Chris Ballard’s season-ending press conference Thursday was rare in several ways.
It lasted 72 minutes, and the Indianapolis Colts general manager fielded 74 questions from the assembled media. Those are eye-popping numbers that drew attention from reporters around the NFL on social media.
But they paled in comparison to the honesty Ballard displayed. He pulled few punches in assessing his team’s 2019 performance and directed most of his harshest criticism inward.
“This season’s going to be remember for being a 7-9 season,” he said during his opening statement. “And that’s a stain that does not easily wash away. We’re disappointed, disappointed organizationally of where we’re at. And all of that, all of it starts with me.”
Ballard chiefly blamed himself for failing to provide enough depth for the coaching staff to overcome a rash of injuries.
The wide receiver position, in particular, was racked. Top free-agent acquisition Devin Funchess missed the final 15 games after shattering his collarbone in the season opener. Rookie Parris Campbell missed time with four separate injuries, and four-time Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton sat out six games with calf and quad injuries.
Tight end Eric Ebron, also among the team’s top four options as a receiver, was placed on injured reserve for the final five weeks with ankle injuries.
There were other impactful health issues. Linebacker Darius Leonard missed three games after suffering a concussion in Week 2 against the Tennessee Titans, and cornerback Kenny Moore II sat out the final four games with an injured ankle.
Moore’s absence was particularly costly to a defensive secondary that struggled badly down the stretch.
“I think you all know my thoughts on Kenny Moore,” Ballard said. “I think he’s the best nickel in the league, for what he does. I think time will prove me right on that. I think he’s a real special player. We had a major dropoff when we lost Kenny.”
Ballard also understands injuries are no excuse.
His anger with his own failure to keep the rash of misfortune from derailing the season was evident. But he’s not likely to linger on the past.
One of the major themes of Ballard’s talk was self-evaluation. The franchise is just starting that process, from the general manager’s office all the way down the ladder.
The Colts are 21-27 in Ballard’s three seasons running the show, and they’ve missed the playoffs twice.
That’s not good enough by any standard, and the GM is determined to find a solution.
The status quo won’t be good enough. Ballard told the players during a season-ending meeting Monday change is coming to the roster.
The bottom line in his mind is Indianapolis deserves better.
“You can’t put your head in the sand and act like everything’s OK,” Ballard said. “You’ve got to accept it, and then you’ve got to find answers to the problems. That’s our job. Our job is to win games, and our fans expect that. Our owner expects that. And they deserve that. That’s our job to get that done.”
Both Ballard and head coach Frank Reich focused on the passing game as a target area. The Colts failed on both sides of the ball.
The offense ranked 30th in passing yards and 25th in yards per attempt. It wasn’t much prettier on defense, with Indianapolis ranking 23rd in yards allowed and 22nd in yards per attempt.
Some of Ballard’s most passionate words were used to describe the need for the passing defense to limit explosive plays. The inability to do that heavily factored into close late-season losses against the Houston Texans, Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But the offensive side of the equation will earn more offseason headlines. Ballard said the “jury’s still out” on quarterback Jacoby Brissett after a woeful finish that saw him complete just 51.6 percent of his passes in the final four weeks.
The Colts will look to upgrade at the position, but they won’t force an addition. In the meantime, Ballard also will look to make the passing game stronger as a whole. That means adding talent at wide receiver, tight end and possibly on the offensive line.
That helps set the framework for the offseason to-do list.
But Ballard also was careful to note it’s not all bad news on the horizon.
“We’re excited about the future of where we’re going and how we’re gonna get there,” he said. “I don’t ever want that not to be … I haven’t lost any confidence about where we’re going and how we’re gonna get it done. Maybe the path changed a little bit. The obstacles, whatever, it doesn’t matter, man. We’ve gotta find a way to do the job, and we will.”