INDIANAPOLIS – One of the things Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay talked about when I met with him earlier this month was that coach Chuck Pagano could no longer let his personal feelings get in the way of making decisions about the roster.
“Chuck is such a relationship guy, and it’s a strength of his," Irsay said Feb. 2. "But again, he can’t let emotion, sentiment get in a way of winning in professional football. I’ve been real clear with Chuck, and [general manager] Ryan [Grigson] as well. You always try to continue to work on weaknesses any individual has.”
There’s a clear mutual respect between the 40-year-old Hasselbeck and Pagano. It was less than two weeks ago that the Colts' own website quoted Hasselbeck as saying that Pagano had told him, “We love you. We would love to have you back.”
But it's time for the Colts to get a younger player to back up Andrew Luck at quarterback.
The plan is for the Colts go with Josh Freeman, a former first-round pick, as Luck’s backup next season. The Colts gave Freeman an audition when they signed him in Week 17. Freeman, despite only four days of practice, went 15-of-28 for 149 yards and one touchdown, with one interception, in the Colts’ regular-season finale against Tennessee.
Freeman is younger and more mobile and has a stronger arm than Hasselbeck.
For as good as Hasselbeck was – he was one of the best stories of the NFL when he won his first four starts – he also hampered the Colts in what they could do offensively because coordinators Pep Hamilton and then Rob Chudzinski had to simplify the game plan some when he started. They called a lot of quick, underneath throws to try to avoid Hasselbeck getting hit, plus he no longer had the ability to throw deep on a regular basis.
That approach worked early on, but then defenses started to take that aspect of the offense away for the Colts. They sputtered on offense in three straight losses to Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Houston, scoring a total of 36 points in those December games when they were still in a position to win the AFC South. It also didn't help that Hasselbeck's body started breaking down from the all the hits he took.
The reality is, that’s not how they Colts envisioned their offense.
They went into last season wanting to use their speed on the outside at receiver to open things up in the middle of the field for the tight ends and running backs. Hasselbeck was 12-of-28 for 362 yards, with an interception, on throws that traveled at least 20 yards in the air in his eight starts. Luck attempted 45 throws where the ball was in the air at least 20 yards in just seven starts.
Remember receiver T.Y. Hilton’s comments late in the season?
“Donte [Moncrief], me, Phil [Phillip Dorsett], we’re fast guys and we’re not going down the field like how we’re supposed to be,” Hilton said. “Running stick routes, chain routes. We can do that, but at some point you have to take your shot and get the defense going back. The throws have been there, but we haven’t been calling them. More play calling.”
Luck and Freeman can make those throws.