's nothing wrong with returning it, and if we had a dynamic returner as we did in the era when Terrence Wilkins was returning for us, or even Dominic Rhodes when he was younger, you look to make some hay in the return game. If you don't have that type of a player, the biggest thing is ball security. Those are hurtful errors and they are errors of commission, not omission. Those are the worst kind.
Q: Do you worry that the injury will cause Addai to lose confidence?
A: There's a difference between stamina and confidence. He has had great confidence since the day he arrived. That never has waned. There have been times we haven't given him much room to run, but he always has run hard and he has done the best he could every time out. I don't see any of that ever being a problem. This is a physical issue that I think will clear up over time. I would expect him back as good as ever. It won't have any effect on him whatsoever.
Q: Any thoughts on running back Mike Hart as a returner?
A: Mike is a finisher. He's the kind of guy who finishes runs with a spurt at the end. He is not a very fast 'on-the-watch' guy, and he's not a real explosive guy. What you want as a return person is someone who has first-step explosion, which is not really what Mike's strong suit is. Mike's strong suit is balance and the ability to see the hole and the ability to finish the run. He has a unique ability to get every yard there is and them some at the end of every run. Our feeling has been while he would handle the ball perfectly, he's not the best candidate for that. Unfortunately, the best candidate got hurt. Hopefully, he learned a lesson from it and he won't go running into people on the sidelines any longer when he comes back. Devin Moore was the answer to our prayers. Unfortunately, he got hurt. Mike is going to have to carry a heavy load, also with Joe a little bit under the weather, here as time goes. I'm loathe to put front-line guys in that job if you can avoid it because there is a high incidence of injury around the league. You worry some about that.
Q: What's the status of cornerback Jacob Lacey, and how did the secondary play as a unit?
A: Jacob is nursing a foot injury and should be back, I would think, fairly soon. Whether or not it will be for Houston or not remains to be seen. That's a decision we'll reach in a couple of weeks, but with the Monday Night game, that probably heightens the chance he could be back. The secondary has played pretty well. (Cornerback) Kelvin Hayden was under the weather Sunday night with a severe stomach virus and gutted it out and played awfully well. Jerraud Powers had a terrific game and continues to play exceptionally well. (Safety) Antoine Bethea is the same guy week in and week out for 18 or 20 weeks a season. He's Derek Jeter, to use he baseball analogy. He's going to hit .310, knock in 90 runs and make big plays. That's what he is. He's a pro. He plays well every week, and Aaron Francisco has done a terrific job since coming back to us and we're very fortunate he was available to us when Melvin (Bullitt) got hurt. Aaron's familiar with our system, understands what we do, hasn't had much break in time and is able to come back and play at a high level. Of course, as you saw Sunday, he made a terrific interception to ice the game. We've been very fortunate, and we have to keep those guys healthy. I know Jacob will be back fairly soon. I hope it's against Houston.
Q: Do you see the AFC as having a lot of parity and what impact does that have on the 18-game schedule concept?
A: I don't know what the 18-game schedule holds, and I wouldn't want to conjecture about it. If it comes about, we need to see how it goes and after three or four years, we'll have a feel for what it brings with it. Interestingly enough, last year I said I thought there were eight AFC teams that could win the Super Bowl if they stayed healthy and got the right breaks. As it turned out, no AFC team won the Super Bowl, but I think without question there were eight last year capable of getting there. I think the same is true this year. Top to bottom, the AFC is a highly, highly competitive conference.
Q: Is that good for the Colts?
A: It's good in the sense that this is going 16 weeks. No one's going to run away and hide, I don't believe. What chance we had of separating ourselves has gone with the injuries, so this is going to be a slog for us just like it is everyone else. This is going the whole way. There are eight teams and maybe more capable of coming out on top and only time will tell.
Q: Is head-to-head contact a big problem in the NFL right now?
A: There were a few this weekend. I had a number of questions Monday from people in the media. My response is that in the tape I've looked at I think it has been called correctly. I haven't seen much of it and in fact, I've seen defensive backs changing their aiming points, which is what you really wanted and what (Tennessee Titans Head Coach) Jeff Fisher said would happen. If this particularly week continues it's obviously something we need to look at, but I'm loathe to make judgments based on snapshots.