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 second installment:
Q: Is the club possibly looking to draft a quarterback in the next draft?
A: First of all, it's premature to discuss the draft at this point because all of the results are not in. I'm out every week scouting as I've done in the past. We look at every position, but Peyton (Manning) and I did talk when we did this last contract about the fact that the time is approaching when it's time to take a look at quarterbacks and to evaluate them. We did that last year and there were a couple of quarterbacks we liked and they didn't fall to us in the draft process but had they, I'm sure we would have made a choice there, although we like Curtis (Painter) very much. We don't rule out anything and in terms of scouting them, we are going to scout them as though we were planning on taking one. We'll see what the process brings when we get to April, but there's a long way between now and then.
Q: You have to plan for the future at that position, don't you?
A: Peyton's at the age now that he recognizes and we recognize that his career is in the homestretch, so to speak. He will come back from this injury and he'll play again and who knows how long? I hope it's seven or eight years, but the actuarial table tells you that would be a pretty rare occurrence. Usually, careers are shortened or ended by injury and the older you get, the more susceptible you are to that. While we fully expect that he'll be back and fully expect he will be with us next year, common sense would tell you it's time to give the quarterback position consideration, but we do that every year. The question is, 'What pick would you use on a quarterback and how would you structure the contract and things like that?' If such a guy is there we'll cross that bridge in April but now, I can't tell you if that person exists, or if we have a shot at him.
Q: What kinds of changes will be made on defense to stop the run since it seems to be a problem and AFC South teams run well, and what are plans for the Colts to run better?
A: A little of that is true and a lot of it is sound bite stuff that really isn't backed up by film analysis. On the one hand, we have to do a much better job of stopping the kind of running that Houston did yesterday. That's a specific type of running offense where they cut people on the line of scrimmage, where the back is looking at one particular defender and if that defender is knocked off his feet, the back just turns up and runs for that hole. There is no juking, there's no dancing. It is a specific and well-coached running attack which frankly, in the last couple of years we've had a hard time with, no question about that. So we have to get better at stopping that attack. When you talk about other kinds of running attacks, Chris Johnson is a great running back in Tennessee but he hasn't put up gaudy statistics against us, nor have they beaten us with the run. The running back in Jacksonville is a great, great back, probably the best back in the National Football League who doesn't get a lot of publicity. He's really outstanding and from time-to-time, they have bothered us with the run but we've also found ways to get it stopped. You might remember Kansas City came in here last year leading the National Football League in rushing and we shut them down. The idea that anybody can run on us is not out born by the facts. The fact that Houston can run on us and run on us quite successfully is a fact, and we've got to get that straightened out. That's a systemic and technique issue that we are going to have to work on. We are going to see them again in December, so you're quite right. We do have to get it straightened out.
Q: What kind of running attack does Cleveland have with Peyton Hillis?
A: This will be similar because the basis of the West Coast running attack is that downhill running attack, and Peyton Hillis is a very, very good back. He's a north, south back who's in many ways similar to Tate (Texans running back Ben Tate). He's different than Arian Foster. He's got a little more wiggle than Tate, but he runs behind his pads and he knocks you down. He was a fullback for a while at Arkansas. He's really a good back. They have a threat in their offense in Colt McCoy running the ball that Houston does not. Matt Schaub isn't interested in running the ball. Colt McCoy averaged 4.9 yards a rush last year and Peyton Hillis averaged 4.4. It's a similar attack, but the quarterback is much more run-oriented. It's probably because he's younger in the league and Matt recognizes that longevity is not necessarily attached to running the football. Nonetheless, Colt is a terrific runner and so that poses a different threat for us. I said we play Houston again in December but this is a similar attack, so we have to get to school and get squared away on this pretty quickly because as I say, a similar attack is coming in on Sunday with every bit as good a back.
Q: What are your thoughts on the offensive line this year?
A: First of all, it's a work in progress. The most notable one, Anthony Castonzo, had a very fine game, no problem there at all. Jeff Linkenbach did pretty well. We had some busts, assignment errors from time-to-time which stalled drives and broke up drives, creating long-yardage situations. Some penalties did the same thing. One was totally unavoidable, the facemask. I don't know if it's there or not there to tell you the truth. The bottom line is they called it. So it was an inconsistent performance, but that can improve. The running game did pretty well yesterday. That wasn't bad at all. As a matter of fact we averaged 4.0 yards a rush. That's over-shadowed by the fact that they averaged a good deal more than that and no one's disputing that obviously. We've addressed that. The fact of the matter is I thought the running game improved. Again, there is a lot of stuff out there, sound bites that people accept as fact. We're not trying to get bigger. We're trying to get better. Anthony Castonzo and (Ben) Ijalana are big guys, 300-pound guys. They're not 350 pounds and (former offensive line coach) Howard (Mudd) would have liked both of those guys without question. Jeff Saturday is still Jeff Saturday. Ryan Diem has been with us for 11 or so years. Joe Reitz, who is playing left guard, is about 309 pounds. He's bigger than the people that have played there, but he is just average by National Football League standards. We're not trying to get huge. We're not trying to have a 330-pound line. That's not our style of play. We do expect our guys to pass protect well because we are, in fact, an offense that throws it quite well, and, obviously, we have pretty good weapons in the passing game. We need to be more consistent, and that will come over time. It is a work in progress, new people in new places, and it's going to be a work in progress. But the good news is we can improve from week-to-week, and that's what we need to do.
Q: What are the plans for Jerry Hughes?
A: Jerry had a reasonably good preseason but he is principally a pass rusher. In yesterday's situation where we had both Robert (Mathis) and Dwight (Freeney) active and we had the two bigger guys Jamaal (Anderson) and (Tyler) Brayton active, there is no room for the third pass rusher, so that role doesn't exist when you're addressing the so-called run players. Having said that, the ends did a reasonably good job against the run. Not a lot got outside but we had some difficulty inside, obviously. It's a function of who's healthy and what kind of combination we want on the defensive line from week-to-week as to when Jerry gets active. He keeps working, and he's working hard. He had a reasonably successful preseason, and we are looking forward to bigger and better things from him. He will get his opportunity before the season is over.
Q: Can you briefly what the West Coast offense is compared to what the Colts run?
A: (Laughing) Can I do it briefly? The answer is, 'No.' I'll do my best. This comes directly from (Hall of Fame Football Coach) Bill Walsh. The West Coast offense was designed by a means of delivering the ball to receivers in basically short- to middle-range areas accurately and in a position where they can run after the catch. The running game as originally designed by Bill Walsh was a lead draw, sweep running game. If you looked at the Bill Walsh 49ers, essentially you saw the same running game he used when he was offensive coordinator with Paul Brown and the Cincinnati Bengals. Over time that running game has evolved into the cut-blocking, reach-blocking, one-cut-and-go style that Houston now uses. The bootleg which Houston uses is very much a Bill Walsh invention, popularized by Steve Young and really invented as a major weapon because Steve Young was left-handed and so confused a lot of defenses in terms of his ability to throw and run. So that's about 1/100th of the West Coast offense versus what we do. We are a more vertical passing game. We're a more outside-oriented run game which relies on the running back basically to make people miss at the second level, at the linebacker level, to get big plays. Our running game is totally different than the West Coast running game that exists today. Not dissimilar to what Bill had originally (invented), but our passing game is a much more vertical passing game than the West Coast offense.
Q: What will the Colts face in Joshua Cribbs and the Cleveland defense?
A: The defense is vastly improved under the tutelage of (Browns defensive coordinator) Dick Jauron, who is a great defensive coordinator, great defensive coach. And Joshua Cribbs is a dynamic returner, in my opinion the best returner in the league. He does both kickoffs and punts. He is a tremendous speed guy. He can make you miss, but he has really, really good balance. Most returners don't have all three. They either have speed, the ability to make you miss or they can be big people who have balance that can run through tackles. Rare few returners have all three. He has all three and is a home-run hitter, and we'd better do a heck of a lot better job against him than we did Sunday or it will be a long afternoon.