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: Did you have a chance to look at the tape from yesterday?
A: There is some good and some bad. The good is principally on defense where we really did, in large measure, a very good job. It's unfortunate the last touchdown got in because we played two pretty good downs prior to that. We just got a little bit of a gap crease and he got in on the last one. With an offense that is so predicated on a great back like (Maurice) Jones-Drew, we really did a heck of a job there. Offensively, (it was) a completely different story, except for (Donald Brown) Brownie, who really as best he could ran his legs off. We didn't do much else offensively, unfortunately.
Q: Was it mental errors or technique offensively that caused problems, or both?
A: It was a combination of both. The mental errors are really hurtful because when you don't have your tight ends and your quarterback is in a bit of a funk and you're having a lot of difficulty protecting him, which doesn't make his job any easier, when you have mental errors that put you in hurtful situations – first-and-15, second-and-15 – it's hard to overcome. In addition to that, you're going three-and-out, which is putting the defense in a very difficult hole. It really was a combination of a lot of different things – blocking errors, failure to pick up blitzes, failure to get movement against their defensive line, the mental errors, five penalties by count, maybe four, I think there were five unforced errors, so to speak, false starts (and) things of that nature. That's a prescription for failure. Then we had some turnovers, then sacks and pressures galore. Giving credit where credit is due, they're the fifth-rated defense in the league for a reason. Giving credit for that I think it's, other than New Orleans, probably our worst offensive performance of the year.
Q: Donald Brown has had two very good games back-to-back, hasn't he?
A: He has. He can run the football. I don't view him as a wasted draft choice, or a failure or a bust. He's a good football player who has been playing good football for us. He's not Adrian Peterson, but he was not drafted where Adrian Peterson was. He's been a very fine contributor. He's worked very hard to finish runs and to adapt to a running style that's a bit different because of the way we're blocking it than we've done in the past. He's done a really good job at that. It's to his credit. He's done all that on his own and with the help of Coach (David) Walker. I think that's been a real plus and a real positive for us. As we get Joe (Addai) back, we'll be able to take some of the load off him and be a little more situational with the running backs. The hope is Joe will be back for the Carolina game, and that will make us even stronger in that area. He's done a wonderful job.
Q: Maurice Jones-Drew doesn't look like he's wearing down at all?
A: Not at this stage of the season. They (Jacksonville) ask an awful lot from him. He's really done just an incredible job over the years in terms of being able to sustain that workload and take as many hits as he does and keep on coming. He's really just an incredible back. There's nothing more to say about that than he belongs in the Pro Bowl every year. Unfortunately, he doesn't get the publicity that some others do. In fact, some that aren't even in his league in terms of being a tough guy and a hard worker and a bell cow who comes out there and does it each and every week. We've only seen a little bit of fatigue creep in with him only in the last, dying weeks of the season – week 16 or week 17, and that's only a small amount. They can't rest him. There's no Fred Taylor to team with him the way there used to be. Every time he's in the game, he's going to touch the ball pretty darn (often). You can take that to the bank. He just keeps doing it and keeps on banging away. If anything, his vision has developed even better than it was. He sees creases and he gets through them. He can run through any tackle and can make people miss in the open field. He's really a heck of a back.
Q: The three linebackers, Pat Angerer, Philip Wheeler and Kavell Conner really have had great years, haven't they?
A: They're playing as well as any three (linebackers) in the league. They do it week in and week out. They've done it without the benefit of a lead (on the scoreboard), without the benefit of an offense that chews up time for them. They've done just a terrific job. I couldn't be happier about them. As I said to (Vice President and General Manager) Chris (Polian) earlier today, I think there's a lot of bright spots, particularly on the defense. When we get people back and healthy on the offense, I think you'll see some bright spots there. Bill Parcells is fond of saying, 'You are what your record says you are,' and he's right. He's absolutely right, but that doesn't mean that it has to stay that way. With those three, there's plenty to build on for the rest of this season and for the future. They're all three very good players.
Q: It seems like the change of power from Tony Dungy to Jim Caldwell was like that at Indiana from Bob Knight to Mike Davis. You take the keys to a car and almost get a title the next year. There was a steady decline at Indiana after that and some people may be concerned about that with the Colts. Has there ever been an NFL coach who has survived a season like this? Also the decisions like not going on third-and-short at midfield with a 0-9 record may not send the message to players about being competitive, or about the coaches not having faith in the players.
A: I understand your frustration. We share it. I will see if I can break my answer into three categories. The first is the category of gambles. When you have a team as beaten up as we are on the offensive side of the ball – (Anthony) Castonzo back on a bad ankle; Jeff Saturday hanging on for dear life, fighting on through all kinds of aches and pains; other fellows in there who really haven't been long-term starters – that puts you in a position where gambling is, in my view and I think in coach's (Jim Caldwell) view, not a good idea. What that tells us is we'd better be pretty judicious about when and where we gamble. When you have a punter the type of Pat McAfee that's a weapon, use it. Try and make the other team go the long way. That's been a tenet of our defense ever since Tony's (Dungy) been here. We did a nice job of it yesterday. With respect to plays, essentially what you're calling for is trick plays and pull out all the stops, whatever verbiage you want to use. Again, we feel that's a prescription for failure. That's not to say what we did yesterday was a success. It was far from it. You're better served when you have young players and inexperienced players and backup players to do less and not more. Now, we did run a reverse yesterday which worked pretty well. By and large, we had a lot of mental errors and breakdowns, blocking breakdowns. We didn't pick up the blitz worth a darn, even though it had been a staple of what they did defensively and we were prepared for it. To put more on their plates when they're having difficulty with basic stuff really doesn't make a lot of sense to any of us. We have to get better at the bread-and-butter stuff before we do anything with the 'exotic' kind of things. As to the comparison with Coach Caldwell and Coach Davis at IU, I can see where you would have that thought, however, I think there's one big difference. Well, there are two big differences. For one thing, Coach Davis took the team to the Final Four, and then if I'm not mistaken the performance kind of went down from there. I don't have the figures right in front of me, but from memory I think the high-water mark was the Final Four, which was a team that Coach (Bob) Knight had recruited and which, by the way, he told me he felt was capable of getting to the Final Four before he was let go. I think that's one of the reasons he stayed at Indiana rather than go someplace else when the atmosphere began to change. That's just my opinion. I know he told me he felt they were capable if everything fell in place. That's a correct observation on your part. What happened with Coach Caldwell last year was that we had that very same kind of team. We had gone to the Super Bowl the year before, lost the ballgame (and) came back. There wasn't any Super Bowl hangover or anything like that, but we had a slew of injuries. None of which could have been predicted. None of which were anyone's fault. It was just fate. As we hit about week 12 last year early in December, we were really, really struggling to put a good team on the field. We'd lost our way defensively. We lost badly to Dallas and then we lost badly to San Diego. At that point Coach (Caldwell) took over, simplified everything on defense, grabbed the team by the lapels and took a team that was battered and beaten by injury and dragged it across the finish line to win the division and go to the playoffs. We came within a special teams mistake, letting that return out, from advancing against Pittsburgh. Who knows how we might have done? The fact is he did his best coaching job last year, not the year we went to the Super Bowl. I don't think you can discount that. I don't think you can say, 'Well, we're 0-10 now and therefore everything he did in the past doesn't count.' What he did in the past does count. It tells you what kind of a coach he is and what kind of a person he is and how the players respond to him. The way our defensive front seven and our safeties have played this year speaks volumes about how they respond to him, and how they practice and how they prepare. We've had a slew of injuries on offense. We're bringing guys in off the street to play on the offensive line, bringing people in off the street to play at tight end. When you get in that situation, you're in very dire straits. Usually, you don't perform with any degree of efficiency. I think all of that has to be taken into consideration. As I said at the outset, I think the future is bright, no matter what happens this year and no matter what may happen to Peyton (Manning) going forward. I implore people to think about what Coach (Caldwell) has done in the past, not just the Super Bowl year, but last year. There's a lot of value there. I don't necessarily say that (the) record is everything. I think when you judge a coach you want to make sure he's getting the best he can out of what he's got. If he is, then he is doing a good coaching job. Now, sometimes things spiral out of control and there isn't much you can do in any situation. There's none of us that feel we've reached that point at this stage. We're going to keep on slugging.
Q: Is there a reason Reggie Wayne has not been able to get the ball as much this year? Also, when the team acknowledges former players, why didn't the team do it for Clint Session, who was with Jacksonville?
A: The issue with Reggie is one (of) being open. There have been times when he's covered pretty well and people know that he's a target so they double-cover him quite often, which would automatically take him out of the equation for Curtis (Painter). Sometimes Peyton (Manning) can throw the ball in there, but it's not a good idea for a young quarterback to do it. Secondly, he actually has tried quite a bit to go to Reggie, particularly on deep routes such as we had yesterday when the interception occurred, and then one earlier when we went on 'hurry ups' in both cases and we didn't get the job done. We misfired. It was either the route got disrupted, or there was a long throw that wasn't on target. We've tried, but we haven't had a lot of success. Other people do know that he's the guy, particularly with Dallas (Clark) gone, they work hard to take him away. Relative to Clint Session, what we've done is used the criteria for a guy to be acknowledged, he has to have been a significant contributor and a long-time, long-term player. Clint was a significant contributor but not really a long-term player, so we just elected not to do it.