INDIANAPOLIS – When you are talking about a stretch that ranks as one of the worst in recent franchise memory, blame goes everywhere.
Owner. GM. Head Coach. Players.
But let’s be clear to start, this four-game Colts stretch, dating back to last season, has been embarrassing.
In going 0-3-1 against the Raiders, Jaguars (road), Texans (road) and Jaguars (road), the Colts have not only blown two chances to make the playoffs, a chance to end an 8-year Week 1 drought and to win in Jacksonville for the first time since 2014.
They’ve been outclassed for large chunks of those games, with 3 of those contests coming against the laughingstock of the NFL.
The Colts were a touchdown favorite over the Raiders in Week 17 last year, with a chance to clinch a playoff berth at home. Instead, the interim-led coach Raiders kept their own playoff hopes alive with a 3-point win over the Colts.
The next week, the Colts were two-touchdown favorites in Jacksonville, with a playoff berth again there for the taking. It was the 2-14 Jaguars punking the Colts from the game’s opening drive, building a 3-score lead and cruising to a 15-point win in the season finale.
In this year’s season opener, the Colts were the NFL’s biggest Week 1 favorite, a 7-point spread over the Texans. It was another sluggish start for Indy, with a miraculous comeback turning a 20-0 deficit into a tie as the season-opening win drought extended to 9 years.
And then on Sunday, the Colts were favored by 3 points, as they tried to end a 7-year skid in Jacksonville. Once again, the Jaguars dominated the Colts in the trenches and manhandled them for 60 minutes, shutting Indy out, 24-0.
Considering the expectations for the (short-term quarterback minded) Colts, what was at stake in each of those games, the level of competition in those contests and the thorough beatings often handed to them, it’s fair to ask if seats need to be warmer at the top of the Colts organization.
From a responsibility standpoint, this is a top-down issue.
Remember, it was Jim Irsay deciding to hand out significant contract extensions to Ballard and Reich just prior to last season.
This was Irsay sending a message to his entire fan base that resumes with no division titles and one playoff win was enough to merit a commitment almost exclusively reserved for those who have made far more frequent January runs.
Roster construction issues are rather obvious.
The Colts have stubbornly ignored the growing emphasis on the need for dynamic pass catchers. Questions were there all offseason long of why the Colts weren’t addressing more wide receiver help to support Michael Pittman and Matt Ryan. And the result has been a group filled with critical drops and untimely penalties to start this season.
Ballard’s biggest core belief—a serious investment in the trenches—has led to nowhere near the expected return there. The most expensive offensive line in football couldn’t open up anything for Jonathan Taylor last week, as Matt Ryan was pummeled this past Sunday 11 times for 5 sacks in 30 pass attempts. The Indy defensive line, which is the 3rd highest paid DL group in the league, filled with major draft picks, has produced just 0 sacks in 8 quarters of regulation football this year (both Kwity Paye sacks in Week 1 came in overtime).
And from a coaching standpoint, where is the heightened sense of urgency for Reich’s team during this stretch? The story has been awful starts—the Colts have been outscored 67-6 combined in the first three quarters of their last three games—leading to yet another year where the Colts margin for error is shrinking rapidly in September.
Lastly, many of the Colts highest paid players haven’t sniffed the needed expectation that should be there for them.
Whether Irsay wants to admit it or not, this current state of the Colts has to bring in serious questions about the future, with that inevitable QB decision still having no answer.
The seats need to be warmed. But don’t hold your breath for that accountability to actually take place.