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: Sometimes games don't look as good when you see the film. Sometimes they do look as good. Did yesterday's game look as good today?
A: It was good, especially from the defensive side. They played 75 plays. That's an incredible amount of plays, 54 of those were passes. When you think about the big guys up front having to rush the passer and then chase (Jake) Locker in the fourth quarter, that's a Herculean effort. It's just a tremendous effort. To shutdown their running game as well as we did is a great accomplishment. I think most of what everyone saw with the naked eye yesterday was equally as impressive on the tape. The thing we did miss, and you do all the time because of the nature of the game, is the play of the defensive tackles. All four of them did a tremendous job. Mookie (Antonio) Johnson was out of this world, the best he's played since he's been here, I think. Tyler Brayton did a great job rushing the passer and with effort. He always does. Rico (Ricardo Mathews) was terrific. Fili (Moala) picked the pass rush up late in the game when we really needed it, when everybody else was sort of running out of energy. That was a great effort. The backup defensive ends gave a great effort and really played a major role. Of course, the linebackers were obvious and interestingly enough, that configuration with three linebackers on the field is a pretty darned good configuration, even missing Philip (Wheeler). (Ernie) Sims stepped in and did a great job at 'will' and looked very much at home. Of course that's the defense that he came up playing out of college and in Detroit. He should feel at home. He did a great job. Of course Pat (Angerer), as I said to you on the post-game show yesterday, I doubt that anyone from our team will make the Pro Bowl, but Pat deserves it. There's no question about that. Kavell (Conner) set the tone with that big hit on the second series. Now to Tennessee's credit they were missing Javon Ringer, and he's an important component in that offense. They can't run (Chris) Johnson 18 times or 19 times a game and expect to get big play after big play out of him because his body takes too much of a beating. He's a courageous guy to begin with, so that hurt them some. They went to the air and we did a great job of shutting it down. Offensively we ran the football and ran it well. Donald (Brown) had his best day as a Colt. As you told me before the show began, (he) set a Colts record here in Indianapolis, longest run from scrimmage, and Donald was the story offensively. That's the kind of game, that given the construct of our team right now, we have to play, but the defense set the tone and kept us in it when we weren't getting much done on offense. Then sooner or later if you run it long enough, you'll break a big play. That's the way we have to play and have been trying to play, but it came to fruition yesterday against a very good defensive front, I might add.
Q: How do you grade defensive tackles? It's hard to do.
A: First of all, the likelihood of them getting tackles is probably not very good because they're going to get double-teamed most of the time. What you want them to do is to be double-teamed and make penetration into the backfield, particularly against running plays. So many times you saw (Chris) Johnson have to bow back and then the safety was able to come up, the corner was able to come up. We were able to get people to the ball. You can't fly to the ball they way we did yesterday and the way we used to, unless you're getting that penetration from the defensive tackle, unless they're knocking off pullers (pulling linemen), unless they're knocking off lead backs, and they did that. Then the clean-up plays have to be made by the defensive tackle on the backside away from the play. He cannot be cut out. That's a term we use, the center can't block back on him, a guard can't block back on him and cut him out. He's got to be running to the ball and then when he is running to the ball, he can do some damage. He can cause fumbles. He can cause injuries. He can really make plays and if the play cuts back as their back is prone to do, he's right there to make the play. That happened four or five times yesterday. In fact on the second run of the game I think, Mookie ran him down from the backside and that's rare. That really takes effort. That doesn't show up on the stat sheet. The inside pressure on the pass rush is really what makes the pass rush. They chipped both Robert (Mathis) and Dwight (Freeney) virtually every play, meaning that they put two guys on them and they released the tight end or back late to be the check-down receiver, but they chipped Robert and Dwight. Well that mean's that there are two or three people inside blocking the tackles, and the single-blocked guy has to win and put pressure on the passer from the inside and pick up the slack that it takes for the outside people to avoid the chip. If you can do that than all that's left for (the quarterback) is to dump the ball, which is what occurred on many, many occasions. Then the linebackers come up and clean it up, or the corners and safeties come up and clean it up. You didn't see many balls down the field yesterday. When you don't see that, it's because the tackles are putting pressure up the middle.
Bob Lamey: The locker room sounded great Sunday. There's not much difference between 0-16 and 1-15, but it does make a difference, doesn't it?
A: No one wants to be a historical footnote, that's number one. Number two, 1-15 and 2-14 (teams) happen every year in the National Football League. It's a function in many cases of the roof falling in with injuries and things of that nature. It's rarely duplicated. I was with a team in Buffalo that was 2-14 two years in a row. Then, of course, we got Marv Levy and Jim Kelly and a few other people and righted the ship. I guess my first season here we were 3-13. It happens, but 0-16 is a monumental issue, particularly with respect to the history books. When you win a conference championship and go to the Super Bowl or win the Super Bowl, you write your name in the history books. You don't want to write you name in the history books for the wrong reason, so yesterday's win was a big one in that regard. To me the most important thing, and I hate this word but it fits in this particular instance, it 'validated' all the work these fellows had done. This coaching staff, this training staff, this equipment staff and this group of players all year they have never, ever, ever taken a step back. They've never slacked off. They've never stopped doing everything they could to win a game, and every darned way possible we've lost. Those things happen to you when you have those kinds of seasons. They've never let down, never let down, never stopped fighting. They've never given up. I've been with teams that have, including one here, my first year where there were people who didn't give you any effort week in and week out. I'm really happy for these guys for the work they put in to have that validated at least to know that you're not in the history books. Now, you're just another team that had a very tough year and will come out of it. I'm confident of that. We'll come out of it.
Bob Lamey: Can you talk about the crowd Sunday against Tennessee and how they have supported the team all season with full efforts, too?
A: They've been the same way. They've been the exact same way (all season). They've never taken a step back. They've never pointed fingers. They've rarely booed. That's unheard of in any sport really, in any professional sport. They've supported us week in and week out. They've come to the games. They've come excited. They've come wanting us to win and wanting us to do well. They appreciate effort. You cannot say enough about these fans, and I know the players and coaches feel this way, too. In what little time during the season we're out in public, whether it be in the supermarket or the department stores or as was the case with my grandson at the basketball games on Saturday, people come up and say, 'Hang in there, we're pulling for you. We know you'll get it straightened out.' That's unheard of. It's incredible, and you can't say enough for these fans. People talk about fans being great when you win. This is the mark of true fans. They are among the greatest fans in any sport.
Q: Will there be a chance that Donald Brown takes Joseph Addai's place as the starter next year?
A: A lot depends upon how we construct the offense. We're now an offense with a fullback, which we've never been before. It takes a little while to get used to running behind the fullback. The blocks look different. The picture develops differently for our running back, same for the defense and the holes are a little bit different. I think that Joe (Addai) will get more comfortable with that. Actually Delone Carter is the most comfortable of the three, if you just look at it from a pure scouting standpoint in terms of running behind a fullback. If we stay with that construct, and I suspect we will, then we'll see how it develops. The National Football League, I like to believe is a three-running back league. It is two guys who alternate running from scrimmage and then it's a third specialty back, whether he be a third-down back who comes out of the backfield and catches passes or whether he's a short-yardage and goal-line back. You should use (three backs) and most teams do use all three. We have been an exception for all these years. We've largely played with one back all the time, but that's neither the norm in the National Football League, nor what is really physically possible in this day and age.
Bob Lamey: If everybody is healthy next year, will having a fullback still be the construct?
A: I think so. I think we're leaning toward that. There are a lot of ifs involved in that, but certainly we believe that we're a more complete football team with a fullback.
Q: When the team wins, it has to be good for the team, whether it materializes this year or next year, doesn't it?
A: There's no question about that. It's hard to win any game in the National Football League. In many respects, we've lived a charmed life over the past 12 years where we're competitive and the playoffs are viewed as a disappointment every year if you don't advance to the Super Bowl. That's not the norm in the National Football League. Really only we and the (New England) Patriots have been in that position. The norm is far more what we're facing now than what it's been. That said, we do have lofty goals and we do have lofty aspirations. We're not comfortable with where we are now. We're not happy with where we are. The way this team has fought and the way they've battled every single down over this season, it was really gratifying to see them get a win. Donnie Walsh, for whom I have a world of respect and who I think everybody in sports respects even more now with the job he did with the (New York) Knicks – taking the Knicks from non-contender, if you will, talent-wise to a championship contender – once told me there are times you get on the plane after a road game and you look in the back and say, 'Boy, I really don't like my team.' There are other times you say, 'I really do like my team, regardless of the record.' That's the way I feel. I love this team. I think they're great guys. They really are. For them to be rewarded for all the work they've done, it's gratifying to see. I really feel great for them.