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: Certainly the win on Thursday night sent the team and its fans into the holiday happy, didn't it?
A: Christmas is a time to be thankful, and you can't thank the fans enough. For everybody to come out the way they have throughout this season, to stay behind us like they have throughout the season, to react the way they did and be in the game the way they were Thursday night when there was nothing but pride to play for speaks volumes about the type of fans we have, about the loyalty of our fans, about how they care about this team. The players responded to it. You could see it literally in terms of being involved with the fans, getting them fired up, making sure everybody is staying in the game, and it was another fourth-quarter comeback by a defense that's built to play with the lead. All the clichés aside, what a magnificent job by the fans. We can't thank you enough. Of course, a great job by our defense, a phenomenal job. As someone said on one of the network shows yesterday, we have played really good defense the last three weeks, four counting the New England game. We played really good defense from New England on. It hadn't showed up on the scoreboard necessarily until the last two weeks, but you could see it coming. Anybody who knows football could see it coming. (They could) see it was a different defense, and how free and easy the players were playing. Of course, that showed up the other night. For 58 minutes we had a really rough offensive night, but the defense held us in there against an extremely high-powered offense, with their number one and two running backs in there. Because we flew and flew to the ball, we limited their gains. They got some 30-yard runs which we wish they hadn't gotten, but they were 30-yard runs, not 70-yard touchdowns. It was a completely different story than what happened in Houston on opening day. Give great credit to our coaches and players for doing what they did.
Q: The team gave up a few yards, but only seven points. That is what is important, isn't it?
A: It's points and turnovers (that matter the most). We got a turnover. We didn't do anything with it, unfortunately, but we did get a turnover. We did what counted in terms of limiting touchdowns and scoring opportunities. We sacked the quarterback and harassed him. Special teams did a great job, too. Pat (McAfee) did a terrific job of punting. We did a really good job covering against a team that has given us fits on special teams, historically. From the day they came in the league they have given us problems on special teams. Give great credit to those groups. Dan Orlovsky and the offense got it going when they had to, when all the money was on the line. You can't say enough good things about the way he's played since New England.
Q: Their one third-down conversion came on a tipped pass, so a great job was done there.
A: The whole performance was really what this team is all about – grittiness, guttiness, toughness. (It was) good performers on defense performing up to their capabilities. Donald Brown, once again, stepping up and performing very well. (You had) Dan Orlovsky, Reggie (Wayne) and Pierre Garcon doing a great job in the passing game. When they had the opportunity to make plays, they made them. A great victory and now we go on the road to Jacksonville. Jim Caldwell told the team three weeks ago, no one (since Tennessee in 2002) has ever swept us in the division. Even though we don't have a division championship to play for, we do have that to play for. We're going down there, and we're going to give it our best shot.
Q: The other night, the last drive had a lot of thrills, but the last drive was really good, wasn't it?
A: (The pass from Orlovsky to Wayne to the Houston 20-yard line was) a great throw, a great catch. Reggie ran a great route. He got a little bit of separation. It was man-to-man coverage and Dan put the ball right in there and Reggie went up and got it. Dan put it only where Reggie could get it. Reggie went up and got it and took a big hit. He held onto the ball, and that set up the touchdown.
Q: The team won the field position battle against Houston, limiting returns on special teams, among other things.
A: Yes, we did. That's important when you're not playing at full strength offensively and you have to sort of manufacture the offense as we've been doing for quite some time. It's really important to make sure that you're in a position where you win the field position battle. We didn't have to worry about it for about 12 years, but we do now. Pat (McAfee) responded in a big way punting the ball, punting it out of bounds in one situation, getting enough hang time that we were able to get down there and cover (the kick). We made some good tackles, too, which was a real plus. That was important because as explosive as they are in the running game and as difficult as it is to defense, the run is the staple of their offense. They really are a run, bootleg, play-action offense. That's the essence (of their attack). You have to stop the run to some degree. The statistics never are going to look good. They're going to force the run. By the nature of their offense, they're going to make some yardage. If you can put them into reasonable third-down situations and you can get off the field on third down, which we did, repeatedly, you've got an opportunity to win the game, provided you control field position. We did. That's a huge factor with special teams.
Q: Of all the guys picked up from other teams, who do you like and who do you think has a good chance to be on the team next season?
A: Jamaal Anderson has been really good. Tyler Brayton has been really good. Ernie Sims has been really good. All three of those fellows are free agents in the off-season, so we'll see what happens there. Both fullbacks (Ryan Mahaffey and Jerome Felton). We did not play with a fullback prior to Peyton's (Manning) injury and Coach (Jim) Caldwell re-configured the offense. Both of those fellows have played pretty darned well. Jermale Hines had a really good game the other night covering kicks. That's his strong point, and he lived up to it. Those are the guys who come to mind right off the bat. Scott Lutrus, on special teams, was a really good pick up. A.J. Edds is a pretty good pick up. He may not play this week. He's questionable at this point, but he's been a good pick up. Of all the moves we've made, really the vast majority have panned out, including Dan Orlovsky. How the team will be structured next year remains to be seen. That's a function of the salary cap, as well as who you would like to keep. We're really happy with all the pick ups we made this year. I think they all have a chance to be competitive. Interestingly, we sat down over the weekend with the independent scouting service to which we subscribe whose job it is to look at our team compared to everyone else in the National Football League and say, 'Your team is good, bad or indifferent.' What they said was, 'Your team is not as poor as your record indicates.' I'll echo Bill Parcells and say, 'You are what your record says you are.' And, he's right. We're not gilding the lilly. From the standpoint of quality of personnel throughout the team, we're not nearly as bad as you might think, given the record. The last two games are evidence of that. I also ran across some statistics today that were rather interesting. I was ferreting around for some statistics that would tell us something about where we've been and where we're going, and it's interesting. We have multiple receivers in the top 25 – Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, both in the mid-60s in receptions. There are only six teams in the entire 32-team league that have multiple receivers in the top 25. They are as follows: New England, New Orleans, Detroit, Atlanta, the New York Giants and Indianapolis. Five of the six have their starting quarterbacks in the lineup. We are the one that does not. That might tell you a little something about the talent we have on this team. In addition, there are only eight rushers with a higher yards-per-attempt average than Donald Brown. He's at 4.9. Only eight other players in the 32-team league have a higher yards-per-attempt average than Donald. Despite the fact we've struggled on offense, we do have some performers there who, statistically over the course of the season, are putting up decent numbers. That would lead you to believe that with continued improvement, particularly in protection and run-blocking, we can be a pretty good football team.
Q: Why did Dan Orlovsky throw long passes to Reggie Wayne the other night? Was that part of the plan?
A: We felt like we had to take some shots down the field in order to loosen them up. They ended up playing a lot more man-to-man coverage than we anticipated that they might, so that's going to give you some opportunities to get open and get down the field. Now those aren't high- percentage passes, which I think is probably what you're driving at. Of course when you hit them, they are big plays. We alluded at the beginning of the show to the pass in the last two minutes when Reggie got open on man-to-man coverage and Dan drilled the ball in there. Just before the half we took a shot. I don't think Reg was expecting the ball. He looked the wrong way, but he had his guy beat and Dan put the ball out there. Had he turned the other way, it's a touchdown. You're not going to hit many of those but when you hit them, you hit the jackpot. It's worthwhile doing, particularly against man-to-man coverage because ultimately it loosens them up and makes them honor the deep ball. Then you can get the underneath stuff from that.
Q: Would you agree that Dan Orlovsky has come a long way in his play and that the defense has, too?
A: I would agree with you. Absolutely, (there's) no question about it. Both points of view echo mine. Dan's come an awfully long way. He's done a great job. He's learned the offense. He's gotten comfortable with it. He stays within himself. He makes the right reads. He takes care of the football, and, of course as I've said repeatedly over the last four weeks, the defense has really turned it up. It's nice to see all of those guys who've worked so hard be rewarded for their efforts.