GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers will be facing a wounded, possibly motivated team Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts visit Lambeau Field.
“This will be a defining moment,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said of the Colts’ first appearance in Green Bay since 2008.
The Colts, a seven-point underdog, are coming off a 30-14 thrashing at home against Kansas City. It was their most lopsided defeat of a 3-5 season, leaving them two games behind Houston in the AFC South Division race that they’ve won nine times in the last 13 years.
A succession of players departed early against the Chiefs because of injury. It’s possible six of the Colts’ preferred starters won’t play.
“The Colts secondary can’t match up in coverage and will struggle against the Packers’ passing game,” said an AFC personnel man who picked the Packers, 35-17. “The Colts have a quarterback that is a difference-maker but they do a poor job of protecting him.
“Green Bay can confuse Indy’s O-line with a lot of movement by their defensive line.”
The Colts have made the playoffs 14 times in the last 17 seasons, three more than the Packers. They’re used to winning, which quarterback Andrew Luck did starting in 2012 as the rookie successor to Peyton Manning.
Indianapolis slipped to a non-playoff 8-8 record a year ago. Luck didn’t play well in a season reduced to seven games by injury.
He’s off to an excellent start but his surrounding cast doesn’t measure up.
“This is not a talented team outside of Andrew Luck,” an executive in personnel said. “How they have won and stayed in games is solely due to Luck.”
The Colts are last in the NFL in percentage of sacks allowed.
“It has been a party at the quarterback for opposing defenses, and it is taking its toll on Luck,” the scout said in picking Green Bay, 30-14. “He gets hit on just about every dropback. Really a shame that Luck has to try and survive behind this collection of offensive linemen.”
Cornerback Vontae Davis, probably the best player on defense, is iffy with a concussion. Linebacker Erik Walden, the former Packer, has been the most productive member of the front seven.
“I don’t see a legitimate every-down starter on the defensive line,” the scout added. “They really struggle to get pressure and their average secondary has been ravaged by injuries.
“There’s no identity. They’re small and slow, and the best players are on the downside of their careers.”
Rob Chudzinski, the first-year coordinator, posted a 4-12 record as Cleveland’s head coach in 2013. He runs a vertical-style passing attack, which in turn leads to sacks because the quarterback must hold the ball. His run rate is just 35.6%, and the Colts have been penalized more than 29 teams. They rank ninth in points (26.0), tied for 11th in giveaways (eight) and 13th in yards (360.5).
Two of the top three WRs, T.Y. Hilton (5-9½, 180) and Phillip Dorsett (5-9½, 185), are little. Selected for the Pro Bowl in 2014, Hilton has superb speed (4.36) and uses it to take the top off any defense. He doesn’t show much courage in traffic so his best location is outside despite his size. Dorsett, the 29th pick in ’15, is even faster (4.28) than Hilton and similar in many ways. He’s just not as good. Donte Moncrief (6-2½, 222) returned Sunday after a five-game absence (shoulder). A third-round pick in ’14, he’s another deep threat with 4.40 speed and a 39½-inch vertical jump. He can be knocked off routes and isn’t always reliable. If Dorsett, who reinjured his hamstring Sunday in the waning seconds, doesn’t play, free agent Devin Street (6-3, 200) would fill in. He’s a long strider with good hands and average speed. If Chester Rogers (5-11, 180) is back from a leg injury, he has the quickness and route skills to help. TE Dwayne Allen, a solid five-year starter, will miss a third straight game (ankle). His replacement, free agent Jack Doyle (6-5½, 267), doesn’t run (4.98) or catch well enough to provide QB Andrew Luck with a dependable middle-of-the-field threat. He’s not much of a blocker, either. Backup Erik Swoope (6-5, 257), an average basketball player at Miami, has made strides in just his second year of football. He’s a top athlete with speed but a poor blocker.
LT Anthony Castonzo (6-7, 311), the 22nd pick in ’11, became an instant starter but is more of a liability than franchise player. He’s a solid athlete with good lateral quickness and is smart as a whip (Wonderlic score of 41). His arm length (34½ inches) affects him trying to keep rushers off his chest, and neither his anchor nor run blocking is satisfactory. He needs extra help at times in protection, help Chudzinski can ill afford to provide. LG Jack Mewhort (6-6, 312), a three-year starter and one of the two best linemen, probably won’t play (triceps). The best guess on his replacement would be Jonotthan Harrison (6-3½, 300), a third-year free agent. He’s more of a center who really isn’t stout enough for guard. Rookie C Ryan Kelly (6-4, 313), the 18th pick, has been the most consistent. He plays strong, has long arms (33 5/8) and operates like a 10-year veteran. RG Denzelle Good (6-5½, 355), a seventh-round pick in ’15 from Mars Hill College, is smart (Wonderlic of 30), long-armed (35 1/8) and massive. However, he has heavy feet, poor balance, limited recovery and quits on some plays. Rookie RT Joe Haeg (6-6, 304), a fifth-round pick, figures to start ahead of Joe Reitz (6-7, 325) even if Reitz is cleared of a concussion. Tough and smart (Wonderlic of 30), Haeg still plays like a rookie falling off blocks and allowing too much pressure. Reitz, 31, isn’t good enough.
Andrew Luck (6-4, 240), the No. 1 pick in ’12, ranks 12th in passer rating (96.2). His career marks are 86.4 (rating) and 38-25 (record). His Wonderlic was 37. Luck is a tremendous athlete with 4.64 speed and excellent running talent. His arm strength is good, not great. He has reduced his mistakes this year. Despite all the hits, he’s healthy. He’s unassuming, direct and a leader. He also holds the ball too long. Ex-Packer Scott Tolzien (6-2, 213) is No. 2.
Former 49er Frank Gore (5-9½, 217) is on pace for his ninth 1,000-yard season. At 33, he doesn’t scare foes anymore. He just keeps churning his legs, grinding away and making tacklers miss. His averages are 88.3 and 5.1 in six games against Green Bay. Former Seahawk-Cowboy Robert Turbin (5-10, 225), the third-down back, is a squarely built, hard-running player with more than adequate speed.
First-year coordinator Ted Monachino installed Baltimore’s 3-4 defense after spending six seasons coaching linebackers there. He and Chuck Pagano served two years together on coach John Harbaugh’s staff. They prefer man coverage, and with the four-man rush ineffective, their blitz rate of 30.7% ranks 11th in the NFL, according to Sportradar. The Colts rank tied for 24th in takeaways (seven), 28th in points (28.8) and 29th in yards (402.5).
DEs Kendall Langford (6-5½, 305) and Henry Anderson (6-6, 300) aren’t world-beaters but might be the two best players. However, they’re out with injuries. After them are five relatively short players with limited résumés. NT David Parry (6-1, 310), a fifth-round pick in 2015, is a strong, short-armed (31 inch) battler who goes all-out but is limited. The 5-technique is rookie Hassan Ridgeway (6-3½, 317), a fourth-round pick with some strength and penetration ability. He’s rushing too high. Former Raven Arthur Jones (6-3, 320), the 3-technique, has started slowly after a four-game drug suspension. An awkward-looking athlete, he plays hard but ends up on the ground too much. NT T.Y. McGill (6-0, 310) and DT Zach Kerr (6-1½, 334), a pair of free agents, might be better than the starters. McGill flashes quickness and range (4.99 speed), and his arms are long (33¾). Kerr lacks McGill’s length (32 7/8) but ran 5.08, is strong and possesses pass-rush potential.
Former Packer Erik Walden (6-2, 250) has started almost every game at SOLB since signing a four-year, $16 million free-agent deal in March 2013. He’s a hit-you-in-the-mouth, at times intimidating presence against the run. He’s not a great pass rusher but his long arms and expanded arsenal of moves have enabled him to notch 20 sacks in 3½ seasons. He’s the tone-setter on defense. WOLB Robert Mathis (6-0, 245), the Colts’ fifth-round pick in ’03 from Alabama A&M, has been a force forever. He still gives tremendous effort, shows quickness off the edge and wins with a spin move. Because he can’t play every down anymore, former Titan-Patriot Akeem Ayers (6-2½, 255) is playing extensively. He’s a respectable rusher but gets lost in coverage and isn’t a big hitter. Former Brown SILB D’Qwell Jackson (6-0½, 242), a 10-year starter, has played 88.2% of the snaps at a fairly high level. He runs the show, keys quickly and will deliver a lusty hit. His coverage has diminished and at times he overpursues. WILB Edwin Jackson (5-11, 230), a second-year free agent, has a size deficiency but is physical, active and improved in coverage.
The key question is whether RC Vontae Davis (5-11, 207), the 25th pick in ’09 by Miami, will be cleared to play (concussion). If so, the Colts would have their most talented defensive player. He has the speed and ability to match up with top receivers although he does his share of guessing. If not, others would move up beyond their skill level. LC Patrick Robinson (5-11, 191), the 32nd pick in ’10 by New Orleans, still has good ability but doesn’t play with much confidence and his toughness and catch-up speed are questionable. Nickel back Darius Butler (5-10½, 188), a second-round pick in ’09 by New England, is playing with a club to protect a broken finger. He’s better inside, although he can be exploited everywhere. Rashaan Melvin (6-1½, 193), a fourth-year free agent with his fifth team, is faster than he is quick but hasn’t been bad. Three safeties play but the best is Mike Adams (5-10, 205), a 13-year veteran with four teams. He has lost some range but lines everyone up, finds the ball and is a willing hitter. SS Clayton Geathers (6-1½, 220), a fourth-round pick in ’15, and rookie FS T.J. Green (6-2½, 205), a second-round pick, both run and jump impressively. Geathers is tough but isn’t sound in man coverage. Green runs 4.34 but is so raw.
All-time K Adam Vinatieri, 43, is 18 for 18 after going 55 of 58 in 2014-’15. P Pat McAfee kicks off well and ranks sixth in net punt average (42.3). Injuries to top returners Quan Bray and Chester Rogers led to fumbles by Phillip Dorsett and RB Josh Ferguson Sunday on punt returns. Kick coverage for coach Tom McMahon has been solid.
If patterns mean anything, WR T.Y. Hilton could be set for a big game. Against the Chiefs on Sunday, he caught just one of six targeted passes for 20 yards, and a couple were scored as drops. His yardage totals had been 174 in Game 3, 171 in Game 5 and 133 in Game 7, and 42 in Game 4 and 49 in Game 6 before the season-low of 20 three days ago. His fourth-quarter touchdowns of 63 and 35 yards beat the Chargers and Bears. Last year, he joined Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne as the only Colts to post three straight 1,000-yard seasons. He has been bothered by a hip injury much of the season.
The Colts struggled rushing the passer toward the end under defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. Last year, their total of 41 sacks led to a No. 22 finish in sack percentage. Manusky, who coordinated throughout the first four seasons of coach Chuck Pagano’s tenure, was fired and replaced by Ravens LB coach Ted Monachino. Under Monachino, the Colts have slipped to 26th in sack percentage (14 sacks). OLB Robert Mathis, 35, is playing a little bit less these days (59.1%) and has only two sacks, giving him 120 over 14 years. Former Packers OLB Erik Walden has emerged as the No. 1 threat with team-high totals of six sacks, 10 quarterback hits and five tackles for loss.
From 1998-2009, the first 12 of Peyton Manning’s 13 seasons in Indianapolis, the Colts entrusted their offensive line to assistant coach Howard Mudd. They never had great personnel, and some years the personnel wasn’t very good at all. But the cerebral Mudd always made it work.
The Colts promoted Mudd’s assistant, Pete Metzelaars, in 2010-’11 under coach Jim Caldwell. After Caldwell and the Polians, Bill and Chris, were fired after the ’11 season, owner Jim Irsay hired GM Ryan Grigson to run the show.
Grigson, a tackle at Purdue, was drafted in the sixth round by Cincinnati in 1995 but didn’t have much of a playing career. He drafted six offensive linemen and signed four unrestricted free agents from 2012-’15 to reinforce what was a weak unit.
When Andrew Luck continued to run for his life, coach Chuck Pagano in January hired Joe Philbin as assistant head coach and offensive line coach. Joe Gilbert, the top O-line coach the last three years, stayed on to assist Philbin.
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Three months later, Grigson drafted offensive linemen in the first, third, fifth and seventh rounds.
The results, to be sure, have been discouraging. The Colts have allowed 31 sacks and rank 32nd in percentage of sacks allowed. They were 14th a year ago, and nobody in Indianapolis was thrilled about that.
Philbin had been fired as head coach in Miami after four games (24-28 record) last season. He wanted to remain in coaching and decided to resume his career tutoring the offensive line, which was his first love.
The 55-year-old Philbin coached collegiate offensive lines at Ohio, Northeastern, Harvard and Iowa for nine years before Mike Sherman brought him to Green Bay as Larry Beightol’s assistant in 2003. Philbin coached tight ends and continued helping Beightol from 2004-’05 before Mike McCarthy kept him as his line coach in ’06.
Even after being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2007, Philbin spent much of his time at practice around his successor, James Campen, and the line, sometimes handling the drills and instruction himself.
Philbin gained something of a reputation for being soft with the Dolphins but that wasn’t the case in Green Bay nor has it been in Indianapolis. He is a demanding teacher with command of offensive football and the fine points of line play.
The Colts are getting lambasted for their inability to protect Luck, and rightly so. Injuries, however, have sidelined four key players at various points this season, and with the youth program in full swing, growing pains were expected, anyway.
It’s doubtful that Philbin would be considered for another head coaching job in the NFL. He’s probably in a perfect place, and the Colts are fortunate to have someone of his stature trying to rebuild their weakest unit.