The Colts find themselves in a nice position at 3-1, as they have found built up serious momentum by outscoring the San Francisco 49ers and the Jacksonville Jaguars by a score of 57-3 in the past 7 quarters on the road. A quarter of the regular season has passed for the Colts, and the Colts are looking sharp, so which unit is responsible for this success? I will answer this by evaluating each positional unit and ranking their contribution.
Overall, this unit has played decently, which is a huge step up from last year. The run blocking has improved from last year. However, it seems that the pocket still crumbles at times and they are wildly inconsistent. A perfect example of this against the Jags was when Tyson Alualu absolutely demoralised the right side of the Colts' oline, namely (who else?) Mike McGlynn. They folded against Miami's front seven in that loss and were horrible in the first few drives against Jacksonville, yet dominated the 49ers' impressive front seven. It sucks that Donald Thomas will be out for the year, as the likes of Mike McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach will see more snaps. It must be stated that although the Colts are 4th in rushing yards/game and are tied 16th in sacks allowed on the season, it is Andrew Luck's great rushing skills(which accounts for over a quarter of the Colt's rushing production) and mobility when the pocket collapses that is partly responsible for these totals (which would be a lot worst if it weren't for Luck). Thus far, I'd grade this unit an unspectacular C-.
First, let's get the negatives from group out of the way. Erik Walden has not set the edge adequately enough to deserve 4 million/year deal. He has been non existent when pass rushing as he has not recorded a sack yet. There is no reason he should be around next year if this continues. Kelvin Sheppard hasn't been spectacular either, and Bjoern's may be a concern as it will mean Walden will stay on the field more. It isn't all negatives for this group though. as two superstars: Robert Mathis and Jerrell Freeman have played incredible. Mathis is tied first in the NFL with 7.5 sacks, he has 8 QB hits (2nd), 6 tackles for a loss (2nd). At this stage of the year, he should be a strong candidate for Defensive MVP and anyone doubting his ability to successfully transition from a 4-3 Defensive End to a 3-4 OLB now looks idiotic. As for Jerrell, his toughness and solid coverage skills cannot be discounted. 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles already is quite impressive, and both numbers have already eclipsed his numbers from last year. Overall, these two guys really save this group from getting a poor grade: B- overall.
Overall, this group is consistently above average. They do get open for Andrew Luck (if the oline maintained the pocket more, the stats for each receiver would really improve). Reggie is as impressive as any AFC South receiver- it's not his impressive 75 yards/game which is valuable to the Colts, but his 5 catches on 3rd down for a first down which is really clutch. His yards/receptions is the most since 2008, showing his got so much in the tank still. It would be good to see TY Hilton on the field more, but he makes some strong plays, evident in the Miami game. Also, against the Jags in the first quarter, he should have had a big catch and run, but Andrew Luck overthrew him- but this guy is getting open. Coby Fleener has played very solidly, already tying his touchdown receptions (2) from last year, and 166 yards already. The unfortunate injury of Dwayne Allen (who has been sorely missed, and is the better all round TE) has allowed more snaps for Fleener to emerge. Also, Darius Heyward-Bey has not been on the stat sheet nor made an impact as frequently and effectively as the other receivers on the Colts, but has still had a solid catch rate of 65% (even though most of these passes have been from within 15 yards). Overall, this group deserves a solid B.
I really like Cory Redding. He isn't JJ Watt production-wise, but the way he mentally lifts this team and has helped the other guys transition to the 3-4 cannot be understated. He has for sure turned out to be a successful acquisition from Baltimore. Franklin, Redding and the rest of the Dlinemen do a nice job plugging up the holes, which has seen linebackers Mathis and Freeman take advantage. Colts rank 7th in sacks, and it's impressive that the Colt's defense has given up 4.2 yards/rush after allowing 5.1 yards in 2012 (credit must go to the Dline). I'll give the group a B+, as they've been consistently good.
Pat McAfee and the punting unit boasts a solid 44.6 Net yards/kick (7th in the league). Field position is crucial in this league, and the punting unit has been great in shifting the field to the opponents side of the field (9.7 yards/punt return is quite high- but this has only been off 3 returns, lowest in the league). This group has given the opponents nothing (figuratively speaking). On field goals, Adam Vinateri still struggles with a 77.8% rate (the two misses have been very close and from 50+ yards in some fairness to Adam)- a number which should improve. Lastly, McAfee has forced only 3 attempts on kick offs this year. In other words, McAfee's superb punts and kickoffs have been a major factor in the success of the special teams unit. Overall, a B+ is warranted.
Ahmad Bradshaw's dominance in the San Francisco's game boosts the grade of this group. He is a special player. The runningbacks this year already have 4 touchdowns (only two less than last year's number). Donald Brown's poor pass block against Miami hurts this group (you guys know the one), but his running this year is remarkable, evident by his 9.2(!) yards/carry. Richardson will improve as he is still settling into the Colts team. The 1-2-3 combination on this team looks awesome, and they deserve a B+ for their efforts this year.
Really, I think these guys have been the heroes of the past two weeks. Vontae Davis, Antonio Bethea and Delano Howell have been terrific. They blanketed the San Francisco receivers all day long in week 3, and last week, they forced poor Blaine Gabbert to throw three picks (Darius Butler's pick 6 was really nice, so too Vontae's pick). Pryor (69.6 QBR), Tanehill (44.4 QBR), Kaepernick (11.8 QBR) and Gabbert (1.7 QBR) have not had elite games against the Colts, and the secondary is largely responsible for this. The Colts defense has had 2 passing touchdowns and have forced 6 interceptions, which the secondary deserves most of the credit for. This group deserves an A- (they did make Pryor and Tanehill look better than they are at times), and with Peyton Manning coming to Indy soon, it's very comforting that one of the Colt's strong point is their secondary.
To no one's surprise, Andrew Luck has been phenomenal this year. He ranks third with a QBR of 75.8, which is an elite ranking. For a second year player, 3rd in QBR is extraordinary, given that Rodgers, Brees,Brady and other veterans are ranked below. He is the smartest QB at running the ball, as he is not only the leader in rushing Expected Points Added (by quite a margin), but he does it when it is truly necessary. Against Oakland, that game rushing touchdown was great, so too his 7.9 average (second only to Michael Vicks' 8.8 amongst QBs). Onto his throwing, yes, he should have more interceptions and he does miss throws from time to time. But the way he steps up in the pocket and delivers the ball under constant duress is amazing and well above his years. Watching him vs Blaine Gabbert in the same game was just hilarious. He just needs the line to be okay in blocking for him to make great throws. Luck deserves an A for his great start.