Let’s start off by saying that this is not all Andrew Luck’s fault.
Yes, he’s part of the problem, throwing nine interceptions in five games and leading the Indianapolis Colts to a 1-4 record as a starter (by comparison, 40-year-old backup Matt Hasselbeck is 2-0), but the team being objectively bad is not Luck’s fault. That burden falls on the shoulders of owner Jim Irsay, but since he’s not going to fire himself, the ax must fall on general manager Ryan Grigson or head coach Chuck Pagano. And the public execution might come sooner than anticipated.
After the New Orleans Saints, a team that was 10-17 on the road since 2012, came into Indianapolis on Sunday and won 27-21, the questions continued to mount: Is winning the worst division in football every year enough to keep Pagano employed? Will Grigson’s history of bad trades and puzzling draft decisions finally catch up to him? The final score doesn’t even paint an accurate picture of how badly the Colts were beaten on their home turf, as the Saints raced out to a 27-0 lead and boos rained down on Luck and his teammates for their pitiful performance.
Luck finished 23-of-44 for 333 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions, but as per usual, most of his production came when the game was all but over. That’s why he finished with a QBR of 19.3, a mark barely above EJ Manuel and Landry Jones this week. For the first few years of his career, Luck was compared to Peyton Manning because of his arm, his mind and the team that he played for, but now he can be compared to Manning for another reason: They’ve both regressed mightily in 2015.
Putting Luck in the QB pantheon was probably a premature move. He posted a passer rating of 76.5 as a rookie (well behind classmates Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, and nearly identical to Ryan Tannehill), and has thrown 29 interceptions in his last 24 games. The only thing more abundant than those picks were the excuses fans made for him, singling out everything from his lack of protection – he’s been sacked 112 times since 2012; by comparison, Wilson’s been gone down 150 times and Tannehill has hit the turf on 155 occasions – to a dearth of offensive weapons, which begs us to overlook the fact that T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Phillip Dorsett and Frank Gore are all on this team.
But rarely do you hear about the advantages Luck has enjoyed in Indy. Like the fact he’s 17-2 against the AFC South compared to 17-17 against all other teams. The Jaguars are 11-44 since Luck came into the NFL in 2012. The Titans are 16-38. The Texans are 25-30, but that includes a 2-14 campaign. Basically, the Colts are the best of a bad bunch.
But despite all that, Luck is still not the main problem going in Indy. There is plenty of time for him to become a great quarterback, and he’s got the talent to get there. Blame him for most of his interceptions, but he’s not the guy responsible for putting the roster together.
That’s where Grigson, the 2012 Executive of the Year (basically for drafting Luck number one overall, which any GM would have done), has to take blame. Particularly on defense, where the Colts aren’t just bad, they’re old. Nine regulars on defense are 29 or older, and Grigson has failed to replenish the ranks in the draft. Their highest drafted defensive player in 2012 was fifth-round nose tackle Josh Chapman. Their first-round pick in 2013, defensive end Bjoern Werner, may very well be released or traded after this season. They didn’t take another defensive player until round five. Grigson traded his 2014 first-round pick for running back Trent Richardson, who is currently not on an NFL roster. In the most recent draft, the Colts took Dorsett in the first round, despite having a glut of players at the position. Dorsett had 10 catches for 159 yards coming into the game, and suffered an ankle injury that will keep him out 4-6 weeks.
What’s worse, after four years of bad drafting, signing old free agents and doing very little to build around their gift-wrapped franchise QB, it appears as though Indianapolis might not even be the best of a bad bunch anymore.
The loss dropped the Colts to 3-4 (fittingly, all three of their wins have come against AFC South opponents), and just one game ahead of the Texans and Jaguars. Is it crazy to think that any team in the AFC South could get hot and dethrone Luck and the Colts, especially considering that Indy beat Houston, Tennessee and Jacksonville by a combined 12 points? This division is a four-way dogfight – too bad it’s the Puppy Bowl.
And not to sing a familiar refrain, but the Colts regression can’t be blamed entirely on Luck. But someone has to take the fall, and it’ll probably happen soon. Indianapolis has a bye in Week 10, and since their next two games are against the Panthers and Broncos, that might be when we see Pagano waiving goodbye as well.