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 you're not as bad as you look when you lose or as good as you look when you win. Is that the case with the Cleveland game?
A: That's true. There are a lot of really positive things yesterday. We certainly improved a great many things. That doesn't modify the fact we lost the football game. That's always the number one objective. We realize given the circumstances that we're going to be a little bit of a work in progress. I thought there were some really good things that we did. Number one: we tackled a whole lot better than we did the week before. We played the run a whole heck of a lot better. We ran very much better than we did the week before. We did a really good job in terms of running efficiently. We got a lot of big plays from the running game, and we were very physical in the running game as well, which was a good thing. We were very physical against the run. Interestingly, and I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek but somewhat instructively I hope for our fans, you hear all of these bromides very often and the one you hear a lot is, 'You have to run and stop the run.' We ran yesterday 26 times for 109 yards for a 4.2 average. They ran 34 times for 106 yards for a 3.1 average. I will give you another statistic which isn't so good. They were eight-for-16 on third down, we were four-for-14. Therein lies the secret of the game. In net yards passing, they were 211 and we were 191. They won the turnover battle, albeit we were a little unlucky. We caused four fumbles and only got one. That's a function of luck, really. The third-down efficiency really was the story of the game. Believe it or not, it is most of the time. The old idea if you run and stop the run you're going to win 90 percent of the games, no, that's not the case in modern football. That said, I was really pleased with the way we played physically. We tackled very well. We did some good things in the passing game. We pass protected pretty well. We need to clean up some consistency there. The only real problem was the backend defensively which can be cleaned up with some technique work. If we improve as much in that facet as we did in our tackling and being in the right gaps from this week to next, again we'll make a step forward. That's what we need to do."
Q: They were three-for-nine in shorter third-down situations. They made the longer ones.
A: They did a good job of pass protecting. We weren't able to finish him (Colt McCoy) on about four occasions where we had a free rusher. We couldn't finish McCoy, and he's good at that. He's good at escaping. That's a tenet of the West Coast offense. He made some plays on the run that were good plays. We had some technique errors that caused some problems. We didn't blow any coverages, but the technique errors were in some cases glaring. Those little things will get you beat, especially in a close ballgame in the National Football League. That's something we have to clean up. Special teams were very average, but we were up against a great returner (Joshua Cribbs). He's going to get some. You hope to hold him in check a little bit. We didn't in two key situations. He's the best return guy in the league. He didn't do a heck of a lot of damage. The kickoff return was damaging at the time that it came right after a score by us. Those things you can improve upon. That's what we have to do. We improved from one week to the next, let's hope we do the same thing. I'm confident we will. We will get better as the weeks go on.
Q: If you finish the red zone drives offensively, the outcome is a little different, right?
A: No question about that. The score of the whole game is different. If they have to come from behind…for example, if we got three touchdowns and a field goal, we're up 24-7 in the half. That's a horse of a different color entirely in terms of how they play. To their credit, they stopped us. I think the key play in the game was the third-and-one where we had run the ball right up the field. We got blown up. We did not make a block we had to make. It was a great play call. If we had executed, it's probably a five- or six-yard gain and maybe we're in the end zone. The bottom line is the drive keeps going and their defensive line was tired. We were winning the battle, all of the things we were accused of doing last week were happening to them. We didn't get the block made, which is a shame. That's consistency, you have to have it.
Q: Kerry Collins likes the no huddle and he looked to run it very well, didn't he?
A: Kerry's situation is that Peyton (Manning) is used to operating this offense for 14 years. He (Peyton) studies tape incessantly. There's nothing that anyone can do against this offense that's necessarily going to faze Peyton. He's usually seen it all before, albeit Dick Jauron did a phenomenal job yesterday. Their secondary play in terms of techniques, positioning, reading of routes was outstanding. Now, you don't expect anything less. Dick Jauron's a heck of a football coach. The bottom line is they did a lot of good things. We were still able, by and large, to move the ball pretty well, including the last drive. If we execute the onside kick, we have a ballgame there. As we often say, 'If its and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a Merry Christmas.' You can't hang your hat on that. Kerry did improve and he got better. He will get better with time. It's a work in progress. There are no magic formulas. There are no plays you can dredge up out of the playbook that are going to change everything. It's just a matter of everybody getting better and taking six-inch steps and doing a better job. That's what occurred yesterday. We got better in a lot of areas, so just keep after it.
Q: You've set the bar so high with past performances that people expect it. When you lose two games it's a problem, and that feeling seems to be running through the community. How do you address that?
A: For one thing, there's no God-given right to win 10 games every year. You have to earn that, and some of that comes with health. We saw (that) last year. We won 10 games and made the playoffs, but we saw last year what injuries can do to you. Obviously, we've had the one injury (Peyton Manning) that you wouldn't want to have. No one's throwing in the towel. We're getting better every week. To be ahead at the half (against Cleveland) 24-7, which I've heard people say we should have been, with Peyton Manning at the controls it's very possibly and taking nothing away from them by the way – they're a very good football team and they had a good plan and Coach (Pat) Shurmur's a good coach and they're going to turn that program around and fast – but the bottom line is if we were, there's no guarantee they don't come back and win the game. They weren't going to get on the bus and go home at halftime. You play the hand that's dealt you. We're going to play ours. For the foreseeable future, they're (games) not going to be the kind of high-octane offensive efficiency that we're used to seeing. You can't have that. Kerry (Collins) can't do that. He doesn't know enough about the offense to be able to do that. No one could. It did not matter who we brought in. You could resurrect Johnny U. and it's the not the same without Peyton at the helm. That's because of his experience, all the studying that he does and because he knows every single little intricacy. There was a situation yesterday where we missed a big play because a receiver didn't read the right 'hot' route. 'Hot' route means if you see a blitz coming you have to change your route, call it 'sight adjust,' whatever you want to call it. Kerry did, he saw it coming. Kerry knew what he was doing. He was prepared. Peyton would have stopped calling signals, pointed and said to the receiver, 'That's the guy you read off.' That's what 14 years of experience gives you. That's what gesticulating does. They are 'alerts.' He knows how to operate the offense to absolute maximum capacity. No one else can do that. That's just the way it is. There's no sense worrying about it or pining about it. You have to play the hand you're dealt. We're very realistic about it around here. We're not the least bit down in the mouth. We're going to keep slugging. If we make the improvement this week that we made last week, we'll be in good shape.
Q: In accentuating the positive, would you describe how the last touchdown we got happened?
A: That's a 'choice' route. If he (Dallas Clark) gets a certain kind of coverage he will hook up. He did and Kerry hit him nicely, touchdown. The big throw was the previous one to Austin Collie. That was a throw that we had to make. It was a tough throw. Austin got open. He'd (Austin) been having a tough time. The guy had a pretty good lasso on him during the day and Austin got open and made the catch. That was a big play to set it up. The play to Dallas was a pitch and catch.
Q: It's tough for Kerry Collins to be walking in the same shoes as Peyton Manning, right?
A: There's no question about that. I understand people are frustrated. When I drive home on Sunday I'm as frustrated as can be. Number one, you have to put it behind you otherwise it eats you up and you're not able to function. Number two, you also have to be coldly realistic, starkly realistic about how you want to handle these kinds of situations. There's an old saying, 'Tough times don't last, tough people do.' You have to be tough-minded. You have to be thick-skinned. You have to work as hard as can be at being realistic about what your players can or cannot achieve. One thing everyone has to recognize in stark reality is nobody can operate the offense the way Peyton can. Mario Williams (of Houston) made an interesting point last week when he said they (the Texans defense) felt much more comfortable in doing their jobs because all of Peyton's machinations, gestures and calls kept them off balance. They did not know when to get in their stances. They didn't know what was changing and what was not changing. If they tried to block it out, they ended up not blocking it out. It became an issue for them. So they didn't play quite as recklessly against us. Peyton is like a race car driver whose been driving the same car for 14 years. He knows where everything is. He knows every little nuance. He knows what every squeak means. No one else can do that. You have to recognize that and say, 'This is going to be a different looking team.'
Q: Is there any reason why the team could move the ball at some points during the game (early and late), but not at other times?
A: It's a very good question by the way. I think that there are couple things. First of all, there are turning points in every ballgame and how you deal with those turning points determine the outcome of the game. The first one was the kickoff return. I believe we had gone up, and it may well have been on that series that we failed to make the third-and-one, but for the missed block we would've made it rather easily. It was a great play call. Then we kick the field goal and it's followed up a by a 45-yard kickoff return. That gives them a life and a short field and the ability to think that they are back in the game. The momentum swings to them and it pretty much was even then for the rest of the first half instead of being very much in our favor. We were winning the physical battle by a fairly good margin at that point and that kickoff return took it away. Kickoff returns have a way of doing that. They are turning points. Those are big, big, big plays, far greater in the significance of things than the yardage would indicate. That's especially true of (Browns returner Joshua) Cribbs because he's one of their bell cows. He's the guy they look to to get them back into games. That was a key turning point, and it was sort of even from there on out until the end of the half. Then in third quarter we had a series of five three-and-outs. We just went dry offensively, misfires, not getting a guy or two open. As I mentioned before, missing a 'hot' (route), sacks, things of that nature and our defense hung in pretty well. It's an even game. Then of course in the fourth quarter they get the punt return, which flips the field pretty good. I think they got a field goal out of that, if I'm not mistaken. There is the sack-fumble, which is a problem. Then the interception was not Kerry's (Collins) fault. The receiver fell down and it's just one of those things you have to throw the ball on time. I think they got a field goal out of that, so credit our defense for keeping them out of the end zone. The third and fourth quarter was very much in their favor. We came back at the end to go right down the field and then failed to execute the onside kick, which would have made it interesting at that point. But bottom line, you're right, there's ebbs and flows every game and how you handle them really makes a difference. If I could point to one turning point it would be the kickoff return.