Running Out of Scapegoats
It's highly unusual for a head coach to be given a new 4-year contract while simultaneously seeing the majority of his coaching staff jettisoned. Yet, that's exactly the situation Chuck Pagano faces this year as he deals with 11 new assistant coaches -- which is in addition to last year's midseason firing of OC Pep Hamilton.
- Offensive Coordinator -- OUT Pep Hamilton (fired during '15 season), IN Rob Chudzinski (from interim to full-time)
- Defensive Coordinator -- OUT Greg Manusky, IN Ted Monachino
- Offensive Line -- OUT Hal Hunter, IN Joe Philbin
- Quarterbacks -- OUT Clyde Christensen (not fired, he took the Dolphins OC job), IN Brian Schottenheimer
- Receivers -- OUT Jim Hostler (moved to TE), IN Lee Hull
- Tight Ends -- OUT Alfredo Roberts, IN Jim Hostler (from WR)
- Running Backs -- OUT Charlie Williams, IN Jemal Singleton
- Linebackers -- OUT Jeff Fitzgerald, IN Jim Herrmann
- Defensive Backs -- OUT Roy Anderson and Mike Gillhamer, IN Greg Williams
- Strength and Conditioning -- OUT Roger Marandino, IN Darren Krein
- Special Teams Analyst -- IN Quadrain Banks
- Assistant to the Head Coach -- IN Andrew Hayes-Stoker
The wholesale turnover speaks to the incredibly high expectations the Colts have placed upon themselves.
Did 8-8 Deserve a Wholesale Makeover?
The Colts finished 8-8, which is hardly the kind of record that usually coincides with such massive coaching turnover. But looking underneath the wins and losses portrayed a team in desperate need of improvement in most facets.
Colts Offense Under Pagano (RANKS)
|Year||Side||Pts||Yards||TO||PA Atts||Pa Yds||Pa TDs||INTs||YP/ATT||RuS Atts||RuS Yds||RuS TDs||YP/RuS||Scor%|
- The 2012 offense was run by Bruce Arians (who also served as head coach as Pagano dealt with health issues), and Pep Hamilton took over in 2013
- Hamilton had his critics, but the Colts passing offense peaked in 2014 (1st in yards, attempts and touchdowns) but it's worth noting that the running game took a step back. Overall, the offense improved markedly under Hamilton (from 18th in points under Arians to 6th in Hamilton's 2nd season)
- The wheels came off in 2015 which led to Hamilton's dismissal mid-season and the promotion of Rob Chudzinski
Colts Defense Under Pagano (RANKS)
|Year||Side||Pts||Yards||TO||PA ATTS||PA YDS||PA TDS||INTS||YP/ATT||RUS ATTS||RUS YDS||RUS TDS||YP/RUS||SCOR%|
- Greg Manusky ran the defense all four seasons, and the results were uninspired
- The team ranked in the bottom half of the league in points allowed and yards allowed in three of four seasons
- The team was in the bottom half in passing yards per attempt allowed in all four seasons
- The team ranked in the bottom third in rushing yards per attempt allowed in every season
The Andrew Luck Factor
Luck had a breakout season in 2014 (4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns) and most thought 2015 would be his ascent into the upper echelon of signal callers; possibly challenging for league MVP. Unfortunately, an early season shoulder injury robbed Luck of his usual effectiveness and then an abdomen injury cost him the final seven games. It's hard to evaluate a coaching staff in a year when their franchise player is part ineffective, part absent. The presumption is Luck will be healthy and back to form in 2016 -- which means Rob Chudzinski has a built in advantage on improving last year's totals.
Rob Chudzinski Offensive Rankings
Chudzinski wasn't able to install his offense last year after taking over for the Pep Hamilton; it would've been too difficult to expect the players to learn a classic Air Coryell playbook after playing for two seasons under Hamilton's West Coast offense. This offseason was an entirely different story -- and Chudzinski has installed his aggressive, vertical attacking style that most closely resembles Norv Turner's offensive scheme. Chudzinski wants to leverage Andrew Luck's monster arm and deep ball accuracy to go along with his cadre of athletic vertical threats (T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, Dwayne Allen) to keep opposing defenses on their heels. The team will also use play-action, lots of shotgun, and will allow Luck to make pre-snap adjustments regularly.
The System is FINE, but It's All About the Line and Luck's Health
We've already addressed Luck's injuries and the need for a return to form. Assuming that happens, ultimately Chudzinski's ability to execute his offense will revolve around whether they've done enough to fix the offensive line. Our offensive line analyst Matt Bitonti ranks the Colts 24th and sees little hope for improvement from last year's moribund unit.
- Preseason rank: 24th. Difference from the end of last season: -3.
- Run Blocking: C-. Pass Blocking: C. Total: C.
- Projected Starters: LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Hugh Thornton, C Ryan Kelly, RG Denzelle Good, RT Jack Mewhort.
- Key Backups: Joe Reitz, Joe Haig, Le’Raven Clark, Jonotthan Harrison, Austin Blythe.
The Colts made a splash in the first round when they drafted center Ryan Kelly from Alabama. Kelly rose throughout the draft process and the hope is that he can be a rock for Andrew Luck, the way that Jeff Saturday was a rock for Peyton Manning. The tackles are fairly strong, with left tackle Anthony Castonzo doing yeoman’s work every week and Jack Mewhort growing into an above average starter at right tackle. Hugh Thornton should be an acceptable left guard and the right guard competition is between Denzelle Good and Jonotthan Harrison. The coaches are big on Good, who was originally from tiny Mars Hill. Good made his way through the super-regional combines and got starting experience at right tackle late in the season due to injuries in front of him on the depth chart. Good held his own and should be able to keep Harrison on the bench. Joe Reitz has been one of the league’s better utility backups but is getting older. The team seems to want him in a backup role, but he could start at right guard as well. The team is attempting to reload with drafted rookies Joe Haig, Le’Raven Clark and Austin Blythe. Overall, the Colts’ offensive line is trending upward but still has serious work to do before it can be considered among the league’s better units.
Rob Chudzinski is a proven NFL play-caller but he's had an up-and-down career. For every Top 10 season, there have been twice as many unimpressive finishes. We can attribute those up-and-down finishes to the team's personnel. The good news is Indianapolis has a daunting set of offensive skill players presuming Luck is healthy. The bad news is the offensive line remains unproven and it's unclear that Chudzinski has ever gotten more out of his personnel than others could.
Monachino promises an attacking defense
What's the old adage, if it ain't broke, don't fix it? But what happens when it IS broke? The Colts defense needs a major overhaul, but schematically Chuck Pagano decided to hire someone that will keep the same base system in place. Ted Monachino has been the Ravens linebackers coach since 2010, and coached with and under Pagano in his first two seasons. Monachino is going to keep the same 3-4 structure and will use similar terminology to what Manusky used. The biggest differences -- at least according to Monachino -- are simplicity and aggressiveness.
- Monachino believed the Colts had too complex a system that left players unsure of their responsibilities from play to play. His system aims to simplify a player's role and to enable reactions versus decision-making
- His system brings pressure from all 11 positions and relies on the idea of making quarterbacks uncomfortable and forcing them into poor throws and/or turnovers
How will the team pressure the quarterback? Monachino offered this in a recent interview:
“From the defensive line standpoint, I think what you see are guys that can win in short space. We give them an opportunity to do that with some movement. We can expect some production out of that group. But I think across the league, you’ll see that most of the productive rushes come outside on those tackles. That’s where it happens, but the more push we can gain inside, the better Robert and Trent and Erik and Earl and those guys will look outside.”
“We love pressure, but pressure can come from a variety of different ways,” Monachino said. “We can come from three-man pressure. We can rush four and affect the quarterback by forcing him to hold the football and getting a guy home. We can bring additional rushers. We can bring additional rushers and drop guys who are typical rushers. But yes, I’m a pressure guy. There’s enough variety that you’re not going to know who it is and where it’s coming from.”
I'm inclined to believe Monachino is a smart hire for a team without a defensive identity. The Ravens defensive pedigree is hard to bet against and Monachino understands how to get the most out of 3-4 personnel. Whether Monachino's savvy materializes in the box score remains a question; he's gated by the Colts personnel. The projected starting outside linebackers are on the wrong side of 30, and the defensive interior lacks disruptors. At cornerback, Monachino is going to expect Vontae Davis and free agent Patrick Robinson to handle man-to-man so he can bring pressure.