Kickoff: New York Giants at Colts, 7 p.m. today in Lucas Oil Stadium.
TV: WFFT, Ch. 55
Armchair Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator remains the greatest job on the world. You sit there, armed with hunches, wishes and Doritos, and tell Pep Hamilton what to do.
He can't hear you, of course. You're screaming at the television, pausing only long enough to tweet your advice, and he's neither in your living room nor checking his phone. From your vantage point where injuries mean nothing and the players are essentially video-game characters, you want the Colts to unleash Andrew Luck and air it out. No huddle. Uptempo. Madden NFL 14.
The real coordinator doesn't hear you.
Or does he?
The Colts came out in their first preseason game at the New York Jets last week in no-huddle, uptempo, video-game form. If center Khaled Holmes hadn't been hurt, leading to the awkward, botched snap by the backup, they've have surely scored on a Luck-to-T.Y. Hilton (or Dwayne Allen, etc.) touchdown.
“We wanted to, of course, start fast and try to dictate the tempo of the game – try and dictate the tempo to the defense more importantly,” Hamilton said this week. “We just felt like we had a pretty good rhythm once we got started. We converted the first third-and-long situation we had. We were able to make a few plays after that. It allowed us to drive the ball down the field. We didn't finish with a touchdown, but there were a lot of good things that came about on that drive.”
Armchair coordinators rejoice! Maybe Hamilton has seen the light. Maybe he's crossed over, away from the “run-first” offense to a “score-first” offense where he uses running back Trent Richardson as the change-of-pace, not the focal point.
But, here's where armchair coordinators and paid coordinators veer apart. Hamilton sees the flip side. He sees the possibility that sometimes things beyond your control lead to incompletions and a stalled offense and where does that put you? Or, more specifically, where does that put your defense?
Armchair coordinators don't have to worry about ramifications or consequences. Or making decisions based on setting up winning scenarios later in the game. That's why so many embrace the “job.”
“It's a double-edged sword in some cases,” Hamilton said. “If you don't have success, and you're not able to convert third down and move the ball downfield, you put your defense on the field that much faster.”
So Hamilton has to weight consequences. He has to measure risk/reward in ways armchair coordinators never do. (With the exception of whether to eat the whole bag of Doritos).
A frenetic pace isn't always a winning pace.
“Overall, I think we'll do a great job of doing whatever we see fit to move the ball, and ultimately score touchdowns,” Hamilton said. “And, hopefully, wear our opponent down along the way.”
Now, armchair coordinators aren't always wrong or reckless in their thinking. This version of the Colts seems better suited to the no-huddle than previous versions for a couple of reasons. One, Luck is in his third NFL season and second with Hamilton as coordinator and two, the options at Luck's disposal are plentiful. If healthy, he'll have what Hilton refers to as three No.1 receivers in Reggie Wayne, Hilton and Hakeem Nicks. He has tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. He has other solid targets ready to come off the bench.
A two tight-end set featuring tight ends with speed and strong receiver skills can cause some mismatches, as it did in the first preseason game, pitting Hilton against a linebacker in a highly favorable matchup for the Colts.
“Anytime you can get a linebacker covering T.Y., you realize the matchup is in our favor – the safety, for that matter, too,” Luck said. “That's how much confidence we have in all our wide receivers. I think that can be a byproduct of having tight ends and different formations and moving guys around. So anytime we get that matchup, it makes the quarterback happy.”
The only question, and the biggest drawback, around the no-huddle approach is the offensive line. It's not healthy. It's not experienced as a group playing together. It's an unpredictable variable in the whole scheme.
A no-huddle, uptempo offense won't work with a confused or weaker offensive line.
“(Offensive line depth) is going to get better once we get some guys back,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “Khaled (Holmes) is on the mend. (Xavier) Nixon's going to be back at some point. I feel good about it. We've just got to get a few guys back. We've lost a couple for the season, but as soon as we get those guys healthy, I think we'll be fine.”
A healthy line means armchair coordinators can continue to scream and tweet about Hamilton's play calling. There's a chance this season they might end up screaming and tweeting in agreement. If that happens, look for an increase in armchair defensive coordinators.