Week 7: Colts at Packers
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. This week, with Bill Polian attending the NFL's fall meetings, Chris Polian – the team's Vice President of Football Operations – answered questions.
Question: A 31-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday afternoon. An impressive effort, and perhaps the Colts' most-balanced game of the season . . .
Answer: We are getting our timing back much better offensively. We have had continuity for a few weeks now along the offensive line, which has been helpful, and we got off to a fast start on defense. We played very well on special teams and (Colts Head) Coach (Tony Dungy) said this Monday: 'We made all the big momentum plays in that game.' When you do that, obviously things continue to build on themselves over the course of the game.'
Q: The Colts made a lot of big plays throughout, and as you said, they made momentum plays early and that really gave them a foothold . . .
A: Whether it's (second-year safety) Melvin (Bullitt)'s hits on special teams, or (rookie wide receiver) Pierre (Garcon) downing the ball (on a punt), or (rookie running back) Mike Hart's run on 3rd-and-2 (in the first quarter), or (veteran running back) Dominic (Rhodes)' long run, we made big plays both physically and athletically. That keeps ramping up the energy. Obviously, we got off to a fast start and had a great day on special teams. I believe all but two of their possessions started at the 20 or inside the 20, so we had a real good day from a field-position perspective, but we did have some plays and made the energy-type plays that we're used to seeing when we play well.
Q: Kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked off well, putting five of his six kickoffs in the end zone and forcing three touchbacks . . .
A: He had a great day. Anytime you can send a returner back into the end zone and the returner starts with his momentum going back to field the ball, that slows the return down. But Adam had a fantastic day and it does really limit what the offense can do a little bit. The further out they start, the more playbook they can go to and the more flexibility they have. It is a pick-me-up for the defense.
Q: When you want to run as much as the Ravens do, being down 17-0 in the first quarter makes that very difficult . . .
A: They stayed with it, but we made plays when we had the chance to and kind of tilted the field a little bit more toward our type of game.
Q: There were some eyebrows raised when three interior linemen were drafted back in April, but all three – Mike Pollak, Jamey Richard and Steve Justice – have played key roles and Justice and Pollak are now starting . . .
A: It's a credit to (Offensive Line) Coach (Howard) Mudd and (Assistant Offensive Line) Coach (Pete) Metzelaars. Part of it, too, is they (the rookies) played so much in the preseason. It was a difficult preseason from an injury perspective and we played the fifth (preseason) game, but those guys really benefited from the actual work and really have played well in a tight spot. Obviously, everybody is trying to pressure us up the middle and trying to take advantage of those guys, but they have held in there. They have fought. They have prepared very well. Obviously, they are very well-coached and even when something goes bad, they move onto the next play pretty quickly, and if you're stuck on the last play, the next one is usually going to be worse. That has been a great sign of their fight.
Q: Defensive end Robert Mathis had an incredible day Sunday defensively. He had three sacks, forced a fumble, caused a fumble and much more. There wasn't much more he could have done Sunday . . .
A: The only thing he could have done probably was play offense at some point. He had a dominant performance. He's a difference-maker and he plays with a special energy level. When things are going well for us, he really personifies that and flies around and makes plays with speed and athleticism and energy.
Q: Is that something you can see when you're scouting a player?
A: You're looking for traits. It's something we spent a lot of time with our scouts on this summer – talking about the guys who play great for us, whether it be Robert, (defensive end) Dwight (Freeney), (safety) Bob (Sanders), (wide receiver) Marvin, (Harrison), (tight end) Dallas (Clark) – you can go down the list. They all have a special bounce, a special liveliness to them, a special energy. Mike Hart has it. Dominic has it when he's in the game. That is pretty tangible and pretty clear and it jumps out to you. It's something we look for and those guys that have that when they come in usually do well here.
Q: One thing Bill Polian and Tony Dungy each talked about last week was that the Colts had a really good week of practice preparing for the Ravens. That seemed to manifest itself on the field. Is that usually the case?
A: That's the reason you practice, to play well. When we do practice well, we do play well. It (Baltimore) is a very difficult defense to play against. It has various looks and you're going to get something you haven't seen. There are going to be some negative plays that you have to fight through. That's what they're designed to do. We had a great week of preparation. Part of the preparation is not being overwhelmed when something goes bad and knowing you have a good plan, and that if we stick with it and play our 60-minute game things are going to work out.
Q: Can you comment on the crowd noise at Lucas Oil Stadium? Does it seem as loud to you as the RCA Dome?
A: We sit in the press box, but we've been able to open the windows. You really can't say anything negative about the crowd. We've had a great crowd, a great energy for all three home games. We didn't know what the sound was going to be like going into the new building with either the roof or window open. We're up at the top of the stadium and with the window open, it's pretty loud. I know Coach (Dungy) has mentioned it's a great energy and a lot of noise on the field. They had a great picture on the board (Sunday). It was either a blimp shot or a helicopter shot looking into the stadium through the window. It was a great shot. People may still be getting their routines adjusted, getting into the new stadium and parking, but the crowd has been great.
Q: How do you see the carries breaking down between Dominic and running back Joseph Addai the rest of the season? Will they alternate carries when the Colts are trying to use clock?
A: That will take shape and form over the course of the season. Obviously, we're hitting our stride a little bit and developing more consistency and rhythm on offense now. On Sunday, we didn't have a chance for that to develop. Obviously, Joseph left the game early and we haven't really found ourselves from a game-management and play-calling perspective to really kind of be in that position yet. That will continue to take shape and form as we move forward. We feel very confident in either guy. We feel very confident we can play either guy at any point in the game, which would lead us to free rotation. A lot of times you'll see Joseph after big runs or a few plays actually call for a blow and that's what we talked about – playing with energy and playing with tempo. We will need both of them. The rotation and exactly how it works out will take a little bit clearer form as we move forward and we continue to get a little consistency and rhythm. . . . There's no conflict. The reality is we haven't been in a position to really effectuate much of a rhythm or get a real role established there. Obviously, Joseph left after two carries or two touches. Joseph has 62 carries (this season) and Dominic has 32. I think as we move forward in the season if we can continue to build offensively and continue to establish a rhythm with both guys being healthy, we'll be able to develop a rhythm at that position.
Q: Rhodes was productive in a difficult situation Sunday. With Mike Hart and Joseph Addai injured, he was the lone healthy running back for the last two and a half quarters.
A: It was a warm weekend and Dom knew he had to suck it up and finish the game. He was it. We had dressed three and unfortunately, the other two couldn't finish the game and we were in a position late third quarter and fourth quarter where we're looking to run the ball. You would love to have a second set of fresh legs come off the bench, but Dom did a great in ball security and some really good runs.
Q: How does a coach handle that? Does he go to Dom and say, 'OK, we have two running backs, so be careful what you're doing?'
A: I think Dom knows that. He has been around long enough. I know Tony said (rookie tight end) Tom Santi would have been the next guy in if we'd had to do something, but Dom did a great job finishing up. I think he was probably cognizant of the situation, but at that position and with the ball in your hands, you still have to go all out. Otherwise, there's a tremendous risk of injury.
Q: Can you comment on how the league is calling holding this season? It seems the Colts get held a lot . . .
A: Part of the problem is the definition of holding maybe is not clear from week to week. It's the same argument that you would hear in any professional sport. What you ask from your officiating is to get consistency from week to week from crew to crew. Basically, the interpretation of it is any time a player is trying to fight through a double-team or is trying to come off a double-team it's very difficult to get a holding call in those circumstances. It's very difficult for the official to discern what may or may not be holding in those circumstances. You have one guy fighting through literally four hands or in a zone-blocking scheme somebody's going to come down and bump and end or chip an end. Then, the other thing that may look worse than it is something but that is a consistent interpretation is when our defensive linemen rip, which means they swing their cocked forearm up from their waist all the way up through their ear – which is called a rip move. What that does is as the offensive lineman engages you and tries to punch the defender on both numbers, he's trying to rip through it. That looks like a hold. It is not called a hold. What they're saying is if there is a hold in that case – or what looks like a hold – it's a result of the defensive lineman trying to rip through the offensive tackle's arm. That one we do see a lot, because our guys use the rip move because of speed and because of height. The holding – different weeks you're going to see different things. Sunday, I thought – and I think everybody felt – was a pretty good officiated game. There wasn't anything that was really out of whack one way or the other. We had the one touchdown called back on a hold and as (offensive tackle) Ryan (Diem) said, he did have a little bit of jersey as the guy went past him. Where you see most holdings this year – and I don't know if it's a trend – is in the situation where we got the call Sunday. The defensive lineman is beyond the offensive lineman and he's either bringing him down to the ground or has clear jersey either from behind or on the side.
Q: There are times when it looks as if linemen are grabbing Freeney and Mathis around the neck . . .
A: That, they'll say, is the result of the rip. What we teach is for the defensive end to dip his left shoulder, cock his left forearm and tip all the way up through. You really want that accentuated and the teaching point is to bring your elbow and your fist all the way through your ear. As the offensive lineman engages that, the defender is pushing offensive lineman's hands up the defender's body, and that's where the officials say whatever happens is the result of the rip. We see that often because of the way our guys play and their stature. The rip is a move we use off the speed rush.
Q: Bill Polian is at the league meetings this week. Is that a pretty busy meeting?
A: It's a lot of business that will move forward to the larger spring meeting. They have this secondary fall meeting where owners and chief executives with more business-oriented matter on the agenda, but it's a pretty full two days.
Q: What happened on the fourth-quarter penalty when the Colts were called for too many players in the huddle?
A: If I recall correctly, we got the 12-men penalty during the final drive of the game where we were going to line up and just run the clock out. It was a deserved penalty. We had 12 men in the huddle. That was after (cornerback) Tim Jennings intercepted the screen. We had the ball 1st-and-10 at the 47 and we were in a four-minute situation. It was a communication error where we had two personnel groups in the game and once the players report inside the number it's 12 men in the huddle. It was a dead ball foul, too.
Q: Tony has mentioned several times in recent weeks that the Colts must reduce the number of times they are penalized. They were penalized 11 times for 84 yards Sunday.
A: Too many. We had some offsides and a handful on special teams and otherwise, the special teams performed phenomenally. It's an area we do need to get cleaned up and that Coach will focus on as we move forward. If you're in tight games obviously those things will rear their head and have an effect on that.
Q: It seems as if Colts quarterback Peyton Manning really plays better when the team is leading . . .
A: Whether it's Peyton or any of the other 31 quarterbacks, they're obviously going to play better with the lead. It's not going to happen consistently or for all 16 games. Our offensive line played very well Sunday. It was a game where we knew if the offensive line played well and protected the quarterback, we would get some shots down field. He had a great day throwing the ball downfield. We played an attacking defense Sunday that came in a little hobbled and beat up in the secondary. It was obviously a good matchup for us if we could protect him and the offensive line had a great day. Peyton has done well in all circumstances this year. He marched us down the field against Jacksonville when we were behind, did the same last week in Houston. Obviously, I think we're still hitting our stride and finding a little bit of rhythm offensively. Running the ball helps that, needless to say, and playing ahead helps that, but as we said, that's not going to happen consistently over 16 games. As Coach said, 'If you keep your head down, keep plugging, good things are going to happen,' but when we're ahead, obviously it allows Peyton do to more and it changes the complexion of the game.
Q: The Colts on Monday awarded a game ball to Owner and Chief Executive Officer Jim Irsay for the first victory in the new stadium. Talk a bit about Jim Irsay as an owner . . .
A: We're in as good a situation as exists in professional sports with Mr. Irsay. Obviously, he and (Senior Executive Vice-President) Pete Ward have done a tremendous job putting the stadium together and securing a long-term home for the franchise here in Indianapolis. But from our perspective where we sit – and I can speak for Coach Dungy and (Associate Head) Coach (Jim) Caldwell – we have a very unique situation in that when we meet with the owner to discuss football issues, he adds and interjects a lot into the decision-making process along those lines. He is really helpful because of his experience having run the franchise and being first and foremost a football guy. We can get right to the matter of the discussion and right to the heart of the decision rather than having to back up and explain exactly where we're at. It's a tremendous advantage for us, plus he has proven time and time again willing to spend to keep the team together, willing to spend to win. He has a tremendous desire to win and is sincere and heartfelt in his desire to be a positive influence in the community.
Q: Can you comment on the play Sunday of Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison? And what is the status of rookie tight ends Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi?
A: He (Harrison) has been able to get open deep every game as well as make some really tough catches and take shots between zones – the third-down conversion against Houston where Peyton put it in a window where only a few other people could put a ball and Marvin had to leave his feet and go up and get whacked to make the catch, as well as what he did Sunday . . . Marvin Harrison continues to be a big part of what we do. As far as the two rookies, Jacob Tamme actually dressed on Sunday and played a little on special teams, and Tom Santi dressed as a tight end. Neither got really significant statistics at tight end. It was just the way the game went. Obviously, (tight end) Gijon Robinson has been playing well there, as well as Dallas (Clark) and we're fortunate to have some depth at that position as we speak.
Q: What is the status of rookie defensive end Marcus Howard?
A: Marcus has not dressed as of yet. He missed some time in the preseason. Thankfully, our top four ends – Robert, Dwight, Josh (Thomas) and Raheem (Brock) – have all been healthy. (Rookie) Curtis Johnson has dressed the last two weeks and has played some special teams. He got a few snaps on defense Sunday. He (Howard) continues to learn and work hard in practice. He has not dressed yet on Sunday, but I'm sure we'll need him at some point in the year.
Q: Can you talk about middle linebacker Gary Brackett? He has been a solid starter for four seasons, but seems to be underrated nationally . . .
A: I would almost say he's underrated locally, too. Gary is just Steady Eddy. He's here every week. He's the defensive captain. He calls the huddle. He makes all the adjustments. He's really a stabilizing force for our defense and he just comes ready to play and plays well every week. I think because he has been so consistent he may go a little underappreciated, to be frank with you, but we're fortunate to have him. A lot of our players because of size or whatever it may be are a little underappreciated nationally, but Gary is a really significant part of what we do and we're very fortunate to have him.
Q: The Colts will play the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay Sunday. The Packers beat Seattle, 27-17, in Seattle Sunday. How is quarterback Aaron Rodgers doing in his first season as a starter?
A: He's playing through an injury right now and still winning games doing so. Unless you're there, you don't know how difficult a place Seattle is to play in. We don't see it a whole lot on television here, but it's a real difficult place to play. They (the Packers) went in and got a win on the road Sunday. Aaron has been around a few years, but it's really his first time playing. He's at a 64 percent completion percentage and 11 touchdowns versus four interceptions, so he's doing a real good job. He has 13 sacks, so he's doing a real good job of avoiding negative plays, and putting them in a position to win.
Q: Defensively, where are they?
A: They're an active, attacking defense. They're a little banged-up up front is their issue right now.
Q: The Colts will play at Lambeau Field in Green Bay for the first time since 2000. What do you anticipate from that experience?
A: It's a tough place to play. It's a fun place to play. You go into a place with so much history, and when you do go into a place like that, there is an instant where you're fan. You say, 'My Gosh, Vince Lombardi walked this same sideline,' and you have to get over it and get ready to get to business pretty quickly, but it is a fun place to play.