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 team was close yesterday, but close is not what you are shooting for. The team needs a win and that's what you're working on, right?
A: I think yesterday's game was kind of, I don't want to say turning point, but it was a point of the season where we have to reassess where we are and what we can do well and what we've been doing poorly, and sort of re-adjust. If you look at our team, this team has had great success with Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, who went up on the wall (Ring of Honor) yesterday, Joseph Addai, Edgerrin James, Peyton Manning (being the) one constant all the way through that, Ryan Diem, Jeff Saturday, Tarik Glenn, and others on offense. How many of those guys are out there now? This is a different offense. We need to recognize that that's the fact and play to our strengths, which are two good running backs, if you assume Joe (Addai) is not 100 percent, in Donald Brown and Delone Carter. We have a fullback now, and we've unfortunately had a string of injuries there. We've got some fullbacks. We've done a little bit better blocking at the tight end position. In many ways, we probably need to reconfigure. That's something we'll be looking at over the next couple of days. Defensively, (it's) the same way. We have good players on defense but for some reason or another, particularly on third down and particularly on certain situations vis a vis the rush, we simply don't get the job done. I think yesterday's game was a prime example of that. We're in a position where you want to get started early and do well. We didn't play the option the first three plays right out of the box. We'd been practicing it all week. I can't tell you why we did that. The message isn't getting across as clearly as it should. There are some players in there who probably don't need to be in there. We can probably make some changes there. When you're in the position we're in, almost any change is a good change. There were days where we talked always about, 'Is that player going to give you value added? Is he going to reduce our efficiency?' There's minimal efficiency, and almost anything is value added at this point. There's no use in sugar-coating that. That's the bad news. The good news is we continue to play hard. We continue to play penalty-free, by and large. We continue to make plays when we have the opportunities. Yesterday when it came down to crunch time, we just didn't make the plays. You can't say we weren't in a position to tie the game because we were. The kickoff return (the 76-yarder when the team was down, 24-19) was hurtful. For some reason, we just simply can't get that right, and we have to. We just have to. If it means that's all we practice for a week, and I'm being facetious when I say that, but you can't let people make kickoff returns. We gave them a field goal. We should have been in a position to win at the end if not for that field goal. It's those kinds of things that we've been doing. That's what teams with poor records do. We have to coldly reassess where we are, what we are and see what we can do to get it better over the next five ballgames.
Q: When you talk about changes, do you mean wholesale, how deep?
A: I don't know. We have to take a look at that over the next couple of days. Some of that will be dictated by the injury picture, as has been the case all year. In all, we still have to take a hard look at how we maximize the talent on hand and try and get to a point where we're more efficient than we have been.
Q: The team ran well out of the I-Formation. Ryan Mahaffey played well before getting nicked up. Any word on him?
A: Not yet, but we're hopeful. He cleared by the end of the game. We're hopeful that he'll be back, and he did a good job – running, blocking and catching. He did a fine job. That's a plus. That's what I'm talking about. You sort of reassess and say, 'Who are our best players now? How do they fit into a system that would be efficient for us?' That's what we have to do. The idea that we can be what we used to be, we can't.
Q: Re-adjust is hard to do overnight with the players who are missing. You just can't manufacture it overnight, can you?
A: No, you can't. I really think we're at the point where we have to try and do the absolute best we can with what we have right now. In the off-season, we take a hard look at where we are and go ahead and create a system and a roster that will give us the best chance to win going forward.
Q: Some may ask why you didn't do that earlier this season, but that wasn't the point to judge, was it?
A: Injuries have gotten in the way week after week after week. For example, going into the Jacksonville game it was almost impossible to construct an offense because we didn't know who was going play up until Friday on offense. That part of it has been hard. There have been deeper valleys than others. There have been no peaks, but there have been deeper valleys than others during this time. These last three weeks really have been tough. The fact of the matter is we have five weeks to go and we have to find a way to, as I say, maximize the players we have and, hopefully, get some guys back. Joe Reitz, I think, is close. Hopefully he'll be back if not this week, maybe next. I don't know about Joe (Addai) at this point, but we'll see. I think we do have to reassess what we can be, what our potential is with the people we have, take a hard look and see what we can do to be more efficient. It's not a question of playing hard. It's not a question of playing tough. It's a question of being as efficient as you can, eliminating mistakes, eliminating mental errors on defense for example, eliminating bad plays on offense and, most importantly, playing smart, playing smart. When you're in a situation such as we were yesterday, this is an example and I'm not picking on Pierre (Garcon) because he had a fine day, but when you are in the situation we're in where you're fighting and trying to gain every advantage you can, there's one school of thought that says, 'Go ahead, peel back and try to make a big play.' There's another school of thought, which I subscribe to 100 percent, that says, 'Don't try to make something happen. Do the ordinary in an extraordinary way.' That's the Tony Dungy catch-phrase, 'Don't try to make a big play. Get what's there and something may open up.' Don't force it. Don't try to make a big play. More often than not, you'll end up on the bad side of that, as happened yesterday. That's what I mean by reassessing. That's a mindset. You have to say, 'Okay, I'm going do the ordinary thing in a very extraordinary way. I'm not going to try and make a big play. I'm not going to try and press. I'm not going to try to throw a long pass to get a big touchdown to get us back in the game.' Those things don't work. Bottom line is you have to play smart. You have to play efficient. We haven't done that in quite a while, to be honest with you.
Q: At the backup quarterback situation, did the team plan accordingly, given what has happened this year? Tony Dungy mentioned the team did not on television Sunday. Also with the problems with team efficiency, is any of that related to Jim Caldwell? Can you address these questions?
A: In hindsight, everyone would like to feel that we should have had a better backup quarterback. I still haven't figured out how to do it under the salary cap, to be quite honest with you. I guess you would sacrifice perhaps Jacob Tamme. You would sacrifice, perhaps, the backup running back. You would sacrifice, perhaps, a nickel linebacker. That would be who you would be losing in order to have a 'good' backup quarterback. As I said last week, it's easy to say that in the abstract. I'm not sure that that person necessarily exists. There were two at the beginning of the year when we knew we were going to lose Peyton (Manning) that we looked at hard, one we tried to trade for and the club that had him wasn't interested in trading him and the other was Kerry Collins. Those people are in short supply. I can't argue with the fact that we'd obviously all liked to have a better guy there. How you get him and who he is is another question. In terms of Coach Caldwell, I respectfully disagree with you. Since he's been the coach, our team has gone 14-2 and then 10-6 in the regular season. In the playoffs, (we've gone) 3-1 and 0-1. That's a total of 10 losses and 27 wins. That, to me, indicates success in this league, playoffs and a berth in the Super Bowl. He didn't lose the ability to coach overnight. What he lost was his quarterback and a good portion of the rest of the offense to age and injury.
Q: The team spent money on Kerry Collins?
A: We did. What Tony meant was this, I saw his comment and knew what he meant and I think he explained it pretty clearly, too, it was a salary cap issue. Under the salary cap, to whom do you allocate that money? Is it to a backup quarterback at four million dollars, or is it to the third rusher? Is it to the third defensive tackle? Is it to the nickel corner? Is it to a starting offensive guard? That's the tough question. When you broach that question to the coaching staff in the off-season – Would you like to give up a starting left guard so we can get a backup quarterback? – the answer is unanimously, 'No.' It's just tough. That's what the salary cap does, and that's what it's designed to do. To skate around it for as long as we did, many people will tell you it's close to impossible, but we did it. However, it caught up with us this year.
Q: You skated around it for 13 years, but it's going to happen?
A: We had a fine backup quarterback here in Jim Sorgi, who had grown into the role, but who, unfortunately, got injured. There's nothing you can do about that. Injury takes it toll on everybody in this game.
Q: If Peyton's playing future is in doubt, would there be any plan to bring him on in a coaching capacity?
A: Well first of all, I don't think that's something that anybody around here has given a thought to. I did see something in the newspaper today that alluded to the fact there have been pessimistic comments made by the commentators, but I don't know what they base that upon. They asked me for a timeline and I told them that I couldn't give them anything that would be accurate, but that I could give them an approximation, a guesstimate and I did. It did not contain any, not even a hint, that he would not play again. I truthfully don't know what they are basing that upon. Secondly, we have not, as I say, even given a thought to what Peyton (Manning) might do, when and if he decides to retire. It is not something that is quite honestly on our radar screen at the moment.