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Behind Enemy Lines: An Inside Look at the Colts

Posted Oct 11, 2017

TitansOnline.com Senior Writer and Editor Jim Wyatt gives an inside look at the Indianapolis Colts with Mike Chappell, long-time beat writer with the Indianapolis Star who now covers the Colts for Fox59/CBS4 and Indysportscentral.com. The Titans face the Colts on Monday night at Nissan Stadium.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans face the Colts on Monday night at Nissan Stadium.

The Titans are coming off a 16-10 loss the Dolphins, and they’re now 2-3.

The Colts are also 2-3, coming off a 26-23 overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers.

This week, I caught up with Mike Chappell, who covers the Colts for Fox59/CBS4 and Indysportscentral.com. Chappell has been covering the Colts since the moved in Indianapolis in 1984. You can follow Mike on Twitter @mchappell51, and join over 34,500 others.

Here’s how our conversation went…

Wyatt: Hey Mike. Hope all is well. I appreciate you taking the time. Well, five games into the season the Colts are 2-3 without quarterback Andrew Luck at the controls. Is that A) better than you expected; B) not as good as you expected; C) about what you expected?

Chappell: I’d say the record is about what I expected. I thought maybe they’d be 3-2, but they have not played as well as I thought they would. They’ve been so up and down, and the defense has shown you flashes, but then they revert to what we have seen in the past. But it is an entirely new group. You talk about blowing up a defense and starting over, that’s what they have done. What has really been concerning defensively has been what they call the “chunk plays” – the 20-yard plus receptions and the 15-yard plus rushes. If they don’t lead the league in giving those up, they are high up as far as getting gashed, and some serious damage has come in the second half of games, where statistically they have been dominated. They have been outscored by a large margin. They had a 23-9 lead against the 49ers and gave it up. They had a 10-point lead against Arizona in the fourth quarter and gave it up. They had a lead against Cleveland and nearly gave it all up. They talk about finishing and all of that, and they just haven’t, and that is concerning. They’ve been inconsistent, and they’ve made some mistakes, and they have missed their starting quarterback, so that’s where they are.

Wyatt: Jacoby Brissett is now the guy at quarterback for the Colts. How has he improved since taking over as the starter and can he lead the team to more wins?

Chappell: Well, what he has done is he has given them a chance. After the first game with Scott Tolzien, there was no way they could put him back out there. They got Brissett on September 2nd, and he went out there and started the second game with three practices with the first unit. He has played well, given them a chance, and he makes plays. But he still kind of frustrates you because you’ll have a play like a 63-yard to T.Y. Hilton where he is rolling right, and he hits him in stride. It was just a great, great throw. And then he’ll make a play where you’ll go, “Holy smokes. What is he doing?’ The first play of overtime against Arizona he throws an interception. And then he throws an interception in overtime against San Francisco at the goal-line when they are going in to win the game. But you have to keep in mind he is just 23, and he’s started just six or seven games. So that’s what you are going to get. My biggest concern has always been the more he plays, the more he will either try and make big plays or the team will want him to make plays, and that is when you sometimes have some mistakes. But having said that, he has done as well as anyone could expect. He has some mobility, but he has been getting sacked too much because he holds the ball a little bit because he is a little indecisive about what he wants to do. But he gives them a chance. Again, his mobility helps, and he has a strong arm. And he a T.Y. Hilton have hooked up rather quickly and had some pretty good games. But he gives them a chance to win games, and without him they’d be sitting there at 0-5 and the city of Indianapolis would be looking forward to the Pacers.

Wyatt: So, how long until Andrew Luck is back. He’s already been ruled out against the Titans, but is he close?

Chappell: I think a couple of more games. We know he's not playing this week, and I don’t think he plays the week after that against Jacksonville, so I kind of look at the game against the Bengals (on October 29th). He practiced last week for the first time, but he was limited. He’ll probably practice a few more days this week. But he has not done any team work yet. They are easing him back it. We don’t get a chance to watch much of what he is doing in practice, maybe 20 minutes. But I think we’re still a couple of weeks away.

Wyatt: In your mind, what is the best-case scenario for this Colts team as far as expectations for 2017? And what’s the worst-case scenario?

Chappell: The best-case scenario is they weather the storm until Luck returns, and they get hot. The good news is they are still in the AFC South, and I don’t see anybody running away with it. Does anybody really buy into Jacksonville yet? I don’t. If any team was going to win 11, I thought it would be Tennessee, but with questions about Marcus Mariota and how long he’ll be out and the fact they are 2-3, I just don't know. Houston looked like they finally had things going and with a good quarterback, and then they lose their two best players on defense. So the fact they are in the AFC South, that gives the Colts a chance. I don’t see anybody getting to 11 wins now. They have to find a way to pull an upset Monday in Tennessee, and then get Luck back in a couple of games and I think they can win some games when he gets his feet under him. The worst case scenario is they can’t get their act together defensively, and even when Luck comes back it’s going to take him some time to get comfortable. I remember, I think it was in 2008, Peyton Manning missed all of training camp with a knee issue, and that first month when he came back he wasn’t very good. They got hot, but the first month he was very ordinary and I think we should expect that from Luck. The worst case scenario is they can’t get it turned around while they are waiting for him, and then he takes a while to get going once he gets back, and then the season gets away from them. I could see that happening because it is a young team, and this defense will have a hard time holding the fort until Luck gets back in form.

Wyatt: Just two more here. What have been the bright spots for the Colts so far?

Chappell: The rookie running back, Marlon Mack, has been good. He had a big game this past week – nine carries for 91 yards. He gives them the big-play threat in the running game they haven’t had in forever. He’s had three rushes of 20-plus yards. Last year, they have four for the team, and Luck had three of them. Rashaan Melbin, their left corner, is playing pretty well – he has a couple of interceptions. Malik Hooker, their rookie safety, has three interceptions and he’s played well. A few guys who have played well on the defensive front are John Simon, the free agent from Houston, and Jabaal Sheard, the free agent from New England. Neither is maybe a difference-maker, but they’re pretty solid. Simon is always around the ball. And on offense, T.Y. has had some pretty big games. Other than that, the offensive line is a mess – it might be in as bad a shape now as it’s been since Luck got here in 2012. They are losing people and the guys they have, they’ve been inconsistent. Adam Vinatieri, of course, he’s still going strong. He’s a big-game hunter, and at 44 he should be out somewhere in South America hunting. But he is still one of the best in the league. He hit two 50-yarders, including a 51-yarder to win it on Sunday. He is just consistent. Their rookie punter, Rigoberto Sanchez, has also been pretty good. But by and large there’s just not enough positives to overcome the negatives. They say you are what your record says you are, and I guess they are sort of lucky to be 2-3 because their two wins have been against Cleveland and San Francisco, who are a combined 0-10. At least they’ve managed to beat the teams at the bottom of the league.

Wyatt: Last thing, and I appreciate you doing this. You covered Peyton Manning from Day One until the end, and I know you attended the statue unveiling for the former University of Tennessee and Indianapolis Colts quarterback over the weekend. Roger Goodell, David Letterman, Jim Irsay and Archie Manning were all in attendance, along with some other big-name people, and a lot of fans. How was the ceremony, and how much did that mean to you and the city of Indianapolis?

Chappell: It was pretty special. It was amazing, really. I still can’t believe how time has flown by. I remember when the NFL Combine wasn’t a big deal, and when Peyton was here in 1998, and maybe 20 of us were talking to him in the back of a bar at the team hotel. I went to his workout in Knoxville, and then covering his great career here. The (ceremony), it was just a culmination of everything he has done, on the field and off the field. It was really cool, and to see the statue up close, it is pretty awesome. It’s about 9-feet tall, and it’s Peyton. And he handled the day well. All the dignitaries were there, all of his close teammates were here, and it couldn’t have been handled better. And the next day they had the Ring of Honor and retired his number. It was a fitting tribute to, without question, the most influential professional athlete we’ve had in Indiana. It was a pretty cool weekend.