Week 3: Colts vs. Jaguars
Bill Polian, in his 11th season as Colts president, has a resume unique in the NFL. One of two men to win NFL Executive of the Year five 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 eight of the last nine seasons, including an AFC Championship Game appearance after the 2003 and 2006 seasons, AFC South titles in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 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.
Question: An 18-15 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. The Colts trailed by nine points at halftime and 15-0 late in the third quarter. Very little went right for a long time, then a whole lot went right after a very bizarre play. Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez lateralled to wide receiver Reggie Wayne. You don't always like to see that, but it gave the Colts a lift . . .
Answer: You almost never do, but in dire circumstances you do things you perhaps would not otherwise do. It turned out fine. Great credit to Reggie for hustling and for (tight end) Tom Santi for hustling and blowing up a defensive back on the play. We fortunately stuck it in the end zone and that certainly shifted the momentum. It shifted the field position, too, which had been a very difficult situation for us. I take three things away from this game. The first is I can't remember a game we've played here where we faced as much adversity as we did Sunday in Minnesota and performed as well. We had essentially four rookies playing positions on the offensive line that they never had played before. (Quarterback) Peyton (Manning)'s performance in that circumstance and his adjustment to what they were doing, keeping his poise, getting rid of the ball early, having far less time to throw than he normally does, not having (tight end) Dallas Clark, who is always his security blanket – it was an incredibly courageous performance. I can't remember one, including San Diego last year, because this is a tougher place to play and maybe a more physical front in terms of rushing the passer, that was more courageous. Number 2, how well our guys – especially our young guys – played through adversity and played 60 minutes. Every single one of them kept their poise. Nobody panicked. Nobody lost their cool. Nobody went off the air. They stayed calm. They stayed collected. They put the last bad play behind them – and there were lots of them. They got it straightened out on the sidelines and in the locker room and that goes for the defense as well. We ended up winning the football game because we played through adversity. We kept our poise and we played 60 minutes. There's a lesson in there for every single football player from the Pop Warner level through the National Football League. The third thing is tied into that. It occurred to me and I said to a couple of the guys on the way home, 'A game like that, with the kinds of plays that were made, with the physical intensity with which that game was played – and you almost cringed up in the press box with some of the hits that Peyton took and some of the hits that we delivered, too, in the fourth quarter; some of the hits (Vikings running back Adrian) Peterson took – it points up how really off-base and non-important all of the statistics and all of the punditry and all of the talking and all of this stuff that surrounds the game from Monday to Saturday really is. It's what happens out there on Sunday that captures the fan's attention, the miraculous things guys do and the plays they make: Anthony Gonzalez, the lateral; Peterson doing what he does; (Vikings defensive end Jared) Allen doing what he does; (Colts defensive end Dwight) Freeney doing what he does – that's what the game's about. All the rest of the stuff is just filling time.
Q: Peterson, the Vikings' second-year running back, rushed for 160 yards on 29 carries. You can't really appreciate him until you see him . . .
A: That's exactly right. People have compared him to (Hall of Fame running back Eric) Dickerson, and my response to that is Dickerson was not the open-field runner that Adrian Peterson is. I think Adrian is as fast as Dickerson and he is certainly every bit as powerful. He has maybe more acceleration. That's probably gilding the lily a little bit. It's probably very close. But nobody that size, with that acceleration and with that balance and that ability to make you miss, has the broken-field ability that he has. He's in a class by himself. I heard someone else, a knowledgable football guy that I really respect, call him a big Barry Sanders, and that's what he is.
Q: Anthony Gonzalez has contributed in the past, but on Sunday, he seemed to be Peyton's security blanket at times . . .
A: He was, and he's becoming a very polished NFL receiver as we knew he would. He is as hard a worker as we have on this team. He's as well-drilled a person as we have on the team. He works at it very hard on and off the field. He's a true professional. He can make the kinds of plays he made Sunday. He really is a complete receiver. Because of his work ethic and the way he approaches the game, we were certain this is what he would develop into and that's what he has become.
Q: Is there a way to get the running game up to speed?
A: I think the question is, 'Is there a way get it more productive?' You'll never make happy the people who say, 'You've got to have the power running game.' No. We've never been a power running team and we're not going to be a power running team. We won the Super Bowl without being a power running team, so that sort of approach is not what we do. It's not what we're ever going to do. Now, can you be successful running the football against teams like this who are well-coached and who have a gigantic front four? With those kinds of people, if they're going to put eight (defenders) in the box, the answer is, 'You shouldn't try.' Let me remind everyone that the New England Patriots last year I believe went into Minnesota and I think they ran the ball twice. It was certainly single digits. That was hailed as it should have been – as an innovative and very smart and on-target way to play the game against that team. We ran a little more Sunday. We had better success in the second half than we did the first, but when you're playing with essentially four rookies up there against an eight- or seven-and-half-man front with the two kahunas they have at tackle, the odds of having success running the ball are not very good. The first question you ask yourself when you play a team like that is, 'Can we spread them out?' Then, you ask, 'Can we protect if we spread them out?' That presented a problem Sunday, as was obvious, but we were able to fight our way through it. If we have our regular offensive line, once you begin throwing the ball and you get those linebackers backed off and the linemen begin getting tired of pass-rushing, now you can run the ball and usually against teams like that the running yardage will build up in the second half – in the third and fourth quarters – when you're running draws and they're tired and you're running stretch plays and they're tired and they're playing the bootleg and those kinds of things . . . At the end of the day, somebody looks at the stat sheet and they say, 'Wonderful. They ran the ball for 112 yards.' Well, 72 came in the second half after you have thrown the ball, but that's what I mean by all of the analysis and all of the statistical analysis and all of that kind of stuff. It's really in many ways meaningless. You do what you have to do to win the football game and with a great credit to a very good Minnesota football team – I think they're a very good team; among the best we've played recently – we hung in and found a way to win. That's what you do in the National Football League.
Q: Maybe the better question is, 'Can you get your offensive line healthy?'
A: It's going to take time. Will we get (center) Jeff (Saturday) back this week? I'm hopeful, but we won't know until Friday. Whatever happens, we'll be prepared for. You play the hand that's dealt you, and to their everlasting credit – to (assistant offensive line coach) Pete Metzelaars' credit and to (offensive line coach) Howard Mudd's credit and to the credit of all the young guys on the offensive line – they stepped in and they did the very best they could. They kept their poise and in the end, as I've said before, that's a great lesson for anybody who plays this game.
Q: The Colts tied the game, 15-15, when running back Dominic Rhodes ran for a two-point conversion with just under six minutes left. What did you think of the call?
A: Dominic has a real knack for running that play, and a real good knack for running in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He is slippery and runs behind his pads, as the saying goes. I really felt we'd be in pretty good shape there.
Q: Can you update the status of wide receiver Marvin Harrison? How is he doing?
A: He's doing fine. He had a tremendous play on a drive in the second half. It was a marvelous catch. He gave up his body, went right in the middle, got blasted and bounced right back up. He made a great reception. He was fine. There was no double coverage. They (the Vikings) play our defense, which does not require double coverage from the secondary. The double coverage comes from the linebackers dropping into the zones, so he had a guy underneath him virtually the whole ball game then the corner (Antoine Winfield) – who happens to be one of the best corners in the National Football League – outside of him all day. The announcers probably didn't call it double coverage, but it has that affect even though you don't see another secondary man over the top of him.
Q: Winfield is a guy who always has played well against the Colts . . .
A: That's a tough match-up for Marvin. Marvin's fine. He's doing a great job. He had eight catches the previous week, so don't worry about that.
Q: How do you think Manning has played since his return? Do you think the Colts will start using the stretch running play again soon?
A: We'll get there. In fact, I saw him Monday night. We were kidding. I said, 'How's your knee?' He said, 'Compared to what?' The rest of his body took quite a beating on Sunday. He's fine. The knee is fine. We'll bring the stretch play back when it's appropriate. It's easier to run a toss play in certain situations against certain defenses, particularly with the young linemen, than it is to run the stretch play. It's in the book and it will come back.
Q: How do you think the young offensive linemen you drafted in April have done? They really have been thrown into the fire . . .
A: It has nothing to do with the drafting of them. Great credit to Howard and to Pete and to the players themselves for having done far more than anyone has a right to expect. For Jamey Richard to step in and play center in this offense in the National Football League after coming from the Mid-America Conference – not that there's anything wrong with the Mid-America Conference; it's just a different level of play here; it would be the same if he were at Michigan or the Pac 10 or anything like that – is amazing. He has played amazingly well. (Steve) Justice is the same. They all have stepped in and done a terrific job. They have given us more than we had a right to expect and that's to their credit and the coaches' credit for getting them ready.
Q: Is there any thought to taking a safety early in the draft to back up Bob Sanders?
A: Believe me, we could draft a safety No. 1 and he wouldn't be as good as Bob Sanders. If he plays 12 games a year, we're still ahead of the game. In Melvin Bullitt, we have a terrific backup for him. Melvin is an outstanding special teams player and he is outstanding safety. He'll be fine. If Bob is out for a little bit, we have every confidence that Melvin can step in and do a great job.
Q: Talk a bit more about Bullitt, if you will . . .
A: He was a little excited when he first got in there. That's his personality, but he got settled down and he made a couple of key plays, as he always does. Whenever Melvin Bullitt is in the game, he shows up. That's all you need to know. He's a good tackler. He's fast. He's aggressive. He's a tuned-in guy. Very smart. A hard worker. He's everything you want in a safety.
Q: The Vikings were very effective running the ball. Was it just Adrian Peterson, or was there more to it?
A: They did a great job in scheming us. They created a play that is typically referred to as a bend-back play where they start everyone out in one direction and come back with a blocker the other way toward our weakside – trying to get us to flow, then they run against the flow. It takes a great back to run it. They blocked it with a crossing wing. Carolina and Chicago blocked it with a fullback. Once we got adjusted to that at halftime, we were fine. There was one that almost came out of the gate that Melvin made a great play on.
Q: Can you talk about the play of free-agent defensive tackle Eric Foster?
A: Foster did quite well. Generally speaking, both of our three-technique (tackles) – Keyunta Dawson and Eric Foster – did exceptionally well when they played three technique. They're a little less effective because of their size when they play nose tackle. That's where we're hurting, because we have lost a lot of size with Quinn Pitcock and Ed Johnson. (Newly-added) LaJuan Ramsey played 15 plays and played pretty well when he was at nose tackle. He'll get more work as time goes by, because he's a bigger guy. He's in the 295-pound range, which is what you need to play that position, to play nose tackle effectively against the kind of running attack that Minnesota – and virtually every one we play –uses. It's no secret that we lost two very good nose tackles. (Recently-signed) Daniel Muir again is a 300-pounder who can play that position well and who we have high hopes for. He has a sprained knee that was improving as last week went on.
Q: Can you talk about Bullitt's background?
A: Melvin played safety at Texas A&M. His senior year he played very much like we play Bob Sanders – up in the box. They call it "Whip Linebacker" at the collegiate level. He really had been a much better free safety. They used him at whip because he was their best defensive football player and he was taking on big blockers and what have you. He really was at a disadvantage in that position. Fortunately, we were able to get him as a collegiate free agent after the draft because he didn't have a stellar year at A&M although he jumped off the tape at you. Whenever you looked at him he was making plays just as he does here. We signed him as a collegiate free agent. He came in here and made the team as we thought he would and has turned out to be a major contributor for us.
Q: Mike Hart, a sixth-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, made the team as the third running back. Why hasn't he played more?
A: For one thing, the two fellows that play in front of him are pretty good – Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes. For another, there's a big break-in period for a rookie in the National Football League. Don't think that the young linemen and the Tom Santis, etc., can step in and play right away and be at peak efficiency. They're the exception rather than the rule. Anthony Gonzalez last year is the exception rather than the rule. That's a great credit to them and to their intelligence and to their work habits and to their coaches for getting them ready. There is a big learning curve, particularly in blocking and picking up blitzes. If you have the luxury of developing a young player and giving him an opportunity to learn and get his feet on the ground, that's the best thing to do. That's what's happening with Mike, but he will play and contribute before the year is out, I'm certain.
Q: How did rookie tight end Tom Santi do in his first extended action?
A: He struggled at times. Let's face it. He only has had about three weeks of practice and he's in there and he has to block (Jared) Allen in certain circumstances and he has to adjust to various calls. The next thing you know, he has Charlie (Johnson) next to him who hasn't played the position at left tackle in the National Football League, so there were some mental errors. There were some technique things that have to be cleaned up, but by and large, I thought he did a terrific job. As Peyton said, 'He gets open and he catches the ball.' When he learns to run routes exactly the way Dallas (Clark) does and when he gets adapted to the techniques of blocking, he's going to be a fine player. He did a good job as it was, but there's a learning curve. No question about it. More credit to him for hanging in there and typical of this class of rookies their work ethic and their enthusiasm seems to stick out in my mind. Tom went down and really through a heck of a block on Gonzo's lateral play. He really lit a defensive back up. Well, that's a guy who's out there hustling every time he is out there. That's typical of this rookie class. They give you everything they have all the time. It doesn't always look pretty, but they're giving everything they have and it's enough to get the job done in most cases.
Q: Discuss a bit the release last week of defensive tackle Ed Johnson . . .
A: First of all, we rarely go near players who have a troubled history. It's not my proclivity nor (Colts Head Coach) Tony (Dungy)'s to get involved with those kids of players for reasons that are more practical perhaps than moral. The practicality of it is if a guy has troubles off the field when he was a collegiate player that's going to magnify itself at this level. He's not going to be able to contribute the way you hoped that he could. The history of that happening is rather long and the odds of success for players like that are not good. We took Ed Johnson because (Penn State Head Coach) Joe Paterno, for whom Tony and I have the utmost respect, called and said, 'I think this young man has straightened himself out. He has been in my doghouse for a long time, but I think he has learned a lesson and I think he deserves a chance and if there is any place where he will straighten himself out and play well it's with the Colts.' So, we said, 'OK. It's Joe Paterno going to bat for him.' We told Ed when he came in, 'Look, you're here because Coach Paterno recommended you and because he thinks you deserve a chance. We're willing to give you that, but there is going to be no second chance.' This is not Boys Town. We're not here rehabilitating people. We normally don't even take people we have to worry about in those terms. When he did step out of line, it was my feeling and Tony's feeling and (Colts Owner and Chief Executive Officer) Jim Irsay's feeling and to varying degrees we talked it over quite a bit as to what the appropriate penalty would be. We felt that we'd stated our intentions at the outset. There's an old saying, 'Plan your work and work your plan.' We stated our intentions at the outset: 'If there's an incident here that's serious enough, it's going to warrant dismissal.' That's what we did. It doesn't help the football team a whole heck of a lot in the short run. We think that it helps both the football team and the organization a lot in the long run and that's why we made the decision we did. As for the Hog Mollies – and that's a great term, by the way; Bob Ferguson, our Western Scouting Supervisor, coined that term – or at least I first heard it used by him many years ago. The Hogmallies, the (Vikings defensive tackle) Pat Williams-style players, really don't fit with our defense simply because when we're hitting on all cylinders defensively we're flowing to the ball at a very rapid rate. They're an exception in our defense. We would like bigger people. There's no two ways about that. None of us believe you can play nose tackle for 16 games in the National Football League at 265 pounds. You can play three technique, but not nose, so we need some 290-pounders, but they have to be athletic and they have to flow to the ball. We don't and never have had any success with the 350-pounders. It just doesn't work for us.
Q: Can you explain three technique?
A: Nose tackle is the guy who plays on the shoulder of the center. It's called a cocked nose. He plays at an angle to the center. The three technique – and that's just the terminology that's used to designate the gap he's in – plays basically in the gap between guard and center. The nose tackle is the guy who most often gets double-teamed and most often has people pounding on him. The three technique can go through that gap and come up the field and pursue. He has to be a little more athletic and the nose tackle has to be a little stouter.
Q: Are you able to adapt your personnel in a week such as this, when you're playing a team such as Jacksonville with, for instance, bigger receivers?
A: We have and choose players based on our defensive needs and the defensive parameters and qualities that we look for in a player. We don't try to match up with people. When you put a team together, you don't have the flexibility with 53 guys and when you're talking defense, you're talking about 25 at the most. You don't have the flexibility to have three left-handers and four right-handers like you would in baseball in the bullpen. We don't match up during the regular season and during the playoffs. During the offseason, we will look at trends both in our division and around the National Football League and we will try our best to sit down and talk about where trends are going. We measure it statistically and discuss whether we're keeping up with those trends, whether we think those trends are meaningful, whether they affect how we play – all of those kinds of things we do in the offseason. In many cases, we will change how we approach things based on what we see trendwise. For example, we need to look at the nose tackle position pretty hard because we were hit with the defection and the dismissal this year. We'll take a look at where the trends are with nose tackles. We'll see where we're going there.
Q: Will you ever write a book?
A: The answer is no. I have three boys, all of whom are working in the business. I'm not going to give away any secrets except to them, and I'm not telling any tales out of school.
Q: What is the condition of (reserve quarterback) Jim Sorgi? And it seemed there were some horsecollars on Sunday that didn't get called . . .
A: Jim is better now. His leg has healed up. As he said to me after the game Sunday, he was about ready to take the baseball cap off a couple of times because Peyton took some hits that were big hits. They were all legal, however. The horse-collar you're referring to was one where Dwight Freeney got horsecollared and they didn't call it in a pass rush. At least that's the only one I saw. I thought all the other hits Peyton took were perfectly legal and just the work of good, hard effort on the part of a great pass-rushing defensive line, but he's OK. The good news is he's OK. His knee is OK. Everything else is OK. So is Jimmy, so we feel like we're in good shape there. We just have to protect a little better against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Q: The Jaguars are a huge rival for the Colts, and considering their 0-2 record, they likely won't be happy coming to Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday . . .
A: There's no love lost in this rivalry. That's for sure, and that's the way it should be. Two teams that have been good teams, that have fought tooth-and-nail for supremacy in the division for a long time. There's a lot of respect between both clubs as well. They have great, great players. As we know, the two running backs (Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew) are probably as good as it gets as a tandem in the National Football League. They're very close in talent to Peterson and the other elite backs in the league. Where their problem has come is exactly like ours. They've lost four of their starting five offensive linemen to injury and unfortunately the tragic shooting of their backup tackle. So, they're in a position where they're fighting hard to get some offensive continuity because of all of the new people they have had to play on the offensive line. That has hurt (quarterback) David Garrard's efficiency somewhat as it always will. There's an old bromide that the first thing you have to do in this game is block and tackle and that everything starts up front. It's a cliché for a reason, because there is some truth to it. They, like us, have been struggling along those lines. But they do have a magnificent defense that is going to be very well-coached by Gregg Williams, a new coordinator who brings a new approach. Mike Smith, their former coordinator, went on to become the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons and Gregg Williams comes in from the Washington Redskins with a completely different approach – a multifaceted, multi-front, multi-blitz approach. He has veteran players to make it work. He has good rush people, including the two young ones they drafted. They're a formidable defense and they're going to give us different kinds and maybe more problems than we faced the last two weeks. Even though we have faced overpowering and physically dominant defensive lines the last two weeks, now we're going to face different schemes and people coming from different places. The pickups and the recognition required is going to be a lot different, so that's going to be tough for us. Hopefully, we'll get (tight end) Dallas Clark back and hopefully, we'll get (center) Jeff (Saturday) back. Those two players would go a long way towards helping solidify that situation. I'm hoping that's the case. We don't know for sure and probably won't until later in the week. I know Gregg and (Jaguars Head Coach) Jack Del Rio are sitting down there in Jacksonville hoping they get to play against the four new offensive linemen. It should be an interesting ballgame. It provides a very different challenge for us and for our young offensive linemen. I think ultimately this is one of those games that could be decided on who's healthy and who's not for both teams. They are far from an 0-2 football team. They have just run into a little bad luck, which they will overcome in the end. They're too talented not to. This is the most important game for them. It's a division game. It's against a rival they really take note of and it's on the road. They'll bring their 'A' game. That's for sure.
Q: How much of a difference will it be playing them with Williams as the defensive coordinator?
A: It's as though you were playing a new team, because it will be totally different from what you've seen from them in the past. In fact, you won't really know what the tendencies of the individual players are until we play them the second time around, until you have a good 11 or 12 looks at them on tape. It's totally different from what they've done in the past.