Bill Polian is in his first season as Colts vice chairman after spending the previous 13 seasons as Colts president. Polian 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 11 of the last 12 seasons, including AFC Championship game appearances after the 2003, 2006 and 2009 seasons, an AFC East title in 1999, AFC South titles in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010, 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.
The Polian Corner will run in two installments each week. Below is this week's first installment:
Q: The unfortunate death of Dan Wheldon in an Indy car race really puts a loss in football and in everything else in perspective in a hurry, doesn't it?
A: It really does. When a person loses his or her life because of injury, illness or accident it's a tragic occurrence. To have it occur at a sporting event makes it even more disquieting and upsetting. All we can do is send out our condolences to the Wheldon family, to all the people involved with the Indy Racing League, who we know quite well. You hope there is some consolation for the family in knowing that their husband and father lived, by all accounts, an exemplary life and was a huge contributor to his chosen profession. It surely puts everything else in perspective. The loss of life is the worse tragedy any family can have visited upon them. Our heart goes out to the Wheldon family.
Q: It was another case of 'close, but no cigar.' A lot of things happened in the game and many were good.
A: It is a 60-minute game, and you expect there will be ups and downs over the course of the ballgame. Nobody plays a perfect ballgame. We did a lot of good things against a good team yesterday, the number one rated defense in the NFL, and there's a reason for that. They're exceptionally well-coordinated. Their techniques are clean and crisp. They do what they do with good common sense and good application. It's no secret that Marvin's (Lewis) a heck of a coach, and he's made that franchise into a contender. Their young quarterback's (Andy Dalton) doing a great job for them. That said, we ran the ball pretty well. We stopped the run decently. It's Bill Parcells who said, 'You are what you are.' When asked about what his team was like, he said, 'You are what you are. You are what your record says you are.' We are an 0-6 team right now because we're not doing many of the little things that it takes to win. I will give you two examples. The first is the game turned, in my opinion, on the drive with about five minutes to go in the game and we had a third-and-10 somewhere around their 35-yard line. We saw a blitz coming. Curtis (Painter) got it. We had what's known as a 'hot' read which tells the receiver and quarterback that you have to run a certain route, and that route would be uncovered based upon the blitz. They hoped to get the blitzer home (to the quarterback). If you see it and get the ball out in time, you get a big completion. We had a mistake on the depth of the route and as a result, we get an incompletion. Now, Adam (Vinatieri) has to kick a long field goal into the wind. The ball sailed a little bit on the snap. Pat (McAfee) had some difficulty getting the ball down. He did get it down. It slowed up the operation time enough. When you're kicking a long field goal, the ball is (kicked) low, of necessity, and their guy (Nate Clements) came around the corner and executed his technique flawlessly. By the way, he started with the Buffalo Bills and I'm sure Marv Levy taught him the technique because it looked very familiar to me. He executed it flawlessly and they blocked the field goal. I think looking at the tape, it would have been good. Adam had more than enough leg. He was handling the wind fine, so that was of no issue. We didn't get it done. We didn't get a good block on Clements, and the operation time as a matter of luck or fate, if you will, was a little fouled up. Therefore, we ended up with a missed field goal. Instead of tying the game, or possibly going ahead had we completed the pass on the blitz, or having a chip-shot field goal, we end up in the soup. Now at the end of the game, we're scrambling. Pierre (Garcon) made an error of commission. He tried to reach the ball out. Good for them, they knocked it out. They're opportunistic. They know what they're doing. They cause turnovers. They do things for a reason, and they do them well. You have to take your hat off to them. To me, the game turned on that pass against the blitz and the field goal. Once we didn't get that done, I thought it would be very hard to come back at that point. That said, we did a lot of good things. We blocked the run very well. Our running backs ran exceptionally well. For those who think Donald Brown is not a good player, you saw what he could do yesterday. He's not an inside pounder, but he can make big yards and big plays when he gets some daylight. He did that yesterday on more than a few occasions. Delone Carter ran very, very well. Our offensive line run-blocked and pass-blocked pretty well. It wasn't totally clean, but that was a good group they were up against. Again, a group that executes their techniques exceptionally well. They come off the ball, they're low, they attack you. They put moves on you and make it tough. Their blitzes are well-timed and well-executed. We did a good job offensively. You could not ask anything more from Curtis than what he did. He did everything that was asked of him. It wasn't his fault the ball was fumbled. It wasn't his fault that the route was not run correctly. It is those little things that you have to do to win a football game when things are close, and most times in the NFL it's going to be close. The positive side is we all recognize we're a good enough team to play close virtually every game. We're just not doing the little things it takes to win those ballgames. That's what we have to focus on. When things go poorly, there's lots of noise. There's lots of sound and fury and everyone has a solution. I've been here in this situation before, not many times admittedly, but I've been here before. I know the only way out of it, and I know this is what Coach Caldwell told the players as well, is to focus on fundamentals. Focus on the little things at the expense of everything else. Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves. Focus on the positive. We've become a much better running football team this year than we have been in a long, long time – maybe since the days of Edgerrin James. That's a credit to the offensive line for working on their techniques and the running backs for doing everything right, hitting holes, staying behind their pads and taking care of the football. You can't ask more of Curtis Painter. He's taken care of the football. What the biggest bugaboo for young quarterbacks? It's interceptions. He hasn't thrown any. The one yesterday in 'garbage time' was unavoidable. He was just trying to make a play. In the course of game action when you really have to make a play, he's been terrific. We're doing a lot of the things we need to do to win. When you're in against good teams, which we are every week, and you're a little under-manned, as we are on the offensive and defensive lines which is where the whole thing starts, you have be very cognizant of not pressing, of not trying to do too much. Execute your fundamentals. If we do that, we'll be all right.
Q: The offensive line is playing pretty well, isn't it?
A: They're playing very well. (Offensive line coach) Pete (Metzelaars) and (assistant offensive line coach) Ron (Prince) are not happy, they haven't played a flawless game yet. In terms of getting the job done, executing, not making mistakes, helping each other out, they've done a terrific job. Obviously, (the line is) missing two young players (Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana) who we counted upon to be starters and who came in and proved they could be, we've had to ask back-up players to step in the do the job, like Quinn Ojinnaka. He did a great job (against Kansas City). Link (Jeff Linkenbach) did a great job yesterday. Mike Pollak's been fine at right guard. Joe Reitz has been fine at left guard. Jeff (Saturday) is having his best year in a long, long time, amazingly. He's injury-free, thank God, and keeps playing very well. His leadership has made a difference for that group. That's a group that's not only played well, they've improved from day one. Curtis has improved from day one. The running backs have gotten better every week. The passing game is pretty good. We're doing some good things. I'm not pointing fingers here, but you can't deny the obvious, we're last in the league in getting off the field on third downs. That's the biggest problem on defense. We've had special teams errors that have hurt us badly. So, those two areas are two that we have to shore up.
Q: Where is Jamie Silva now?
A: Jamie is out of football now. He had a very serious knee injury. He's still in the recuperating stage I think, but it is unlikely that he is going to play against any time soon. Jamie was a terrific special teams player. Unfortunately he got an injury that is very difficult to come back from.
Q: Is the team planning to make any trades before the deadline? Is the team ever planning on drafting a physical defensive back?
A: We had some pretty good physical defensive backs named Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden. Marlin Jackson was a first-round draft choice and Kelvin was a second-round choice, I believe. They turned out to be terrific players and great contributors to our first Super Bowl team. Kelvin was a great contributor to our second Super Bowl team. Marlin's career, unfortunately, has been badly, badly stymied by injury. He had a serious knee injury here, a serious knee injury in Philadelphia and then another knee injury this past summer. It's unlikely he will play again, I think. Kelvin had a, ironically enough, spinal fusion in the off-season, which for a defensive back is a very touchy operation. Quite honestly, we were concerned about his future. We released him and hoped to sign him at a little less money because we were concerned about the injury. He's gone to Atlanta and from what I hear, he's performing pretty well. He's playing in the nickel package, if I'm not mistaken. We certainly could use him now, there's no two ways about that. He was a marvelous contributor for us. No one will ever forget his interception which clinched the World Championship for us. Those are two really physical defensive backs. (Chris) Rucker and (Terrence) Johnson are in that mold. They're guys who will strike you, who are big and physical and will re-route receivers. Kevin Thomas is a little less physical, but he's tall and rangy. He can run. Rucker played some yesterday and did a pretty nice job. He got a penalty, but it was not his fault. He reverted, under the pressure of a ballgame in the red zone, to a tactic that is legal in college but is not in our league. That's a rookie mistake. He will overcome that. I think he is in the mold, as is Terrence Johnson, of Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden. We would not hesitate to draft defensive backs like them again, given the opportunity. Your point is well-taken. It's something we have to take a look at in the off-season. I think the two men we have here fit that mold pretty well.
Q: At the cornerback position, do you think it is more of an experience matter than a talent matter?
A: No, I don't think it's experience. Both cornerbacks (Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey) have had plenty of experience. They're both third-year players, they're not rookies. (Chris) Rucker is (a rookie) and (Terrence) Johnson hasn't played at lot. I think it's more a question of anticipation, reading the quarterback, breaking on the ball and being aggressive in terms of getting to the ball. That's sometimes hard to do when you're concerned about giving up big plays and you're not making a lot of plays, it's hard to make yourself be aggressive. We had one play yesterday where we almost had a pick (interception) on a bubble screen. It was a good play, a good step in the right direction. We need more of that and it we get more of that, we'll be a better team in those third-and-long situations. It's also tied to the (pass) rush. I would be remiss if I didn't say, truthfully, we haven't been generating the rush that we have in the past. A lot of that is teams are double-teaming Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney on every play, whether it's with chippers (tight ends or backs helping tackles), or double-teams or sliding to them every play. It doesn't make any difference, people do different things, but we have to have the ability to counter-act that and to get rush from the people inside. Unfortunately, our best rushers, Drake Nevis, Fili Moala and Eric Foster, have not been there (consistently) for one reason or another. That hurts greatly. You have to put heat on the quarterback and make the ball come out early. Then the DBs (defensive backs) can break on it and make plays. We only have three interceptions, which is very uncharacteristic for us.
Q: Is there a chance Drake Nevis or Anthony Castonzo can play this week?
A: I don't know. We will see later this week. At this point, I have not talked to the doctors yet.
Q: The team was four-for-four on third-and-one conversions at Cincinnati. That was an improvement, wasn't it?
A: Huge improvement. The ability to run that ball on third-and-one and fourth-and-one is what opened up the pass to Dallas (Clark). If you can run the ball in that situation, then they've got to honor it. With Delone Carter, he's a guy if you give him just a little crack he's liable to run through the second-level defender. In fact, he will very often. That's a skill we've been sorely lacking and one that we saw in Delone and we said, 'This is the kind of guy who can help our football team in that one specific area.' He's turned out to be a pretty darned good back in other ways, too.