When I watched the Colts play the Saints on Sunday night, I thought of the scene in "The Godfather," where Don Corleone is meeting with the heads of the five families after the death of his son Sonny and asks everyone, "How did things ever get so far?" How did everything that was so good with the Colts before 2011 get so far?
It can't be just because Peyton Manning is missing the season, right? Football is a team sport, so one player shouldn't be the difference in a 55-point loss. But in reality, had Manning played, the Colts might have won. How strange is that?
Colts vice chairman Bill Polian gave coach Jim Caldwell a vote of confidence after the blowout. Really? Someone has to be responsible for losing that badly. Fifty-five point losses are relatively common in college football, but not in the pros. If Polian absolves Caldwell, does that mean he is taking responsibility for having a bad roster incapable of winning without one key player? Since Caldwell does not pick the players, he is not to blame for the roster, but he is guilty of other sins. Since football is the ultimate team sport, everyone is to blame when the losing is this bad.
Closely examine Indy's roster. How many of these players could go to Green Bay or New England and make the team? More than 10 players? Fewer? I'm taking the under. The Colts are a really small team and lack power on either side of the ball. They rely on their speed and quickness on their own home carpet and playing with a lead to function best on defense.
But often trailing this season, the defense has been exposed. The unit is allowing opposing quarterbacks a league-worst 113 rating, given up the most points in the league, and allowed opponents the most rushes and completions per game (a staggering 58.3). In fact, the defense ranks last in 24 other categories. Manning does not play defense, so him not being there is not the cause of this horrendous performance.
Polian might absolve Caldwell, but I doubt Colt fans will. Yes, the roster is bad, but it is hard not to wonder what Caldwell is doing each week to prepare his team to overcome the loss of Manning. Each week, the Colts operate with the same offense, same defense as if Manning was dressing. You get the feeling during the game that Caldwell has the same look that Perry White would have awaiting the arrival of Superman. Only Caldwell's Superman is not set to return any time soon.
I get the feeling Caldwell is content to keep the status quo as if the rest of the team can overcome Manning's absence. But Caldwell cannot sit back and continue to coach in the same style he did with Manning. He has to change his entire approach -- offensively, defensively and in the kicking game.
It's clear the Manning-less Colts cannot play their Tampa 2 defense and win, nor can they duplicate the Manning offense. Most observers say the team is built to play a certain style, therefore it is too late to change. But they have to change. They must find new ways to compete, to help overcome their lack of talent. That is called adaptive coaching. They might not win, but they have to try something different. They must reinvent themselves offensively, where shifting and rubbing off receivers might help quarterback Curtis Painter make a few easy reads and throws. Instead the Colts play the same stationary game, never shifting and rarely picking or helping their wideouts escape man-to-man coverage. If the Colts were a basketball team, there would never be a hard pick set for anyone.
The solutions for the Colts are not easy. There is no magic wand. I've been on some really bad teams with little or no chance to win and the prospect of having to face nine more horrible Sundays. It's hard, frustrating and humiliating for everyone in the organization. But instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the Colts must adapt in every phase of their organization. Do something, or be ready for major changes throughout the organization.
Change must start with Caldwell taking charge. Albert Einstein once said, "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." Caldwell must prove to his team that he is really a dynamic coach, that he can find a way to win games without the star. Remember, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin won three of four games last September without Ben Roethlisberger, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick won 11 games without Tom Brady in 2008. If he can't muster much without Manning, many will ask what real value Caldwell brings to the table?
But the most critical aspect right now for both Caldwell and Polian is they now have an opportunity to change the team for the future. They have the opportunity to become stronger, more powerful, and not always reliant on Superman to carry them to victory. No matter where they pick in the draft at the end of this season, there will only be one Superman.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi