Colts leading league in ugly losses, and fault lies with Chuck Pagano

INDIANAPOLIS -- It's a scene that has become all too familiar during Chuck Pagano's five-plus years as coach of the Indianapolis Colts. It's also something that could end up costing Pagano his job.

The coach would talk days in advance about how his team was prepared for its upcoming game, only for the team to go out and get thoroughly whooped.

Last week he said he "never felt better about an offensive line" heading into Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Rams. The Colts gave up four sacks and were beaten 46-9 by the Rams.

"Out-coached in this football game," Pagano said afterward. "It's my responsibility and it falls on me. It all starts with me and I didn't do a good enough of a job getting this team ready to go."

Pagano's week-to-week inability to have his team prepared will end up being his downfall. He doesn't have a crutch to lean on, such as saying he doesn't have franchise quarterback Andrew Luck (shoulder). Ryan Grigson is no longer the general manager and a target of blame.

This is all about Pagano.

The pressure surrounding Pagano's future will mount if the Colts continue to struggle and show no signs of being competitive. That has been a challenge at times for Indianapolis. Sunday was an NFL-high seventh time (counting the playoffs) that the Colts have lost by at least 30 points since Pagano was hired in 2012. Two of those times occurred in back-to-back weeks late in the 2015 season, when the Colts were trying to win the AFC South.

Luck's exceptional skill set is well-known, and the Colts obviously aren't going to be as good without him, but Pagano's job as head coach is to develop his players and put a competitive team on the field.

The Colts showed some signs of promise -- outside of quarterback -- during the preseason, but on Sunday they looked like a team that didn't belong on the field with the Rams. Indianapolis had four turnovers and was 0-of-10 on third down. The 225 total yards were the fewest by this franchise in a season opener since it had 159 against Pittsburgh in 1985, according to ESPN Stats & Info research.

"I thought the last two preseason games, the things that we weren't doing in those -- we were taking care of the ball, we were taking the ball away, we were doing the little things in those games," Pagano said. "We've done them in practice, and then all of a sudden they rear their ugly head in the game. And for whatever reason, you've got to be able to transfer what you do on the practice field. It doesn't matter whether it's training camp, preseason or, certainly more importantly, the regular season.

"So you go back to the drawing board and make sure that you're dotting the I's and crossing the T's, and you're covering all your bases and you do a great job of preparing for everything. Again, we didn't get the job done."

First-year general manager Chris Ballard was asked last week how he would evaluate Pagano this season considering that the Colts don't have Luck and the roster was reshaped during the offseason.

"The ability to, when it gets hard, that we remain calm. We don't panic," Ballard said Sept. 4. "We continue to coach and develop -- that's important. They've been great about that part. They've been really good. They've had a lot of change. Change was needed. It was."

The Colts will try to avoid going 0-2 for the fourth straight season when they play the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. The seat that Pagano sits in will get even warmer if his team puts on another dreadful performance and it's deemed to be due to a lack of proper preparation.

"It's no fun losing a football game," Pagano said. "You have high expectations and high hopes, you work hard and all that stuff -- it doesn't work out and you're disappointed. But again, it's one of 16 [games]. This is a long, long road and a long journey. We'll keep battling, we'll keep preparing and we'll keep working. There's only one remedy, and that's to win. That's what we'll do. We'll prepare to try to win a football game. It'll be a whole different world out there, as you know, when you win."