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Indianapolis Colts Midseason Report Card

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At the midway point of the Colts season the team stands at 5-3 overall and in first place in the AFC South. Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson looks at each position and hands out grades for the first half of the 2014 regular season.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

It may seem hard to believe, but we're already halfway through the Indianapolis Colts' 2014 season.  The Colts currently stand at 5-3 and are first overall in the AFC South.  The season began with back-to-back close losses to the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles before the Colts reeled off five straight victories - over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, and Cincinnati Bengals.  Currently, however, the Colts are on a one-game losing streak as they fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, 51-34.

Through eight games, the Colts' offense ranks first in the NFL in yards per game and second in the league in points per game.  They have the league's number one passing offense, are first in average time of possession per game (Pep Hamilton's favorite stat), and are sixth in third down conversion percentage.  The defense is middle of the pack, as they are 15th in yards allowed per game and 16th in points allowed per game.  They are tied for ninth in the NFL in total sacks.  The Colts still have the league's best third down defense, however, allowing opponents to convert just 31% of their third down attempts.

At the midway point of the season, we take a position-by-position look at the team's report card.

Quarterback

Andrew Luck is on a simply phenomenal pace for the season with a fairly significant sample size (eight out of sixteen games).  Here's the numbers he's on pace for if he keeps up his current play: 64.8% completion percentage, 5,462 passing yards, 44 touchdowns, 18 picks, and 124 yards and 4 touchdowns rushing.  The 5,462 passing yards would rank as the third best number in a single-season ever and only 15 yards off of Peyton Manning's record pace a year ago.  The 44 passing touchdowns would tie for the seventh best mark in a single-season all-time.  You want to know the only players ever to throw for 5,000+ yards and 40+ touchdowns in the same season?  Dan Marino, Drew Brees (twice), Matthew Stafford, and Peyton Manning.  That's the elite company that Luck is on pace to join this season, and I think he could get there.  He's done it for half of a season, so why not for the entire season?  Consider this: Andrew Luck has more passing yards than eighteen teams have total this year.  Andrew Luck has five games this year with 350+ passing yards.  Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and Aaron Rodgers have six combined.  Luck set a new Colts franchise record with six consecutive 300+ yard games, a streak that is still active.  Andrew Luck has been great this year and is truly playing like an MVP candidate.  There's really no discussion about this grade.

Grade: A +

Running Back

With Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson, the Colts have a two-back punch that is pretty effective.  Bradshaw is on pace for 1,270 total yards and 16 total touchdowns, while Trent Richardson is on pace for 1,062 total yards and 4 total touchdowns.  For Bradshaw, he provides a big receiving threat out of the backfield as well as the team's best rushing threat, as he's third on the team in both receptions and receiving yards and tied for first in receiving touchdowns.  In fact, he has six receiving touchdowns halfway through the season - the record for most receiving touchdowns by a running back in a single season is nine.  The Colts only rank thirteenth in the league in rushing, but Trent Richardson is better than he was a year ago (though that's not saying much) and both backs provide a threat receiving.  Ahmad Bradshaw is one of the most important pieces of the Colts' offense and is having a great year, and for that the running back position grades out nicely.

Grade: B

Wide Receiver

T.Y. Hilton is having a great year and has once again emerged as a legitimate number one receiver.  He is on pace for 106 receptions, 1,732 yards, and 4 touchdowns.  Not only does he lead the lead in receiving yards, he's also on pace for the fifth most receiving yards in a single-season in NFL history (which would also set the Colts' single-season record, eclipsing Marvin Harrison's record by ten yards).  He is great; but the rest of the receivers aren't doing as well.  Reggie Wayne is having a fine season, and he's on pace to catch 76 passes for 868 yards and 2 touchdowns.  For a guy who is 35-years old and the team's number two receiver those are respectable numbers (and just to put it in perspective Wayne, who is the team's second leading receiver, is on pace for 868 yards on the season while Hilton has 866 yards through eight games).  Hakeem Nicks, the team's third receiver, is having a disappointing year, as he's having trouble creating separation and his timing with Andrew Luck is awful, and he's on pace for 36 catches, 336 yards, and 4 touchdowns.  The rookie Donte Moncrief, playing as the team's fourth receiver, has been impressive, however.  He is on pace to catch 32 passes for 432 yards and 2 touchdowns - though his playing time is sure to increase considering how he has been playing recently.  Overall, T.Y. Hilton is having a fantastic season, but the receivers as a whole aren't the threat we imagined before the year or the threat you'd imagine given Luck's numbers.

Grade: B -

Tight End

All offseason long I mentioned how the biggest addition to the Colts' offense this season would be the return of Dwayne Allen, and that certainly looks to be the case.  Allen is having a great year and is on pace to catch 44 passes for 652 yards and 12 touchdowns, while also serving as a great blocker - in fact I think he might be the best blocker the Colts have.  He is a huge piece in the Colts' offense, whether he's actually receiving passes (which he does very well at and should be more involved in) or whether he's blocking.  Coby Fleener has been a disappointment this year and is on pace to catch 36 passes, 436 yards, and 6 touchdowns.  Not terrible numbers, but Fleener hasn't really been a big factor in the Colts' passing attack this year - nor has he done well as a blocker, which was to be expected.  It's to the point where it's fair to wonder what value Fleener brings to the offense.  Finally, Jack Doyle has had a good year in the limited role he has played, both receiving (he's on pace for 18 catches for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns) and especially blocking, where he has been a valuable third tight end and fullback-type of player.  He hasn't seen a ton of playing time, but when he does and for his role he has done well.  With how huge Allen is for the offense this grade is pretty good, but Fleener hasn't had a good year.

Grade: B +

Offensive Line

If you look past the horrible performance from the offensive line in the most recent game against the Steelers, the line has actually been encouraging this year.  Rookie left guard Jack Mewhort has been very impressive, as has left tackle Anthony Castonzo.  Right guard Hugh Thornton has been better than he was last year.  The Colts have two centers who have played well in both A.Q. Shipley and Jonotthan Harrison, and the undrafted rookie Harrison is showing the potential that the Colts hoped he would.  There's hope he could be the long-term center for the team, and there is certainly optimism there.  The biggest weakness of the offensive line this year has been right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who has been very bad despite having the largest cap hit of any offensive linemen.  The line has improved in both run and pass protection and overall on the year has been encouraging.

Grade: B

Defensive Line

One of the most underrated Colts this year and one of the best players on the team has been Cory Redding.  The 33-year old defensive end has been incredible, providing a tremendous anchor along the defensive line and being a key piece to a defense that has been better than expected.  Arthur Jones hasn't been too impressive this year, but he has missed a lot of the first eight games with an injury so it's too early to say definitively on him.  His replacement, however, has been great and Ricky Jean Francois has really improved on a dismal season a year ago to be a big part of the team's defensive success during their five-game winning streak.  He has been the team's second best defensive lineman, which is encouraging to see.  Nose tackle Josh Chapman looked good in training camp and preseason but ever since the regular season started he hasn't been very impressive, as he has gotten pushed around too often.  He has had some moments, but overall I don't think he's been very good.  Undrafted rookie Zach Kerr has seen significant playing time this year and has done a solid job.  For an undrafted free agent he has far exceeded expectations, and while he still has work to do there is plenty to be encouraged about.  Montori Hughes hasn't seen a lot of playing time, but in the snaps he has seen he has been average.  The defensive line overall has been a good unit, largely thanks to the play of Cory Redding and RJF.  If Arthur Jones can pick it up and play at the level we know he is capable of and the level worthy of his contract, the defensive line will look even better.

Grade: B

Inside Linebackers

The Colts' front seven is being dragged down the most by their inside linebackers.  Jerrell Freeman is the only inside linebacker who's presence on the field actually helps out the team, and he certainly brings a much higher level of play than any of the other linebackers.  It is huge for the defense that Freeman stay healthy (he has missed several games already this season with an injury) and not only is he a good run defender he's also easily the team's best linebacker in pass coverage.  D'Qwell Jackson, however, has been bad.  Actually, however, he's been about what was expected - a solid player within a box but who is a liability in space and in pass coverage.  Jackson has had a terrible year.  Josh McNary, who filled in for Freeman while he was injured, entered the season with a lot of promise but was bad enough in those games to see his playing time greatly decrease when Freeman returned.  Now McNary doesn't get into the games much at all, and while he's still an intriguing linebacker prospect he hasn't had a good year.

Grade: C -

Outside Linebackers

Björn Werner has been one of the most encouraging players this year, as after a disappointing rookie season Werner has 4 sacks so far this year, putting him on pace for 8 on the season.  He has been a much needed pass rusher for the Colts and it's great that he has stepped up in that area so far.  On the other side, Erik Walden has been playing well also.  He's another guy much maligned by Colts fans, but this year he has been much better than a year ago and has been doing a solid job.  The rookie Jonathan Newsome has provided some nice pass rush help, and with him any pass rush production this early is good to see.  The other player to mention here is Andy Studebaker, who hasn't played a huge role in the defense but who has played well when called upon.  Last week against the Steelers he saw the most action of the season to date and he did a good job in that game.  Overall, with Werner and Walden, the outside linebackers have been good but not great.  They've done a solid job and done better than expected.

Grade: C +

Cornerbacks

The strength of the Colts' defense this season has been their cornerbacks.  Vontae Davis has played at an elite level and has been simply fantastic.  He has been the best player on the defense this year and allows the Colts to do a lot of different things with their plan and system.  He's a great press man corner and is definitely living up to his contract.  Greg Toler, playing opposite of Davis, is a guy who many have differing opinions on - but I think he has done a solid job.  The Colts ask Davis and Toler to play man coverage and often times without much help, and while Toler will get beat at times or get flags thrown on him, I think he has been a solid corner.  Darius Butler in the slot has been tremendous and has been playing at a high level there this season (though missing a couple of games).  I'd put the trio of corners that the Colts have up against any trio in the league.  They have down a great job this season, led by the elite play of Davis.

Grade: A

Safeties

All offseason we had questions about the safety position for the Colts, but now it's the other safety position that is the big question mark.  The veteran Mike Adams, signed this offseason, has played very well and has been a valuable part of the Colts' secondary.  LaRon Landry, on the other hand, has been bad.  When he was suspended for four games many fans rejoiced.  Sergio Brown stepped up in his place and was solid - not great but not bad either.  Many think that the Colts should bench Landry for Brown even though Landry is back now, and I agree.  Mike Adams has played well - the other safety spot, however, is much more of a question mark.  Funny how things work out.

Grade: C

Special Teams

I would argue that the Colts have the best special teams unit in the NFL this year.  Punter and kickoff specialist Pat McAfee has been awesome, and for his efforts he has earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Month and AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors this year.  He is averaging 47.9 yards per punt and 44.7 net yards per punt.  He has pinned 13 out of 30 punts inside the 20 and allowed just one touchback on his punts.  On kickoffs, however, he leads the NFL in touchbacks.  He has converted all three of his onside kick attempts this season.  He's also the holder on field goals, and Adam Vinatieri is one of just four kickers who have made it halfway through the season without missing a kick, going 16-for-16 so far (tied for the most of the four who haven't missed).  He is also 28-for-28 on extra point attempts.  The return game hasn't been anything special, but Griff Whalen has been solid - in other words, he's not David Reed.  And he's not hurting the team, so that doesn't get in the way of the way the unit has been playing.

Grade: A

Coaching

I think there's a lot to be encouraged by from the coaches after considering the feelings about them both entering the season and following the first two weeks.  There were plenty of questions and criticisms (that were deserved, too), but during the five-game winning streak the coaches showed a lot of improvement.  Pep Hamilton has been much, much better this year and he has taken to a pass to set up the run approach versus a run to set up the pass.  He has let Andrew Luck be Andrew Luck, and the results have been very good (see the quarterback section).  Chuck Pagano and Greg Manusky deserve a lot of credit for the defense, especially after we saw the pass rush be completely ineffective on Sunday.  It confirmed that the pressure the Colts had been getting was largely manufactured, and Pagano and Manusky deserve a lot of credit for getting the most out of the players that they have - particularly in the area of pass rush during the five-game win streak.  I think Manusky especially deserves a lot of credit so far.  Of course, we know the defense isn't great, but they're better than expected and a big reason why is because of the play-calling and system of Manusky.  Tom McMahon has done a terrific job with the special teams and then Chuck Pagano has gotten better as a head coach.  He has become more aggressive and in many games this year has helped the team win (rather than the team winning in spite of his coaching like we saw often last year).  There are still games like the one against the Steelers that happen too often to feel entirely comfortable with this coaching staff, but I think there's a lot to be encouraged by from the coaches this year and that they have exceeded expectations.

Grade: B +