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After an Impressive First Half of the Season, Colts Face a Big Test in the Second Half

The Colts were an incredibly impressive 5-2 at their bye week, with wins over the 49ers, Seahawks, and Broncos to prove just how good they are. But in the win over the Broncos, the Colts lost Reggie Wayne for the season, and because of that they face a big question entering the second half. How they respond to it will determine whether they are still legitimate Super Bowl contenders or not.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

The bye week has come and gone for the Colts.  In the first seven weeks of the season, Indianapolis emerged as one of the best teams in the league and as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.  With wins over the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and Denver Broncos, the Colts recorded perhaps the three most impressive wins of the first half of the NFL season.

The Colts rank 8th in points per game scored and also rank 8th in points per game allowed.  They stand with a two game lead for the first place spot in the AFC South and their quarterback, Andrew Luck, has emerged as an MVP candidate (although, honestly, at this point no one stands a chance against Peyton Manning).

There's a sense, too, that this team had yet to reach it's potential.  After all (and it has been well documented here), the Colts have been a run first team and that has limited Andrew Luck.  The Denver win was a good example of what Luck can do when the Colts let him loose.  With the toughest part of the schedule now over, the Colts enter their final 9 game stretch with 5 AFC South games, including one at Houston on Sunday night - a game that could essentially end the Texans' hopes of repeating as AFC South champions with a Colts win.  Only 2 of the remaining 9 games are against teams with a winning record at the midway point of the season.  All of that sets up really nicely for the Colts - and then Reggie Wayne got injured.

Before the season, I said repeatedly that the only player the Colts could absolutely not afford to lose was Andrew Luck, but there were really two or three other guys they couldn't afford to lose.  One of them was Reggie Wayne, and in the fourth quarter of the win over Denver, Wayne couldn't haul in a low pass when he was WIDE OPEN and in one moment - with one awkward bend of the knee - Wayne's season was over and the Colts's Super Bowl hopes took a huge blow.

Using stats from ESPN's Mike Wells, since Andrew Luck has been in the NFL Reggie Wayne has only been off the field for 121 plays (which means he has been on the field for 92.2% of the snaps).  On those plays, Luck's QBR is an atrocious 18 (on a 100 point scale), his completion percentage an awful 23.8%, and his yards per attempt plummets to 3.0 yards per pass.

It gets even more bleak.  Wrote Wells:

"It doesn't stop there. 

"Wayne has accounted for 35 percent of the Colts' first downs converted through the air and 34 percent of their third down receptions. Luck's also targeted Wayne on 24 of 91 red zone attempts."

Additionally, per Scott Kacsmar's twitter account (linking to an ESPN Insider piece), the Colts also face "the toughest remaining schedule of pass defenses."

For a team with such an outstanding first seven weeks, the final nine bring a big question mark - how will the Colts do without Reggie Wayne?  Darrius Heyward-Bey is going to need to step up.  T.Y. Hilton is going to need to step up.  Coby Fleener is going to need to step up.  Trent Richardson is going to need to step up.  Donald Brown is going to need to step up.  LaVon Brazill, David Reed, and Griff Whalen are going to need to step up.  Andrew Luck is going to need to step up.  Pep Hamilton is going to need to step up.

Just how well they do that will largely determine just how well the Colts will do over the second half of the year.  This is undoubtedly a huge loss for the Colts, and while beforehand they were a sure fire Super Bowl contender, we're now back to the wait and see stage.  We know what this team is capable of - are they still capable of it without Wayne.  My guess is yes, but it will be a lot tougher and we'll have to see it on the field before we say for sure.

Here's a look at the Colts remaining schedule:

Colts Remaining Schedule (weeks 9-17)
Week Date Opponent Current Record
9 11/3 @ Houston Texans 2-5
10 11/10 St. Louis Rams 3-5
11 11/14 (Thurs.) @ Tennessee Titans 3-4
12 11/24 @ Arizona Cardinals 4-4
13 12/1 Tennessee Titans 3-4
14 12/8 @ Cincinnati Bengals 6-2
15 12/15 Houston Texans 2-5
16 12/22 @ Kansas City Chiefs 8-0
17 12/29 Jacksonville Jaguars 0-8

The games against the Bengals (week 14) and the Chiefs (week 16) really stand out, and both of them are on the road.  They should be two of the better games of the remaining NFL season (and, just so you know, both of them are during flex scheduling...).

The Colts stand at 5-2 at the bye week, better than most thought they would be and for sure looking better than most thought (in beating the 49ers, Seahawks, and Broncos).  With as good as the first half of the season was, however, they face a big test in the second half as they are going to have to play without Reggie Wayne.

Can they still win?  I think so, but we'll find out soon after seeing them on the field.