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NFL Open Thread: American Meritocracy Edition

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Ah, the AFC South. This week the four teams rank #19, #25, #27, and #29 in DVOA, and the #19 team was #28 last week and is likely to head back in that direction. As Mike Tanier puts it, the division “is like a combination pyramid scheme/self-esteem workshop for mediocre coaches and executives.” When a division has been this bad for this long there are obviously multiple factors involved. But what’s particularly amazing is that two of the four teams have Grade A QB prospects, one of whom has proven to be a top talent.  Putting Mariota into Mike Mularkey’s EXOTIC SMASHMOUTH we’ve already discussed. But what’s being done to Andrew Luck’s career is a crime. I would hold Ryan “I traded a 1st round pick for Trent Richardson and still have my job three years later” Grigson the primary culprit, but as Tanier says you can’t really separate the GM and the coach easily here:

The only way to fairly assign blame for the Colts’ shortcomings between Grigson and Pagano is to start at the edges and work your way toward the middle.

When Antonio Cromartie signed a $3 million contract in the offseason, that was on Grigson. Cromartie got burnt like the skillet in a Cajun restaurant all last year for the Jets, a team that has never met a big-name defender it couldn’t overpay. When the Jets decide they would rather eat dead money than keep a veteran, anyone who throws millions at that veteran needs an intervention.

When Cromartie got isolated against Allen Robinson on Sunday, giving up a touchdown and a string of clutch-for-dear-life penalties, that’s on Pagano—though the Colts are so thin at cornerback that it’s hard for them to match up against the receiver-rich Jaguars, so that’s a little on Grigson, too.

When the Colts lined up in shotgun on 4th-and-1 with 1:42 to play, with Frank Gore on the bench, then executed a play in which four receivers ran routes within five yards of the line of scrimmage and bunched themselves within a phalanx of Jaguars defenders, that’s on Pagano.

When Gore’s replacement for that play was undrafted rookie Josh Ferguson, who dropped two passes earlier in the game, that’s on Grigson for failing to stock the bench. So is the fact that the entire right side of the Colts line was manned by rookies—though it makes more sense to ask inexperienced linemen to block straight ahead for Gore than to pass protect in such a critical situation, so some of the blame rocks back to Pagano.

And so it goes. Some of the assignments are easy. The Trent Richardson trade was pure Grigson. The hallucinatory fake punt against the Patriots last year was 100 percent Pagano. The fact that Erik Walden still earns $4 million to play professional football is peak Grigson. Wasting six seconds at the end of a close game by not sending a returner to fair-catch a punt in exchange for a half-hearted block attempt? That’s pure Pagano.

But the Colts’ biggest issues are a result of the unique Grigson-Pagano synergy.

And when you consider the fact that they apparently don’t like each other, the fact that Irsay brought them both back is amazing. And even if they finally get canned after this year, Luck will already be 28 and having absorbed an enormous amount of punishment.

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