Three days later, I remain impressed with the patience of Indianapolis Colts interim coach Bruce Arians in the overtime win at Tennessee. It's not easy going against nature.
Arians loves the deep pass. We saw it when he was coaching Ben Roethlisberger with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Arians has talked of his love of the deep ball and demonstrated it by telling Andrew Luck to unleash it deep. We see the home-run throw attempt nearly every game at some point.
Yet with the game on the line, in overtime, needing a drive to finish off a comeback win, Arians stuck with the ground game. He resisted the all-or-nothing risk. He restrained. That's not the immediate instinct for a guy who threw a challenge flag on a touchdown pass, knowing that every scoring play is reviewed and he couldn't challenge it. But it was clearly the right call.
Arians called Donald Brown's number again and again at Tennessee – 39 yards worth in an 80-yard drive. The two passes in the game-winning drive were a mid-range middle-of-the-field pass to Reggie Wayne and a little swing screen to running back Vick Ballard, who caught the pass and leaped, twisting into the end zone and highlight-reel fame.
“Talk about opening up play-action, opening up the movement stuff, the naked (bootleg),” Luck said. “The last screen touchdown probably had a lot to do with how we were running the ball effectively. It's helpful on so many levels.”
The Colts (4-3) moved into playoff talk with the win and now face another up-and-coming team in the Miami Dolphins (4-3) at 1 p.m. Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
This has been a tricky task for Arians, taking over for ailing coach Chuck Pagano (who made a surprise visit to the team on Monday). Arians tries to maintain Pagano's outlook while being true to his own personality. My guess, from a limited sample of work, is that Pagano is naturally more conservative than Arians.
“I think you have to be yourself,” Arians said. “Our philosophies are so similar and his foundation was laid and is here and that's not going to change, so that part is pretty easy. The rest of it, you just have to be yourself and not try to be anybody else and hopefully it's good enough.”
Arians acknowledges that he has some considerable gambling instincts, although he opted for the true conservative approach when the Colts kicked a short field goal after their first drive stalled Sunday.
Still, Arians would lean toward risk taking in many regards.
“I play golf the same way. No risk it, no biscuit,” he said. “I'm never going to let up. I hit a lot of balls in the water. I guess that's just who I am and who I always have been even when I was a head coach before. We play to win all out and just kind of try to live every day that way.”
But there's a balancing act that Arians has done a nice job so far of achieving. He must be himself but also be true to Pagano's molding of the team and the coaching staff. Pagano built a quick camaraderie among players and coaches prior to taking the medical leave of absence.
Arians vowed to make sure it remained Pagano's team even in absentia.
“He understands Chuck's message, his way of doing things, better than any of us,” Luck said. “I think he does a great job of continuing that. Trust, loyalty, respect, sort of the hard-nosed style that Coach Pagano wants. I think B.A. understands that very well and does a good job of, maybe in his own words, making sure that we understand it.
“It's not going to be the same exact verbiage that coach Pagano would use, or same mannerisms, but I think it's the same message. He understands it very well and has a great feel for it. He does a great job of making sure we understand it.”
Arians' greatest achievement so far – and this season can still go in a variety of directions – has been to embrace Pagano's style and maintain continuity. Occasionally, he's also displayed something that goes against his nature: Restraint.