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The Colts have had 10 days to allow the loss of Reggie Wayne to soak in. For most teams, the loss of a valued and spiritual leader like Wayne is enough to derail a season. The Colts have seen this happen to them in the past with the injuries to running back Edgerrin James in 2001 and to wide receiver Marvin Harrison in 2007. In both cases, the Colts seasons were drastically altered moving forward. Those two Colts teams would struggle on offense without James and Harrison.
Does the loss of Wayne mean gloom and doom for this current Colts team? No, I don't think it does. In fact, I think this team is still the threat it was prior to Wayne being hurt. While losing Wayne for the season hurts this team in the short term, I think the Colts will be better in the long run.
No, I'm not crazy, and no I haven't been drinking while writing this either.
With Wayne's injury, the Colts could have made a trade to get another player to fill-in for him. This new player could have even replaced Wayne in the future. The team however chose to stand firm with the roster they currently have, with the only meaningful change being the promotion of Griff Whalen from the practice squad. That tells me that the coaching staff and front office felt confident in the players we have, or that they simply couldn't afford the asking price for a trade prior to the deadline on Tuesday.
Personally, I think the Colts have the depth on offense needed to replace Wayne's production, if not his ability. So, how exactly does this team get better in the long run?
To start, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is going to have to alter his "Luck/Stanford West Coast" type offense. The game plan worked decently through the first 7 weeks, with the Colts being ranked as high as No. 4 in the league in rushing before falling to their current ranking of No. 9.
However, that game plan faltered badly in several games, often resulting in the Colts starting off very slow on offense.
Things did change though against the Denver Broncos. While the Colts defense did it's job quite well, it was the offense that came out humming for much of the game. The alteration of the game plan was evident as the Colts called for several plays we might have seen former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians call last season, or even some that Peyton Manning himself might have called back when he wore the horseshoe.
The playcalling was far more aggressive and it was never more evident than when they called for wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey to take an end around hand-off. The Colts offense finally looked like something most Colts fans remembered from years ago: A team that went for the jugular every time it had the ball.
That change in tone for the Colts offense has to become part of the team's identity moving forward. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck now has to become the focal point of this offense. That's not to say we abandon the run, but I think that getting Luck out on some naked bootlegs, or more plays that get our playmakers in open space, is definitely what this team needs more of.
That leads to the next part of the equation: The receivers, tight-ends, and running backs.
Every player in the NFL is considered a pro, and all are expected to bring their A game each week. For the Colts, they will need their skill position players to forget that and bring a relaxed game to work each week.
Most of the key players on offense are first and second year players. Only Heyward-Bey and veteran running back Donald Brown have more than two years of true NFL experience. The key is to keep the players from worrying about mistakes and focusing on the next play. Mistakes are expected, but you can't allow yourself to keep worrying about that dropped pass or missed block.
This is why teams often fail. They are so worried about playing to their best of the best each and every week.
Instead, what the Colts need out of these guys is to simply let the game come to them. How do you accomplish this? Simple. Get the ball to these guys early and often. It doesn't matter how you do it: A flea flicker pass, an end around hand off, a reverse, some short screen passes, anything that can get the guys confidence going early. We saw this with DHB in the Broncos game. His play was, in my opinion, the best we have seen of him all year. Yes, he missed that goal-line grab, but that was a circus catch at best for even the best receivers. If the Colts can get him going early in each game, it changes the dynamics for all of the other receivers as well as the running backs. It's not a matter of skill, the Colts have very talented players. It's a matter of confidence in themselves.
The last thing that needs to happen, and it's long overdue at this point, is to start Donald Brown. I've been one of the biggest Brown supporters on this site, and for good reason. This team drafted a square peg in Brown and have repeatedly tried to hammer him into a round hole. He's a player designed to slash, not pound the rock. With this current style of offense, he's proven himself highly effective. At one point, he was averaging a ridiculous nine yards-per-carry. He's a threat out of the backfield that can be very dangerous in the passing game, like Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles. Brown's not as good as those guys, but he has the skills to be used like them.
By opening it up some on offense, this will force defenses to honor the passing game. That's when you start rotating Richardson in and let him beat up on the defenses. You also get him going in the short dump off routes to get that massive train rolling on the edges.
If the Colts can do all of this, even in different ways, they are a better team for it. The truth of the matter is several of these guys need to show the Colts what they are made of. This isn't the type of way you want any team to have to find out, but in this case, this may have been the only way to truly see if any of these guys outside of Hilton are going to be Colts long term. It also provides an opportunity for a guy like Heyward-Bey to get more reps and more chances to show he's capable of being the guy. Reggie was always the No. 1 in all of the offensive schemes, and this is his chance to take the role on and perhaps realize this is his truly last chance to make something of himself.
As always, I appreciate your time in reading and look forward to your comments and disagreements. The Colts will finish the season 12-4 with losses to the Bengals and the Chiefs to finish out the season.
Bank on it.
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