Roster moves send clear message to Indianapolis’ defense

FILE - Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano gestures on the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. (AP File Photo/Gary Landers)
FILE - Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano gestures on the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. (AP File Photo/Gary Landers)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano has seen enough of the defensive woes.

The big plays, the missed tackles, the ridiculous penalties all need to stop — right now.

If that message didn’t get through before last weekend’s loss, Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson made it abundantly clear this week when they cut two starters: cornerback Antonio Cromartie and inside linebacker Sio Moore, the team’s leading tackler.

“I know this, when those guys trot out there and they’ve got that horseshoe on their helmet, there’s an expectation. I don’t care who it is, that expectation has to be met,” first-year defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said Thursday. “Either they meet expectations, exceed expectations or they don’t meet expectations. That is as crystal clear as it can be.”

So far, the Colts (1-3) have not lived up to those standards.

They head into Sunday’s game against Chicago (1-3) allowing 31.3 points per game, have struggled to get off the field, and when they do make a play there always seems to be a hit out of bounds or a late hit on the quarterback.

Everyone in the organization understands mistakes happen, but the litany of early-season miscues has become untenable.

Following Sunday’s loss to previously winless Jacksonville, quarterback Andrew Luck used his platform to make a rare public critique. Luck, who was limited in Thursday’s practice with a sore throwing shoulder, said the Colts need to be “more professional.”

While Luck didn’t single anyone out, other than himself, he backtracked a bit by acknowledging later that he was only referring to the sloppy play and the need for everyone to play better. Teammates understood exactly what Luck meant.

“Just hold everybody accountable, do the little things right, being a pro, being on time, don’t let outside distractions affect what’s going on in the locker room,” Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis said. “It’s meant to reinforce what you have to do as a pro, sacrifice.”

And get things fixed when they go awry.

Far too often this season, coaches have seen the same problems week after week, so Tuesday, the Colts made some changes.

Perhaps the decision on Cromartie was explainable, given that he was signed in mid-August to help a secondary depleted by injuries and now that the Colts are nearly back to full strength , they didn’t need a 32-year-old cornerback.

Cromartie didn’t help his cause, either. On the final possession of the first half Sunday, Cromartie was burned for two completions and called for holding and pass interference on an eight-play drive that led to a Jacksonville field goal. He was benched in the second half.

Moore’s case was more puzzling. After trading a draft pick to Oakland last September and cutting veteran Nate Irving before the season, Moore put solid numbers on paper. But he also was one of Indy’s biggest offenders of missed tackles.

“Guys know in this profession you have to go out there and get your job done,” cornerback Darius Butler said. “It’s a bottom line business. I’ve been let go twice, I know the feeling. Like I said, it’s part of the profession and you just have to go out there and play. ”

With no clear-cut replacement on the roster for Moore, Monachino intends to use veteran Josh McNary, fourth-round draft pick Antonio Morrison and Edwin Jackson, who has played mostly on special teams — to fill the gap. Pagano said Wednesday that a bigger safety, such as 6-foot-2, 220-pound Clayton Geathers, also could find playing time in Moore’s old spot.

Whoever winds up with the job, they’ll know this: If they don’t succeed, Indy won’t wait long to make a move.

“We all understand that this is a black-and-white production business. Either you can or you can’t, you have or you have not, you will or you won’t,” Monachino said. “We all understand this is a black-and-white production business. Either you have and you can or you haven’t and you can’t. We will continue to work our craft and continue to get better.”

NOTES: Butler (hamstring) and right guard Denzelle Good (back) did limited work Thursday. … Running back Frank Gore and outside linebacker Erik Walden, who both missed practice Wednesday with chest injuries, were both full go Thursday. Right tackle Joe Reitz (back) also was a full participant after being limited Wednesday. … Monachino said defensive tackle Art Jones was lean and in good shape when he returned from his four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy. It’s still uncertain if Jones will be activated for Sunday’s game.