Welcome to Heavy In The Trenches, a weekly Wednesday column by Heavy’s NFL insider Matt Lombardo, bringing you insight on the latest storylines and rumblings around the league. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattLombardoNFL.
The Indianapolis Colts‘ season is spiraling out of control, and after dropping three consecutive games, the organization fired head coach Frank Reich on November 7. However, the fifth-year head coach’s dismissal laid bare layers of dysfunction inside owner Jim Irsay’s franchise.
During what can only be described as a categorically bizarre press conference, Irsay and the Colts introduced Jeff Saturday as the team’s interim head coach.
“It’s an incredibly brilliant move to [crap] on an entire industry of coaches,” a league source texted Heavy, following the announcement of Saturday as Colts head coach. “Including multiple coaches in your own building. Just a genius move to hire a man who has never coached at any level.”
Saturday’s only prior coaching experience is as head coach for four years at Georgia’s Hebron Christian Academy.
Putting Saturday’s perplexing hiring aside, Irsay delivering Reich a pink slip after quarterback Sam Ehlinger was held to 103 yards and sacked 9 times by the New England Patriots in Week 9, but leaving general manager Chris Ballard in place feels like a half-measure.
Unless, of course, there is some far greater plan in the offing by Irsay for the Colts this offseason.
“This sets up perfectly for Peyton Manning to take over in a John Elway-type general manager role after this season,” an AFC scouting director suggested to Heavy.
Manning as Colts general manager is a fascinating scenario to ponder: The prodigal son, who brought the Lombardi Trophy home to Indy in 2007, who practically built the stadium and has a statue out in front of it, returning home to rebuild the franchise in his image.
Elway certainly struggled in that capacity with the Denver Broncos, and Manning has seemed reluctant to consider coaching or front office positions in the past. But, might Indianapolis hold a more special place in No. 18’s heart, and the chance to return the franchise that drafted him to glory be too tempting to pass up?
Some inside the league believe the theory has real legs.
“It’s very possible Manning is the GM in waiting,” a former Colts scout told Heavy. “He spent a lot of time around Ballard and around Jim, when I was in that building.”
While Manning told Colin Cowherd, albeit jokingly, in September 2022 that “I don’t see a GM in my future,” his desire to be more closely involved in the business side of the NFL has become more pronounced. In addition to the success of the alternate Monday night “Manningcast,” Manning was in contact with the Broncos in June 2022 “about an advisory role in the organization that eventually could mean being a part of the ownership group and having equity in the franchise,” according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Regardless of who winds up being Ballard’s successor, the Colts can’t commit the long-term future to his vision.
After compounding the long-running struggles at quarterback, the Colts have seen one of the NFL’s premier offensive lines deteriorate in recent years. Especially as Ballard and Reich took two too many spins at the veteran quarterback roulette wheel; trading for Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan in consecutive offseasons.
The Colts have an identity crisis, at the moment.
Indy’s issues stem from compounding the mistakes of foolishly thinking that a veteran quarterback would be the missing piece, but never really investing in the long-term viability of the most important position on the roster.
“I never really thought they were built right,” an NFC pro personnel director told Heavy. “The head coach did a good job over the years getting the most of what he had. But, it looks like they did a really bad job assessing needs and talent over the years.
“They never got the key pieces you need to win; a sustainable quarterback situation, a left tackle, dominant pass-rushers, wide receivers, premier cornerbacks. It’s a really hard business to try to win when you don’t have the quarterback figured out.”
Maybe Manning, or whoever eventually replaces Ballard, will be able to finally figure that out.
Week 10 NFL Power Rankings
1. Philadelphia Eagles (8-0)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (6-2)
3. Buffalo Bills (6-2)
4. Minnesota Vikings (7-1)
5. New York Jets (6-3)
6. Seattle Seahawks (6-3)
7. Dallas Cowboys (6-2)
8. Baltimore Ravens (6-3)
9. Miami Dolphins (6-3)
10. San Francisco 49ers (4-4)
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The Matt Lombardo Show
Quote of Week 9
“We’ve got two big signs players see as they walk out of the building every day: ‘Ignore the noise.’ That’s it. We got signs on each side of the door. Ignore the noise.” –– Jets head coach Robert Saleh, to NBC Sports’ Peter King, following the Jets’ improbable 20-17 win over the Buffalo Bills
Sunday’s New York Jets victory was the NFL’s upset of the year, as Saleh’s upstarts took down the Buffalo Bills, a Super Bowl Goliath who wrangled with David and took a SkyCam to the eye before leaving East Rutherford battered and with a second division loss in tow.
Saleh and his coaching staff deserve all the credit in the world for having his team ready to perfectly execute a defensive game plan that was perfect to take down Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and the previously high-flying Bills.
More than that, the talent on this Jets roster is suddenly a sight to behold. And, it isn’t difficult to close your eyes and envision a someday in the not-so-distant future where this is the heavily favored contender in a future divisional clash.
Sunday, rookie cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner paced the Jets with 7 total tackles, he intercepted a pass and broke up another. Quinnen Williams carded 2 tackles, plus 1.0 sack and 1 tackle for loss. Offensively, rookie wide receiver Garrett Wilson strengthened his connection with quarterback Zach Wilson, catching 8-of-9 targets for 92 yards.
It was the young Jets who took down the mature and firing-on-all-cylinders Bills. And, they did it without arguably the best player on the roster.
“If we had Breece Hall [healthy], we beat them by 10. I’m not joking,” a Jets front office executive texted Heavy.
Who knows if Hall, whose season came to an untimely end due to a torn ACL suffered back in Week 7 against the Broncos, would have made that significant of an impact, but he most certainly would have helped.
Saleh’s Jets have now won five of the last six, and at 6-3 with a win over the Bills and Dolphins in division play already, this is a team now capable of — and in a position to — make a little noise of its own.
After reaching 8-0 for the first time in franchise history, the Philadelphia Eagles have a legitimate chance to finish the regular season undefeated.
The Eagles, the last of the NFL’s unbeaten, are assured to see the best shot from each of their final nine opponents, beginning on Monday, November 14 against the division rival Washington Commanders.
Philadelphia has followed a winning formula to perfection. Through eight games, the Eagles’ +15 turnover ratio is more added possessions than the 12 that comprise a typical NFL game. Meanwhile, quarterback Jalen Hurts has been a model of improving efficiency by accounting for 18 of Philadelphia’s 29 touchdowns. Plus, the Philly defense ranks No. 3 in total defense, No. 3 in passing defense, and No. 4 in points allowed.
Just how dominant have the Eagles been, in all phases?
Only the Buffalo Bills’ +12.8 scoring margin bests Philadelphia’s +11.3, which is 4.5 points higher than the Chiefs’ +6.8.
However, as the crucible of a stretch run begins that features opponents with a .513 winning percentage and showdowns against potential playoff teams such as the New York Giants (twice), Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans, adversity is bound to strike.
So, who do these Eagles turn to in the middle of a game when opponents make a run, or to drag a sloppy practice back into being a productive one?
“It’s Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham,” Eagles linebacker Shaun Bradley told Heavy Sports during a recent appearance on The Matt Lombardo Show. “You know, those two are the most respected guys in that building, not just on the defensive side.”
For a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, it is a legitimate asset to have veterans like Cox and Graham on defense, and offensive tackle Lane Johnson, center Jason Kelce, guard Isaac Seumalo who have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy and understand the travails it takes to reach the pinnacle.
“When Fletch and BG talk, we listen,” Bradley explained. “Especially [Graham]. He’s been in the league the longest, 13 years. Him and Fletch have been through it. They know they’ve been through changes, they’ve been through everything, they’ve seen how it works, so you know they’re always good motivators.”
Graham and Cox on defense now serve as the Eagles’ elder statesmen.
But, they’ve also been among the Eagles’ most prolific front-seven defenders. Graham is playing some of the more dominant football of his career, producing 4.0 sacks and 21 pressures, as Cox has added 4 and 19, along with 13 total tackles.
Coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s defense, though, has also been buttressed by newcomers such as Haason Reddick, Kyzir White, James Bradberry, and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
The younger players on the Eagles’ defense have gone from watching and looking up to Cox and Graham, to winning alongside them.
“All of those guys are really good motivators,” Bradley said.
The steady leadership from Cox and Graham just might propel this Eagles’ defense, and Philadelphia at large, to a special finish to the 2022 campaign.