With the Indianapolis Colts heading into Sunday’s regular-season home opener with Minnesota, first-year coach Chuck Pagano is keeping things positive this week.
The Colts struggled in several areas in Sunday’s 41-21 season-opening loss to the Chicago Bears, while not looking too bad in other phases. The message that Pagano sent to his team afterward is a rather simple one: learn from it and move on.
“It’s pretty easy to see once you break it down. You put the stats up, and you go back and look at the areas that you always talk about. Running the football, stopping the run, third down, red zone, two-minute, turnovers. All of the things that played major factors [in the loss], all the situational stuff. We can play a whole lot better in all those areas,” Pagano said.
“You just lay the facts out. It’s certainly not a time to go in there [to the locker room] and beat anybody up. So you go in there and you point out, ‘Here’s what we’ve got to do in these areas to get better and it all starts with taking care of the football.’ You go back to turnovers.”
Indianapolis coughed the ball up five times — three interceptions, a fumble by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and a fumbled kickoff by rookie wide receiver LaVon Brazill — in the loss to Chicago. A similar performance against Minnesota would most likely end with the same result — another loss.
“We’ve got enough veteran leadership in there. I know we’ve got a lot of young guys, but we’ve got a lot of young guys that understand what the expectations are so for us to start riding this rollercoaster. What I told them [earlier this week], I said, ‘Who won the Super Bowl last year?’ And they all start scratching their heads. I said, ‘It was the Giants, right?’ And they said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘What’s their record now? Same as ours, right?’ I said, ‘14 games into the season, a year ago, what was their record? 7-7. What was Green Bay’s record at the end of the year? They went 15-1. Pretty good season, right?’ The key was they made it to the tournament,” Pagano said.
“That’s our goal. Get in the tournament, catch fire and see what happens. So 15-1, [the Packers] make the tournament, but the Giants happened to catch fire and beat them in the first round and knock them out. So it’s certainly not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
Which leads to Sunday’s game against the Vikings at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“It’s huge. We said this coming in and it’s league-wide. You’ve got to win your home games. You’ve got to play great at home. We’ve got what I think are the best fans in the NFL and we’ll count on them to be our 12th man, if you will,” Pagano voiced Wednesday.
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n Offensive line tweaks — The Colts added former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive guard-tackle Trai Essex on Monday and then signed ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive tackle Bradley Sewell on Tuesday.
Essex’s addition was a natural one. The former Fort Wayne Harding standout is familiar with Indianapolis’ offensive system and blocking techniques due to his long association with Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin. Both are former Pittsburgh assistant coaches.
With starting offensive left guard Joe Reitz sidelined indefinitely with a sore knee and his replacement, Seth Olsen, struggling in the loss to the Bears, Essex might find himself moving quickly into the starting lineup.
“We’ll see. This is my first day of practice so we’ll see what [Goodwin] has for me right now. At [Wednesday’s] walk-through, I was just playing guard, just getting the ropes and everything. It’s an offense that I’m familiar with obviously being with [Arians] and Goodie in Pittsburgh,” Essex said.
“It’s still a different system, a different program. It’s going to take some getting used to but I think I’ll be okay. We’ll see what happens.”
An Indiana native who played at Northwestern, Essex had expressed his desire in recent years to sign with the Colts. He just didn’t know if it would ever happen. He was released by the Steelers on Aug. 31.
“There were other teams that actually most of the offers actually came in Sunday night after the first round of [NFL] games were being played. Indianapolis called and they were definitely a clear cut favorite from the beginning,” he said.
“I’m from Fort Wayne and I’m familiar with the coaches. I think they have a good thing going here with Chuck Pagano, even though he was a Ravens guy. I heard he’s a great guy and he hasn’t disappointed me. I’m just happy to be here.”
Helping Essex’s cause is his versatility. He can play offensive guard and offensive tackle.
“My career has been playing every position. I just want to play honestly. I came in as a tackle from Northwestern but got used to playing some guard my fourth or fifth year in the NFL,” he said. “I’ve been playing every position ever since. Whatever position I can play a lot of, that’s what I want to play.”
Sewell, meanwhile, was an undrafted rookie who signed with Tampa Bay last spring. He is on the Colts’ 53-man active roster. Center A.Q. Shipley, who was waived to make room for Essex, is now on the practice squad. Indianapolis waived rookie wide receiver Kashif Moore from the practice squad.
n Injury list — Sitting out Wednesday’s practice were inside linebacker Pat Angerer (foot), outside linebacker Dwight Freeney (ankle) and offensive guard Joe Reitz (knee).
Angerer and Reitz are both sidelined indefinitely. A decision on Freeney’s availability won’t be made until Friday or Saturday.
Right offensive tackle Winston Justice, who suffered a concussion against the Bears, saw limited work on Wednesday. No decision on Justice will be made until later in the week.
Wide receiver Austin Collie (concussion) and rookie wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (shoulder) both fully practiced on Wednesday. Collie has been cleared to play against the Vikings. Hilton, meanwhile, is expected to play Sunday as well.