THE POLIAN CORNER

The Polian Corner, Week 17, Titans at Colts 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.

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The Polian Corner, Week 17, Titans at Colts
*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 31-26 victory over the Oakland Raiders Sunday. As was the case the last two weeks, the victory over the Raiders felt an awful lot like a playoff game . . .* **A: They have been playoff games, because every one had to be won or you were out – or at the very least needed help from someone else. Someone said to me Monday . . . there was an assertion that Sunday's game was meaningless. I can't quite figure that out. The fact is we had to win every game. We had to win every game. We have to win next week. To me, that's not a meaningless game, but to each his own. All I know is we have to continue to win. Every one of them is a must. They're all musts. Faced with that, we did a good job. We did everything we had to do. Great kudos to our defense. They did a terrific job. For the second week in a row, we faced the second-best run defense in the league and essentially won that battle pretty handily. Our defense overall did a terrific job, holding them to four field goals – and in many cases, where they were in bad field position. That might be the best defensive performance we've had all year – against a team that from a running standpoint and a physical blocking standpoint is probably as good as it gets. They certainly have speed at the receiver position. We haven't faced receivers who can run like that and we did a heck of a job, so great kudos to our defensive coaches and our defensive players: keep it up. We're going to need every bit of that Sunday. It has been four weeks of playoff games. This is the fourth week, and we'll see how it comes out. You have to be very proud of the effort our guys made in all three phases Sunday. It has been an incredible, incredible job by our pro personnel department – Chris (Polian), Tom (Telesco), Clyde (Powers), Kevin (Rogers), everybody involved. At last count, and I'm probably losing count, we had 12 players who were not with us in training camp – who had zero training camp time with us. To integrate 12 new players into a team in the heat of a pennant race is absolutely unheard of, and to do so with the high-quality kinds of performances we have had is a great tribute to the coaches and a great tribute to the pro personnel people. They have done a phenomenal job.

*Q: A lot of people were talking about the run defense after the victory over the Raiders, but the pass defense played very well, too . . .
*A: We're playing Colts defense. We're making sure we get a lot of white shirts to the ball – or blue shirts, as the case may be. We're making sure we get a lot of pressure on them, and we are. We're doing it with four people most of the time. Occasionally, we bring five, but when we do, we're getting home and we're getting good coverage. We're mixing up the coverages, but there's nothing arcane about it. We're playing the way we used to play, which is fast, smart and physical. When we do that, when we're on the run, when we're flying, we're a hard defense to play against. If there has been any turnaround that's absolutely noteworthy, it's what (Head Coach) Jim Caldwell has instilled in the defense in terms of how he wants it played. It is being played the right way. We look like the Colts of old.

Q: The statistics showed Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney with perhaps two tackles – another example of his statistics don't always tell the story . . .
A: I think it was (CBS broadcaster and former New York Giants quarterback) Phil Simms on a broadcast I heard who said, 'Statistics are virtually meaningless in football unless you can match them up with videotape and say this is what this statistic specifically means against this defense in this situation against this offense in this situation. Standalone statistics such as exist in baseball – sabermetrics, if you will – have no validity in the NFL. Zero. I was glad to hear Phil say it publicly. It's not said enough. There is a growing – albeit small, but noisy – cadre of people who try to convince you that standalone statistics are really meaningful. They're not. As (Colts linebackers coach) Mike Murphy is fond of saying, 'There are two statistics that count on defense: points surrendered and turnovers.' That's all that counts. Everything else is meaningless. There are some we use where you do match it up with a front or a coverage. We do some pretty sophisticated analysis of it, but you have to match it with fronts and coverages. You have to know what you're looking at. You have to understand why a particular statistic has validity. I'll give you an example. We're now talking about receivers being "targeted" as opposed to how many balls they catch. All that tells you is: a, that the ball was thrown his way – it doesn't tell you why. It doesn't tell you what kind of a ball it was – whether it was good, bad or indifferent. It tells you whether he caught it. It creates a totally meaningless picture. I guess fantasy people look at it. As I've said many times, I have no idea what that's about. I'm sure it's meaningful to them, but in terms of winning games, most of them are not meaningful. When you talk about (defensive tackle) Fili Moala's contribution, I can think of two huge tackles for losses, which created second-and-double digits, which flipped the field in both cases. Dwight Freeney was a force all day. Two people were on him all day, and he was a force all day. He was coming hard, causing disruption. He was forcing the quarterback to move and forcing the quarterback to get rid of the ball. The number means absolutely zero. When you look at the tape, you see Dwight Freeney played a heck of a game. Fili Moala might have played his best game as a Colt. (Defensive tackle Antonio) "Mookie" Johnson certainly did. I can't remember – and there may have been a time – that we've had a back like (Darren) McFadden come running up there on a belly play, or on a lead draw and just be stopped cold. He was just stopped like he was running into a wall. Well, he was running into Fili and Mookie in a lot of cases. I don't know if they got credit for a tackle, but the bottom line was the defense did a terrific, terrific job. I don't know that they're capable of playing a whole lot better than they played Sunday. And I'm not sure that any defense in the NFL played any better than we played Sunday.

Q: Why did the NFL change the time for Sunday's game to 4:15 p.m., and how will that change the Colts' practice schedule this week?
A: The game is switched because they want to put games on television that are meaningful and have a role to play in the playoff picture. Both the Jacksonville game and our game have a role to play. I don't know who has the national game this week, but it really makes no difference to us. It changes our preparation none at all. The only time we change our preparation would be if we're playing at eight in the evening, or if we were going to the West Coast, where there was a significant time change. Neither of those situations come about, so we treat it like a normal 4:15 game. We've had lots of those. We're very used to playing around the clock. It doesn't matter where or when. We're used to dealing with it, so it's business as usual as far as we're concerned.

Q: What has been the difference in the running game in recent weeks? It has shown a lot of improvement, it seems . . .
A: The running game has been terrific, and all three backs have done a great job. It all starts with the offensive line. They were coming off the ball. They were creating space. They were blocking the right people. They were staying with their blocks. A lot of that has to do with the tight ends – Brody Eldridge, Jacob Tamme. All three running backs ran well. When you have three healthy running backs to share the load and make plays, you're in pretty darned good shape. We haven't been in quite a while and Dominic (Rhodes) certainly has been a guy who delivers some life and some spark and who runs hard. He does all of the things that you think a running back should do. It's great to have Joe (Addai) back, and (Donald) Brown has done a terrific job while he has been in there. As we said last week, when there are big plays to be made, he makes them.

Q: Discuss quarterback Peyton Manning's run to clinch the game, if you will . . . Someone wanted to know why he doesn't tell anyone else what he's going to do before the naked bootleg . . .
A: The reason is if someone else knows they might tip it. Players at this level are very in tuned to even the slightest move, the slightest change in routine – the slightest tip such as weight forward or weight back on the hand of an offensive lineman. If his weight is forward, he's more likely to run block. If his weight is back, he's more likely to pass block. In that particular situation, you might have an offensive lineman sneak a peak at the corner that he's going at just to see what it looks like. That can tip off a safety or a linebacker. It's called a silent keep and it's best to do it that way.

Q: And he did the right thing to go down at the two rather than score . . .
A: He knew fully well that he was going to get the first down and he was going down, then we were going to kneel it out. There was no desire on his part to go into the end zone, and it was a wise – a very, very wise – play given the explosive nature of Jacoby Ford and their kickoff return unit.

Q: Why take the timeout before the onside kick near the end of the game?
A: The timeout before the onside kick was because we didn't feel like we had every situation covered. We saw them line up. It's exactly the same as a timeout before an inbounds play at the end of a basketball game. You take a look at what the opposing team is setting up to counteract it. We did that and Jacob (Tamme) got the ball cleanly. We were able to salt the game away. Onside kicks, more and more, are becoming not only dangerous plays, but plays that can determine games. It used to be that the conversion rate was very minimal, but now it's approaching a 50-50 shot, so you have to really be careful with it. You have to make sure you're aligned properly and have a good chance at getting the ball.

Q: Do you think Antoine Bethea is an All-Pro safety – and does the team plan on re-signing running back Dominic Rhodes?
A: With Antoine, there's no question in my mind he's a Pro Bowler. I'm not so sure he ought not to be in consideration for All-AFC. Troy Polamalu (of the Steelers) and Ed Reed (of the Ravens) will get it, because it's usually voted upon by media people and they're the consensus best players, but Antoine Bethea is, in my opinion, the next best – even though he's not spectacular. He's clearly among the class of the NFL. There's no question about that. I've never been one to put a lot of stock in these All-Star teams, because I think the voting – including the Pro Bowl – is very flawed. All I can tell you is we're very glad we have Antoine Bethea, and if he's not included in the Pro Bowl it's an absolute miscarriage of justice. As for Dominic Rhodes, this is his home, no question about it. We might as well and avoid the hassle of having to bring him back when we need him. A lot depends on the labor situation and if there is a salary cap, what it is, what the rules are, what the minimum salary might be. All of those kinds of permutations which enter into how you can structure a roster in a cap environment become issues that have to be dealt with in February and March – hopefully not later. But there's no question that Dominic is a major contributor and has been. He's a guy you want on your football team. He's a warrior.

Q: How is wide receiver Austin Collie doing?
A: He's doing fine. He's on injured reserve. He won't be back this year, but he made the trip Sunday. He was in good spirits. He's feeling good. He requested to go. He wants to be with his teammates and help out as best he can. Everything's looking up there.

Q: Can you talk about preparing for Tennessee?
A: We played them four weeks ago, so there is some familiarity and some carryover. There is not a lot. Things can change in the course of a month and most teams that you play a second time in the division will not play you the same way twice. We've been working hard and the results have shown. There's no question that this team works as hard as any I've ever been around here. They focus. They play hard. They do everything you ask of them. We don't have many, many, many of the guys like Austin Collie, Dallas Clark and Bob Sanders that you're used to seeing out there, but the guys who are out there work hard and are doing a heck of a job.

Q: Do you think Peyton Manning should run the ball a little more?
A: Absolutely not, only in situations of dire necessity. We don't need him taking hits from people, that's for sure. The bottom line is it's dangerous enough back there with rushers coming at you. You certainly don't need to be out in the open field where people can take shots at you. He's judicious about how he does it, and that's the right way to handle it.

Q: Will players such as Rhodes and Blair White be given an equal opportunity to make the roster next season?
A: Sure. Blair White clearly has proven he can play and play well in the National Football League. Jacob Tamme was an unknown to everybody but the people in this building, but when it came time for Jacob to play regularly, I said, 'Everybody in this building knows Jacob Tamme will play well.' Checking the stats, we are approaching 100 catches from the tight end position, which is exactly what we had last year between Dallas and Jake, so he has played admirably. There have been many, many others who have stepped up and played well. Pat Angerer comes to mind. Fili Moala is our most-improved defensive lineman this year. You could argue he was our most effective defensive tackle. Aaron Francisco, Donald Brown – I anticipate the vast majority of them will be back. The unknown is what kind of a system do we have? I can't predict that at this point. I don't think anyone can. With that caveat, and that alone, we love these guys. There's nothing not to love about them. They give you everything they have. If you had to pick a team and say, 'These are the kinds of people I want on my football team, as opposed to some others around the league who get a lot more publicity,' we'll take these guys every time.

Q: Is there any chance of getting players back for the final regular-season game or playoffs?
A: The injury situation is fluid. We'll know much later in the week where we are with (linebacker) Clint Session and perhaps (cornerback) Kelvin Hayden. I could go on and on. The best example I could give you is (left tackle) Charlie Johnson. Charlie Johnson was in the training room throughout practice Wednesday, Thursday and three quarters of Friday. He went out Friday and tried a little, came back in and got treatment. He came in Saturday morning, pronounced himself ready to go and played a heck of a football game. That's the kind of year it has been, and that's the kind of week this is going to be. Stay tuned. I don't know where we'll be, but the likelihood is a lot of these fellows will be game-time decisions.

Q: Can you comment on the officiating Sunday?
A: Sunday's game, with the exception of the altercation and the Kyle DeVan issue, was about as well-officiated a game as we've had in a while.

Q: What happened on the skirmish?
A: First of all, in defense of the referee – Terry McAulay – he was watching the play go up the field and didn't see it. The Raider defensive lineman just jumped on Kyle and just gouged away. He got him in the eye. Mr. McAulay turned around and saw Kyle on the ground in obvious distress and presumed that something untoward had happened and threw the flag. Subsequently, on the next play, Kyle sort of righted himself and absolutely ran over the guy who had gouged away at his eye. At the end of the play, there was a melee that consisted of three of their guys and none of ours – or Kyle DeVan at the bottom of the pile. One of our guys got penalized, so we'll discuss that with the league office. That's what occurred. There's no question there was an unsportsmanlike act on the part of the Raider player, which Mr. McAulay caught – perhaps out of the corner of his eye at the end of it. He didn't see the severity of it. Had he seen all of it, the action might have been different. Bottom line, other than that, there may have been two or three questions we had on the officiating. It was a much, much better game than we've seen in the recent past.

Q: And Kyle DeVan was not coming out of the game. He was going to stay in . . .
A: Yes, and Thank God he was able to stay with it. I always recall what happened to the young man with the Cleveland Browns who got hit with the bean bag: Orlando Brown. That's a tragedy. He lost an eye. Those things should not be part of the game. They need to be dealt with severely.

Q: On the opening kickoff that Oakland returned for a touchdown, should there have been a penalty for an illegal wedge block? And why were the announcers complaining about interference penalties called against Oakland when defenders were grabbing the arms of Pierre Garcon and Blair White?
A: I don't hear them (announcers) and obviously don't pay much attention to it. You're correct in your description of the fouls, and they are fouls. That's the way the rulebook is written. It's the way the DVD that the officiating department distributes to coaches and players and staff people is stated, so that's that. Somebody else's opinion is theirs. You're entitled to your own opinion, but you're not entitled to your own facts, and the facts are if you grab somebody it's a foul. Relative to the wedge, I did not believe there was an infraction of the rules. I would like to find out how many injuries – and we will; this data is given to us – we've had on kickoff returns and specifically, how many concussions, this year. If we do a two-year study and we find out that we're reducing them markedly, but can reduce them further, we might want to think about doing away with the wedge altogether. All you would have then is a situation where you have one-on-one blocking in the open field. A kickoff returner would be a more valuable person and you might get a little different style of returner coming into the game. I'm not sure that's not all to the good, particularly if there's a way to reduce concussions. As of now, I can't tell you whether that hypothesis will hold true or not, but it's something we should look at.

Q: The Tennessee Titans are the opponent in the regular-season finale. You win this game, you go to the playoffs. If you lose, you need Jacksonville to lose, too . . .
A: The best thing to do is go win the football game. We've come a long, long way. It has been an uphill struggle almost from Day One – from the day we lost (safety) Bob (Sanders) in the opener in Houston – almost from the day the schedule was announced, when we saw that as defending AFC Champions we were going on the road to play against Houston at 1 o'clock in the afternoon on opening weekend. That was a pretty clear message as to what this season was going to be like. It has been an uphill struggle all the way, and we have met every single challenge. Regardless of how this game Sunday comes out, I'm really proud to be associated with these guys. Every Colts fan ought to be very, very proud of them. I think (Colts Head Coach) Jim Caldwell may have done the greatest coaching job of his career to get this team on the brink of making the playoffs. That said, we're up against a traditional divisional opponent who is going to want to beat us badly and knock us out of that division crown and knock us off the pedestal we've had for quite a while. We're going to need the fans louder and more involved than they've ever been. They've had a week to rest up. They did a great job against Jacksonville, so please, please be into it. Be fired up. We need you. This is the time the '12th Man' can make a major difference, and I think with the kind of players we have on this team – with the kind of hustle and fight and courage they show – that little extra from the fans can put us over the top. This has been a long road, and we're only one game away. We need to give it our absolute best shot – everybody pulling together, the 12th Man, just like we did last year in the playoffs. Everybody wrote us off, but together, we came through. United We Stand. We're there again.

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