AFC South: John Elway

RTC: Rayford making his case

August, 26, 2013
Here’s today’s edition of Reading the Coverage:

The Indianapolis Star has an item on linebacker Caesar Rayford making another case to make the final 53-man roster after he picked up a team-high fifth sack in Saturday’s win over the Cleveland Browns.

Rayford will have another shot to lock up a spot on the roster when he’ll likely get extensive playing time in the preseason finale at Cincinnati on Thursday.

The Associated Press has a story on former Colts QB Peyton Manning making another commercial. This one is quiet compared to the catchy cell phone commercial the future Hall of Famer made with his brother Eli. Peyton teams with John Elway, John Lynch and Chauncey Billups to promote the 2014 BMW Championship golf tournament in Denver.

The Terre Haute Tribune has a story on the harsh reality of roster cuts. The Colts have to cut three more players by 4 p.m. ET Tuesday and get down to 53 players by 6 p.m. ET Saturday.

RTC: Elway was nearly an Oiler

April, 24, 2013
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

General manager Rick Smith is ready to make the big decisions that are central to the Texans’ team-building, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

The John Elway-Dan Marino "30 for 30" special prompted McClain to retell the story of how the Houston Oilers missed out on drafting Elway only because of one blown call.

To which I say: I once did the story for The Tennessean, and it featured a big picture of Elway in an Oilers blue uniform.

Like most teams at this stage, the Texans say they are willing to trade out of their first-round pick, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.

A surprise first-round pick projection from Battle Red Blog.

Indianapolis Colts

Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay wrestled a bit over their grading of Andrew Luck a year ago, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

Tight end Dwayne Allen remembers the draft bitterly, as his fall into the third round made him miserable, says Mike Chappell.

To which I say: I like that Allen settled down after a night's sleep and called back position coach Alfredo Roberts to apologize for his tone in their initial conversation.

Breaking down some first-round cornerback possibilities with Marcus Dugan of Colts Authority.

A case for the Colts trading out of the 24th pick from Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Owner Shad Khan knows the Jaguars' plan with the No. 2 pick and approves of it, says Vito Stellino.

Khan sees something magical about Nike and loves the new uniform the company designed including a two-toned helmet, says Ryan O’Halloran.

To which I say: The two-toned helmet is already creating a lot of conversation, and conversation is healthy for the Jaguars.

Some second-round possibilities for he Jaguars at 33 or with a trade down, from O’Halloran.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans are looking to add a press, man-to-man cornerback in the draft, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Could the Titans draft an offensive tackle? Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean considers the idea.

To which I say: I expect bounce-back seasons from Michael Roos and David Stewart, and don't think the position should be much of a priority right now.

How guys who have visited the Titans could fit the slate of picks, from Tom Gower of Total Titans.

On Adams, Reinfeldt and Manning

January, 1, 2013
Bud Adams' circular logic and irrationality apparently cost Mike Reinfeldt his job.

Adams fired Reinfeldt, executive vice president and COO of the Titans, with two years left on his deal.

[+] EnlargeBud Adams
Wade Payne/AP PhotoTennessee Titans owner Bud Adams deserves some of the blame for his team's performance.
Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean spoke with Adams to learn of the move. Wyatt thinks the team’s failed pursuit of Peyton Manning was a primary reason Reinfelt was dismissed. Adams felt Reinfeldt dragged his feet in getting the Titans chase of the star quarterback underway.

Perhaps that was the case. I certainly believe the Titans front office and coaching staff were reluctant to follow their boss’ directive.

On Sunday and Monday, coach Mike Munchak even took a shot at Adams' infatuation with Manning, saying the team didn’t do well in free agency last year because much of the class disappeared while the plan was set aside for focus on Manning.

Two things about the Titans worked against Tennessee as a suitor for Manning. One, Reinfeldt and general manager Ruston Webster are not John Elway. The Titans front office doesn't include a Hall of Fame quarterback who won two Super Bowls and knows how to get the most out of his final years. It’s hard to blame Reinfeldt for that.

Two, while Manning liked Munchak a bunch, I’ve heard he was not wild about his offensive coordinator, Chris Palmer.

Palmer worked as quarterback coach for the New York Giants for a time, so Peyton Manning certainly got some insight from his brother, Eli Manning. Manning surely had a chance to hear a sales pitch from Palmer about how the Titans would craft an offense for him. Perhaps he didn't like it or perhaps the two didn't hit it off. Perhaps Palmer just didn't do as well as Denver coordinator Mike McCoy.

Whatever the case, the primary reason Palmer was in place for Manning not to love was… wait for it … Adams.

Adams failed to resolve his head coaching situation in a timely manner after the 2010 season. In deciding to stick with Jeff Fisher before later coming to a mutual decision that the team and Fisher needed to part ways, he cost his next coach the time to assemble the best possible staff.

Munchak wasn’t able to compete for the best coordinators who were available, because they’d already found landing spots. And so he went back to an old friend. Palmer had coached for the Oilers in Houston. Later, when he was coach of the Browns, Palmer tried to lure Munchak to Cleveland to coach his offensive line. Palmer parted ways with the Giants when they wouldn’t give him an out in his contract allowing him to leave for a coordinator post. Palmer was working in the UFL when Munchak came calling.

So, one of the reasons the Titans didn’t get Manning was Palmer. And one of the reasons the Titans had Palmer -- fired with five games left this season -- was Adams.

Adams parted ways with Reinfeldt on Monday.

If a strikeout on Manning was the primary reason, once again Adams has failed to put the appropriate share of the blame on the right person: himself.
John Schneider and John Elway USA TODAY SportsShrewd moves by John Schneider (Seattle), left, and John Elway (Denver) produced playoff teams.
The Colts have legitimate candidates for two of the big awards handed out by the Associated Press: Chuck Pagano/Bruce Arians for coach of the year and Andrew Luck for offensive rookie of the year.

AP doesn’t name an executive of the year. The Sporting News does, and that’s regarded as the primary award in that category. The Colts have a strong candidate there, too, in general manager Ryan Grigson.

Indianapolis is having a wonderful and surprising season. But there are other teams doing good things, too.

At the end of the year, my view tends to broaden.

During the regular season, I focused primarily on the AFC South, of course. But now two teams will see their seasons end. I don’t have an AP vote, but I still feel compelled to present the cases for guys in my division who should be considered. I’ve written about Pagano/Arians and about Luck.

Now it’s time to ponder Grigson.

In all, 37 of the Colts’ 53 players were not on the team he inherited. Drafting Luck wasn’t a tough move. But he hit home runs, too, with third-rounders Dwayne Allen and T.Y. Hilton, a tight end and receiver, respectively. Fifth-round running back Vick Ballard is a solid contributor. Grigson found inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman in Canada. As he jettisoned numerous veterans to reboot the franchise, he re-signed Reggie Wayne, who’s been fantastic, and Robert Mathis, who’s going to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl. He got production out of reclamation project Donnie Avery, a receiver who was an absolute zero a year ago for division rival Tennessee.

It’s a very good résumé.

I surveyed the other seven NFL bloggers at ESPN as well as Bill Polian, Trent Dilfer, Eric Mangini, Jon Gruden, Mike Tirico, Herm Edwards, Trey Wingo, Suzy Kolber, Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter, John Clayton, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Barnwell, Matt Williamson and Mike Reiss.

Mangini, Wingo, Paolantonio and Schefter were big backers of Grigson.

“He totally overhauled that team in the most difficult of circumstances,” Wingo said. “Cut the right players, kept the right players. And look at all the rookies with major contributions.”

"Thirty-seven new players, a rookie QB and interim head coach," Mangini said. "I would go with Grigson."

But Grigson finishes a distant third in our poll, with Seattle’s John Schneider edging Denver’s John Elway for the award.

Schneider had a great draft. His first-round pick was widely panned, but Bruce Irvin has eight sacks. Second-rounder Bobby Wagner is a legit candidate for defensive rookie of the year as the every-down middle linebacker for the top defense. Third-rounder Russell Wilson has been a revelation and could upset Luck and Robert Griffin III for offensive rookie of the year. The rest of the draft is filled with contributors.

Schneider has made unconventional and even unpopular moves throughout his three-year tenure.

“He has repeatedly made fools of draft-day critics, however, and that is happening in a big way this year,” NFC West blogger Mike Sando wrote in his division wrap-up.

Elway found a graceful way to part with the immensely popular Tim Tebow while luring Peyton Manning to Denver.

Wrote Clayton recently: “Elway made the single biggest acquisition of the year. The fact that it has worked means he deserves the award.”

No offense to Clayton, but that’s way too simple a formula for me.

Says AFC West blogger Bill Williamson: “Elway, in his second season in his role, has been more than just a beneficiary of Manning’s decision. Nearly every move Elway has made has worked. In two years, Elway has taken the No. 32 defense and added the pieces to make it the No. 3 defense. This team was a mess when the Duke took over. Now, it may be weeks away from Elway’s sixth Super Bowl appearance in Denver.”

I’d put Elway third. Schneider and Grigson each did a lot more from my vantage point.

I’ve had a close view of the Colts' transformation from a 2-14 disaster to a 10-5 team heading to the playoffs.

As I broadened that view, however, I leaned on something Sando said as we discussed this: Take away the obvious moves, the moves your mom would know to make -- signing Manning, drafting Luck -- and find out who’s the choice.

I voted Schneider, and so did seven others, enough for him to edge Elway.

The total in straight name-your-guy balloting:

  • Schneider: 8
  • Elway: 7
  • Grigson: 4
  • Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta: 2
  • Trent Baalke, San Francisco: 1
  • Bruce Allen, Washingon: 1

It’s been a great deal of fun the last couple days rounding up votes. As I came to my deadline, I felt like an election official waiting on results to come in from the final precincts.

Since we’re AFC South HQ, I’ll leave Wingo with the final word. I told him he was part of non-winning support for Grigson, who was behind Elway and Schneider.

“I get both of those, truly I do,” Wingo said. “But can anyone honestly say they did more with less? Elway was really about one move, a pivotal move for sure, but how hard is it to go after arguably the greatest regular-season QB the league has ever seen?

“Grigson had to be the guy to get rid of him, replace him with the right choice, and gut the roster. His decisions to me by far are the most significant.”
Gary KubiakGeorge Bridges/Getty ImagesGary Kubiak should be counted among the brightest offensive minds in the league.
HOUSTON -- John Elway saw the wheels turning.

He watched the way his backup and road roommate Gary Kubiak functioned, and knew his playing career was only the start of something.

“He was a student of the game while he was playing,” Elway said. “Gary had visions of what he wanted to do when he was done playing and took advantage of that while he was playing, and I think with the background that he’s built up and the success that he’s had in the game, I’m not sure there is a better offensive mind in the game.”

Of course, Elway is going to say good things about a close friend. But the Hall of Fame quarterback isn’t going to toss around such high praise lightly, either.

Search the league for offensive innovators and you might find Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy; Jim Harbaugh and his coordinator Greg Roman in San Francisco; Washington’s Mike Shanahan; Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg in Philadelphia; San Diego's Norv Turner; Detroit coordinator Scott Linehan; New Orleans’ Sean Payton and his coordinator Pete Carmichael; Carolina coordinator Rob Chudzinski; Cincinnati coordinator Jay Gruden; and even Buffalo’s Chan Gailey.

[+] EnlargeMatt Schaub
Margaret Bowles/AP PhotoGary Kubiak and Matt Schaub have developed a close relationship after six seasons together.
My sense is Kubiak isn’t on most lists. My sense is he should be.

While I visited the Houston Texans' training camp recently, I spoke to the three most important offensive players about their head coach. QB Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster and WR Andre Johnson all spoke of how the Houston system is tailored and revised to help them thrive.

Schaub: “He just has such a great feel for what a defense is doing and how we can counteract it. It’s one thing to recognize it. But to be able to attack it the next play or the next series, not wait. We do so much with formations and motions from week to week that is a great help for attacking defenses, and he has a great feel for how to do that but still keep our concepts the same. It’s nothing new for us; we just have to learn where our spots are and then run our plays.”

Foster: “I think he’s a guru. As his career progresses he’ll get a lot more notoriety for what he’s able to do in this league and what he’s able to see out there. I just think his offensive mind is up there with the best of them. He’s one of the best chess players I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how much that means with me saying it. I’m not saying that just because he’s my head coach. I like to take my emotions out of any opinion that I have. And I feel like he’s one of the best out there offensively.”

Johnson: “He’s great at what he does. He does a good job of game-planning against things they see on film, finding little mismatches here and there. For me, he’s helped my career out a lot. Just moving me around. Before he got here, I just pretty much stayed in one place; I was the split end, the X receiver. When he got here, they just started moving me around a lot trying to find ways to get me the ball.”

The thing that strikes me most about Kubiak’s play calling is his ability to find the right moments for deep shots. The Texans will run inside. But their bread-and-butter is the zone stretch play, where Foster tests a defense going wide as the line moves laterally. He then potentially finds a cutback lane.

As defenders get used to flowing to the ball carrier and start to get a feel for getting off those blocks, Schaub will run play-action and fake the handoff to Foster. And while the defense starts to flow to the ball carrier again, the quarterback will have rolled the other way, reset with pass-rushers chasing him from a distance, and have time to loft a pass to a receiver who’s broken open.

With 22 players on the field, the Texans will have reduced the play to Schaub’s throw beating the first rusher to chase him down and Johnson or another receiver likely taking on just one defensive back.

It can be beautiful.

Houston veteran center Chris Myers said Kubiak’s chess game “is pretty magnificent to watch.”

It’s a great system for Schaub, who’s back from a serious foot injury. He’s developed a very close relationship with Kubiak and this will be their sixth year together. Not the most mobile quarterback, Schaub is completely comfortable running the bootlegs and rollouts that are so vital to what the Texans do.

“As a quarterback, you love it because of the diversity of it,” Elway said. “The defense really can’t sit and tee off on anything. With the zone concept that they developed with Mike [Shanahan] while they were here in Denver, and now in Houston, I think it really puts a lot of pressure on the defense. …

“And very rarely do you see any negative yardage plays in the running game. Very rarely do you see a second-and-12. When you’re trying to run the football on first down, there is always positive yardage with it.”

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Don McPeak/US Presswire"I just think his offensive mind is up there with the best of them," Arian Foster said of his coach.
Houston averaged a league-best 6.57 yards on first down last year. Second-and-3.43 is a dream down for anyone on any offense in any football league.

So what’s the downside to Houston’s offense? I admit it’s hard to find something negative while working on a piece like this and to find someone, even with no name attached, to pick apart a guy like Kubiak.'s Matt Williamson said he likes Kubiak more as offensive coordinator than head coach. Asked what he did not like about Kubiak’s offense, Williamson offered this:

“Well, generally, the offensive line is undersized and relies on quickness and leverage. That can be a problem when trying to grind out the tough yards or simply trying to outmuscle the opponent. I also think it is telling that Kubiak really only features one wide receiver -- and everyone knows it. They have not put a premium on finding a wide receiver opposite Johnson because that isn’t a featured player in their offense.”

Kubiak’s work last year got him an extension that runs through 2014.

He could have gotten a longer deal, but he lined up with his assistants and joked with owner Bob McNair about how much more he will be worth the next time he’s talking contract.

As an offense-minded coach, he’s pretty much given coordinator Wade Phillips complete control of the Texans' defense, a unit that made a huge leap last season.

That doesn’t suggest, however, that Kubiak doesn’t have a good feel for the other side of the ball.

“You have to understand what defenses are doing, and once you do you’re able to attack them, and he has a great feel for that,” Elway said. “That to me is what separates good head coaches and good offensive coordinators from great ones -- the fact that they have a knack for the right call at the right time, that they are aggressive at the right time, they know on third-and-1 when to throw and when to run.

“It’s an innate knack that separates the good ones from the great ones. And Gary has that.”
I had the opportunity to speak briefly to John Elway today for a few minutes for a column coming later this week.

Since Elway went to Stanford and Andrew Luck was rated by many as the most pro-ready quarterback to come into the league since Elway, I would have committed professional malpractice if I didn’t sneak in a question on Andrew Luck’s solid play through his first two preseason games.

“I thought he was tremendous coming out of Stanford and obviously he’s carried that over into the preseason with these first two starts,” Elway said. “He’s a very mature kid that’s been in a pro style offense under (John) Harbaugh and (David) Shaw and that’s been preparing him for this for awhile.

“Now I will say this: There is always a big jump from the preseason to the regular season. But I think you’re going to see Andrew Luck have a tremendous career.”
Adam Schefter reports that before the Broncos finalized the trade of Tim Tebow to the Jets, they allowed Tebow to share his preference between the Jets and Jaguars.

If it had gone another way, I’d have a different stance.

But that Tebow picked the Jets did the Jaguars a great, two-part service.
1) They aren’t saddled with a guy at least a share of the organization does not believe can play.

2) They’ll always be able to say they wanted him and he picked someone else.

The Jets now employ a huge proponent of Wildcat formations in offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, and the Jets surely will use Tebow in such situations from game to game depending on the defenses New York sees and the success its base offense has.

The Jaguars won’t be forced to employ such things, which are not the favored approach of general manager Gene Smith or coach Mike Mularkey and his staff. (I applaud those who frown upon gimmicks. It's just a default setting I have.)

Look, Blaine Gabbert was terrible as a rookie. But one season is far too soon to label a quarterback with his arm a complete bust. The Jaguars think the new coaching staff will improve his play a great deal.

If that happens, they will look smart. If that doesn’t happen, well, they’ll be in a tough spot. That spot could have been even tougher had Tebow been in the mix with an organization that didn't fully believe in him.

Tebow was Josh McDaniels’ guy, which is why he was a first-round pick in Denver. Tebow wasn’t John Elway's guy or John Fox’s guy, which is why the Broncos dealt him at the first opportunity.

Tebow was not Gene Smith's guy or Mike Mularkey’s guy.

Which is surely a big reason why, if he had a say, he chose to go be Rex Ryan’s guy and Sparano’s guy.
At least as Peyton Manning shopped around, he was pretty much invisible.

Today, Indianapolis Colts fans had to see him hold up an orange jersey with his name and the No. 18 on it, then stand in front of a blue banner decorated with Denver Broncos and Sports Authority logos while talking about a comfort level and gut feeling that steered him to his new team.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Ron Chenoy/US PresswirePeyton Manning, who signed a five-year deal Tuesday, says Denver is the best fit for him.

For Tennessee Titans fans still reeling from Manning picking the Broncos instead, don’t read between the lines. He praised Denver for being committed to winning. He can compliment his new team without it being an insult to the runners-up, the Titans and 49ers.

He did not say those franchises are not committed to winning.

“In the end I felt the Broncos were just a great fit,” he said. “... I’ve always believed it’s up to me and the people around me to make this the right decision. You know, it’ll be speculated on and debated for months to come whether it was the right decision or not. I’m going to go out and try to make it the right decision.”

Make that years to come.

A couple other things of note from our perspective at AFC South headquarters:

On standing in front of a logo that’s not a horseshoe: “It’s certainly very different,” he said. “There is no question about it. This will take some time for me to get comfortable with. This is all new to me. You’re talking about a guy that was one team for 14 years. ...

“The Indianapolis Colts are the only team that I’ve ever known. I told John [Elway] and coach [John] Fox that I am going to need their help to help me sort of get through this transition. ...

“I think the sooner that I get started going to work, going to life weights, getting into my new locker, putting on some Denver Broncos gear, getting going, that’s all going to make this process easier for me.”

On the timing: Manning was apologetic for having any negative impact on things with the two teams he didn’t select.

“The process, it took some time,” he said. “It’s the only way I knew to do it. I hated that it took time, that other teams maybe got put in tough positions. I hate that about it. But it’s the only way I knew to do the process, to find out what makes the most sense. I’m glad all that part’s over with. I can get down to football now. ...”

“I’m sorry that it took long. I didn’t know what the baseline was. The baseline for me was to feel good about a decision and then go out and make it the right decision.”

On his powers: He’ll offer opinions when asked. But he stressed he’s not in Denver to coordinate the offense or make personnel decisions.

Yes, he’ll be influential. But being a franchise quarterback is a full-time job. It’s silly, really, that so many people need to be reminded.

Center Jeff Saturday has a visit scheduled with the Broncos. Speculation is rampant that tight end Dallas Clark, tight end Jacob Tamme, running back Joseph Addai and/or former offensive coordinator Tom Moore in some role could follow Manning to Denver.

“There is never a teammate that I’ve had that I didn’t want to play with for the rest of my life, I’ve always said that,” Manning said. “Guys who played in Indianapolis, it was hard to see them retire or move on. ...I know there are some players out there that the Broncos are looking at.

“When asked about those players I told them exactly how I felt about the great teammates that I’ve had. But once again when it comes to personnel, that’s just not my department. They’re going to do whatever it takes to get the best players here to help us win games and that’s all I want.”

On his sales pitch: He didn’t put on a hard sell to the three teams he wound up choosing from.

He offered up his medical records since 1998 and he threw about 60 balls for teams, asking them if they needed to see anything else.

He said he told teams what still felt awkward or shaky. And after providing all that info, he asked them if they still were interested. He said he was pleased and encouraged that they were.
Reading the coverage …

Houston Texans

The Houston Texans are more likely to win the Super Bowl than the Broncos with Peyton Manning says Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle.

The Texans will face the Manning-led Broncos in 2012 in Denver, says John McClain.

Indianapolis Colts

Manning’s choice of the Broncos is a perfect one for making a Super Bowl run, says Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, who covered the John Elway Broncos once upon a time. “I'm happy for him. Thrilled. Overjoyed that Manning, who you hope has something left after all those neck procedures, will get a chance to win some more Super Bowls before his Pro Football Hall of Fame career ends. This is the perfect fit."

The Colts won’t have a chance to play Manning this season, says Phil Richards of the Star.

The Star collected reaction to the Manning move.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars aren’t commenting or offering indications about their interest or lack of it in Tim Tebow. “Their front office did not have interest in Tebow then, and indications are that they still do not have interest in him. So far, Jaguars owner Shahid Khan has taken a hands-off approach with the team’s football operations,” writes Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union.

Don’t add Tebow just to sell tickets, advised Gene Frenette. That would be a foolish move, I agree.

Tennessee Titans

I absolutely was going to pay him,” Bud Adams told Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. “And I was going to pay him to be with us until he was ready to be buried. And I was going to take care of him. I was going to spend a lot of money on him. But he didn’t want that. He wanted to be somewhere else, and I can’t do anything about that.”

”As disappointing as the news may be, at least this franchise finally sat down at the adult table and tried to pull off a major deal,” writes David Climer of The Tennessean. “For all the people that have criticized Bud Adams over the years for being cheap or out of touch, give it a rest. He’s the one that insisted the Titans enter the Manning sweepstakes. For all we know, they were a close second.”

The team has visits scheduled with center Jeff Saturday, tight end Joel Dreessen, and cornerbacks Tracy Porter and William Gay, says Wyatt.

Manning is no longer a great deep-ball thrower, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.
What kind of scheme will fit Peyton Manning best?

One that’s a lot like what he ran while he was with Indianapolis.

We can do a lot of speculating about what’s most important to Manning going forward. My belief is a guy who is a creature of habit and loves routine and repetition will be most inclined to go somewhere where he gains a good measure of control. Where the coach and offensive coordinator will be willing to bend things to him. Where he can continue to do the things he's been honing for years.

That’s why I don’t see Washington as a good fit at all.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Jerry Lai/US PresswirePeyton Manning would likely do best in an offense that's similar to the one he ran in Indianapolis.
Mike Shanahan is a control freak and his son and offensive coordinator, Kyle, is a chip off the old block. Toss Manning into that mix and there isn’t enough control to go around.

Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona has shown a willingness to fit a scheme to a signal-caller. Joe Philbin in Miami is just starting out and would surely be willing to tilt things. Pete Carroll in Seattle seems to be a flexible guy when dealing with big personalities and stars. Romeo Crennel in Kansas City is a defensive guy.

John Fox is intense, but he and John Elway wouldn’t jump in unless they would mold things for Manning. And we certainly know they are willing to move away from the offense Tim Tebow was running.

“In the end, the chances are that whichever team Manning lands with will incorporate its present offensive system intertwined with what Manning did with the Colts,” writes Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc Insider. “Manning's offense in Indy included a zone run-blocking scheme that featured athletic, movement-based linemen, limited personnel groupings and formations, a ton of pre-snap reads, and a timing-based passing attack that thrived after hours and hours of practice time.”

I can’t give away the store of the Insider piece, so I won’t share the order Williamson lists the matches in. We’ll go alphabetical as we share some snippets. As a bonus, my blog network brethren have chimed in with a flexibility rating for the coach/staff/scheme. A "10" means the team would hand over the keys to Manning and a "1" means he’d be expected to run precisely what the coaching staff wanted.


Williamson: “This is the offense I would expect to change the most for Manning. Ken Whisenhunt is a very good offensive mind, but his philosophies have changed dramatically in his tenure as head coach, depending on the quarterback he's had at his disposal.”

Flexibility index from Mike Sando: 7


Not on Williamson’s list.

Flexibility index from Bill Williamson: 10

Kansas City

Williamson: “Adding Manning should make the team the clear favorite to win the AFC West, if not more. But, without a quarterback of the future on the roster, if Kansas City swings and misses on this acquisition, it could cost it dearly. Cassel is mediocre, and probably always will be, which could make the Chiefs too complacent in terms of finding a replacement or successor. It's time for them to be aggressive.”

Flexibility index from Bill Williamson: 10


Williamson: "With Joe Philbin taking over in Miami, the team will be installing an offense very similar to the one in Green Bay, which would fit Manning with all the pre-snap reads it requires. Also, limiting some of the injury risk of signing Manning and putting all the eggs in that basket is that Miami has Matt Moore returning. Although Moore is far from elite, you could do much worse as backups go."

Flexibility index from James Walker: 7

New York Jets

Williamson: "I don't think Manning would put New York over the top because it has problems at right tackle, No. 2 wide receiver and possibly at running back on offense. On defense, the Jets have a hole at safety, at outside pass-rusher and with an inside linebacker who excels in coverage."

Flexibility index from Walker: 10

San Francisco

Williamson: “Manning wouldn't have to put the entire team on his shoulders in San Francisco. The wide receiver position certainly needs upgrading, but Manning could have a reduced role from his time in Indianapolis -- which might be best for him now -- and consistently get his team into strong play choices at the line of scrimmage.”

Flexibility index from Sando: 3.5


Williamson: "With a power ground game, an improving offensive line and some young receiving weapons to work with, Manning might be able to accomplish quite a bit with this offense. If Seattle signs Manning, it definitely could make a run."

Flexibility index from Sando: 8


Williamson: I also have some concerns about how well Mike Shanahan would be able to -- and how willing he would be to -- alter his offense, which stresses a move-oriented quarterback, to fit Manning's cerebral skill set.

Flexibility index from Dan Graziano: 3
Andrew LuckAP Photo/Michael ConroyAndrew Luck said he would be happy holding a clipboard and being Peyton Manning's apprentice.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The two quarterbacks who will presumably be the top two picks in the NFL draft spoke to a good share of 750 credentialed reporters at the combine Friday afternoon.

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III didn’t take a drop, make a read or throw a pass. Nothing that transpired had anything to do with football.

Yet fandom's need for information and evaluation will dictate a comparison, and here’s what will fuel it: Griffin was off the cuff, glib and quippy; Luck was boilerplate, personable for sure, but not as entertaining.

And so, the buzz from the scouting community that had long held that Griffin is a very good NFL prospect but Luck is a great one will now be tempered. Media will be influenced by what it just saw and heard and the gap between the two will close through no football function at all.

Think I overstate? A year ago we raced back to our laptops to write about how Ryan Mallett was defiant and how Cam Newton needed a scripted opening statement, unimpressed with either. And at least for a time the national stories on each influenced the national perception -- unfairly and, to be honest, inaccurately.

Brace for the 2012 version of that, starting right now. Measure it. And know that scouts are largely scoffing when they see it.

A few more thoughts out of Luck’s media session:

• At one end of the media room, a club level concourse at Lucas Oil Stadium, the pillars are decorated with pictures of Peyton Manning. It’s made for great art -- Manning looming over John Elway or Colts general manager Ryan Grigson. But Luck didn’t speak from the shadow of the legendary quarterback he may replace. He was at the other end of the room -- where photos of Gary Brackett and Marvin Harrison are part of the backdrop.

• Luck spoke fondly of Manning as he answered a question about the potential for replacing him: “Peyton was my hero growing up, he was my football hero. Who I modeled myself after in high school and middle school. You never truly replace a guy like that and who knows what happens? Who knows what happens? So many different things can happen. I’m not thinking about it.”

• The questions about Manning are inevitable, he said. “I understand the questions have to be asked, it’s part of it. I understand the speculation. In my mind too, nothing’s happened yet. I haven’t been drafted by any team and what Peyton has is still going on with the Colts. It’s not uncomfortable, I understand the questions have to be asked."

• Luck knows Manning some. He’s been to the family’s passing camp the past two summers. He sought out Manning when he was deciding to return to Stanford for his senior year. He got a few texts from Manning during the season. Griffin had said he’d be happy to hold a clipboard as Manning’s apprentice and Luck echoed the sentiment.

• He praised Griffin as “a great quarterback, a great competitor, real easy to get along with” but said he wasn’t motivated to compete against him for the No. 1 draft position. “I think everybody wants to be No. 1 but not at the expense of another person, if that makes sense,” he said.

• While he’s heard some call him a once-in-a-generation quarterback, Luck said things can change and he needs to pay no attention to such talk: “The game can change so quick and you can get caught behind whatever that is.”

• His current efforts are focused on quickening everything up, making “rhythmic, perfect drops every time” and playing super clean.

• Elway visits Stanford roughly twice a year and Luck has visited with him on those occasions. The biggest lesson he took away was what Elway told him about the Broncos' Super Bowl failures early in his career: “They were thinking too big picture. So it was always, ‘focus on that next play. What are you going to do the first play of the game?’”

• Luck's aware of the success his college coach, Jim Harbaugh, had as quarterback of the Colts -- mentioning Harbaugh’s “Captain Comeback” nickname and acknowledging Harbaugh’s spot in the Colts’ ring of honor.

• His meetings Thursday night included a stop with the Colts. He spoke with Clyde Christensen, the team’s receivers coach who was offensive coordinator under the previous regime.

• He’s still got two classes to take to earn his degree from Stanford. He’ll return starting April 1 and graduate in June.

• The quarterback will not throw here, but said no outside force influenced that decision. It has been reported his camp asked the Colts and suggested he not throw. He will do everything else while he’s in Indy.
Andrew IllustrationThe Colts need to rebuild their franchise around Andrew Luck and say goodbye to Peyton Manning.
The disarray that comes with the sort of season the Indianapolis Colts are having is usually destructive.

But the timing of the 0-12 Colts, who could easily go winless, is excellent.

They have a two-game advantage with four games to play in what might be the second-best prize to the Lombardi Trophy this season: the No. 1 pick in the April draft and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

In this Ultimate Scouting report, ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay compared pre-draft evaluations of Peyton Manning, John Elway and Matt Ryan with current evaluations of Luck.

We know it’s an imperfect science. But the 2011 Luck outscored 1998 Manning in five categories: arm strength, measurables, mobility, production and toughness. They tied in the other five: short accuracy, deep accuracy, release, pocket presence and intelligence.

From the start, I’ve said the Colts have to take Luck if they can. He’s a guy forecasted to have a career that could be comparable to Manning’s, and he’s 13 years younger and 14 NFL seasons healthier.

Luck’s career stacked on top of Manning’s could conceivably give the franchise 28 years or more of no real concerns at quarterback. I can only imagine what that sounds like to fans in Cleveland, Washington or Miami, where a fruitless search for just one quarterback who can play well for a couple of consecutive years goes on and on and on.

Still, I waver on what the Colts should do when the time to make a Manning decision arrives. It's a frustrating topic for someone with typically strong opinions. I've read and agreed with great stances on both sides.

Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star: “It makes no sense, none, to mortgage the team's long-term future and retard Andrew Luck's progress while gambling on Manning's health and longevity.”


Peter Keating, ESPN Insider: “The true once-in-a-generation opportunity they're facing is the chance to rebuild a great team overnight, not to draft Luck.”


Bill Polian is now the Colts’ vice chairman, and his son, Chris, is the team’s general manager. I’m presuming they survive this embarrassing year and are in line to make the decisions going forward.

As Bill recedes and Chris takes on more responsibility, Bill has talked of a renewed focus on his draft. His career has been built largely around teams with Hall of Fame quarterbacks: Jim Kelly in Buffalo and Manning in Indianapolis.

So my strong feeling is he’ll grab Luck. And, spoken or unspoken, I think he’d pass this message to Chris:
I built a legacy with a couple of fantastic quarterbacks, the hardest thing to find in professional football, perhaps in professional sports. Here’s yours. On this rock, you’ll build your team. (Don’t blow it.) Love, Dad.
[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesTrying to keep a core of veterans around Peyton Manning would be detrimental to Andrew Luck's long-term growth.

So then, the question is not about Luck. It’s about Manning.

He’s coming off major neck surgery. He will have to show he’s recovered by early March for the Colts to consider paying him the $28 million bonus he’s due. He could push back the deadline.

All season, I’ve been inclined to think it’d be fine, even healthy, for the Colts to have a recovered Manning and a rookie Luck on the 2012 roster. Let Luck be an understudy under a great for a year, then sort things out.

But my thinking has changed. Having both is probably the worst of all the options, as Kravitz of the Star and Nate Dunlevy of have both written.

My feeling right now -- and I reserve the right to change it over the next three or four months -- aligns with that of Kravitz. He thinks the Colts have to look to the future and wonders why Manning would even want to come back, given the circumstances.

While the two quarterbacks could coexist for a season, even as Archie Manning says Luck is too good to sit, the financial implications of trading or cutting Manning in 2013 would be drastic and handcuff the team in a way it can’t willingly agree to.

The Colts have to decide whether they want to reload and try to win with Manning now, or start a rebuild that would surround Luck with lasting talent. They can’t go forward with both strategies without compromising one or the other.

Drafting Luck means your single best chance to help Manning win will be spent on a player who won’t help Manning win.

Keeping Manning means making patchwork moves intended to maintain the best, aging pieces of the current core -- a group that will be petering out or gone by 2014 or 2015, when Luck will likely be blossoming.

So …

The Colts can commission a statue of Manning outside Lucas Oil Stadium, a football palace unlikely to have been built without him.

They’ll surely struggle with the sentimentality involved in parting ways with such an iconic figure and they will face some gigantic fan backlash. But they’ll be best off if they massage the situation and tell him they’d like to help him land in a situation of his choosing to play out his career. Maybe he beats them to it and tells Bill Polian the day after the season ends that’s his wish.

Manning could return to Indianapolis wearing the helmet of the Broncos or Dolphins or Jets and it would sting, for sure. But it would hurt too, and last longer, if Luck went to the playoffs on a regular basis as a member of Browns or some other team he could lift to long-term prominence.

It’s an incredibly complicated, uncomfortable and delicate situation.

Polian and Manning are the two men most responsible for the Colts’ run of success: nine consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins and a playoff berth, three AFC championship games, two AFC titles and the Super Bowl XLIV crown.

The end of such a successful relationship is not often tidy.

It’s rarely Elway walking away after raising a second consecutive Lombardi trophy.

It’s rarely someone like Luck arriving, ready to grab the torch, either.
The Miami Dolphins found their surprise win on Sunday, knocking off the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty ImagesThe Colts will have a tough decision to make if they're in position to draft Andrew Luck in April.
The Indianapolis Colts had no such breakthrough at home against the Atlanta Falcons, falling to 0-9.

Those results mean the Colts stand alone as the worst team in the NFL, and would hold the No. 1 pick in the draft if things remain aligned this way.

The No. 1 pick will be Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, rated by a lot of folks in the player rating business as the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning in 1998 or John Elway in 1983.

We’re only halfway home, and although the Colts are terrible, there are big surprises every week in the NFL. I think it’s as difficult to go 0-16 as it is to go 16-0. The Colts' next opponent, Jacksonville, is 2-6. Although the Jaguars' defense can be very good, its offense is quite poor. Division games can be toss-ups.

But with the snowball rolling downhill so fast, it’s hard not to think about what the Colts should do if they wind up with the first pick and a healthy Manning.

Thus the attached poll.

We’ll presume Manning recovers from his neck surgery and is ready to play in 2012. They can go three directions:

  1. Draft Luck, keep Manning and deal with having a top-quarterback prospect pinned on the bench behind an all-time great.
  2. Draft Luck, and move on from Manning, trading the quarterback and his large contract.
  3. Trade the pick, or Luck, for as much as can be had, then attempt to stock the roster with talent for the next three years, going for it all aggressively for the remaining window for Manning.

Although I can see the strong case for the third option, it gives the Colts a three-year window. The other two options put the team in good shape at quarterback, presumably, for at least 10. In such a quarterback-driven league, I think a team can’t pass on one who is so highly regarded. I also can’t see the team and Manning parting, so as of right now I am expecting option No. 1.

But there is a lot that can happen in the second half of the season, and with Manning, between now and April. If the Colts wind up in the top spot, they’ll have options other bad teams would love to have.
Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

Peyton Manning melded a team and a town, resurrected the once-proud horseshoe and will finish up as a contender for the greatest of all time on the quarterback list.

There is no minimizing his impact.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Ezra O. Shaw /Allsport The Colts selected Peyton Manning, center, with the first overall pick in the 1998 draft.
And there is no debating your votes for the Colts’ selection of Manning with the first overall pick in the 1998 draft as the franchise’s Flash Point that changed its fortunes.

Said DaveatIU: “Without drafting Peyton Manning... they would be the Los Angeles Colts right now. 'Nuff said.”

The Blog Network offered four choices per team, plus the option to vote “other.” And out of 160 total options, the drafting of Manning got a higher percentage of votes on his team’s ballot than anyone or anything else.

As of Thursday afternoon, Manning had a whopping 87 percent of the Colts’ vote. He didn’t win by a little. He outpointed the next three biggest Flash Points in your eyes by 18 percent: Joe Namath’s guarantee for the Jets, the Broncos trade for John Elway and the Packers’ hiring of Vince Lombardi were all at 69 percent.

In general, AFC South voters went modern. With the Jaguars and Texans, there is no other choice. With the Colts and Titans, you chose not to hearken back to Baltimore and Houston, respectively.

I understand many of you don’t regard Baltimore/Indianapolis and Houston/Nashville as single histories. But we don’t get to decide. The Irsay and Adams families did.

As edutil21 wrote: “The question is asking about the colts FRANCHISE, not the cities of Indianapolis or Baltimore, and with that in mind it is perfectly plausible to include anything that occurred during the Franchise's time in Baltimore.”

And so, as big a moment as drafting Manning was in setting his franchise’s course, I think my vote has to go to The Greatest Game Ever Played, the 23-17 overtime win over the Giants in the NFL Championship Game at Yankee Stadium in 1958.

Without that game, are we certain the league turns into an entity where Manning has the chance to make the impact he has?

j_sleik83 was disgusted with the balloting: “And the idiots voting reign supreme. It's the 58 title game. In NFL history it's number 1, much less Colts history. And btw, Johnny Unitas is still the greatest QB in Colts history.”

Added CPCaesar: “Do Colts fans have zero sense of history?! I can understand a strong showing for Peyton, but to have him blowing out the game that made the NFL into a televised sport is ridiculous! This team has a legacy that includes Don Shula and Johnny Unitas, but it seems as if their impact on the game is lost on a modern fan base…”

There was also a pretty good other mentioned by a few, including krankor: “The actual Colts Flash Point didn't even involve the team. It was in 1955 when the Pittsburgh Steelers brilliantly decided that it would be a shrewd move to cut Johnny Unitas.”

TITANS: Epic playoff collapse set stage for relocation

With the Titans, modern also ruled. I understand why 52 percent of voters clicked the button for The Music City Miracle.

For Nashville sports fans to get a play like that in the team’s first year as the Titans, in the city’s first playoff game, was absolutely remarkable. It put the team’s claws into everyone with any sort of interest that day for the long haul. Quite frankly, it spoiled them, too.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Kevin Dyson
AP Photo/Wade PayneTitans receiver Kevin Dyson (87) looks back as he returns a kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown following a lateral. The play is known as the Music City Miracle.
“It is really not even close.....No offense intended to the Oiler faithful, but the Music City Miracle is the best answer, and here is why,” wrote greenlawler. “That one play made solidified the regional fan base. Up until that point there were passionate fans in Middle Tennessee and a few other pockets scattered around the state. But that play and subsequent playoff run sparked a tidal wave of fan support that laid a foundation for the franchise. There are large populations of Titans fans in Alabama, [Mississippi], Kentucky, and Arkansas due to that run.”

With apologies to greenlawler and the majority of voters, I’ve got to go a different direction again.

The Oilers/Titans are, historically, average at best. Since the AFL-NFL merger, the team has had 18 winning seasons, 17 losing seasons and six .500 seasons. It’s 14-19 all-time in the playoffs even counting the AFL days when it won a couple of titles. Since the Music City Miracle season, the team is 2-5 in the playoffs. What was transformed?

Put the MCM aside, and the biggest historical moments for the franchise are generally not wins: A yard short of overtime in its one Super Bowl appearance; back-to-back AFC Championship Game losses in Pittsburgh to end the 1978 and 1979 seasons; and the firing of Bum Phillips after an 11-5 year in 1980.

And the mother of bad playoff moments, that epic playoff collapse in Buffalo on Jan. 3, 1993, when the Oilers blew a 35-3 lead to lose 41-38 in overtime.

That’s the Flash Point to me.

What if that team or the 12-4 team a year later (that was scarred by that disaster), went to a Super Bowl? What if it won a Super Bowl?

Surely Bud Adams would have maintained a better standing in the city, which would have been more willing to build a new stadium. Take away that loss, and there still could be a team in Houston wearing powder blue and an oil derrick. (And a guy like me, who got his big break in sports writing because Nashville got an NFL franchise, might be an admissions director at some private high school.)

So I align with mag5011ad: “If they don't blow that 32 point lead, I think they represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, not the Bills. With that excitement in the city, they get the support to build a new stadium, which keeps the team in Houston. Most defining moment. . .”

[+] EnlargeMark Brunell
Rick Runion/AFP/Getty ImagesMark Brunell and the Jaguars had a franchise-best 14-2 record in 1999 and hosted the AFC Championship Game.
So does dsachde: “As a fan who's followed this team from Houston, this poll makes me kind of sick. That said, I agree with mag5011ad. After that playoff game, the city started to turn on the Oilers and then Bud decided to dismantle the entire team a year later. That was the end of this team in Houston. The actual move to Nashville was just the punctuation. “

JAGUARS: Quick Final Four appearance boosted city

A trip to the AFC Championship Game in the Jaguars' second season of play had quite an impact on the market in 1996. It got 52 percent of your votes as the Jaguars' Flash Point, and I am in agreement.

But your comments were mostly about the 1999 season, when the Jaguars hosted the AFC Championship Game. They lost to the Titans for the third time that year, in a season which they lost to no one else.

Said markpark64: “I would say the 1999 AFC Championship Game. It was the last home playoff game and ended a run of four straight playoff appearances. The Jags' history can really be divided into pre-1999 (2 AFC Championship Game appearances in 4 years) and post-1999 (only 3 playoff games and 1 playoff win in over 10 years). The team has not been the same since the 1999 loss.”

You also wanted to spin forward, which isn’t the game we’re playing but was understandable.

Said SeattleJaguar: “It may be too soon to say, but I think the promotion of Gene Smith to GM will be looked at as the most significant turning point for this franchise. The fan base is starting to become more mature and a unique football culture is beginning to establish itself. We are seeing a young, die-hard, fan base emerge from the 'Jaguars babies' of the 90s. If you go to any games, its remarkable how young the fans are and they will stay loyal to the Jags, unlike the old farts that abandoned the team after the 90s. Go Jags!”

TEXANS: Controversial draft choice proved correct

Texans fans voted, narrowly, for the drafting of Mario Williams in 2006 over the awarding of the franchise in 1999.

[+] EnlargeHouston's Mario Williams
AP Photo/Matt YorkMario Williams has recorded 48 sacks for the Texans since they drafted him No. 1 overall in the 2006 draft.
Williams has been slowed by some injuries the last couple of seasons. I believe he’s underrated as a pass-rushing force, though I am skeptical about his move to weak outside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme.

The Texans got crushed for the selection, but history shows they knew exactly what they were doing. He’s a superior player to Reggie Bush or Vince Young.

The decision to draft Williams did not transform the team, but there is nothing that’s boosted a nine-season-old team in such a dramatic fashion.

Said vonstev1668 “Though I voted for the win against the Cowboys [in the franchise’s first game], the truth is the Texans haven't had their defining moment yet.”

Said EMajorwitz: “Trick question, hasn't happened yet. [Dom] Capers and [Charley] Casserly essentially ruined this team with their horrible drafting and free-agent signings. Other than Andre Johnson, I don't like a single first-round pick. Nearly a decade into the franchise's history and we still haven't made the playoffs while recent expansion teams like Carolina and Jacksonville have been deep into the playoffs."
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Colts -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 20.

The Colts, of course, had a long and storied history as Baltimoreans. It’s often easy for the purposes of this blog to trim them into just the 1984-and-after Indianapolis Colts. It helps their scope fit more neatly with the reinvented Titans and expansion Jaguars and Texans.

But for something like this it’s too neat. So we weighed things to Indianapolis, but put perhaps the franchise’s biggest moment -- which came well before the move -- on our list and invite you to suggest others if you feel they are worthy.

"The Greatest Game Ever Played" -- the Colts' 23-17 overtime win over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game -- changed the fortunes of the NFL. Did it do as much for the team that won it?

The team's move from Baltimore in the dark of night is certainly a flash point worth considering, as is the draft selection of John Elway the year before. He so didn’t want to play for the mismanaged Baltimore Colts that he forced the team to trade him.

The most modern entry often seems, in great hindsight, to have been a no-brainer. But the Colts and team president Bill Polian were torn between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf in 1998. Who knows what would have happened if they went the other way?

You’re invited to do better than I’ve done here.

If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.