NFL Nation: Gary Brackett

Some Colts fans have been in touch, confused about the awarding of compensatory draft picks. The Colts were awarded one pick, the final pick of the draft (No. 254).

But in the league's formula that figures out who gets what in terms of the extra draft selections, Indianapolis didn't actually "earn" a pick. Compensatory picks add the equivalent of one round worth of selections to the draft. When there aren't enough awarded by the formula, the league adds picks for the near misses until it gets to 32.

One thing many people forget is that many of the biggest losses for the Colts were released. Only players who reach free agency with expiring contracts count here. So Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett and Curtis Painter were all let go and didn't factor in at all.

According to the NFL, these are the players who did factor into the equation for compensatory draft picks for Indianapolis.

Players lost: Jamaal Anderson (Cincinnati), Pierre Garcon (Washington), Dan Orlovsky (Tampa Bay), Jeff Saturday (Green Bay), Jacob Tamme (Denver), Philip Wheeler (Oakland).

Players signed: Guard Mike McGlynn, defensive tackle Brandon McKinney, defensive end Cory Redding, center Samson Satele, quarterback Drew Stanton and safety Tom Zbikowski.

Stanton counted despite the fact that the Colts traded for him, because he was signed by the Jets as a free agent in 2012 before that deal. A player with such circumstances is part of the formula.

Garcon was the lone giant contract on either side of that ledger, and apparently the Colts did enough to offset that signing with what they brought in.

Here's the league's language explaining the process.
Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks.

The number of picks a team receives equals the net loss of compensatory free agents up to a maximum of four. The 32 compensatory choices announced today will supplement the 222 choices in the seven rounds of the 2013 NFL draft (April 25-27), which will kick off in prime time for the fourth consecutive year.

The first round will be held on Thursday, April 25 and begin at 8 p.m. ET. The second and third rounds are set for Friday, April 26 at 6:30 p.m. ET followed by rounds 4-7 on Saturday, April 27 at Noon ET.

This year, the compensatory picks will be positioned within the third through seventh rounds based on the value of the compensatory free agents lost.

Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula.

Two clubs this year (Indianapolis and the New York Giants) will each receive a compensatory pick even though they did not suffer a net loss of compensatory free agents last year. Under the formula, the compensatory free agents lost by these clubs were ranked higher than the ones they signed (by a specified point differential based upon salary and performance).
The Colts big preseason win against the Rams came with a significant loss.

Inside linebacker Pat Angerer will miss about six weeks with a fractured foot that needs surgery, Chuck Pagano told Indianapolis reporters Monday.

Angerer emerged last season as a play-making force, shifting to the starting middle linebacker job in the Colts' 4-3 after Gary Brackett was lost in the first game of 2011.

In Pagano’s 3-4 hybrid, Angerer was to be a key cog in the middle, working with Kavell Conner.

“(Angerer) is the signal caller, he’s the guy that stands in front of the huddle,” Pagano said. “He has the respect of all those guys in the huddle. So when you lose your signal caller, you lose your middle backer, for an extended period of time, it means a lot. The guy’s productive, he’s a playmaker, he’s a warrior, he’s a Colt. He’s got all the Colt traits that you’re looking for, you know. So now it’ll be up to somebody else to step up and fill that void until we get him back.”

I thought Conner was effective against the Rams even after Angerer was hurt.

Jerrell Freeman was first in line as Angerer’s replacement.

Undrafted in 2008, he signed with the Titans out of Mary Hardin-Baylor, but didn't stick. Ultimately he landed with Saskatchewan of the CFL. In three years with the Roughriders, he totaled 144 tackles, 13 sacks, four fumble recoveries and three interceptions.

Pagano also mentioned Greg Lloyd and Moise Fokou, recently acquired from Philadelphia in a trade for cornerback Kevin Thomas, and Mario Harvey when asked about Angerer replacements.

The Colts will keep looking for possibilities, too.

Pagano was politically polite when asked about Brackett. But the former Colts linebacker doesn’t bring the team the sort of size it wants in the new scheme, and the team is in the midst of a youth movement.

Don’t expect them to call on the old guard. I think Fokou might be the guy to challenge Freeman, and they'll be happy with the backer who emerges until Angerer is back.

AFC South free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Houston Texans

Key additions: None.

Key losses: OLB Mario Williams, RG Mike Brisiel, CB Jason Allen, TE Joel Dreessen, RT Eric Winston (cut), ILB DeMeco Ryans (traded), FB Lawrence Vickers (cut), QB Matt Leinart (cut).

Keepers and finance: Not everyone got away. The Texans managed to keep two very important players. They re-signed running back Arian Foster before he reached restricted free agency. And after he'd explored the market some, they struck a deal with unrestricted-free-agent center Chris Myers, a vital piece to a line that lost the two starters on the right side when Winston was cut and Brisiel bolted to Oakland.

Ryans was not a full-time player in the 3-4 defense, and his price tag was high. While Houston takes a $750,000 hit this season, he’s cleared from the books in the future. That will help the team as it tries to make sure players like outside linebacker Connor Barwin and left tackle Duane Brown don’t get away like Williams did.

What’s next: Depth paid off in a big way in 2011 as the Texans managed to win the division and a playoff game despite major losses. At several spots, like on the offensive line and at corner, the draft will serve to replenish the roster with the same kind of insurance.

But the Texans are not without need.

While they are likely to stick with Jacoby Jones as part of the team and like Kevin Walter, a more reliable and dynamic weapon to go with Andre Johnson at receiver is something they acknowledge wanting. A third outside linebacker can reduce the high-snap strain on Barwin and Brooks Reed. While they hope Rashad Butler will replace Winston and Antoine Caldwell will take Brisiel’s spot, adding a guy who can compete for one or both of those spots would be healthy.

Indianapolis Colts

Key additions: DE Cory Redding, WR Donnie Avery, C Samson Satele, S Tom Zbikowski, G Mike McGlynn, RT Winston Justice (trade), QB Drew Stanton (trade).

Key losses: QB Peyton Manning (cut), WR Pierre Garcon, TE Jacob Tamme, C Jeff Saturday, TE Dallas Clark (cut), LB Gary Brackett (cut), S Melvin Bullitt (cut), RT Ryan Diem (retired), WR Anthony Gonzalez, QB Dan Orlovsky, CB Jacob Lacey (not tendered), QB Curtis Painter (cut), DE Jamaal Anderson, G Mike Pollak.

So much we don’t know: We know background on coach Chuck Pagano and his coordinators and we know what Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson have said. But there will be a degree of mystery well into the season about what they intend to run and with whom. It’s unlikely to be a sweeping transition to a 3-4 defense, as it takes time to overhaul the personnel. But as they play a hybrid defense and move toward a conversion, they’ll need more than they’ve got – starting with a nose tackle.

On offense, they’ve said they’ll use a fullback. That’s a major departure from the previous regime. And we don’t know if a Donald Brown-Delone Carter duo at fullback will be sufficient to run behind. They need help virtually everywhere after the cap purge and free-agency turnover. Not everything will get addressed as much as they’d like in their first offseason.

What’s next: I expect more role players like Zbikowski and McGlynn, more castoffs like Justice and Stanton and more guys who are presumed finished by a lot of teams, like Avery.

They are all guys who didn’t cost much but who have upside and can help, at least as role players. And if they don’t pan out, it’s hardly a death blow to Indianapolis' major, long-term plans. Money is limited with big dead-money charges and a $19 million cap hit for defensive end Dwight Freeney the team has indicated it's willing to carry.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Key additions: WR Laurent Robinson, CB Aaron Ross, QB Chad Henne.

Key losses: DT Leger Douzable (did not tender).

Keeping their own: The Jaguars did well to hold onto players who have been valuable to them. The top of that list belongs to safety Dwight Lowery. They traded with the Jets for him before last season, shifted him full time to safety and got good work from him before he was hurt. It was crucial for the team to stay fixed at the position where it was horrific in 2010 before signing Dawan Landry and adding Lowery.

They also re-signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey, a great effort defensive end who was overextended in terms of playing time last year. He’s no sack-master, but he’s going to bust it on every play, break through sometimes and make the opponent work hard to stay in his way. And with the lack of quality defensive ends who hit the market, the Jaguars did well to keep him from jumping to Chicago.

What’s next: Receiver has to be addressed beyond a change in position coach and the addition of Robinson. If it’s not in the first round, it needs to be early. The franchise is trying to maximize Blaine Gabbert’s chances to be a franchise quarterback, and few would be able to establish themselves with the current cast of wideouts.

The Jaguars are a top pass-rushing end away from being a top-flight defense. Can they find him seventh overall in the draft? They could tab someone like South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, though it’s hard to say he or any rookie would be an immediate solution. Most ends need some time to become impact guys in the league.

The Jaguars could certainly look to add in the secondary free-agent market and when players are set free late in training camp.

Tennessee Titans

Key additions: DE Kamerion Wimbley, RG Steve Hutchinson.

Key losses: CB Cortland Finnegan, DL Jason Jones, WR Donnie Avery.

Sidetracked: Did the Titans miss out on real chances to sign either Scott Wells, who went to St. Louis, or Chris Myers, who stayed in Houston, as their new center because they were focused on chasing quarterback Peyton Manning? Perhaps. But when the owner declares that his executives and coaches need to put the hard sell on an all-time great QB with roots in the team’s state, that’s what you do.

Ideally, the team will still find an alternative to Eugene Amano. If the Titans find a new center to go with Hutchinson, who replaces free agent Jake Scott in the starting lineup, the interior offensive line could see a big improvement. That could have a big bearing on running back Chris Johnson, provided he takes care of his own business.

What’s next: The Titans think Wimbley will excel as a full-time defensive end, but they can’t afford for him to be too full time. He’s a smaller guy who’s played mostly as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and shouldn’t be asked to play every down of every game. That means they still need more help at end, where the only other guys they have right now are Derrick Morgan and Malcolm Sheppard.

Look for them to address depth at corner -- where they feel fine about Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner as the starters, if that’s how it falls -- as well as at receiver. One wild-card spot could be running back. Are they content with Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper as changeups to Johnson, or would they like to add a big back?

Addition and subtraction

March, 18, 2012
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A free-agency roundup for the AFC South so far. We're not including a team's own free agents that it has re-signed:

Houston

Additions: None

Subtractions: OLB Mario Williams (Buffalo); RT Eric Winston (cut, Kansas City); CB Jason Allen (Cincinnati); G Mike Brisiel (Oakland); QB Matt Leinart (cut); Lawrence Vickers (Dallas).

Indianapolis

Additions: DL Cory Redding (Baltimore); RT Winston Justice (trade, Philadelphia); S Tom Zbikowski (Baltimore); C Mike McGlynn (Cincinnati).

Subtractions: WR Pierre Garcon (Washington); WR Anthony Gonzalez (New England); QB Dan Orlovsky (Tampa Bay); QB Peyton Manning (cut); LB Gary Brackett (cut); S Melvin Bullitt (cut), TE Dallas Clark (cut).

Jacksonville

Additions: WR Laurent Robinson (Dallas); QB Chad Henne (Miami).

Subtractions: ST-WR Kassim Osgood (cut).

Tennessee

Additions: G Steve Hutchinson (cut, Minnesota).

Subtractions: CB Cortland Finnegan (St. Louis); DL Jason Jones (Seattle).
At the news conference making Peyton Manning’s release official, Colts owner Jim Irsay indicated more roster moves were pending.

They came down Friday, and the remaining roster is a barren landscape.

Gone are halfback Joseph Addai, tight end Dallas Clark, safety Melvin Bullitt, linebacker Gary Brackett, and quarterback Curtis Painter.

All but Painter are proven players who played important roles in the system the team run under the team’s top executive, Bill Polian, and coaches Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell.

Those three powers are gone, and new GM Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano are starting with a virtual clean slate.

Addai is not the type of back the team will want as it looks to get bigger and more powerful. Clark, Bullitt and Brackett are officially injury-prone and aging.

Some of these moves bring accelerated cap hits, and might cost more than the significant salaries the players were scheduled to make will save.

But in a year, the team should be in much better financial shape -- and be adding instead of subtracting.

The next big question is defensive end Dwight Freeney, who's due $14 million this season and carries a $19 million cap number.

Colts regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 32
Preseason Power Ranking: 9

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesWithout Peyton Manning the Colts went from playoff contender to the worst team in the NFL.
Biggest surprise: Even without rehabilitating Peyton Manning (neck), few figured the the Colts could go 0-13 and wind up 2-14 with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. We can’t say how much better these Colts could have been with their four-time NFL MVP in the huddle, but he clearly masked a lot more issues than many knew. The offense tried to be more run-based but didn’t make it work well enough. Typically allergic to fullbacks, they used three different ones but ran worse with a fullback on the field than without one. The secondary was poorly constructed and couldn’t endure injuries and it became clear how bad a fit Jim Caldwell’s hand-picked coordinator, Larry Coyer, had become for the Cover 2 scheme the Colts like to run.

Biggest disappointment: Quarterback play was awful. Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky were terrible as the alternatives to Manning at quarterback. They combined to average 6.04 yards per attempt with 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, while absorbing 35 sacks. A lot of the good numbers were compiled late in blowouts. The Colts' 26.9 combined QBR was better than only the Jaguars and Rams. The team tied an NFL record by going eight full games without ever holding a lead.

Biggest need: The Colts need help at all sorts of positions, starting in the secondary. Before team vice chairman Bill Polian was dismissed he was saying the team needed an infusion of youth that could contribute to converting third downs on offense and stopping them on defense. But until a new general manager is in place and we know the coaching staff and scheme, we won’t know which veterans they should aim to keep and which ones they should let go. So new leadership at the management level is the top need following the dismissal of Polian and GM Chris Polian. From there, a verdict on Manning’s health and future and a decision on whether to keep the No. 1 pick and what to do with it will hang over the franchise.

Team MVP: Pat Angerer slid to middle linebacker from the strong side after Gary Brackett suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the season opener in Houston. Angerer proved to be a tackling machine who consistently shed blockers and covered ground despite the fact that the defensive line in front of him and the secondary behind him often didn’t play reliably enough. He made a team-high 148 tackles. Brackett now appears dispensable.

System status: For the Polian-Manning era the Colts built a Manning-centric, fast-moving, no-huddle offense that caught defenses in bad personnel groups and regularly scored in the final two minutes of the first half of the game. It was paired with a bend-don’t-break Cover 2 defense that aimed to limit big plays and produce situations that allowed a duo of premier pass-rushers to tee off on quarterbacks who had to drop back. With regime change coming, will system change come too? The odds seem low that Bill Polian’s successor will put a similar premium on smaller, speedier defenders.
Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday and Robert MathisUS Presswire, Getty Images, Getty ImagesThursday could be the last home game for Colts Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday and Robert Mathis.

INDIANAPOLIS -- There’ll be no ceremony at Lucas Oil Stadium tonight. No formal passing of the torch from the Colts to the Texans as kings of the AFC South, and no official commemoration of the careers of three huge contributors who may be wearing horse shoes on their helmets for a final home game.

But the knowledgeable fans of the Indianapolis Colts will find a moment to focus on receiver Reggie Wayne, center Jeff Saturday and defensive end Robert Mathis, knowing that the team staples with expiring contracts may soon depart.

Quarterback Peyton Manning defined the era more than anyone, and he might also be on the sideline for the final time, but he’s not playing. Neither is linebacker Gary Brackett, who could be a cap casualty. It could be a swan song, too, for often-injured tight end Dallas Clark, who’s doubtful against the Texans.

However, the focus during a Thursday night game that figured to have larger consequences when the schedule was drawn up should be on Wayne, Saturday and Mathis.

“We’re like three steel poles in the Colts’ foundation,” Mathis said. “We helped get this team to where it is. Our heart is here. But it’s a business, and we can’t take it personally, whatever they decide.”

Said Wayne: “I’ll just keep playing. Whatever happens is going to happen anyway, it’s already written, I can’t control that, I don’t have a magic eraser. It’s a big prime-time game. If it’s going to be my last one here, then let’s go out with a bang.”

“I’ve been here 11 years. Anything you put that much time or effort into, you would think there would be some sort of sentimental value to. You don’t want to lose anything that means something to you. This city has shown me nothing but love.”

Whether they admit it or not, the other three teams in the division have been built to challenge the Colts. The Texans drafted outside linebacker Mario Williams first overall in 2006 in large part to threaten Manning. As the league has become more pass-happy, the Colts' divisional challengers have been largely run-based, to try to keep their offenses on the field and the ball out of Manning’s hand.

“They’ve been the standard of the division obviously, with the success they’ve had over multiple years,” said Houston general manager Rick Smith, who assumed his post in 2006, after Williams had been drafted. “But you can’t stand in awe of anybody and we feel like we’ve played some solid games against them in the past.

“Our thing hasn’t really been focused on Indianapolis, it’s been about what we’re doing. You’ve got to respect what they’ve done and the job that they’ve done for the number of years that they’ve done it. But what we’ve been doing is focused on trying to get our program up to speed and put ourselves into position where we could have that sustained success for a number of years.”

And like the Colts, the new AFC South champs have a similar trio in the same positions as Wayne, Saturday and Mathis in Andre Johnson, Chris Myers and Williams.

Like their Indianapolis counterparts, they are regarded as premier players at their position. Houston hopes they will be steel poles of a Texans’ foundation for years to come.

Johnson, Myers and Williams reflected on the Colts in recent days.

Here’s some insight into what the three guys who might be playing for Indy for the final time have meant to the division and to guys who aim to follow a similar path.

Johnson on Wayne: “He’s a route technician. I sat and watched and learned from him at Miami. He took me under his wing. He works hard at everything he does, everything. He’s committed. His numbers speak for themselves. In every conversation about the best receivers in the league, his name comes up.

“I can’t imagine him in another uniform, and for it to end like this. After 11, 12, 13, 14 wins every year, it’s crazy.

Myers on Saturday: “He has real good technique. Obviously it’s a different team with a different offense. But he’s a tremendous pass blocker, and they’ve had success running the ball as well with Edgerrin James and Joseph Addai for years. He’s a little bit shorter, he’s got that leverage on guys. In his prime, he’s been able to get a hand on guys and just lock guys out, that’s what he’s been known for.

“When you’re watching defenses, you watch the other center. And I’ve tried to get pointers from each guy. For a long time I’ve been watching how he pass protects.”

Williams on Mathis: “Not taking anything away from Dwight Freeney, but I think Mathis has been a key to their defense. Watching him play and how his motor goes every play, it’s not just the pass, but he’s phenomenal against the run. I guess you could say he’s undersized, but he holds his own against the run as well as the pass. I think he doesn’t get enough credit for his play against the run.”

I have trouble picturing Saturday playing elsewhere, but he certainly could. Wayne and Mathis would be attractive free agents if they hit the market.

And they could conceivably land within the division.

Mathis could be the edge rusher Jacksonville needs to round out its defense. And Wayne could be an excellent complement to Johnson in Houston.

“We joke about it all the time,” Johnson said. “If Reggie’s on the market, I’ll be a big recruiter. I’m pretty sure my coaches know that.”

Talk of a possible future life as a Texan made Wayne laugh.

“I’m sure he’s got some hammies he needs to worry about first,” he said, referring to hamstring injuries that have cost Johnson much of the season and will keep him out against the Colts. “And I am sure their team is ecstatic about their first playoff opportunity…

“If Dre is going to politic for me, he’s got enough time to do it.”

AFC South Stock Watch

December, 20, 2011
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. The Texans’ third-down defense: The Panthers converted 9 of 14 third downs against the Texans on Sunday, the sort of number that’s hard to survive. Houston’s been very good on third down this season, and it’s been a key to its defensive and overall success. But the Texans have slipped in recent weeks in the category. After Week 13, they were second in the league in third-down defense. In just three weeks they’ve dropped to eighth. It’s tough to move that much that quickly in season rankings. They must end the trend if they intend to secure one of the top seeds and increase the potential for more than one game at home.

2. The Jaguars’ national credibility: They played two of their last three games on national television in prime time and did nothing to offset the national reputation they often complain about. Nobody will remember the Dec. 11 41-14 home win over Tampa Bay because it was sandwiched by a "Monday Night Football" 38-14 loss to San Diego and the 41-14 "Thursday Night Football" debacle in Atlanta. The wheels came off in a way even the biggest Jaguars pessimist probably couldn’t have envisioned, and the offseason can’t arrive soon enough.

3. Tommie Campbell, Tennessee Titans special-teamer: He got flagged for four penalties on special teams in Indianapolis, including two 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. It was the sort of undisciplined showing that Mike Munchak has called unacceptable, and to the coach’s credit, Campbell was benched -- though it might have come a bit earlier. Campbell is a blazing fast, great athlete with a future as a cornerback for the Titans if he can avoid the combination of boneheaded plays and temper issues. But he’s got to get past such things if he wants to remain in the plan.

[+] EnlargePat Angerer
AP Photo/Darron CummingsPat Angerer (51) came up big for the Colts in their win over Tennessee on Sunday.
RISING

1. Pat Angerer, Indianapolis Colts linebacker: He’s had a great season flying around and making plays. Against the Titans, he keyed an excellent defensive effort, forcing a Jared Cook fumble that killed Tennessee momentum and picking off a bad ball from Matt Hasselbeck. In a season with so many lousy storylines for the Colts, Angerer has emerged as a reliable tackling machine who can play the run and the pass. He is definitely a piece of what the team will build around. He moved to the middle from the strong side when Gary Brackett suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the opener. It will be difficult to take Angerer out of the spot now.

2. The image of the AFC South as a terrible division: We had to turn something negative into a riser here after bad losses by three of our four teams. Even with their win, the Colts remain the worst team in the league with a 1-13 record and the Jaguars rank in or near the bottom five. Tennessee is a completely average 7-7 and the Texans, after the loss to Carolina, rank as just the third-best division leader/winner in the AFC. The division has four fewer wins than any other.

3. Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts running back: He’s largely regarded as a bust, but it’s not completely fair. He’s remembered for a blown pass protection that drew the ire of Peyton Manning, and he doesn’t have a fully rounded game. He’s spent a lot of time in the doghouse and not been used as much as may be warranted. He can run, and he showed it in the win over the Titans, even before a great, freelanced 80-yard touchdown run that secured the win and made Tennessee’s defense look foolish. His 161-yard day should earn him more opportunities.

Breaking down Colts as they break down

October, 27, 2011
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Peyton ManningDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe Colts were clearly ill-prepared for life without star quarterback Peyton Manning.
It’s ugly in Indianapolis.

At 0-7, the Colts are talking about sticking together, improving and giving themselves a chance to win.

But as they prepare for a trip to Nashville for a Sunday meeting with the Titans at LP Field, they are a severely broken team. Where they would be with Peyton Manning is an interesting hypothetical question, but we’re dealing with realities. And those realities are the sort that will test the franchise’s stitching -- seamwork that might not hold together when this is all over.

Who’s at fault? Everyone’s got a hand in it, but let’s look at the Colts from a couple different angles.

A big cover-up: It’s not a secret that Manning has helped cover up a lot of flaws and allowed the franchise to under-address certain areas.

The Colts during the Manning era have never been much concerned with size, always valuing speed and instincts more. They’ve never worried about stocking special teams with any veteran backups, in part because they spend their money on stars, or adding a high-quality return man. They’ve settled for being below average running the ball. And they’ve won despite a general inability to stop the run.

Without their four-time MVP running the offense, all of those things are magnified in ways they’ve never been before.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. They’re built to have Manning at the controls, and he’s been there all the time from the very beginning in 1998 until opening day this season.

There are maybe two teams and markets in the league that would not trade for what the Colts have done since 1999. Twelve consecutive playoff seasons followed by one complete dud? Where do I sign up for that?

[+] EnlargeJacob Lacey
Michael Hickey/US PresswirePersonnel decisions by the Colts put cornerback Jacob Lacey, 27, in a prominent role in a secondary that has struggled this season.
Construct questions: That said, regardless of a serious neck surgery to the star quarterback, what exactly was the plan in the secondary? Is an evaluation that leaves Jacob Lacey, Terrence Johnson, Kevin Thomas and Chris Rucker as cornerbacks No. 2 through 5 good enough? Absolutely not.

The Colts get credit for adding a couple outside veterans this season -- linebacker Ernie Sims and defensive ends Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton. But the drafting has dropped off.

Set aside the most recent class, as it’s too early to judge.

The Colts drafted 41 players from 2005 through 2010. I count one star, safety Antoine Bethea, and two guys who can become stars, linebacker Pat Angerer and receiver Austin Collie (if he’s working with Manning). Running back Joseph Addai is a good fit who does more than people think. And receiver Pierre Garcon and cornerback Jerraud Powers have been pretty solid starters.

Sure, the Colts drafted higher in the five years before. Still, those classes produced five guys who rank among the best players of their generation at their positions: tight end Dallas Clark, defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, safety Bob Sanders and receiver Reggie Wayne. The next tier provided steady starters on the offensive line (Jake Scott, Ryan Diem) and linebacker (David Thornton).

That list is more than a third of a starting team, a big-time core. As those guys age or disappear, I'm not seeing a core in waiting.

Colts president turned vice chairman Bill Polian said recently on his radio show that they needed to have done better recently, particularly at defensive tackle and cornerback.

And there is a domino effect to the problem. Find Tarik Glenn’s ultimate replacement at left tackle in 2007, and then you don’t need to use your top pick in 2011 on Anthony Castonzo. Hit on Donald Brown in the first round in 2009, and Delone Carter might not be necessary in the fourth round in 2011.

The Polians: Bill Polian has been pulling back and yielding responsibility to his son, GM Chris Polian. (Chris politely declined to be interviewed for this piece.)

We don’t yet have much tape on Chris Polian, so to speak. Bill Polian is a good talent evaluator who’s had success in three NFL stops and has done well to build a team Manning has won with. But Bill Polian has also overseen those recent draft drop-offs.

His strong-willed personality is part of what has made him good at his job, and his big-picture assessment of important league issues is as intelligent as anyone’s. He’s got clout and influence that extends beyond Indianapolis.

Stylistically, he’s a stubborn and demanding boss. There are indications from within that, without the steady stream of personnel hits he provided earlier in his tenure, some inside the building are tiring of the way things are run.

Polian talked recently about how Curtis Painter's play vindicates the team for having faith in him, but failed to mention that the faith was so strong that the team signed Kerry Collins to a $4 million contract shortly before the season started and handed him the starting job.

I suspect Bill Polian’s got the backing of owner Jim Irsay for as long as he wants it. That would ensure safety for Chris Polian, too.

Bill Polian made the Manning-over-Ryan Leaf call in 1998. Because of the way Leaf busted, people forget that was a coin flip at the time, that Leaf was regarded as a big-time prospect just as much as Manning was. Polian called it correctly, built a team that’s been to two Super Bowls and won one, got a new stadium built and greatly enhanced the value of Irsay’s franchise.

Cryptic messages: Further complicating things is Irsay, who clearly gets a kick out of being the center of NFL attention in the Twitter-verse but has undermined some of his people with it.

He announced the team added Collins while coach Jim Caldwell was conducting his daily news conference. It did Caldwell no favors, as he appeared completely out of the loop.

Most recently, following the 62-7 loss in New Orleans on Sunday night, Irsay provided this gem:
“Titanic collapse, apologies 2 all ColtsNation...problems identifiable;solutions in progress but complex in nature/ better days will rise again”

A day later, he added:
"Just because you perceive problems on the horizon,and you possess solutions..doesn't mean they are avoidable and implementation is instant"

Solutions in progress, but complex in nature. That sounds to me like what would be written in big silver letters on the lobby wall of a consulting company on a TV show. Or a clever, but far-too-long name for a band.

It also sounds like change is going to come.

Caldwell
Caldwell
Coaching questions: While Bill Polian recently said that adding Jim Tressel to the staff as a replay consultant was Caldwell’s idea, it’s a weird looking move that’s made some of us wonder if a bigger role awaits the former Ohio State coach.

Caldwell does a nice job managing personalities, looking at things philosophically and staying on message. I believe he’s a good teacher and his patient, quiet style is generally healthy for a team with a good share of veteran stars.

But he’s got blind spots, too, and is hardly a strategy master. There are bound to be significant changes at the conclusion of what’s sure to be a dreadful season, and he’ll be at the front of the line.

If he does the best job we can remember at holding a terrible, ineffective team together, is that enough? I’d guess not.

Injuries: This team gets hurt too much. There is a huge element of bad luck to it, of course. But is there something bigger at work as well?

Last season as quality players went down, Manning helped some role players like tight end Jacob Tamme and receiver Blair White emerge. This season, guys like linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt were lost for the season early, and there's been a revolving door on the offensive line because of injuries.

The Colts are constantly testing their depth and shuffling the back end of their roster. There is only so much shuffling a depth chart can handle.

I believe they need to attempt some change that might have a positive effect on their overall health -- whether it be adopting new training philosophies, altering how they evaluate prospects or changing personnel philosophies.

It's easy to ask them to figure out why they tend to suffer so many injuries and hard to find an answer. But some sort of shift is due, even as we know it comes with no guarantee of better health.

When the current approach is failing, it's OK to try something else. It's not admitting some sort of failure, it's merely part of a necessary process of evaluating and revising operations.

Suck for Luck: Given a chance to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, I think the Colts would. Bill Polian can give Chris Polian the guy expected to be the NFL's next great quarterback, and Chris Polian's legacy would be built on a fantastic cornerstone.

But there is no losing on purpose to get in position for Luck. You think Wayne or Mathis is interested in such a master plan?

Said veteran center and team tone-setter Jeff Saturday: “'I'll steal a Robert Mathis quote: I ain't sucking for anybody.”
The Indianapolis Colts' defense made a strong showing against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night without linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt.

Any further strong efforts will also have to come without the two starters, as the team put them both on injured-reserve Wednesday with their shoulder injuries.

One of the roster spots made room for quarterback Dan Orlovsky. The other was used for A.J. Edds, who was signed off the New England Patriots' practice squad. Edds played in the Patriots’ first two games before he was cut and signed to the practice squad.

The Colts are better equipped to deal with the loss of Brackett than Bullitt, even as Bullitt was not off to a good start.

Pat Angerer slid from the strong side to the middle with Brackett out since the opener, and Angerer made 20 tackles from the spot against Pittsburgh Sunday while Philip Wheeler stepped in as the third linebacker.

But David Caldwell, who replaced Bullitt in the starting lineup in Week 3 for his first NFL start, was not as good.

The Colts were depleted at the strong safety spot opposite free safety Antoine Bethea in the center of the defensive backfield last season when Bob Sanders and Bullitt were both lost to injuries. Ultimately they turned to Aaron Francisco, who wasn’t even on the opening day roster.

They released Sanders after the season, and he’s now in San Diego. They re-signed Bullitt, an unrestricted free agent, and now will turn to Caldwell or another player they didn’t draft, rookie Joe Lefeged.

Defensive depth has taken a serious hit just three weeks in. And with Peyton Manning, Brackett and Bullitt all out of action, they’ve got some big dollars out of the lineup.

UPDATE: Ironically, San Diego put Sanders (knee) on IR Wednesday as well.

Rapid Reaction: Texans 34, Colts 7

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
3:57
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HOUSTON -- Thoughts on the Texans’ 34-7 rout of the Colts at Reliant Stadium

What it means: The Texans bolted out to a 1-0 start over the Colts last season, but this one was different. We saw what a good team can do against Indianapolis minus Peyton Manning. Houston sailed and the Colts struggled. It’s hard to call any Houston game a turning point, but this is one we might look back to as a pivot point for control of the AFC South.

What I liked: Matt Schaub-to-Andre Johnson was virtually can’t miss after an early interception of a pass that slid through Johnson’s hands. Derrick Ward and Ben Tate both ran effectively. Jacoby Jones showed smarts and speed on a 79-yard punt return for a score. The Texans’ new 3-4 defense found consistent pressure that made life very tough on Kerry Collins. End Antonio Smith was especially effective.

What I didn’t like: Collins was just shaky, handing away two fumbles in a short span early on, once on a sack, once on a fumbled snap. Unless the protection was perfect, he was messy and there were only a handful of snaps where the protection was perfect. Indianapolis’ defense simply didn’t show any ability to bottle up the run, and receivers consistently found space between defenders to collect Schaub’s passes.

Who to worry about: Colts linebackers. Gary Brackett suffered a shoulder sprain when he was tackled at the end of an interception return. The Colts played bad defense with him. Without him, they’d really have a hole. Ernie Sims suffered a knee sprain early in the game, which meant undrafted rookie Adrian Moten saw time in the nickel package.

One good thing about the Colts: They didn’t quit, showing some life in the second half even though they knew it was over. Reggie Wayne was in the middle of it. Jeff Saturday fought hard to recover Collins’ third fumble at the bottom of a pile.

One bad thing about the Texans: With Arian Foster (hamstring) already hurt, Ward left the game with an ankle injury. Tate and Steve Slaton provide nice depth, but any team down its top two running backs has questions.

What’s next: The Colts try to recover when they host Cleveland. The Texans try to keep things going in Miami. The rematch between Houston and Indy is at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 22.

TBDBrian Spurlock/US PresswireWhat are the biggest issues facing the Colts in the absence of star quarterback Peyton Manning?
Ten questions worth pondering about the Colts without Peyton Manning:

1. Who’s under the most pressure?

The obvious answer is Kerry Collins, but if the expectations are unreasonable for the 39-year-old quarterback, that’s not on him. He can still be effective, but consistency is an issue and he tends to start games slowly. That’s a problem for the Colts, who are built to jump to leads and let defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis pursue quarterbacks who are trying to throw to catch up. Those successful two-minute drills that Manning has run at the end of a half or a game won't happen as often with Collins.

2. What will we learn about Colts head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen?

Jokes about Manning coaching the team tend to be over the top. But he certainly makes more pre-snap decisions on the field than any other quarterback in the league. Even if Collins winds up making some of those reads and determinations, Caldwell and Christensen must show they can plan effectively for him in a way they weren’t always responsible for with Manning at the controls.

3. Is the line ready to play better?

A lot of people not that familiar with how the Colts play look at the sack numbers (16 allowed in 2010) and judge Indianapolis to be one of the league’s best pass-protecting offensive lines. It’s not. The Colts spent their top two draft picks on offensive linemen Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana. Castonzo is slated to start at left tackle, and left guard Joe Reitz has not played in an NFL regular-season game. Ryan Diem appears to be moving from right tackle to right guard as Jeff Linkenbach, undrafted last year, takes Diem’s long-time spot. Collectively, the group must offer Collins reliable protection and block more effectively for a running game that must do more.

4. How does Collins handle blitzes and pass pressure?

[+] EnlargeKerry Collins
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesColts quarterback Kerry Collins has issues with consistency and starting slow.
Teams typically paid for blitzing Manning, but defenses will certainly try to do more to get to Collins. He didn’t move well when he was younger, and it’s certainly not a big piece of his game now. He’s not afraid to throw it away and live for another day. And former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, who coached Collins the past five years in Tennessee and game-planned against the Colts twice a year from 2002 through 2010, said Indianapolis will be equipped to counter extra blitz pressure with screens to Joseph Addai.

5. Who has a chance to shine?

Even if Manning were around, I expected the Colts to try to get the ball to rookie running back Delone Carter in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He’s different than fellow running backs Addai and Donald Brown and seems like a player who can find a tough yard even when things don’t get blocked as they should. That offensive line can get a lot of attention if it plays well. And Brody Eldridge, more of a blocking tight end, could see more time if the Colts feel like they must sacrifice three-wide sets for additional protection or run-game help.

6. Can the defense help more?

As we mentioned, it’s a team built to pass rush against an offense that must throw. The Colts have not been a good run-stopping team and the defense didn’t fare well at it in the preseason. Indianapolis is slated to face a bunch of top-level backs. We could see two veteran additions at end, Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton, get chances to contribute on run downs and help keep Freeney and Mathis fresher to rush. Rookie tackle Drake Nevis can help too. Overall, the philosophy of limiting big plays and making teams move it a little at a time has worked well enough. It’s not like they can make a dramatic change in it now.

7. What about special teams?

It’s been a neglected area for much of the Manning era. The offense is good at driving the ball down the field and doesn’t often get a good return to set up field position. While Manning makes big dollars, so do the team’s other stars: Freeney, Mathis, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett and Antoine Bethea. Dedicating a lot of pay to that core means the team doesn’t have a lot of veteran backups, and veteran backups make up the backbone of good special teams units. This also is an area where things can’t really be changed because they are dictated by personnel.

8. What if Collins goes down?

Curtis Painter, a sixth-round draft pick from Purdue in 2009, is the third quarterback. The team is very defensive about him, but it’s an organization that works very hard to defend draft picks. But the fact is, in his limited regular-season action and in the preseason, Painter has been ineffective. If the Colts lost their backup quarterback and had to turn to Painter, they’d be in giant trouble. I can’t see Indianapolis going after another veteran now. David Garrard, released by the Jaguars this week, should find a job better than what the Colts might have to offer. I don’t see Indy being interested in him anyway.

9. Will the offense slow down?

As experienced and as wily as Collins may be, it’s difficult to imagine him being able to play at Manning’s pace, snapping the ball to catch defenses with too many men on the field or flapping his arms while changing, or pretending to change, what’s about to unfold. The Colts, however, benefit from locking defenses into personnel groupings. If Indy doesn’t huddle or take the time to substitute, the opponent can’t either. Whether they can, or want to try to, maintain that as an advantage remains to be seen. If they huddle more, they allow defenses to adjust more, too.

10. If the season is a total bomb, would they want Stanford QB Andrew Luck in the draft?

The deal Manning just signed is for five years. But if Indianapolis vice chairman Bill Polian had a chance at a guy who’s regarded as the best college quarterback to come out since, perhaps, Manning, I don’t see how the Colts wouldn’t take him and let him learn under Manning. But a four-year wait for Luck to play couldn’t happen either, and the Colts would have to craft a long-term plan.

Three things: Packers-Colts

August, 26, 2011
8/26/11
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Three things to look for in tonight’s preseason game for the Colts against the Packers at Lucas Oil Stadium, where kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. CBS will broadcast the game.

1. Is the quarterback play any better? Bill Polian said Kerry Collins can conceptually master an offense in 48 hours, yet indications are the veteran who joined the team Wednesday won’t play. What’s to gain for Curtis Painter playing into the third quarter with first-teamers? His hold on the No. 3 spot, I suppose. Perhaps most interesting will be Jim Caldwell’s post game review of the quarterback if he’s ineffective. Can they still paint it positively? The offensive line is expected to have Ryan Diem at right guard as the team still jiggles things looking for the right combination.

2. The defense needs to do some run-stopping. There is no switch-flipping to come and the group knows what Houston’s intent will be on opening day. Though the defense will be without safety Antoine Bethea (hamstring) and could be without Gary Brackett (elbow) tonight, a solid effort would reinforce confidence. We’ll see veteran additions Jamaal Anderson and Ernie Sims in action for the first time. It’s ultimately meaningless, yes. But there is something to be said for not being embarrassed on national TV. The Packers dismantled the Colts in Green Bay in Week 3 last preseason.

3. Rookie Delone Carter is an intriguing running back. He’s a short-yardage goal line type. The offense has struggled to move the ball, to say the least. One benefit of actually driving the ball a few times would be the chance to see Carter work in a couple of the situations he was drafted to address.
In different schemes under different coaches, players at the same position can be asked to do quite different things.

Still, looking back at 2010, I was struck by the lack of plays the Titans linebackers made.

Stephen Tulloch, who may be about to sign in Detroit, was credited with 169 tackles last season and didn’t force a fumble. The team sold Gerald McRath as a play-maker, and he made 60 tackles. didn’t force a fumble, didn't recover a fumble and didn't have an interception.

With the help of ESPN Stats and Info and profootball-reference.com, I put together two lists to gauge linebacker productivity beyond tackles around the league so I could compare the AFC South units.

Of course 3-4 defenses fare best here -- they play more linebackers and are built to have linebackers make more plays.

The first list looks at the combined total of forced fumbles, fumbles recovered and interceptions by linebackers.
  • Jacksonville, 3, 32nd
  • Houston, 4, 30th
  • Indianapolis, 5, tied 29th
  • Tennessee, 6, tied 26th

The top five were Pittsburgh (28), New England (17), New Orleans (15), Carolina (14) and Dallas (14). Of that group, only Carolina ran a 4-3.

The second list added in sacks, benefiting 3-4 teams even more. The entire AFC South ran 4-3 defenses last season. Houston is transitioning to a 3-4 now.
  • Jacksonville, 6.5, tied for 32nd
  • Houston, 7.5, 31st
  • Indianapolis, 8.5, tied for 29th
  • Tennessee, 11.5, 27th

The top five were Pittsburgh (60.5), San Diego (42.5), Green Bay (39), Dallas (37.5) and New England (34.5). Those are all 3-4s. The top 4-3 defense in this was Carolina, 15th with 22.

Perhaps I have unreasonable expectations. I want my linebackers who are always around the ball to do more than tackle. The occasional forced fumble can turn a game.

I understand big names like Brian Cushing, DeMeco Ryans and Gary Brackett missed significant time last season.

But Houston’s Cushing had four sacks, four picks and two forced fumbles when he was rookie of the year in 2009. That total of 10 was better than three AFC South teams got out of all their linebackers in 2011.

Jacksonville’s Daryl Smith had three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 1.5 sacks and an interception, in 2010. That was better than the Jaguars’ entire linebacker production all of last season and matched Houston’s.

I asked Tennessee’s Gerald McRath about the Titans lack of linebacker plays in 2010.

“We just didn’t make the plays,” he said. “There is no excuse in that. We have to take some steps to get better and to get back to where the Tennessee Titans are known for their style of play. That being said, the linebackers are going to have to step it up.”

Bottom line: Everyone in the division needs better linebacker play, even if they aren’t constructed to feature them. The Titans drafted Akeem Ayers. The Texans draft Brooks Reed. The Jaguars just signed Paul Posluszny.

There may be more attempts at upgrades to come.
Gary Brackett's played eight NFL seasons. So the Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain has played in a lot of stadiums and has a feel for the reputation of the league’s venues.

Brackett
Brackett
Morrison
Morrison
As we prepared to unveil our Power Rankings on the NFL's toughest venues, I reached out to Brackett (@GaryBrackett58) to ask if he'd share his list. He asked if he could include Lucas Oil Stadium and I said sure, so long as he was fair about it.

Jaguars middle linebacker/free agent-to-be Kirk Morrison (@kirkmorrison55) also agreed to get in on the action.

Morrison has six years of NFL service.

Big thanks to both for sharing their lists, which you can compare to mine, and overall results of our Power Rankings poll in this chart pieced together by blog editors extraordinaire Brett Longdin and Jon Hudec.


Brackett’s AFC-heavy list looks to have a strong correlation at the top between a building and its inhabitant. The Colts regularly fight with the Steelers, Patriots and Chargers for playoff seeding. He indicated Denver's elevation and Miami's heat were big factors in his placement of the Broncos' and Dolphins' stadiums.

Morrison played his first fives seasons with the Raiders and leaned hard on the AFC West. He factored in the baseball dirt in Oakland and Miami as part of his votes for Oakland Coliseum and Sun Life Stadium. He cited Denver's altitude as Brackett did and gave Seattle’s Qwest Field a nod for the noise of its 12th man.

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