To win, you must have a good quarterback. To compete for playoff success, you must have a great quarterback. The Colts have a great quarterback. Perfect? No. But Luck is a franchise player and the Colts would be hard-pressed to find a better one. None are available, that’s for sure.
Luck needs strong teammates around him and he needs coaching to make the most of those teammates.
Those factors are why most Colts fans I’ve encountered in person or on Twitter wanted Irsay to fire Pagano and Grigson and start over. I, too, figured it was time to clean house and try a new approach.
The silence Irsay has delivered since the end of the season could be interpreted as an indication he's mulling over making a change. Or maybe he's not. Maybe he has his headphones on listening to Bob Dylan. Whatever the case, national reporters from The Sporting News, NFL Network and others reported Friday that Irsay has decided to stay the course and keep Pagano and Grigson. Irsay has yet to confirm it publicly, so it can't be stated yet with 100 percent certainty.
So do the Colts find a way back to trending upward as they were in Luck’s first three seasons, or do they remain running in place like 8-8 teams tend to do?
Some of what has happened to the Colts over the last five years can be attributed to the law of averages. Comeback wins that Luck engineered in his first three seasons tilted the other way the last two years (or the last one, since he missed half of 2015). The Colts caught a lot of the breaks early in Luck’s career and not as many the last couple years. That’s kind of how sports work.
But if Pagano and Grigson are back, they can’t just do the same things and hope the breaks swing back their way.
Another 8-8 season would be torturous for fans accustomed to the Peyton Manning-era 12-4 seasons. (Mandatory side note: The Manning era is over. Boy, is it over.)
Pagano and Grigson must find a way to reverse some of the problems they have encountered/created over their run.
Pagano must have his team better prepared. Too many times, it seemed as if the Colts had to be figuratively punched in the mouth before they woke up and competed. That can’t happen. Maybe Pagano has to be more of a demanding taskmaster, or he needs to have his coordinators and assistant coaches play bad cop more often. I'm not on the inside to see what the issue is. But immediate execution built off of strong preparation must improve.
As the 2016 season progressed, the offense became a bit more adept at strong starts. They stumbled at times, most notably in the biggest game of the season at home against Houston, but there seemed to be progress. Even the pass protection was better down the homestretch.
Pagano needs to push for a bolder, more aggressive offense. He’s a defensive coach, so that means offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski must be given the authority to play to his team’s assets. That means Luck passing the ball even more. Maybe they should look at Drew Brees’ offense with the New Orleans Saints and emulate that. Of course, Luck must have time. Offensive line coach Joe Philbin must develop a unit that can protect. Signs were there the last few games. Some young blood in the line shows promise.
Pagano needs to find a way to tap into the potential of Phillip Dorsett, who hasn’t shown anything but brief flashes so far. It would be great if Donte Moncrief stays healthy, but that’s out of Pagano’s control.
Grigson, meanwhile, can’t miss on the next draft. He has to find more players like center Ryan Kelly – players that aren’t going to excite fans initially, but who can step in and perform well from the start. That’s easier said than done. But Luck will only be as good as the players around him, offensively and defensively.
The defense was a mess in 2016, one of the worst in the league. It will be tough to fix.
The Colts clearly need an elite pass rusher. Grigson has been unable to find an heir to Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and that hurts. Bjoern Werner was a bust. Jonathan Newsome didn’t last. A team without a big-time pass rush must hope it has a great secondary. The Colts have neither, although Vontae Davis is the real deal at cornerback. Safety Mike Adams says he has more in the tank, but he’s 36 and it seems unlikely the Colts will bring him back. So there’s rebuilding to be done there. The Colts need linebackers. Antonio Morrison showed some signs. He also botched some things. He’s a work in progress.
Grigson’s next draft is huge, as is any foray back into free agency. It’s essential he find defensive playmakers.
Pagano must coach better. Grigson must assemble better talent. After five years running things, is that possible? Colts fans have every right to be skeptical.
The Colts have Luck, so they have a chance. But the best careers only last so long and the clock feels like it’s ticking faster than ever.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.