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 Ravens defense is pretty highly-touted. They lived up to the billing, didn't they?
A: Oh, yes. They're every bit as good as advertised. Certainly we know that Ray Rice is every bit as good as advertised. Joe Flacco had a good Joe Flacco day. Their game plan offensively pretty much was what we thought it would be. Defensively, they started right from the get-go and really manhandled our front all day. They won that battle handily, and therein lies the story of the game. Going into the fourth quarter I think we had 105 total yards. Even though there was marked improvement in our defense and great effort from our defense, while there was some inconsistency particularly at the defensive tackle position, virtually everyone else played very well defensively. We got two turnovers and should have had a third, and the fourth-down stop is a turnover. As (Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach) Mike Murphy says and (former Head Coach) Tony (Dungy) used to say, 'The only two statistics that count are points and turnovers.' We got plenty of turnovers. We didn't do anything with them. We didn't hold them to enough points. You enter every game figuring you need to hold the other team to 17 (points). If you do that, you're going to win about 80 percent of the time, maybe a little more. Unfortunately, we weren't able to hold them to 17, they got 24. The first was on a short field early in the game, but there's no excuse for that. You have to stop them no matter what. Offensively, we were just stymied all day. They won virtually every individual battle along the front. When that happens, it's going to be a long, long day. That's the story of the game in a nutshell.
Q: Terrell Suggs is a pretty good football player, isn't he?
A: Suggs is a heck of a football player. We could have done things to help Anthony Castonzo that we didn't do. Bottom line, if you leave him out there one-on-one, a rookie on a player like Suggs, a rookie who's coming off an injury, it's not a good match-up, and it wasn't. Suggs took over the game and gave our quarterback a pretty good beating just by himself. Anthony was not the only culprit. There were many others. Almost everybody got out-played up front. That's the way it goes. There are days when that happens. When it does happen, it's pretty hard to move the ball and you're asking the defense pretty much to do the impossible. As banged up as we are in the defensive secondary, I was quite proud of how our guys played. As Jim Caldwell said (Monday) morning in our staff meeting, we limited the long passes. We made them go the long way. They made mistakes, just as the philosophy of our defense is designed to do. We just didn't capitalize on them. It's unfortunate that Antoine (Bethea) didn't hold the interception because it was a great break on the ball and a very good play, but you have to finish it. We didn't. Therein sort of lies the story of our season defensively. There have been a lot of those we haven't finished, unfortunately. In terms of effort, hustle, energy and being on the details, with the exception of some breakdowns at defensive tackle which caused big-gainers, really the only big-gainers that got out of there in big measure by Rice, I saw marked improvement defensively, particularly with our young people in the secondary. That was good. There are some good things, but they don't show up on the scoreboard, and that's really all that counts in the end.
Q: Safety Joe Lefeged had an interception and returned kicks well?
A: He did a great job. It was a really good interception. It was two-man, a coverage that Murph (Mike Murphy) has installed and we've done a good job with. We can improve the technique, obviously. There's a lot of room for improvement there. It's not something we've worked heavily on up to this point. We can improve that. Bottom line, good play, good coverage. (He) made a break on the ball, which is really good. The kickoff return was terrific. He hit the hole. It was well-designed. He finished the run for eight yards and (with) good ball security. He came unfortunately between one guy and 'make you miss' with the gunner and he would have been out on another punt return, too. Those things will come. We have a lot of good, young players. That's the sad part about this (season). We have a lot of good, young players who are learning and growing, but it's a growth process. When we do well in one area, we seem to spring a leak in another. That's kind of been the way the season has gone. There are a lot of good things out there, particularly on defense. Hopefully, we can clean up some of the stuff on offense that we need to. Of course, we're probably playing against the best defense we've faced all year. I don't want to give Houston any bulletin-board material. They're good. We've talked many times what a great job (Defensive Coordinator) Wade Phillips has done with their defense. These guys (Baltimore) from a talent standpoint and a ferocity and physicality standpoint, are really good.
Q: Dwight Freeney reached a milestone with his 100th career sack. That's pretty special, isn't it?
A: It's very special. He's an outstanding player. He made two great moves to create both sacks. They were big plays in the ballgame. In the second half if I'm not mistaken, they had seven possessions and we stopped them six times. That ought to be enough to win if you've got something going offensively, but we didn't. That's unfortunate. Bottom line, Dwight had a great day. Robert Mathis quietly didn't have the sack numbers, but, as usual in every game, Robert Mathis does a number of things in a very special way. He's a very, very good football player – an unsung football player. I doubt if any of our players will make the Pro Bowl this year, but Robert certainly is deserving.
Q: What do you take from the game in moving forward to playing the next three games?
A: The first thing you take out of it is you absolutely have to clean up what went on on the offensive line. We just can't have those kinds of situations. We have to be mindful that if there's a guy like (Terrell) Suggs out there who's an over-match, then we have to deal with that. This isn't the old offense with Peyton Manning at the helm. That's easier said than done. Secondly, we probably need to stay with the run a little more than we did. Jim Caldwell made a point of that this morning. It's easy to say, 'Okay, they do a lot of jumping around up front and do a lot of different blitzing and we can hit some big plays.' You have to pick up those blitzes, and you have to get the ball out on time. You can make big plays, but we don't have the people we used to have who can do that. You have to keep that in mind. That's one thing we have to do, run the ball better, protect better, block for the run better and be a little more patient with the running game. We have that. We can run, there's no question about that. Joe (Addai) had a good day. Brownie (Donald Brown) had a good day. Delone (Carter), what little he got, did well. We can be okay in that regard. From a kicking game standpoint, I think Pat (McAfee) needs to take the next step. He's got a wonderful leg. He's a highly-competitive guy. He's very tough. He needs to become a better directional punter and a better strategic punter, so we don't put ourselves in position where we give up big yardage in returns because we out-kicked the coverage and things of that nature. That's an area we can improve on. That's largely an off-season project, but Pat's a good enough athlete to do some of that now. The return game is coming. Joe (Lefeged) did a great job returning the kickoffs yesterday. They wanted us to return the kicks, that's obvious. I suspect they were trying to get us to return it. In any event, we did a good job with that and we can be better at it. That's hard because we have so many new people playing on special teams because of the injuries. Those people, if they work at it, will improve every day. I think we need to play with a lot of ferocity on special teams. There was some of that yesterday. It can be better. Defensively, we just need to keep getting better at the fundamentals, clean up the inconsistencies, particularly inside, make sure we have the right gap covered, make sure we're in the right position, make sure we execute the stunts properly and the linebackers and secondary will do the rest. We're getting better at the techniques. We have to continue to work on that. As this defense is constituted now, it's a technique defense. It's hard to improve on technique this late in the season, but you can. We need to work on that every, single day. The good part is you can see it getting better. It's obvious to me that we're getting better at executing our techniques. We're understanding the defense more. We're understanding where we need to be. For the young kids in the secondary, they will get better every week because playing experience is what will give them the savvy to be good players. They (Baltimore) got a long completion yesterday that was made on the sideline simply because we bit on an underneath route. You don't need to bite on that. It's third-and-long, stay back. The other thing is when we execute the stunts inside, make sure we contain the quarterback. Don't let him get out. That part of it, we can and will improve upon because you already can see it. I'm heartened by the way our defense played. I know the coaches are upset because they gave up 24 (points). When you can take an offense of that caliber, when they want to slug, they came out in the second half and said, 'We're punching you in the mouth on offense. We're going to punch you in the mouth on defense.' We punched right back and, by and large, won the second half. That's a very heartening sign, and it tells us that we have good, young players who are going to get better.
Q: Can you tell me how Darren Evans is doing? Maybe you give him a shot in the next three games.
A: It's very likely that he will get a chance before the season is over. We had two fullbacks and three running backs dressed yesterday. A lot depends on the game plan because he's a pretty good special teams player. I don't think he's quite fast enough to be a kickoff returner. He does play well on all the other special teams, and we certainly can use that. I think he'll get a shot before the season is over.
Q: As a fan, I appreciate all you have done for the city. Regardless of this year, we still are great in my opinion.
A: Thank you those are nice words. We appreciate it. I'm really confident that this season will be an aberration, that we are going to turn things around and we'll be looking at another long run of success. We've got work to do, no question about that, but we're clear-eyed about it. We know what we have to do, and we'll get about it doing that. We very much appreciate your support and the support of everyone that has been behind us for all these years. We really appreciate it.