Indianapolis Colts' entire organization should expect scrutiny after ugly loss to Jacksonville Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Sometimes, it all comes full circle.

Two hundred and fifty-two days since the Indianapolis Colts lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in stunning fashion, eliminating them from the 2021 postseason, the Colts are right back where they started.

Sunday’s 24-0 loss to the Jaguars dropped the Colts to 0-1-1. But more importantly, it has put everyone in the organization under a microscope. The results so far in 2022 seem to suggest the team hasn’t progressed much, if at all, since that infamous January defeat.

There are many questions right now. And if the Colts don’t produce substantive answers in a hurry, this season could turn into a referendum on all involved.

“Everything gets evaluated, top to bottom,” coach Frank Reich admitted. “Coaches, players. I get evaluated. Everybody gets evaluated.”

That seems appropriate, because coaches, players and front-office decisions all played a role in Sunday’s loss.

From a coaching standpoint, there was much to question. For example, did the Colts make any attempt at defensive adjustments as the Jaguars effortlessly marched up and down the field with quick, short throws from quarterback Trevor Lawrence? The Jaguars completed 25 of 30 attempts, neutralizing the Colts’ pass rush with quick three-step drops and one-read throws. Indianapolis is in its first season under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

“Very frustrating from a pass-rushing standpoint,” defensive end Kwity Paye said. “We’re trying to get back there, but they were just letting [the ball] go. We have to create a better plan up front, maybe have a little more movement, get our hands up, try to do everything we can to get involved, because they were getting the ball out super fast.”

Asked whether the issues were scheme related or matchup related, cornerback Kenny Moore II said, “It’s scheme on scheme. It’s a great question though. Why is the guy so open?”

Offensively, Reich was outmaneuvered by his former boss, Jaguars coach Doug Pederson, with whom he won a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017. With Pederson, Lawrence is showing greater poise and wiser decision-making than he did as a rookie last season under Urban Meyer. Meanwhile, Reich’s offense has not established any consistency this season despite the move from former quarterback Carson Wentz to current starter Matt Ryan.

From the player perspective, the failures are mounting. Take, for example, the highly touted offensive line that couldn’t create a running lane for one of the NFL’s most lethal running backs – Jonathan Taylor – and repeatedly collapsed against Jacksonville’s formidable defensive front.

The Colts have invested more money in their offensive line than any other team, including handing guard Quenton Nelson a record-shattering deal two weeks ago that includes $60 million in guarantees. For that, the Colts got a collective effort that allowed pressure on 40% of Ryan’s 35 dropbacks on Sunday, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That’s the highest rate allowed by any team so far in Week 2.

A defense that produced 33 takeaways in 2021, second-most in the NFL, has managed just one through two games (including none on Sunday). Even two major offseason additions, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, haven’t been enough to turn the tide.

Not to be ignored is the role of the front office in the current state of affairs. Colts general manager Chris Ballard -- despite repeated questioning throughout the offseason -- resisted the urge to make significant upgrades to the team’s young and unproven group of pass-catchers.

Two weeks in, that decision took center stage when No. 1 receiver Michael Pittman Jr. missed the game with a quad injury, and the remaining receivers and tight ends proved incapable of overcoming his absence. The receivers who played against Jacksonville -- second-round pick Alec Pierce also missed the game because of a concussion -- struggled to separate and make contested catches.

The decision to deploy journeyman Matt Pryor at left tackle hasn’t gone much better. Pryor had his hands full all day against edge rushers Josh Allen and Travon Walker, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. He allowed consistent pressure, including a sack-fumble by Allen.

All of this comes less than a week after the Colts parted with kicker Rodrigo Blankenship following his missed game-winning kick in Houston in Week 1. The lack of more aggressive action to improve the kicking situation falls on the front office, too.

The January loss to Jacksonville prompted owner Jim Irsay to immediately call a meeting with Reich and Ballard to demand improvement. Ballard later described it as an “a-- chewing.”

On Sunday, Irsay was whisked away when approached by reporters, declining comment. But rest assured, he’s watching. And whatever happens during the rest of the season will likely dictate what happens to the relevant parties when it ends.