Lame-duck Pagano struggling to lead

Chuck Pagano
Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

The Indianapolis Colts’ playoff hopes are on life support and if you look over to the next bed in the football equivalent of the ICU, you’ll find Chuck Pagano’s job security.

And that’s a recipe that not only makes leading a team very difficult, it emboldens critics in the locker room.

T.Y. Hilton proved to be that antagonist for the Colts this week as the big-play receiver questioned his team’s play calling, certainly no surprise when you consider many observers looked at Indianapolis as a possible Super Bowl contender before the season and it is now limping to the finish line without injured quarterback Andrew Luck.

The realization that nothing short of a miracle would need to take place for Indy to leap frog Houston now and win the AFC South is certainly wearing on everyone around the Colts.

With the 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst filling in for Luck, Indianapolis has managed just two offensive touchdowns in its last three games and the speedy Hilton doesn’t understand why offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who replaced Pep Hamilton in season, isn’t going vertical more often.

“We’re not really using us: Donte (Moncrief), me, Phillip (Dorsett). We’re fast guys and we’re not going down the field how we’re supposed to,” Hilton told the Indianapolis Star. “We’re running stick routes, chain routes. I mean, you can do that, but at some point, you have to take your shots.”

Hilton isn’t wrong either.

Hasselbeck attempted only seven passes longer than 10 yards against the Texans last week and Indianapolis’ X-Plays (gains of 20 yards-or-more) have gone from a league-high 78 in 2014 down to 43 this season.

There is a reason, however, that coaches are coaches and players are players and it’s doubtful that Hilton is taking into account that Chud is trying to protect both the banged-up Hasselbeck and Whitehurst, who has been in Indy for only about six weeks and certainly doesn’t really have a grasp on the entire offense.

If Luck was healthy, the Colts would be pushing the football down the field.

Context, though, means little to Hilton.

“The throws have been there, but we just haven’t been calling them,” the receiver added. “It’s more the play calling.”

Pagano didn’t like that assessment.

“We have a sign in our locker room that says, ‘What you see, say and hear here stays here,’” the coach said. “I don’t think any of us should air our dirty laundry outside this building to be quite frank and honest …I’m not going to go into details of how we handle things, but there’s a right way to do stuff and a wrong way.”

The problem for Pagano is there is also a sign that’s just as clear on his own forehead and it reads ‘lame duck.’

Hilton knows he’s going to be in Indianapolis in ’16 and he’s smart enough to understand Pagano’s not. And that gives the wideout carte blanche to pop off.

“I don’t know what’s going on (with the coaches),” Hilton said. “I’m just out there running routes. Whatever the play call is, that’s what we’re running. Hopefully it gets better this week.”

— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen@phanaticmag.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.

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