We are finally here: The Colts' season in review. This post will be shorter because not only have all the other writers already expertly covered every aspect of the Colts' season, but also because its just painful to recap.
The Colts' season was like one of those terrifying roller coaster rides at 6 flags.
At first, when you are planning the trip, you tell your buddies "this looks fun, I'm ready, we've got this!"
With a healthy Bob Sanders, Anthony Gonzalez and practically the same team intact from a Super Bowl run the year before, Colts' fans were excited and many around the league pegged the Colts as clear Super Bowl favorites.
Then you get to the park and you actually see the 14 loops on the roller coaster and hear people screaming in the distance. Suddenly, doubt creeps in. Did we do enough to shore up the offensive line? Is Kelvin Hayden really worth his contract? Will Fili Moala finally emerge as a run-stopping force?
At the same time, your friends are watching, so you brush off the concerns and keep going. You can't show hesitation in front of them so you convince yourself that the worries are overblown.
Then you get in line and the cracks in your confidence remerge. Houston blows out Indy in week 1 and now you start panicking.
After getting on the ride you calm down and tell yourself that you are good. You're going to get through it. Houston was an isolated hiccup and things are back on track.
The ride, like the season starts rising with only minor twists and downturns in between... 3-2, 4-2, 5-2, 6-3. So far you are fine and start believing again. It wasn't so bad right?
Not so fast...
Then comes the first terrifying spiral downwards. Gut-wrenching losses to New England and the Cowboys and a vomit inducing obliteration at the hands of the Chargers send you hurtling towards rock bottom.
After screaming your head off at Jim Caldwell, Pierre Garcon or the offensive line, you resurface and the ride steadies. Clearly shaken you gather your composure and watch as the Colts' reel off 4 straight - 7-6, 8-6, 9-6, 10-6.
Heading into the playoffs you felt as you had survived the worst. The season and the ride are rising again before the final twisting loop. It's the most feared and arduous turn in the park, but you feel prepared. Like the Colts, you are battle tested...
The ride, like Indy's season, careens downwards - except for a short pause caused by a bizarre timeout with a minute to go - spiraling out of control. When it finally ends, you (the die hard Colts' fan) and the team emerged weak kneed and defeated.
With the realization that you were not up to such a ride after all, you return home depressed to regroup for another try next year.
Season in Review: Anything short of a deep playoff run would be considered a disappointment
The super bowl or bust mentality is stupid. Injuries, a freak loss, etc. can ruin teams' hopes. The Colts have been so good for so long that it's hard not to occasionally think like that, but as fans it's wrong and unfair to the team.
2009 was a successful season. Did we win? No, but to throw it away because we didn't win the final game and only went 16-3 is silly (unless you were a Buffalo Bills' fan in the early 90's). It's ok for players to think like that because that is a winners' mentality. As a competitor you should think like that with everything you do, but as fans we should have perspective.
We have been to the playoff's every year since 2002. Think about that. No other team in the league can say the same thing. It's a special feat that we can be proud of.
At the same time, we should expect more in the playoffs. Losing to the Jets in the first round? Totally unacceptable. We might not win every year - hell, we've only won once which is problematic enough - but to get bounced in the first round is certainly underachieving. To lose in the first round 3 of the past 5 years is disconcerting and the longer Peyton goes with one championship, the more the pressure will grow as the window of opportunity closes.
By constantly getting to the playoffs year after year, the Colts' have been bequeathed the mantra similar to that of the best teams in basketball. Like the Lakers, Celtics or Heat, it doesn't matter what happens in the regular season as long as you turn it on in the playoffs. In contrast however, the Colts' shine in the regular season more often than they do later on when it really counts.
With 4 consecutive wins heading into the post season (3 against division rivals) the Colts had all the momentum. Instead of channeling the good vibes towards a deep playoff run a la Green Bay Packers, they fell flat on their face.
Offseason Momentum: Still super bowl Contenders
As long as Peyton Manning remains in Indy, the Colts will be division if not super bowl favorites and are a near guaranteed lock to make the playoffs (just nervously knocked on wood).
Fortunately we don't just have Peyton Manning. The Colts' are flush with talent across the board. Name a team that wouldn't trade their receivers for Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon and (if we don't cut him) Anthony Gonzalez. Or a team that wouldn't love Dallas Clark, Brody Eldrige and Jacob Tamme. Most teams would trade their tight ends for Tamme and Eldrige alone! Then you have Joesph Addai who is one of the smartest backs in the league and absolutely needs to be resigned. On defense we have two monsters in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis at arguably the two most important positions. We have a solid and improving linebacking corps and Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey in the secondary. I would bet you that 8 of the 12 playoff teams in the playoffs would be willing to switch rosters. How many people think Chicago will make a return to the playoffs? Neither do they.
About a show of hands for Seattle fans? None? Thought so. Even the Saints have issues.
Do we have our own problems? Of course we do. Every team does! But to belief that the Colts are 'done' as Bill Simmons argued back the midseason point, is ridiculous. Plus we have the draft and summer to address major needs.
Barring another set onslaught of injuries the Colts' figure to be somewhere between the 09 and 10 seasons. Given that average is 12 wins, I think it is safe to say the Colts should be comfortably back in the playoffs come 2011.
Offseason Anxiety: As high as ever
Saying that the Colts' should figure prominently next year amongst the contenders does not mean fans and the front office aren't nervous. Far from it. We have major holes that need considerable attention. 10-6 was our worst record since our first year in the AFC South all the way back in 2002. The fact that we have won more than 10 games for 7 straight years is remarkable. If you offered a team 10 wins before the season started, 20 would probably take it. At the same time, a 4 game slide from 09 to this season is nevertheless disturbing.
One facet that management has to revaluate is the training staff. Just like coaches and players are held to high standards, so too should they Isray and Polian scrutinize the training staff. They blew the decision on who to IR with Gonzalez, Sessions and Sanders and you have to figure that after such an unprecedented rash of injuries somebody on the medical team isn't doing their job. Whether its a lack of offseason strength and conditioning, deficient stretching or substandard injury recover programs and measures, the Colts' medical staff needs to be more throughly vetted. Not saying it necessarily did, but after witnessing so many injuries and botched medical reports, its possible poor care cost us the season as well as Bob Sanders' future as an Indianapolis Colt. I would say even the smallest chance that the medical staff may have contributed to those two outcomes is certainly enough for a thorough review and possible overhaul.
In terms of on the field issues, it continually amazes Colts' fans that the offensive line has been neglected for so long. its hard to imagine that the Colts' won't draft two lineman in the first 3 rounds. In fact, I wouldn't be completely surprised if all three picks were offensive linemen the way the unit played last season. Unfortunately because offensive line coach Howard Mudd is no longer around, the Colts need to draft linemen that are polished and proven players early on and can't rely on Mudd to turn 6th round leftovers into serviceable starters.
Last year there were rumors that the Chargers LT Marcus McNeil was being shopped around. Although it never happened, the fact that the Colts never made a high enough bid was terribly disappointing. This time around, the Colts need to get serious and better protect the face of their franchise.
Draft Desires: Offensive line, offensive line, offensive line
According to reports, Nate Solder from Colorado has the best chance to be an elite starting left tackle but may need some time in to develop. If the Colts do draft Solder, that allows Charlie Johnson to move to his more natural position at right tackle.
If the Colts are willing to keep Johnson at left tackle, then Tryon Smith from USC should be the pick to take over the right tackle slot.
If the Colts are looking for the most polished player for the line, Boston College's Anthony Castonzo is there guy because not only is he being touted as NFL ready, he is also extremely versatile and could move around the line to plug several holes.
All-in-all, my pick would be right tackle Gabe Carimi from Wisconsin. He is also experienced and could start right away in the NFL. More importantly, he is said to possess a nasty streak that the Colts' line is sorely missing.
With their second selection, I think another lineman should again be the choice.
It may be unorthodox for the Colts to draft another offensive lineman back-to-back, but if you watched the group the Colts had this year and if you value Peyton Manning, you probably agree that more help up front is just what the Colts' need.
In the second round, the choices are a bit more limited. I know the prospect of drafting another athletic Arkansas tackle probably scares the bejesus out of Colts' fans, but Demarcus Love is no Tony Ugoh. At 6'4 318 pounds, Love is an battle-tested SEC lineman who is both nimble and tough and could fill either guard spot.
If not Love, then Alabama guard James Carpenter deserves a long hard look. With above average size at 6'5 and 300 pounds, Carpenter showed the quickness and athleticism to get off the line and into the second level. At Alabama he opened huge holes for Heisman winner Mark Ingram, something that Addai would grateful for. Kyle Devan might be smart and hard-working, but Carpenter has the talent that he doesn't possess.
If the Colts' go defense with the pick, Stephen Paea from Oregon State would be ideal. A stout strong DT, Paea set the Combine record with 49 bench press reps at 225 pounds and is exactly the run stuffing tackle that could compliment Moala up front.
In the 3rd round, the Colts will have to address safety. With Sanders already cut and Bullit a free agent, a position that was a strength is suddenly a pressing need. While it would be foolish not to bring back Bullit, the Colts need to find his backup anyway. Why not try another Iowa safety in Tyler Sash? If I recall correctly, the Colts' have had some previous luck with Iowa players, especially at the safety position.
Free Agency Farewells: Bob Sanders is already gone, sadly others will be joining him
Joesph Addai and Melvin Bullit have to be resigned no if ands or buts about it. In my mind so do Charlie Johnson, Antonio Johnson, Adam Vinatieri, Tyjuan Hagler and Clint Session. If the Colts draft Paea from Oregon State then maybe Antonio Johnson can be a cap casualty. If Indy plans on returning to the playoffs though, there is no way they can let either Johnson walk without a bonafide replacement. Same for Vinatieri, which given his position, the Colts' will not find an even adequate alternative.
Hagler and Session are the most likely to be free to go, but letting them depart would be a mistake. Both guys play with a mean streak and it has been well documented on this site that when Session plays there is a huge difference in the energy level and hustle on defense. Yes we have a good young core with Brackett, Conner, Glenn and Angerer but none of them provide the mean streak and energy Session do. He is a tough passionate player whose absence was and would be sorely missed.
Same goes for the less talented Hagler. Not only did he fill in admirably, but he also is a solid special teams contributor, which is an area the Colts are always looking to upgrade.
Threat to the
Stampede League: High
Don't expect the Texans, Jags or Titans to unseat Indianapolis. A possible lockout is probably the Colts' biggest threat to ending the Colts' record setting consecutive playoff streak.