After the Indianapolis Colts were completely embarrassed on Sunday by the Los Angeles Rams, it raises the question of whether the honeymoon for new general manager Chris Ballard is finally over.
Before fans jump on me with the ‘only one game’ mantra, please allow me to explain.
The Colts entered the offseason knowing full well that star quarterback Andrew Luck was set to undergo offseason shoulder surgery, yet the organization decided to stick with veteran backup Scott Tolzien as his primary replacement–bringing no other proven quarterback options onto the roster.
As much as we want to point fingers at head coach Chuck Pagano for starting Tolzien on Sunday, Ballard shares equally in the blame–if not more so. The other quarterbacks that he brought onto the roster this offseason for competition were Stephen Morris, rookie UDFA Phillip Walker, and 3rd-string Patriots QB Jacoby Brissett (*a week before the season began).
Despite outplaying Tolzien in preseason, Morris was released as part of the team’s 53-man roster cuts, Walker was fairly underwhelming before being re-signed to the team’s practice squad, and Brissett is currently cramming the Colts offensive playbook on such short notice.
It’s one thing to say that the Colts fully expected Luck to return for the regular season opener–at least initially during the offseason, and thus, never brought in a serious veteran insurance policy. However, the team knew for at least a few weeks before the regular season opener that Luck wasn’t going to start the season given where he was at in his rehabilitation program and the fact that he had yet to publicly throw/fully practice–let alone even appear in a preseason game.
At one point this past offseason, it was reported that the Colts expressed interest in an unnamed veteran quarterback, but ultimately balked at his price tag. Something that sure looks like a major mistake right now.
In an offseason that saw the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, and even Jay Cutler sign with other teams, the Colts stubbornly stood pat with Tolzien–even completely ignoring the fact that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was and remains a free agent.
While none of those veteran quarterbacks are ‘great’ options, each has a wealth of starting experience and could at least win a few games in Luck’s absence–something that can’t be said with Tolzien as a starter.
On Sunday, the Colts predictably paid the price–only this time, in the loss and pride columns.
The 30 year old Tolzien’s 2017 debut against the Los Angeles Rams was nothing short of disastrous, as he completed 9 of 18 throws for 128 passing yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions (both returned for touchdowns), and an abysmal passer rating of just 33.8.
Tolzien’s failure was certainly foreseeable, as members of the mainstream media commented on his inability to make routine throws in training camp practices, and he posted just a 75.7 passer rating in 4 preseason starts with 0 touchdowns to 1 interception–struggling to consistently move the chains for the Colts offense.
While some of Ballard’s free agent signings looked good–most notably veteran nose tackle Al Woods, outside linebacker John Simon, defensive end Margus Hunt, and inside linebacker Jeremiah George, there were mixed bags on other signings such as starting outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins–both of whom didn’t flash on film much (although neither plays much of a ‘flashy’ position to be fair).
Some of the Colts rookies did look impressive in their debut, such as running back Marlon Mack (sans fumble), punter Rigoberto Sanchez, and cornerback Nate Hairston, but fellow cornerback Quincy Wilson was passed over for project T.J. Green in the positional pecking order, while 1st round safety Malik Hooker never really stood out.
However, jokes aside, this idea that Ballard can do no wrong also isn’t entirely true either.
[It’s worth noting that the offensive line still is shaky, but Ballard couldn’t also be reasonably expected to fill all holes in one lone offseason given the roster’s extensive deficiencies.]
Case in point, the Colts starting inside linebackers, Jon Bostic and Antonio Morrison, received a +37.2 grade and a +35.3 grade overall per Pro Football Focus respectively against the Rams, as they were ‘lost in space’ much of the afternoon.
While the Colts signed veteran Sean Spence to a 1-year, $3 million deal this offseason, only to release him as part of the team’s final 53-man roster cuts, one free agent inside linebacker (who actually visited the Colts), Zach Brown, actually later signed with the Washington Redskins for 1 year, $2.3 million and received a +81.3 grade overall this past Sunday with 12 tackles.
Think the Colts could’ve used Brown against the Rams?
Now, could and will a lot change between now and the end of the regular season regarding these players?
Will this rebuild take some time?
However, just because Ballard seems like a genuinely good person and comes from a highly regarded scouting background [and isn’t Ryan Grigson] doesn’t mean he gets a free pass for everything either.
We plan on holding him accountable just like any other Colts player or coach–and rightfully so.
It’s way too early to call any of the free agent signings and draft picks currently on the roster successes or failures. However, the fact that the team entered Week 1 with Tolzien as its starter is simply unfathomable right now.
It’s one thing to rebuild, which is completely understandable, but it’s another thing to put out a lack of a competitive work product onto the field for fans–which is borderline ‘tanking’.
While I don’t think the Colts are purposefully ‘tanking’, I’m not sure that Ballard put his best foot forward when securing the best potential replacement option for Luck on the field for reasons unknown.
The difference is that Tolzien isn’t some young quarterback that the Colts are grooming to be the long-term backup behind Luck in a rebuilding season either, as he’s 30 years old, and after Sunday’s showing, has no real future here. If this were a young quarterback with obvious tools and a skill-set that were worth developing, such a disastrous start would still make some degree of sense because you’re at least building towards something.
Instead, the Colts after getting destroyed by last year’s 4-12 Los Angeles Rams to the tune of 46-9, were simply not competitive, and it started at the quarterback position with a player who has no long-term–maybe even a future in Indianapolis.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
It’s not Ballard’s fault that the Colts were out-coached, out-played (in some respects), and he inherited a roster devoid of extensive talent–which will take more than one offseason to improve.
There are a lot of young faces on the roster who will require patience.
However, make no mistake about it, some of the blame from Sunday’s embarrassing loss falls squarely on Ballard’s shoulders for sticking with Tolzien as his best replacement starter–when all indications were that it was a bad decision all along.