All posts by Adrian Lawhorn

Adrian has been a sports writer and statistician since 1996. He has a BS in Mathematics from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, one of the highest-rated schools in the nation. He is a native of Indianapolis and still resides in the state of Indiana with his wife and two children. Adrian's vast experience in the sports industry includes writing for a variety of online publications, doing live game stats and statistical analysis projects for various clients, and working as a consultant for several professional teams.

Purdue at Maryland: A Moral Victory for the Boilermakers?

Purdue entered their game this past weekend against #4 Maryland with something to prove. The Boilermakers hadn’t beaten a ranked team this season, and were looking to make a statement by winning on the road against the Terrapins.

Now that the results are in, let’s take a look at what went down in College Park on Saturday, and evaluate where Purdue’s 72-61 loss to Maryland leaves them in the Big Ten race, as well as the national picture.

Maryland entered this game with an impressive resume, including a 14-0 conference record at home since joining the Big Ten, and an overall 25-game home winning streak.

For the first 34 minutes of game action, however, the Boilermakers were making a case that they belong. Purdue and Maryland were engaged in a back-and-forth contest that the Boilers were leading 51-47 with six minutes remaining. Purdue was doing a nice job on the interior, led by centers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, and the Boilermakers’ defense was holding a potent Maryland offense in check.

At this point in the contest, Maryland increased their defensive intensity, particularly on the inside. Purdue was unable to get the ball to their post players, and the Boilers also committed several turnovers as they tried in vein to get the ball inside to Hammons or Haas.

Maryland’s defensive tactics left Purdue with no choice but to fire away from the outside, and the results were disastrous. Purdue’s perimeter players couldn’t make shots all game long (3-25 from three-point range), but they were particularly ineffective in those last six minutes. The Terrapins put Purdue away with a 25-10 run to end the game, spoiling the upset hopes of the Boilermakers.

Some say there is no such thing as a “moral victory,” but even if that is the case, some losses are better than others. In the case of Purdue’s defeat at hands of Maryland, they showed they can compete on the road with one of the best teams in the country. On the flip side, they once again failed in crunch time against a quality opponent.

The jury is still out on how the Boilermakers stack up against the best of the Big Ten and the nation, but in order to move from a team just outside that top tier to being considered one of the “elite” teams, Purdue is simply going to have to beat one or more of those quality opponents.

In order for this to happen, Purdue’s outside shooting must improve. When teams clog up the paint defensively, the Boilermakers have to hit enough perimeter shots to keep the defense honest, and that hasn’t been happening. Purdue’s inconsistent outside shooting has been a thorn in their side all season, but it’s been even more evident against top competition.

The Boilermakers have now proven they can play with anybody, but there is a big difference between making a good showing and closing out key games with a victory. Purdue has yet to take the next step of finishing off a ranked opponent, but they’ll have more opportunities to do so, starting tonight when they host #8 Michigan State.

Purdue is a good team, but they don’t look like a Big Ten contender or a team that can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament at this point. The only way the Boilermakers can change that perception is to break through against an elite opponent, but that’s going to take a complete, 40-minute performance that Purdue has yet to put together this season.

It’s time to put up or shut up…the clock is ticking.

Trying to Forge an Identity in Indiana

In recent years, the Indiana Pacers have had a strong, recognizable identity. With players like David West and Roy Hibbert in the starting lineup, the Pacers ran a deliberate offense built around set plays. Defensively, they played aggressive, effective team defense and had the benefit of stellar rim protection from Hibbert.

Once David West opted out of his contract and decided to sign with San Antonio, Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird decided the team should go to a more uptempo style. He proceeded to trade Hibbert and make numerous other tweaks to the roster to suit the style he wanted the team to play.

The plan hit a snag early on, when Paul George balked at playing “small ball” because it could mean he’d be spending significant time at the power forward position. Despite this, Bird and head coach Frank Vogel went ahead with the plan.

Initially, the Pacers really took to the new style, getting off to a fast start as the season began. Over time, however, the Pacers have slowly shifted back toward a bigger, more traditional lineup. One of the reasons for this has been the emergence of rookie center Myles Turner. Turner can run the floor and shoot well from the outside, allowing the Pacers to space the floor and play more uptempo, but still have plenty of size in the lineup.

As long as Turner is starting and playing well, Indiana has the best of both worlds when it comes to meshing their old and new styles. The problem here is that the Pacers are caught in the middle – Bird maintains his interest in playing faster and smaller, while Vogel is more comfortable with a bigger lineup, although he does use a smaller lineup from time to time.

Flexibility is a good thing, but only up to a point. The Pacers don’t have an identity right now…no one from the outside really knows what they are, and those within the organization are just as unsure about what kind of team this is or what direction they are taking.

Another consequence that has come from the attempted style change is that the Pacers’ defense has become very inconsistent. At times, their defense has been among the best in the NBA, but other times, their defense has been very porous.

The team is now in a position of having no direction or identity on either end of the floor. On top of that, the individual roles of the players are in flux as well.

In the early part of the year, Paul George was the team’s go-to guy in late-game situations. He wasn’t coming through, and the Pacers were losing nearly all the close games they were involved in. Of late, Monta Ellis has been moved into the “closer” role, but the results haven’t been much better.

So, the team is grasping at straws trying to find a guy who can hit big shots in crunch time…and that situation also creates uncertainty in terms of leadership among the players. NBA teams tend to function best when they have a go-to guy and/or established leader, and Indiana has neither at this point in the season.

Despite all this uncertainty, Indiana is still having a better year than they did in 2014-15. The team shows a lot of promise, but their performances have been up-and-down and they’re hovering just above the .500 mark as a result.

In order to get the most out of this roster, Bird and Vogel need to settle on a rotation and offensive style of play. The inconsistency in the style of play and inconsistent results go hand-in-hand…and establishing an offensive identity will help the defense perform more reliably as well.

Leadership is a more organic parameter, but generally, your best player needs to be your strongest leader. Paul George is still evolving in that role, and has struggled at times to carry the burden of leadership. This element is a shared responsibility among Indiana’s players right now, and the Pacers won’t reach their potential until that area is solidified.

Going into this season, everyone knew this team would be a work in progress. Now that we are about 50 games in, however, the issues they need to work on and resolve have been identified. If the Pacers can make further progress in these areas by April, they’ll be a tough out when playoff time rolls around.

Can Purdue Compete With the Big Ten Elite?

The Purdue Boilermakers are in the midst of a successful basketball season. They currently stand at 19-4 on the year, 7-3 in the Big Ten, and have held a national ranking through all 23 games thus far. Purdue has done a nice job taking care of business against lesser foes, with only one real upset loss, that being to Illinois on January 10.

As good as all that sounds, there is one flaw in the Boilers’ resume: they are 0-2 against Top 25 competition this season.

The only two games they’ve played against nationally ranked opponents were against Butler on December 19 and Iowa on January 24. The game with Butler was tight throughout, but the Bulldogs prevailed 74-68. Purdue held a halftime lead at Iowa, but were outclassed in the second half and fell to the Hawkeyes 83-71.

The Boilermakers have only been able to test themselves against two ranked teams, but the fact that they lost both contests is a red flag. Purdue has been ranked as high as 9th in the nation this season, but they have yet to beat anyone of similar caliber.

Opportunity knocks in these next two conference games for Purdue. They will pay a visit to #8 Maryland on February 6, then host Michigan State (currently 12th in the polls) on February 9. These games are very important in establishing what kind of team the 2015-16 Boilermakers truly are.

Purdue is clearly a good team, but how good? Are they a Big Ten contender and a team expected to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament, or are they a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team who will make an early exit from The Big Dance (assuming they get there at all).

In their past Top 25 match-ups with Butler and Iowa, the Boilers have played well in stretches and had leads, but were unable to close those ballgames strongly enough to post a victory.

The recent signs have been promising for Purdue, as the team as been playing well and winning. Center A.J. Hammons has been a key factor for the Boilers of late, stuffing the stat sheet to the tune of a career-high 32 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots in Purdue’s win at home against Nebraska on January 30.

In short, the potential is there. When Purdue is on their game, they have an inside-outside combination that few teams around the country can match. Purdue’s front line is among the biggest and most talented in college basketball, and they have several wing players who can knock down shots when the defense collapses on the Boilermakers’ big men.

What Purdue needs to prove is that they can put it all together against top-flight competition, and they’ve yet to do that. These next two games will be a great litmus test for Purdue, but if that’s not enough, they also have games coming up later in February against #19 Indiana, and a return match with Maryland at Mackey Arena.

So, by the time the Big Ten season is nearing an end in late February, we’ll know what kind of team the Purdue Boilermakers are. The chance to prove they belong will be there, now, let’s see what they can do with it.

The Colts’ Top Offseason Priority: Improve the Offensive Line

In professional football, the group of players who typically get the least amount of attention are the offensive linemen. Those players protect the quarterback and create openings for the running backs, so despite their lack of fanfare, those guys are extremely important to a team’s success.

A great example of how an offensive line can make or break a team would be the 2015 Indianapolis Colts. Going into the season, their offense was thought to be virtually unstoppable. They had Andrew Luck at quarterback, Frank Gore at running back, a bevy of talented receivers in T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

There was just one problem…everyone forgot that in order for all these dynamic playmakers to do their job, they would need quality pass and run blocking. The offensive line couldn’t provide the help that the “skill position” players needed, and as a result, the Colts offense was, well, offensive in 2015.

The point has now been hammered home that having all that offensive talent means nothing if Andrew Luck is on his back, or Frank Gore has nowhere to run with the football. The Colts understand this, but what can be done to improve the team’s offensive line play?

The Colts fired a number of their assistant coaches this offseason, including offensive line coach Hal Hunter. The Colts hired former Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin to replace him, with the hope that he can get more out of the group of linemen the Colts currently have on the roster. Philbin has a very good record as an offensive line coach, so this move has the potential to make a difference.

Indianapolis also needs to upgrade the talent on the offensive line. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo is the Colts’ best lineman, but he had an off year in 2015 and will have to rebound. Left guard Jack Mewhort is young, but has shown he can do the job. Other than those two guys, the team’s group of offensive linemen is a bit shaky.

The Colts began the season with Khaled Holmes, Todd Herremans and Lance Louis filling the other three line positions. During this time, the team was also experimenting by moving Mewhort to right tackle. The line play in the first two games of the season was awful, so changes began to be made.

All sorts of combinations were tried, but the bottom line is that none of them worked nearly well enough. The Colts have a particular problem with the center and guard spots, and this has to be addressed if the team is to return to contender status.

One bright spot for the future of the Colts offensive line came late in the season with the insertion of rookie Denzell Goode into the lineup at right tackle. Goode still needs experience, but his solid play gave indications that he may eventually be the answer at right tackle.

So, if Indianapolis is in “win now” mode as they seem to be, they need to bring in at least one quality center and one quality guard to upgrade the talent in front of Andrew Luck. Continuity on the offensive line is always a big plus, but when you don’t have good enough players in place, you have to make changes. One would hope that with Joe Philbin as their coach, the offensive line will gel, even with some new faces in 2016.

An excellent offensive line can make even mediocre players around them look good, and conversely, a poor offensive line can make Pro Bowl players around them look bad. The Indianapolis Colts know all too well about the latter, and they intend to change that before the fall of 2016.

The Indiana Pacers and Crunch Time Failure

The Indiana Pacers have made progress this season, one could say significant progress from this time a year ago. One area where they are struggling this season, however, is coming out on top in close games. Indiana hasn’t won a game decided by three points or less since early November…that’s over two months and 29 games ago. In that same span, they have lost four such games – three of those coming in the last two weeks. One benchmark of good NBA teams is typically a good record in close games.

The theory here is that there are a lot of closely contested battles in professional basketball, and those teams with the most experience, heart and will to win tend to make plays in “crunch time” and find a way to win these nail-biters. The Pacers are not doing this so far in 2015-16, and it has been a particular thorn in their side recently. Indiana lost a game at home to Sacramento on December 23 (108-106) after leading very late.

A week later, Chicago continued the trend, holding the Pacers off 102-100 at the United Center…and earlier this week, the Pacers blew yet another late advantage, eventually falling to the Miami Heat 103-100. The specific reasons for these failures have varied. One game it was failing to make an offensive play as time expired. In another, it was failing to get a defensive stop as time expired…and poor fourth quarter free throw shooting was the culprit in yet another of these close defeats.

The thing that ties all this together is mental toughness, which is why true upper-tier teams come up with that key rebound, make that key steal or hit that game-winning shot more often than not. The Pacers still have a chance to get there, but their recent failure in these situations just further proves that despite heading in the right direction, Indiana is not displaying the qualities of a contending team at this juncture. It should be mentioned that coaching plays a role in this as well.

The Pacers have relied heavily on forward Paul George in these end-of-game situations, and that approach has been too predictable. A bit more creativity from head coach Frank Vogel would give his club a better chance to make plays late in games…”give Paul the ball and everybody else get out of the way” is not the work of a master strategist. Another interesting area of strength/weakness for the Blue and Gold has been the amount of rest between games.

On two or three days rest, the team has a .778 winning percentage so far this year. However, when they have to play back-to-back games, they’ve only won at a .286 clip after not having time off between contests. With the Pacers going to a more uptempo offense this season, those results are predictable…it takes a lot of energy to play fast on offense and also defend well on the other end of the court, so Indiana is finding it tough to keep up the pace if they haven’t had time to recover between games.

To a degree, players can try to push through that fatigue, but the Pacers have a deep roster, so a coaching adjustment should help. When Indiana has a back-to-back coming up, coach Vogel would be wise to use his bench more liberally in the first of those ballgames – the winning percentage in the second of those contests would likely increase. NBA basketball is a game of constant adjustments, both within games and during the course of a long 82-game season.

For the Indiana Pacers to move up a notch (or two) in the Eastern Conference, improvement in the areas discussed here – late-game strategy, execution and desire, as well as more adept management of players’ minutes – would go a long way toward that goal.

Colts Win, but the Real Fun is Just Beginning

A few hours after this piece was originally published, the Colts announced that both Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson had been awarded contract extensions that will run through the 2019 season. This couldn’t happen to a nicer guy in Pagano’s case (I am truly happy for him), but putting all feelings aside, read on for my take on how this should have gone down…

On Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis, the Colts won a football game. Had this contest had (realistic) playoff implications, this might have been a significant story. However, despite beating the Tennessee Titans with two quarterbacks who weren’t on the roster a week ago, the game was no more than a subplot.

Now that the 2015 season is officially over for the Colts, the real intrigue begins. The Colts went from Super Bowl contender to non-playoff team during the course of the 2015 campaign…it was a wild ride. Everyone seemed to have a hand in the underperformance that swept through the Colts franchise this season: players, coaches and management alike. The team had to deal with numerous significant injuries during the year, but make no mistake about it, the wheels were falling off long before the injury bug hit. Colts owner Jim Irsay has stated that he wants “multiple Super Bowls” while Andrew Luck is the team’s quarterback.

They seemed very much on track over the last three years, but this season was a major flop. The big question now is: what should be done about it? As of this writing, there was no official news from Colts Headquarters regarding the status of head coach Chuck Pagano. Since last week, sources have reported that Pagano will be relieved of his head coaching duties by the Colts at season’s end. If that happens as is widely believed, it will be in the best interest of the team going forward. Chuck Pagano is a quality human being and there is a lot to like about the man, but if the Colts are truly “all in” to make a run at the Super Bowl with this team, Chuck Pagano is not the coach who will lead them there.

You really hate to see bad things happen to good people, but the reality is that Pagano is an average NFL head coach, at best. With that order of business out of the way, let’s move on to the status of general manager Ryan Grigson. Multiple sources are reporting that Grigson’s job is safe for now, at least until the Colts hire a new head coach. If Irsay lands a “big name” guy to lead the troops next season, the thought is that the new head coach in that scenario will likely want input into personnel matters.

If so, Grigson will probably be fired, or offered a lesser role within the organization. What should happen?

Let’s not dance around the subject: Ryan Grigson is bad for the Colts, and should be fired. Grigson got far too much credit for the team’s turnaround when he came on board in 2012. Much of that turnaround was due to drafting QB Andrew Luck, who was regarded by most as the best quarterback prospect to come out of college since John Elway nearly 30 years earlier. Grigson has had numerous blunders during his tenure (trading for RB Trent Richardson and drafting LB/DE Bjoern Werner in the first round, for example). Even some of the moves that have worked out were not necessarily because of Grigson’s insight.

A prime example of this would be his drafting of Pro Bowl WR T.Y. Hilton in the third round in 2012. This fact seems to have been forgotten, but as Hilton was emerging as an offensive force, even Grigson admitted that when he drafted him, he did so with the notion that Hilton would be a good kick returner, and anything they got out of him otherwise would be a bonus. So, even some of Grigson’s good decisions were either no-brainers, or just plain lucky.

In terms of his approach, Ryan Grigson leaves a lot to be desired as well. He has a huge ego, and appears to be more of a ‘me’ guy than a ‘we’ guy. He has consistently overstepped his bounds as a GM, reportedly making decisions that are usually those of the head coach, such as who plays, how much they play and player discipline. Even though the potential dismissal of Chuck Pagano seems justified, his job was clearly made more difficult by his general manager’s antics.

Now that we have head coaching and front office vacancies in theory, should the Colts also look to make roster changes? Absolutely. In truth, there are probably more weaknesses on this team than there are strengths…perhaps a shocking statement made about a team thought of as “loaded” prior to the season, but accurate based on what we saw for 16 games in 2015.

The Indianapolis defense didn’t perform well this year. Pro Bowl CB Vontae Davis had an off year, but one would hope he can bounce back in 2016. The other starter at CB, Greg Toler, is talented but continues to play inconsistently…he’s also too injury-prone. The defensive line and pass rush need help, but the return (from injury) of promising rookie DE Henry Anderson will help those causes to a degree next season. The Colts finished the year a lowly 26th in total defense, so the production simply wasn’t there.

The Colts offense was an even bigger disappointment this past season. Yes, Andrew Luck missed nine games…but looking past that, there were many other issues at play. The offensive line struggled for most of the year, particularly in pass protection. WR Andre Johnson was supposed to be a key addition, but he was barely visible and looked like a shell of his former self (41 catches for 503 yards). RB Frank Gore was underutilized; he didn’t get a lot of carries and when he did, there were not many holes to run through.

Undoubtedly, there are problems in this organization at all levels. Stability is an important ingredient to success, but when you have the wrong people in place, change is necessary. There is a lot of work for the Colts to do this offseason, and that process begins today.

Purdue Opens Big Ten Play in Style

The Purdue Boilermakers ended the preseason with a 12-1 record and a #14 national ranking…the only blemish courtesy of a 74-68 loss to a very good Butler squad earlier in December. As successful as the pre-Big Ten schedule was for the Boilermakers, it’s now time to wipe the slate clean.

Everyone is 0-0 to begin conference play, so all 14 teams need to prove themselves against what is always a tough Big Ten gauntlet. Purdue opened the season in Madison, Wisconsin against the Wisconsin Badgers. The home team looked very different than they did this time last year, after losing 2015 National College Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky and athletic forward Sam Dekker to the NBA. Their long-time coach, Bo Ryan, also made a sudden exit from the program a couple weeks before conference play began, so the Badgers were a bit of a wild card coming into this contest. The game was a well-defended, grind-it-out battle – very reminiscent of the style that Big Ten basketball has been known for in the past. The game was tight well into the second half, but Purdue began to take control as the half progressed and went on to a 61-55 win over the Badgers.

Boilermakers center A.J. Hammons sparked the second half run, doing most of his damage after halftime to post 24 points and seven rebounds for Purdue. Guard Dakota Mathias, who didn’t score a point until the last 90 seconds of the game, nailed two consecutive three-pointers to help seal the victory for the Boilers. Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes led the Badgers with 17 points and seven boards.

Looking ahead, Purdue needs to cash in on the advantage they have over virtually every other team they play, namely, having two skilled seven-footers on the roster. Senior A.J. Hammons (7-0, 260) and sophomore Isaac Haas (7-2, 300) have been a handful for opponents this season…some teams can’t match up when one of them is on the floor, and no one can match up with both. Hammons and Haas each have offensive post skills and can block shots. They can also step outside for jump shots, particularly Hammons, who even has three-point range when left open. Keeping the game tempo under control and feeding the post early and often will be key to Purdue’s success in the Big Ten this season.

A trademark of Purdue basketball has always been strong defense, and that continues to be the case in 2015-16. Their team defense is hard to get good shots against, and they have a go-to guy on that end of the floor in guard Rapheal Davis, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. So, what about weaknesses? The Butler Bulldogs did a nice job of showing what can be done to slow down the Boilermakers. They packed the lane defensively and dared Purdue’s perimeter players to beat them.

Purdue is capable of making a team pay for that philosophy, but they were unable to do so against Butler. The Bulldogs also played with a high level of intensity that the Boilermakers didn’t match until very late in the game. Purdue can’t afford mediocre effort, particularly against conference foes. There is reason for optimism in West Lafayette, as this Purdue team has the potential to do some damage in the conference and beyond. However, there are a group of teams (Michigan State, Maryland and Iowa, just to name a few) who will pose a major challenge to the Gold and Black. Purdue can’t take the remaining Big Ten teams for granted, either…doing that could well end in defeat on any given night.

In short: the Big Ten is tough, there are no easy games or nights off, and losing focus will oftentimes mean losing games. The Boilers passed their first test on the road at Wisconsin, but there are many challenges still ahead.

Next up, Iowa invades Mackey Arena on Saturday…all Iowa did in their league opener was defeat the top-ranked team in the country, Michigan State. Get used to it Purdue faithful, the trials and tribulations have just begun.

The Colts Maintain Their Pulse in Week 16

The battered and bruised Indianapolis Colts showed enough moxie this past Sunday afternoon to pull off an 18-12 win over the Miami Dolphins in Sun Life Stadium. This victory was anything but pretty, but the way this season has gone for Indianapolis (7-8), they’ll take a win of any kind…beggars can’t be choosers, after all.

This was a game that the Colts were very lucky to win. Miami, now 5-10 on the year, outgained the Colts by nearly a hundred yards offensively, but there were some key moments that completely erased that advantage.

Indianapolis QB Matt Hasselbeck threw a first quarter interception that was negated by a holding call on Dolphins CB Brent Grimes. Later in the quarter, Miami QB Ryan Tannehill tried to hit WR DeVante Parker on a fade route in the corner of the end zone, but Tannehill was picked off by Indianapolis CB Vontae Davis. In the third quarter, Tannehill threw an apparent touchdown pass, only to have it taken off the board when WR Jarvis Landry was called for offensive pass interference on the play.

These three plays alone created an 18-point swing in favor of the Colts, but there was one last prayer they needed answered to pull this one out.

The Dolphins had driven to the Colts’ 5-yard line with under a minute to play, poised to find the end zone and score a likely game-winning touchdown. Instead, Tannehill threw the ball on three straight downs, misfiring each time. The fourth down play never got off the ground, as a mistimed snap caused Ryan Tannehill to be engulfed by the Colts defensive line before having any opportunity to get the ball out of his hands…and that was all she wrote for Miami.

Colts RB Frank Gore essentially carried the offense, rushing for 85 yards on 15 carries, including a nifty 37-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Matt Hasselbeck was knocked out of yet another game, and third-stringer Charlie Whitehurst came in and did his job: he played unspectacular but mistake-free football.

Indianapolis’ much-maligned defense held down Miami’s rushing attack, and made enough plays against Tannehill and his receivers to keep the Colts in the game, although they did give up 329 passing yards on the day.

Miami did everything they could to give this one away, but the Colts did capitalize on the Dolphins’ errors, so Indianapolis does deserve some credit for being opportunistic.

Despite the victory, the Colts playoff chances are slim…the Houston Texans are responsible for that (they blew out Tennessee 34-6 on Sunday). Houston continues to hold a one-game lead over the Colts, and it would take a myriad of things to happen for Indianapolis to wiggle into the playoffs now.

This was a win the Colts badly needed. Even if the playoffs are out of reach, they needed this to gain some momentum and confidence. However, there’s a problem with the way the Colts deal with winning games like this.

There has been a pattern this season of head coach Chuck Pagano overreacting to his team’s victories. He gave an inspirational and emotional speech earlier this season after a come-from-behind win over the Titans. Yes, the Tennessee Titans. Pagano repeated this act after Indianapolis picked up the ‘W’ over a Miami team who was eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago.

Why is this a problem? It shows everyone how low the bar is set, and honestly, wreaks of desperation. There’s a saying in sports, “act like you’ve been there before.” Pagano acting like the Colts just won the Super Bowl each time they beat an also-ran is weak. He’s trying to convince his team that they accomplished something significant, and perhaps, hoping his boss (Jim Irsay) is fooled by this as well.

It’s not working, Chuck.

Jim Irsay’s goal is for the Colts to win multiple Super Bowls in the “Andrew Luck Era.” Surely he knows that will never happen with a head coach like Chuck Pagano. Pagano is a man of character and strength, and a very good NFL assistant coach…there’s a lot to like about Chuck Pagano. The simple fact is: he’s over his head trying to lead an NFL franchise to the Super Bowl, which is where the Colts want to go and believe they can go.

Yes, Indianapolis came out on top in this game. But, when you put it all in perspective, this victory rings very hollow.

How Far Have Paul George and the Pacers Come?

The Indiana Pacers’ 2014-15 season got off to a horrendous start long before a regular season game was ever played. All-Star forward Paul George broke his leg while practicing with Team USA that August, and knowing he would likely be out for the year, the hopes of challenging for an Eastern Conference Championship seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye.

Indiana held it together as best they could, but without a force like George and the impact he makes on both ends of the court, the Pacers finished the year 38-44 and missed the playoffs.

During the offseason, power forward David West decided to opt out of his contract to sign with a team he felt had a chance to compete for a championship (San Antonio). Once West was gone, President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird decided that the team should go to a more uptempo offensive attack. Roster moves were made to accommodate this change in philosophy: slow-footed center Roy Hibbert was dealt, and fleet guard Monta Ellis was signed. Other role players were added to the roster that fit Bird’s vision of how he wanted his team to play.

As the 2015-16 season approached, no one knew how long it would take for the Pacers to adapt to this new style, assuming they ever did. And with Paul George coming back, would he ever be the player he was before the injury? 28 games into the season, we now have answers to these key questions.

Indiana got off to a slow start, losing their first three games. Even so, there were signs that playing at a faster pace had promise. The offensive execution came along more quickly than expected, but the vital element was finding a way to play sound defense while “running and gunning” on the offensive end.

The Pacers had been known as one of the best defensive teams in the NBA in recent seasons, and they needed to balance that with an increased emphasis on scoring. Things started coming together a few games into the season, and the results have shown up in the win column.

Even on the heels of a three-game losing streak, Indiana stands at 16-12, good for 7th in the Eastern Conference. Many pundits saw this as a rebuilding year for the Pacers, and the expectations were frankly pretty low. However, the coaching staff and players have really embraced the new style of play, and it’s been effective thus far.

So, just how much progress has the Blue and Gold made since last season? The improvement has been significant, but this team is not ready to contend in the East. There is still too much inconsistency on the defensive end – when the Pacers are on point defensively, they are very good. When they have lapses in concentration and allow other teams to score too easily, they’re average at best. They’ve found a winning formula, but keeping it up game by game is a work in progress.

The Indiana Pacers have made great strides and show potential to be a threat down the road, but what about the face of the franchise, Paul George?

George was an All-Star and seemed on the cusp of even bigger things when he went down with that gruesome injury in the summer of 2014. George’s comeback has been even more dramatic than the improvement of the team…he’s not only back, he’s better than ever. He is still playing defense at an elite level, but his impact on the offensive end has actually increased since his return.

George is averaging career-highs in points (25.0) and rebounds (7.9) per game, and his assist totals (4.1 per contest) are as high as they’ve ever been as well. This would qualify as a step forward and a “career year” under normal circumstances, but for this level of performance to come after a serious injury like the one he suffered? This is the stuff inspirational Hollywood films are made of, almost too good to be true.

The Pacers aren’t quite at an elite level as a team, but their star player seems to have reached that height individually. Paul George’s reemergence this season has been extremely important to the fortunes of the Indiana Pacers not only in the present, but in their hopes for the future as well.

It should be a fun and interesting ride over the next few months…stay tuned.

The Sad Decline of the Indianapolis Colts Continues

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard the words “Super Bowl” and “Colts” in the same sentence. Looks like it’s going to be a lot longer before we hear it again.

The Houston Texans came into Lucas Oil Stadium and wrested the division lead away from the Colts by virtue of a 16-10 triumph on Sunday afternoon. The Texans (7-7) now hold a one-game lead over Indianapolis, who fell to 6-8 with two games remaining in the regular season.

For the third straight week, the Colts held an early lead before imploding. After trailing 10-0 in the first half, Houston scored 16 consecutive points to win their first ever game in Indianapolis (the Texans were 0-13 coming into this contest). The Colts had an unprecedented 16-game winning streak within the division snapped last week against Jacksonville; now they’ve lost two in a row against the AFC South.

The quarterback matchup in this game was not exactly one for the ages: backup QB Matt Hasselbeck going for Indianapolis, while Houston had to play their third-string signal caller, T.J. Yates. Neither quarterback played particularly well, and when Yates went down with a non-contact knee injury after scrambling late in the second quarter, things looked even worse for the Texans.

Enter Brandon Weeden, the former starting QB in Cleveland, but currently number four on the depth chart in Houston. Weeden was the hero in this one, coming off the bench to go 11-for-18 for 105 yards and a touchdown after Yates’ injury. Most importantly, Houston scored all 16 of their points with Weeden at the helm, as he gave the Texans the shot in the arm they needed after falling behind early 10-0.

The Colts offense was anemic, gaining a paltry 190 yards for the game. QB Matt Hasselbeck had a tough day in more ways than one, going 17-for-30 for only 147 yards, and feeling pressure and taking hits from the Texans’ defense all afternoon. Indianapolis RB Frank Gore ran hard, but had nowhere to go, averaging 2.8 yards on 16 carries.

Aside from Brandon Weeden’s heroics, Houston didn’t exactly light it up either. The Texans’ running game was mostly held in check, other than Alfred Blue’s 41-yard run in the second quarter, which didn’t actually lead to any points for Houston.

The turnover battle was even, but the Colts only lost fumble was a very costly one. Indianapolis was driving late in the fourth quarter, trailing 13-10, when WR Griff Whalen took a short pass from Hasselbeck and coughed it up after a good hit by Houston CB Johnathan Joseph…this effectively ended the Colts’ hopes.

Indianapolis did get the ball back one more time, only to have Matt Hasselbeck throw a deep interception on the first play of the drive when he “misinterpreted the angle” WR Donte Moncrief took on his route.

The last three minutes of this game continued what has been a pattern of late with the Colts – key moment, key mistake(s).

Now that the AFC South lead has vanished and a playoff berth is becoming unlikely, what do we make of the 2015 version of the Indianapolis Colts? It would be easy to blame this disappointing season on injuries, particularly when your star quarterback has missed significant time on the field…but that’s not why this team has underachieved.

It all starts with a flawed roster, a fact that was previously covered up by QB Andrew Luck’s emergence as an NFL star. Even he could not continue to perform at a high level with a struggling offensive line in front of him. Colts GM Ryan Grigson chose not to address the offensive line to any large degree in the offseason, and it’s coming back to haunt the team now. In general, Grigson has just had far too many “misses” in the draft and in free agency, and they’ve led Indianapolis to where they are now.

Another key issue is coaching. Chuck Pagano, the Colts’ head coach, has not proven to be a top-flight coach in either game preparation or motivation. Consistent errors such as penalties and turnovers, especially at crucial times, are the mark of a poorly-coached team. As the season has worn on, the team is also playing with less and less desire and enthusiasm.

What a difference in outlook from Week 1 to now. The Indianapolis Colts were a trendy pick to win the AFC Championship this season, now, they’ll have to finish strong and hope for some help just to barely make the playoffs – in a weak division. Unless something spectacular (and unexpected) happens, some heads are going to roll when this train wreck of a season is over.