Breaking down Frank Reich’s explanations for Colts’ failures vs. Jaguars

A day later the tone hadn’t changed, and neither had the message.

Maybe the Colts don’t truly realize how bad Sunday was, a 24-0 embarrassment in Jacksonville that was among the worst games this team’s played in a decade. (Put it right up there with the last time they played in Jacksonville.)

Maybe they’d just wrapped up a merciless film session — a much-needed one, at that — and are finally beginning to put their fingers on all that’s wrong.

Or maybe these empty answers, following another empty performance, are a peek into what the next four months will sound like.

Because if something doesn’t change, and change fast, this season could become a nightmare.

Colts head coach Frank Reich was pressed on Monday about his team’s lack of effort, about another poor start to the season, about his leaky offensive line, about his inability to get Nyheim Hines involved, about his quarterback’s awful afternoon and about his defense getting cooked by Trevor Lawrence, Christian Kirk and the rest of the Jaguars.

The answers were a lot of the same things we heard Sunday, and it’s highly unlikely a fed-up fanbase will be satisfied.

Reich did meet with owner Jim Irsay in the locker room after the loss, as is custom — one can only imagine Irsay’s furor after this one. “I would not wanna be Frank or Chris (Ballard) in Jim’s office,” longtime Colts center Jeff Saturday said on local radio Monday morning, speaking for just about everyone in the city.

The coach and owner will chat again later this week as kickoff against Kansas City nears.

Irsay always has the home opener circled on his calendar; he desperately wants his team to put on a good show the first time they’re in front of the fans. This year’s edition carries immense stakes, primarily because of how poorly the Colts (0-1-1) have opened the year, and because of who is coming to town. There’s no place to hide when Patrick Mahomes is in the building.

If the Colts aren’t ready from the start, they’ll get routed.

It’s become a trend in Indianapolis, one that Irsay is no doubt fed up with: in the Colts’ last three outings, going back to last year’s Week 18 debacle in Jacksonville, they have entered the fourth quarter trailing by a combined score or 67-6.

Not good enough. Not even close to good enough. What are they doing to address it? To correct it?

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Here’s what Reich said Monday on a number of topics:

• Why was Nyheim Hines only on the field for 15 plays?

The quote: “Actually in our first 15 scripted (plays), he was scheduled to kind of get involved quite a bit. Obviously, we only had 50 total plays (actually 48), which is on the low side. You’re trying to get him involved. As you saw, we opened up with him, tried to throw a screen to him early. We had another play in that first drive that he got targeted that didn’t come up quite the way we wanted it to come up. So really in the first 15 plays, I think we tried to scheme him up three, four, five times. From there, obviously, we’re going to focus on JT (Jonathan Taylor). He’s always going to be the focus. When you get down to 50 or in the high 40s (for) plays, it’s just going to limit everybody as far as snap counts.”

The context: Reich later said that the Colts believed both Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce would play Sunday, and were both ruled out late (Pierce on Friday, Pittman Saturday), making it harder to add Hines to the passing game. It would be easier with a receiver, Reich said. “We’re always looking for ways to get Nyheim the ball.” The issue with that is they consistently don’t get him the ball, and on an offense devoid of playmakers (behind Pittman, Taylor and Hines) the scheme becomes vanilla and stagnant.

The Colts have discussed playing Hines more in the slot WR role; it’s time to do it. He’s not getting a chance to impact the game as he should.

The bottom line is the play-calling hasn’t been good enough, not even close, and the Colts are a one-dimensional team without Pittman on the field. This is a problem, and it’s not likely to go away soon.


Nyheim Hines runs after a catch in the first quarter Sunday. (Douglas DeFelice / USA Today)

• Matt Ryan and the offensive line

The quote: “The protection yesterday wasn’t our best effort. He was under duress a number of times. There’s still mistakes that he made, that we all make, but I think overall — listen, I understand how the quarterback position is. You’re really dependent on everybody else on there, but you’re at the center of it so you have to make it work. What I love about Matt (Ryan), is that he takes responsibility. He’s the leader. I could not be happier that he’s our quarterback. He’s an elite leader and I really believe he can be an elite player in this offense. We’ve all got to pull it together. We all have got to carry our own weight, each one of us, including him and everybody on that offense.”

The context: Start here: 18 hits and seven sacks on Ryan in two games. And that’s for a unit carving out a bigger chunk of the salary cap ($42.2 million) than any other offensive line in the league. It’s time to wonder if Chris Strausser’s getting it done as the Colts’ offensive line coach — with all that money invested in those positions, that group should be the backbone of this offense. It’s become a liability instead. Left tackle Matt Pryor and right guard Danny Pinter were routinely exposed on Sunday, and Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly didn’t hold up very well against the stunts and twists from the Jaguars’ front. Braden Smith isn’t excused, either. The unit, as a whole, has been a disappointment.

The Colts have experimented with rookie Bernhard Raimann at left tackle, giving him a dozen or so snaps a game, but his ascent alone won’t solve the problem.

And Ryan, for all the good he did late against the Texans, was abysmal on Sunday, tossing an ill-advised interception off his back foot on the Colts’ first drive that seemed to hint at the long afternoon the Colts were in for. He needs to be better, but he won’t be until his line starts protecting him.

• His defense

The quote: “The week before, Jacksonville ran the ball exceedingly well, so I was as much concerned about their run game because I knew they would do a good job in the run game and our defense did a good job against the run. We have to tighten up the coverage and be able to find ways to — when teams have that short, controlled pass attack, to kind of neutralize that. Some of those, you’re going to give up. You’re going to give up some five-yard completions. Over the course of a game … we have to find ways to get off the field. We had a number of three-and-outs yesterday on defense that I think were very positive and then we had a handful of ones that we’re really close on but that’s where we have to get a little bit better.”

The context: Don’t give the defense a pass. This effort was atrocious. The Jags’ quick-passing attack stymied the Colts all day long — Lawrence only had five incompletions on 30 attempts — and coordinator Gus Bradley’s unit looked unprepared and, at times, disinterested. Christian Kirk’s first touchdown? James Robinson’s touchdown? Those plays weren’t as much scheme as they were effort. Sunday was a damning reminder of what the Colts look like on defense when the pass rush is neutralized and they don’t have Shaquille Leonard on the field to save them. One player who certainly needs to be better in the coming weeks: Kenny Moore II.

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• Why Jonathan Taylor wasn’t able to get going

The quote: “Last week we had 33 first downs, this week we had nine first downs. You guys have heard me say this over the last number of years, whenever it comes down to him not getting enough carries, one of — it’s not the only factor — but one of the factors, usually, almost always, is we’re poor on third down. (The Colts were 2-for-10 on third downs Sunday.) You’ve got to convert on third down to get runs called. If you’re three-and-out or four-and-out, it’s hard to get runs called because you’re getting third-down plays and then when you add onto that, we were third-and-long all day so it’s hard to get enough runs to Jonathan. So, that was the primary reason right there. Then, you fall behind and you’re playing a little bit of catch-up, but we’ll still try to mix it up as we did. We had a couple of long runs in the second half, but still not very many attempts.”

The context: Taylor was among the few players who brought it Sunday. But for the Colts’ running back to only have four yards on five carries in the first half? That’s a complete and utter failure by the entire offensive unit. The Jaguars’ front consistently got penetration, pushing the Colts’ linemen back, filling the few gaps that were there. Sunday was also an indictment into what the Colts look like when Taylor or Pittman doesn’t get going: the offense is painfully thin in terms of playmakers, and by game’s end, they hadn’t even scored a single point.

• On where his team’s at

The quote: “I’ll close with this, as bad as it was yesterday, you see this in all the sports, you see it in our sport, you’re not that far away. Every year, teams go from last to first in divisions and so on. It’s not that far. We just have to clean some things up, execute better, maintain the right attitude and focus. I’m confident of our team going forward.”

The context: Both of the following statements can be true:

1) The Colts have been utterly unprepared to start this season, outplayed and outcoached in back-to-back games against subpar opponents. That, right there, is inexcusable. All the criticism levied their way this week is more than warranted.

2) The season is still young. This team has climbed from 1-5 and 1-4 before. Will it happen again? We’ve seen no indication. But two games — no matter how dreadful those two games are — do not make a season.

But to say this team’s close, that they just have a few things to clean up? That feels foolish.

Right now, the Colts are what they’ve put on a tape: a bad football team.

About the Author: Mofazzal Hossen

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