Week 10: Texans at Colts
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: A 24-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Sunday. About as good a game in as big a situation as you can imagine . . .
Answer: America felt that way, too. I got some results in (Monday) that said that was the highest-grossing game on CBS this season. It was a rating of 15.5 and a 29.0 share, so America was interested as well and the people certainly got their money's worth.
Q: The game really had everything you could want and the game literally went down to the final play . . .
A: It did. It had virtually everything you could want. It had hard-hitting, probably as hard a hitting a game as we've seen in a long while around here. It had some incredible plays: witness (Colts wide receiver) Reggie (Wayne)'s two rebounds (receptions). It had some very courageous play. (Steelers quarterback) Ben Roethlisberger was playing with a banged-up shoulder. And it had some really terrific defensive play on both sides. Who would ever have thought our defense would stand in there and share top billing with the Pittsburgh Steelers? But they did, to their credit – to their great credit. It was a great football game from start to finish and fortunately we came out on top. Someone told me that our record against teams with winning records is 4-2. But for Jacksonville, which we've spoken about ad nauseam, we'd be 6-3 and everybody would consider us right in the hunt. The bottom line is we are in the hunt and we're doing fine. We just have to keep it up.
Q: Can you speak in detail about the goal-line stand in the fourth quarter? Particularly the tackle by Colts rookie defensive tackle Eric Foster on Steelers running back Mewelde Moore?
A: What happened was (newly-signed Colts defensive tackle Antonio) Johnson stood the center up and knocked him right back into the running back. Eric executed a perfect down-and-up gap charge. He came through the gap, jumped up and the running back had to alter his course. Eric stuck him right in the numbers and knocked him back and of course, that's the play of the game because it changes the entire outcome in the sense that they had to go for a touchdown at the end and not a field goal, so it was just a great performance. It's hard to think that one man could make that much of a difference, but he certainly did. We're fortunate to have him.
Q: You hate to hang a season on one game, but that victory Sunday has all the potential to be a changer for the second half of the season . . .
A: Every game is its own challenge. Every game is its own individual story. Every game has its own ups and downs. If you're going to be successful in this league you have to have tunnel vision and amnesia. You have to put the last game behind you and focus totally on the game at hand. We have been very good at doing that. In fact, maybe as good as any team that we've had here in terms of doing that, because we've had some awful ups and downs and some tough breaks and things of that nature, so that's what we have to continue to do. From Monday through Friday people talk about the big picture and that's fine. It doesn't affect us. We have to be tunnel-visioned and focused totally on the next opponent, which is Houston, and not worry about one other thing. We often joke about the fact that you don't even look at the standings until Thanksgiving, but this is such a situation now in the AFC that you don't even worry about it until Week 17, because that's going to determine where people are as it did last year. We've just got to keep after it and not worry about anything else but the next opponent. Then, once that one's over, we'll move on to the next game. I thought (Tampa Bay Rays Manager) Joe Maddon had a great line that I must have heard in the Red Sox(-Rays American League Championship) series at Fenway Park, where they (the Rays) first stepped onto the national stage. He said, 'We have the half hour where we either celebrate or mourn for a half hour, then it's over with and on to the next game.' We have the 24-hour rule. You can feel good or bad for 24 hours and then it's on to the next game.
Q: The veteran leaders really seem to be an important component to this bunch – players such as center Jeff Saturday, defensive end Raheem Brock, quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and so on . . .
A: They do because they have been through it and there's no leadership like peer leadership. They remind the young players, of which we have many, to concentrate on the task at hand, get their rest, understand that it's a long season, understand there's a long way to go between now and January, and that they have to be focused and at the same time, conserve their energy because a lot of it is going to be needed as we come down the stretch. And we haven't even begun the stretch run yet. Those guys are a great example and at the same time they are great teachers, too. They take that role seriously and remind their teammates, 'This is what we need to do.'
Q: Can you discuss the criticism wide receiver Marvin Harrison received after Sunday's game?
A: There's absolutely no issue with effort there. I was talking with Clyde Christensen, our receivers coach, on Monday, about a number of things. One of the things he pointed out to me was Marvin has had a fair amount of bad luck this season. There have been three or four touchdowns where defensive backs have undercut the route and come under the throw and been able for whatever reason to get their hand on it. On Sunday, he got in an awkward position and didn't catch the one down the middle where he had totally freed himself from the defensive back. That speaks to the effort issue. If he was not giving 100 percent effort, he would not be able to get as wide open as he had been. If he had lost a step or two, he would not be able to get as wide open as he has been in probably a half-dozen other situations that I can think of. If he was not giving effort, he would not have exposed his body to the beating he took on the sideline making the big play that helped keep the four-minute drive alive against New England. So, a lot of it has been the luck of the bounce and as (Colts quarterback) Peyton (Manning) said Sunday, some of that evened out on the two undercuts that bounced to Reggie. Those things do even out over time. (Former Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills Head Coach) Chuck Knox used to have a great saying about officiating. He said, 'You can overcome the officiating if you last long enough. It all evens out. The tricky part is lasting long enough.' So, some of it has been bad bounces and tough luck, but none of it has to do with lack of effort. Marvin Harrison gives 100 percent every time he's on the practice field and every time he is on the game field. He was hurt all of last year when he was out and lost that time. People have told me that some are questioning that. There was absolutely no question about it. He had a cyst removed from his knee in the offseason. He told us he felt there was impingement in there and he was exactly right. He knows his body better than anyone, much less someone who would criticize from the outside. Our history with Marvin Harrison is that he will someday be inducted (into the Hall of Fame) in Canton (Ohio). He's going there for sure. He has been that way every single day he has been in a Colts uniform. Nothing has changed in that regard and just like what happened with Reggie, I think the bounces will even out. There are plenty of those plays out there to make yet, and he's going to make them.
Q: In the second quarter, he was wide open on a deep ball and couldn't quite get to it . . .
A: For one thing, you had pretty windy conditions Sunday. When you watch the tape, the ball did get blown a little bit at the end by the wind. He had to reach awkwardly forward to get it in what was for him half-stride. It was a more difficult catch than it seemed by looking at it with the naked eye. Secondly, you're so used to seeing him make those kids of catches routinely that when he doesn't – and when he acts "human" – all of a sudden someone jumps to the conclusion that he's not giving effort. That's not the case. Not at all.
Q: Running back Dominic Rhodes said he lost the ball in the lights on his 17-yard touchdown reception . . .
A: That's another thing that speaks to receivers. Reggie has had the same problem. We've had difficulty with the lights at Lucas Oil Stadium. The cant of the lights is such that it has made it difficult on the receivers. We've changed. We've had the canting of the lights changed and some of the banks of lights turned out for that very reason. That has been sort of a work in progress, one of the few things that we've had to do to adjust in the new stadium. Those things all come into play. In the case of the throw to Dominic, it was so right on target that he looked up and there it was. He caught it. It was the same with (Colts tight end) Dallas (Clark) on the touchdown pass. Peyton rifled that one in. I thought it was going to knock Dallas over. The one to Marvin was a long ball and that's one you're so used to seeing him make that when it misfires somehow or the other somebody has to point the finger at someone, but it's the breaks of the game.
Q: Does it seem the chemistry between Marvin and Peyton and Reggie maybe isn't as crisp as it has been in years past?
A: Part of the difficulty in terms of timing was lack of preseason. Not lack of preseason game time – lack of preseason practice. That was something that no one had any control over. It was, in fact, a bad break and that's all it can be attributed to, but it was certainly hurtful. I was about to say, 'Not helpful.' That's not being accurate. It was hurtful in terms of timing, working together, developing that confidence in timing that comes from having done this very, very often. Professional athletics are at their core physical. You need to practice and I'll give you an example in another sport. I believe the Philadelphia Phillies had five days off between the time they clinched the pennant and the time the World Series began. For the first two games of the World Series, those bats were pretty quiet. They needed their timing. Even Ryan Howard. Even Chase Utley. Even people of that ilk who are great, great players. In Utley and Ryan Howard's case, they are certainly Hall of Fame candidates, but they didn't have that timing when they'd missed five days. You play baseball every day. They got it back as time went on, but it was missing at the outset. Anyone who has been around athletics – and I don't mean as an observer; I'm talking on the field every day working with athletes – understands that timing is a big thing. The preseason was extremely hurtful. The second thing was as we went into the early part of the season, our offensive line in the middle was decimated. (Center) Jeff Saturday was out. (Guard) Ryan Lilja was out. (Guard) Jake Scott was gone. (Guard) Mike Pollak was out. We were playing in some cases with three rookies up there. It looks as though Peyton and the receivers were not on the same page, but when someone's under Peyton's feet and he can't step forward and follow through, the timing of the throw is off and in some cases, if he's forced to throw from an odd angle, the ball will knuckle in some cases or wobble. There was a play – and I can't recall if it was on Sunday or against New England – where Peyton had Reggie wide open for a 30-to-35-yard gain on a comeback and a guy got under his front foot and he couldn't get the ball there. It just didn't get there accurately enough. Reggie made a great try on it and it hit the ground by a half an inch. That's a combination of timing – and the timing is now there after eight games and (eight weeks of) practices – but you had better get it blocked cleanly. If you don't get it blocked cleanly and you're trying to throw a long pass – there has been no diminution of our short passing game – but when you're trying to hit those long passes you had better protect it and the timing better be right. In the early going, the protection was not perfect. It was good, but not perfect. The guys were doing the best they could, but it was not perfect as it has been in the past and the timing needed improvement. There's no question about that. But we have seen the graph go up week after week after week, and I would say as long as we protect, these guys are going to look exactly as they have in the past and in fact they are.
Q: The Colts just played two division leaders the last two weeks . . .
A: These last two weeks are against opponents that if you listen to the pundits are the two best teams in the conference, so there you are.
Q: Can you discuss the process of how Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy decides whether to challenge a ruling on the field? How does technology play into it? Have you given much thought to the issue?
A: We've thought about it, as we have with a lot of these issues that crop up with respect to technology. First of all, in terms of actual technology – computers and what have you – there is an absolute ban on the use of anything but the television sets that are installed in the coaches' booth. You may not take a laptop computer, for example, into the coaches' booth. That's against the rules. You may not have any kind of real-time video capability in your locker room. That is against the rules. So, there is no technology available by rule other than that which is made available by television. We designate a coach whose job it is to watch the monitor in the booth and he is to determine whether or not we ought to challenge. The monitor is the same size as the one I have in my booth. I am technologically challenged. I can't tell you what size it is, but it is high definition. I can tell you that without question it is very much more clear than a normal television set. It looks very similar to a normal television set. It's a little wider and perhaps not quite as high, but it's not a gigantic wall-type screen. That's what's in both coaching booths, home and visitors. Here's the problem with replay. You are at the mercy of the television director and producer. The only thing you get and the only thing the referee can avail himself of is the feed that comes from the truck. If, for example, on a specific play the producer decides to go to commercial then you will not get the replay until they come back from commercial. So, Tony – or any coach for that matter – will be standing there for a long period of time and on the road at least, he will have no absolutely no ability to know whether or not that play is challengeable. At home, every team if they have a view – which may not be the same as the television view – that would help the home team, puts it up on the replay board. Far more often than not, all around the league, the head coach will make that decision based on what he sees on the replay board. But that is of no value to the visiting team, because if it's anywhere near questionable no one in the league puts it up and that's, 'All's Fair in Love and War.' That's the way it goes. If you get a replay right away from television, which in my opinion – since I see the same feed – it's very rare when you get it right away, then you can make a quick decision. If not, you're in tough shape. It has to be made instantaneously and many times it is inconclusive. As to the referee going under the hood, I'm told – and I was assured – that those screens are HD. The league technology people believe they're better than regular. I have no capacity to tell you who's right or wrong on that issue. The referees tell me it's OK. The bottom line that you must keep in mind is that you have to have incontrovertible visual evidence. That's what the rule says. If you use a challenge and you are wrong, you lose a timeout. That's very important. So, we're pretty judicious as to how we challenge. The general rate of overturn on the part of coaches – meaning how many times the coach is right to replay it – is roughly about 34 percent. So, about two-thirds of the time, the coach is using a timeout that he probably shouldn't. In reality, what happens is most coaches unless they're 100 percent sure of an overturn will not challenge unless it involves a scoring play or a play that will materially change the game late in the game. That's a long answer, but having been a member of the (NFL's) Competition Committee and worked on this thing from its inception, I know what all the detail is. Most fans would like to see many more challenges, but in the end, that 34 percent remains what it is and it has been that way over time. It hasn't changed any since the inception of replay.
Q: But sometimes, there are cases where television will show a replay with evidence and the official under the hood never sees that replay . . .
A: That happens rarely. I can recall one game where there was a definitive replay. It was my second year here, the Miami Dolphins. The game was decided on a fumble that was ruled an incomplete pass and the replay official did not send the referee the right replay, so he had no way of seeing the correct reply. Fortunately, that doesn't happen too much anymore. In fact, I can't remember it happening after that game, but any technological system is going to have glitches in it. I'm told by the officiating department that anything is available to the truck is now available to replay through technology much more quickly than it used to be. The idea is to try to and reduce the amount of delay involved in replay. They see it more quickly than we do in many cases. But in the end, it still has to be incontrovertible visual evidence and you don't like to lose a timeout unless you're sure.
Q: In the Colts' locker room, who has the reputation for the comedian of the bunch?
A: There would be a lot of people who would qualify for that award. I wouldn't be in a position to cast a vote there. It's probably not well-known, but our quarterback is one of the best practical jokers around. There are others who would challenge him for that distinction.
Q: You scouted the Northern-Illinois-State game last week. What drew your interest?
A: They (Ball State) have lots of good players and Northern Illinois has a defensive end – No. 51 (Larry English) – who is a very highly-rated player. I'll be back there before the end of the season when I believe they're playing Western Michigan.
Q: How many college games do you see in a given month?
A: I'll see 8-to-10 a month. I usually see two a weekend, sometimes three depending on how the schedule works out. As you get to the latter stages of the season now when the Mid-American (Conference) teams and the Conference USA teams begin to play on odd nights, I'll get to see two during the week – Wednesday/Thursday, Thursday/Friday – then I'm almost always at a game on Saturday. I get to see a lot of college football live, which is a nice perk of the job.
Q: How do you determine who runs the ball in the two-running back system?
A: With two running backs, (Offensive Coordinator) Tom Moore does not differentiate in play-calling depending on who is in the game. If there is a run there to be had, whoever's in the game is going to get the ball. You might remember (two weeks ago) against New England the carries were very lopsided. Joseph (Addai) had about 17 carries and Dominic (Rhodes) had four. That's just the way it breaks out. You'd like it to be more 50-50 or 60-40, but the substitution pattern tends to be pretty much the same. Tom doesn't differentiate with who's in the game, so a lot of times it will just depend on the situation. They both can do everything – block, catch, run – so it works out fine. Dominic got the big catch on Sunday on the wheel route for the winning touchdown. It just depends on who's in the game at the given time. Gene Huey, our running backs coach, tries to keep them fresh over the course of the game, and they both have the option if they're tired to just signal to the bench and take themselves out. That will sometimes happen because we run a very up-tempo, no-huddle offense, so they tend to get a little more tired than the guys who have 25 or 30 seconds between plays to catch a blow.
Q: The New York Giants seem to run a three-back system with alternating backs much of the game and a third "fresh" back to finish the game . . .
A: They have an interesting system. The big kid from Southern Illinois (Brandon Jacobs) is really more of a short-yardage and fourth-quarter, four-minute runner, and then the other two of course are more like the fellows we have. (Rookie) Mike Hart, we thought was going to fill that short-yardage and goal-line role very, very well. Unfortunately, he got hurt and is gone for the season, but he'll be a guy we're going to get some carries for and try to find a specific role for next year when he comes back off the knee injury because he clearly showed he had the capacity to be a contributor. (Rookie Chad) Simpson is the same way. When he gets a chance, he runs the ball well, so we're fortunate in that we have pretty good depth at that position. Anymore in the NFL, with the quality of the defenses and the ferocity of the hitting, you have to have more than one running back. You won't make it through the season with just one.
Q: Didn't Joseph Addai have a nice blitz pickup on the 65-yard touchdown pass from Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne?
A: He had a marvelous pickup on a linebacker. I think it was (James) Harrison, if I'm not mistaken. It was a collision. I don't know how he got up from it.
Q: The Houston Texans are the Colts' next opponent. They're 3-6, but they have played better than that much of the season . . .
A: This is a team that has a world of talent. They have been drafting basically in the Top 10 for the entire seven years of their existence and they have the talent to show for it. They have one of the great, young rush lines in pro football. They have (running back) Ahman Green back running the ball pretty well. They have (rookie running back) Steve Slaton, who gave us fits down there (in September). As Tony said Monday in our staff meeting, the only thing we have to do to sufficiently warn our players how good this team is, is to cut the last two minutes out of the game film from September and we'll be sufficiently frightened watching them go up and down the field against us. They, too, have suffered from bad breaks at the quarterback position. (Matt) Schaub has been in and out of the lineup. (Sage) Rosenfels has been in and out of the lineup. They have not been able to develop any real consistency there and that has hurt them some. But they certainly have the capacity with Dunta Robinson back in the secondary to be as good a football team as anybody in the National Football League. (Wide receiver Andre) Johnson is averaging 13.4 yards a catch and (wide receiver Kevin) Walter is a very good complementary receiver averaging 13.4 a catch. Their tight end, (Owen) Daniels, is at 12.3 and that's a lot for a tight end. He's obviously making plays down the field. They're very capable of winning any game they play. They were in the game (Sunday). I believe the score was 19-13 against Baltimore Sunday in the fourth quarter. They got into trouble with turnovers and some big plays that Baltimore was able to come up with that made that game look as though it was a blowout when in reality it was really close for about three quarters. They're more than capable. They'll be coming in here figuring this is a way to make a statement in the AFC South and they would be right to think that. Tunnel vision is what we have to have: amnesia about Sunday. That's over with. Nice win, move on. Get ready for the Houston Texans.