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The Colts head into their bye week at 1-2 and trying to establish an identity. Here's a list of things the team needs to consider (and figure out) if they are going to be competitive the rest of the season.
Let the debate begin!
Will an early bye week be good for the young Indianapolis Colts? A chance to regroup or hamper the chemistry that was developing?
One thing is for sure - the bye week should give the team a chance to address some of their blemishes after a 1-2 start.
There have been ups (first halves) and downs (second halves). The good news? Andrew Luck is the real deal, Reggie Wayne hasn't lost much of anything, Robert Mathis will be fine in the 3-4, T.Y. Hilton seems to be an emerging playmaker and Pat McAfee is as good, or better, than last season. The bad news? Well, you can find some of the questions I have going into the bye week below.
What's the problem with the running game?
I haven't been shy with my criticism of Donald Brown. Brown is averaging just 52 yards a game and a measly 3.6 yards per carry - and remember, the last couple of weeks the Colts have played with a lead. The running backs as a whole are averaging just 61 yards a game and 3.0 yards a carry. If not for Andrew Luck (who has 80 yards rushing) the Colts would be 30th in the league in rushing yards.
Vick Ballard hasn't been the same guy we saw in the preseason. Delone Carter hasn't even been able to dress yet this season. With the early season struggles it makes me wonder if might be time to give Carter a shot.
The running backs haven't been helpful in the passing game either. Remember the big catch Donald Brown had in the fourth quarter of the Jacksonville game? That was Brown's first catch... of the season. In fact, the running backs have just 4 combined receptions in the first three games (Mewelde Moore has 3).
There are problems with the offensive line, I know. The running backs often can't get out of the backfield before coming into contact with the defense. But, when there are holes, I don't have the confidence that we have the talent in the backfield with the vision to bust a big play.
This is a position that has to be upgraded in the offseason. I took a lot of flack for saying I thought the team should invest in a talented running back with their first round pick. Fact is, the team needs a player that can reduce the pressure on Luck, like Peyton Manning had in his early seasons with Edgerrin James. Someone that can bust a big run, catch passes out of the backfield... be a difference maker. The line can be built through free agency next season with proven veterans.
What's up with Coby Fleener?
Remember when the Colts drafted Fleener and we were all so excited? Luck would have his security blanket from Stanford to help with the transition to the NFL and they would build this monster together, right? Not so far.
Explain to me how a man that is listed at 6-6 and 252 pounds plays like he's 6-0 and 180 pounds. I don't know how a man this big has disappeared. Fleener has been targeted 16 times this season (third highest on the team) and only caught eight - he has missed a lot of opportunities for big plays. Dwayne Allen has been the better tight end to this point, targeted just six times with five receptions.
One thing is for certain - If this team is going to turn into a competitor again they're going to need Fleener to be a big part of it.
Time for Vontae Davis to show something
It's still early - at least that's what I'm telling myself. The Vontae Davis trade (for a second round pick) is beginning to look a little shaky. He's been burned for several big plays and seems to be a walking pass interference penalty. Davis has always seemed like a headcase, but GM Ryan Grigson seemed confident that a change of scenery would help him realize his potential. Not so far.
If Davis can turn it around - and I still think he can - then it will allow the team to address other needs first in the draft.
Why can't the team perform in the second half?
What happens to this team in the second half with a lead? Is it halftime adjustments? Conservative play? I don't know - maybe a combination of all of it. One thing that can't be denied - we have a problem.
The offense has mustered just eight first downs during the second halves of the last two games... and four of those were the result of a defensive penalty. Is this just a team that still needs to learn how to win? Maybe.
If they can't figure out how to close out games this season will be a lot worse than my early prediction of six wins. 3-13 won't be a disaster as long as improvement is seen.
How about Adam Vinatieri?
I know, I know... the guy is a legend. He always hits the kicks when he needs to. Fact is, the Colts need all the points they can get and Vinatieri's two misses have been HUGE momentum shifters. It's not like he's missing 50 yarders - these kicks have been between 30-39 yards.
All players have slumps, maybe this is Adam's. I'm not too worried yet, but a young team like this needs to be able to rely on its veterans. Reggie Wayne has done his part, Vinatieri needs to do his.
Is the 3-4 working? What's missing?
If you follow me on Twitter (and why wouldn't you?) you know that I've compared the data from 2011 and 2012 defensively and there is little - if any - improvement. Look at this:
- Team allowed 26.9 points per game
- Opposing quarterbacks had a rating of 102.3, completed 71% of their passes for 25 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, while passing for an average of 227 yards per game.
- Against the run the Colts allowed an average of 144 yards per game and a 4.3 yards per attempt average.
- The defense forced 29 sacks, 8 interceptions and 14 fumbles.
- Team is allowing 27.7 points per game
- Opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 100.7, completing 64% of their passes and on pace for 27 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, while passing for an average of 231 yards per game.
- Against the run the Colts are allowing an average of 131 yards per game and a 4.3 yards per attempt average.
- The defense is on pace to force 37 sacks, 5 interceptions and 10 fumbles.
I don't think this is what fans had in mind with the new defensive scheme. I understand that it'll take time to get the right personnel for the defense, but the Colts have already added a lot of players that fit the scheme - with little results. The starters alone on defense that were brought in for this system (Cory Redding, Jerrell Freeman, Vontae Davis and Tom Zbikowski), coupled with Robert Mathis, Antoine Bethea and Jerraud Powers, should be enough to see some strides.
Goodbye, Austin Collie?
Everyone feared the worst when Austin Collie went down last week - especially when he immediately grabbed his head. You almost feel guilty feeling relieved he tore his patella tendon... how sick is that? I don't see any way the Colts bring Collie back next season. With his concussion history - and now a bad knee - his NFL career may be over as well.
With the young talent at wide receiver (Hilton, Brazill, Whalen and Adams), and the impressive performance of Donnie Avery, this team should be set for next season without Collie.
It's a shame - but it's part of the business.
What happens when Pat Angerer returns?
What a great problem to have, huh? Jerrell Freeman has been a playmaker on defense so far and it'll be hard to take him off the field. If that sounds familiar it's because you could say the exact same thing about Angerer last season while filling in for Gary Brackett.
I think the team finds a way to play both - I just don't know what the plan will be yet.
Coaching? You wanna talk about Coaching? Coaching?
I really like Chuck Pagano but the last two games have reminded fans that this is still a VERY young team - head coach included. With a rookie coach, rookie quarterback and a new defense there are going to be a lot of rookie mistakes. No need to panic here - the team will right the ship - but coaching is very important to a young team. It's fair to question if the Colts took on TOO much by starting over in EVERY category with young players and an inexperienced head coach, but Pagano has a team that has bought into 'Building the Monster'.
Things won't get any easier for the Colts when they return in Week 5 to face the Green Bay Packers. It should be a great barometer to see just what this coaching staff can do with a bye week and two weeks to prepare.
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