Tuesday, March 21 2023

Maybe more bizarre than the Indianapolis Colts‘ decision to hire Jeff Saturday as their interim head coach — a franchise legend with no coaching experience beyond the high school level — was owner Jim Irsay’s logic for explaining it Monday night. 

Irsay insisted Saturday, an ESPN NFL analyst just days ago, was the “best man for the job,” despite having several veteran NFL coaches on his coaching staff, including two with head-coaching experience in defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and senior defensive assistant John Fox, that would make an abrupt transition midseason more seamless. Irsay said Saturday was “fully experienced enough,” with five seasons as a high school coach, including just three as a head coach, being his only experience. 

Irsay went on to invoke the likes of coaching legends Don Shula and Tony Dungy in talking about Saturday. He boldly said he’s glad Saturday doesn’t have any NFL experience, because there’s supposedly “fear” among traditional NFL coaches about marrying analytics to scheme. 

A dizzying, Irsay-led press conference leads me to this dizzying conclusion: Saturday getting a Colts interim head-coaching job he’s laughably underqualified for might be worth it if he can help Indianapolis’ offensive line improve. 

“It’s an intuitive decision,” Irsay said of hiring Saturday. “He knows this game inside and out with relationships with coaches and players and has been a consultant for us for several years — a paid consultant, informing Chris (Ballard) and I and other people in the organization his opinions.”

Jeff Saturday named Indianapolis Colts interim head coach | THE HERD

NFL Reporter Albert Breer joins Colin Cowherd on The Herd to discuss the Indianapolis Colts decision to move on from former head coach Frank Reich onto interim head coach Jeff Saturday.

Quarterback has been a years-long issue for the Colts, but dreadful play upfront has been at the crux of their offensive issues in 2022. They can’t pass block — whether it’s been Matt Ryan or Sam Ehlinger under center (Ehlinger was sacked nine times by the New England Patriots last week). And they can’t run block, whether it’s been Jonathan Taylor or someone else in the backfield.

According to Football Outsiders, Indianapolis ranks second worst in adjusted line yards (3.86), an advanced metric that quantifies offensive line responsibility on running back carries through various game situations (down, distance, situation, etc.). It’s fourth-worst in adjusted sack rate (9.5%), which accounts for down, distance and opponent on sacks allowed. Overall, the Colts have the NFL’s second-worst offensive line, per Football Outsiders. And no team has dedicated more cash and cap dollars to their O-line than the Colts. Shuffling the starters hasn’t made a difference. The shortcomings upfront have been nothing short of abject failure. 

And that’s somewhere Saturday could help. He knows the intricacies of offensive line play as a former perennial Pro Bowl center. He also knows specifically how the Colts want to play up front, considering he played 13 seasons, won a Super Bowl and is a Ring of Honor inductee with the franchise.


Being great at something doesn’t mean you could be great at teaching it, but Indianapolis is giving Saturday that chance. 

“It doesn’t take long to figure out that he’s got real leadership in him, real special in that regard,” said Ballard, the team’s general manager. “For this eight-game stretch and where we’re at, we thought he was going to be a really good fit for us.”

With Saturday’s lack of coaching experience, hiring him as some kind of offensive-line coach would’ve made the most sense if his expertise was as desperately wanted as Irsay made it known. 

“We’ve tried to hire him a couple times,” Ballard acknowledged. “We tried to hire him in 2019 as the offensive line coach. And we tried to hire him again this year. Just didn’t work out. The timing didn’t work out.” 

It worked out now. They found a way to get him in the building as a head coach, on an interim basis, after a midseason firing. 

And maybe that’s the only way to make sense of this bizarre situation. 

Talent is there for Titans’ Malik Willis. Don’t forget about that. 

Chiefs coach Andy Reid, deep into an answer about how his defense made adjustments in the second half en route to a dramatic 20-17 victory over the Titans on Sunday night, touched on Tennessee rookie quarterback Malik Willis — making his second career start with Ryan Tannehill sidelined — when he didn’t have to.  

“I think he’s going to be a real good one down the road,” Reid said of Willis. 

Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs defeat Titans in OT, KC 1st place in AFC West | First Things First

Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs needed overtime to defeat the Derrick Henry led Tennessee Titans in Week 9.

Reid, one of the best offensive minds in NFL history who has helped mold the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick, praised the third-round pick unsolicited. And remember this, too: back in August, after a Titans-Ravens preseason game, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson also spoke highly of Willis, saying “he’s going to be good in the league.” Praise from those two — a Super Bowl-winning coach and a former league MVP — speaks volumes about Willis’ potential. 

So while observers can be justified in saying the former Liberty star doesn’t look like a true NFL quarterback, who’s to say he can’t become one with time?

In the first half against the Chiefs, we saw glimpses. Like in the first quarter, on third-and-14 from the Kansas City 39, he avoided two sacks — spinning out of one and side-stepping away from the other — to keep a play alive. How in the second quarter, on a boot action rolling and running backwards facing pressure to his right, fired an off-balance one-legged throw to tight end Austin Hooper for a 16-yard gain. How later in that same drive, he threw a dime down the sideline for receiver Chris Conley that should’ve been caught. How he gave receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine a chance on a 50-50 ball down the sideline that would’ve given the Titans first and goal in the fourth quarter. How overall, he made strides from his first career start against the Texans in Week 8. 

A dynamic runner, Willis is unpolished as a passer, of course. He’s attempted just 26 passes in two starts, completing just 40% of them. He’s tucked the ball to run too quickly at times, giving up on pass plays. The accuracy and decision-making are inconsistent. His ability to keep a play alive has sometimes gotten him in trouble in the backfield. He still needs development. A lot of it. 

But he’s on the right track. Opposing teams are noticing.  

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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