Let's be honest: the Colts are going to make the playoffs this season. In fact, there's a scenario in which they could clinch the division this weekend already (if they win and the Texans lose). It will be the third straight playoff appearance for the team and the second straight division title. The Colts will never tell you this but rather will focus only on winning the next game, but right now the focus is on preparing for the postseason. The Colts have had a good season, but they're not going to be content with that. They want to make a run in January, but as we've seen there are issues that need to be worked on.
The hard part of the Colts' schedule is in the past. Road trips to Cleveland and Dallas won't be easy by any means, but for the most part these final few weeks will match the Colts up against bad teams - with the Jaguars, Redskins, and Titans all on the schedule in the final six weeks. By just looking at the box score, the Colts should look really, really good and ready for the playoffs. But all season long they've beaten up on the bad to average teams, so is that really telling us much? I don't think so, and while we'll certainly look at stats I think it's also important for us to look at things the Colts are doing that really could translate to the playoffs against good teams. That's what these articles will focus on every week - what did the Colts do the previous week that could translate to the playoffs?
More Moncrief and Herron!
This one was the obvious one: the Colts played Donte Moncrief and Dan Herron more on Sunday. They certainly produced statistically, but it was really because they were given the chance. Many have been clamoring for both to see increased playing time this season, and last week that happened. Moncrief saw the third most snaps of any Colts' receiver and Herron nearly split the snaps with Trent Richardson. I'm not here as much talking about their production on Sunday (combining for 236 yards of offense) but rather that the Colts were getting them involved in the offense. Moving forward, that could be big for a potential playoff run. The Colts desperately lack another big playmaker who can stretch the field at the receiver position alongside T.Y. Hilton, and they appear to have that player in Moncrief. Though only a rookie, he has really impressed this year and has certainly earned more snaps. If the Colts play Moncrief and Hilton on the outside with Reggie Wayne in the slot come postseason time, there's a very real chance that the Colts' receiving corps could be functioning at their best at the most important time of the year. And at the running back position, Dan Herron could make the loss of Ahmad Bradshaw less crushing and gives the Colts a playmaker out of the backfield - something they don't have in Trent Richardson.
Big Plays are, well, Big
The Colts exploded on Sunday with a number of big plays, and in fact they lead the NFL in plays over 20 yards this year. While they won't get the same kind of production in the playoffs as they did on Sunday (because they won't be facing that Redskins defense in the playoffs, that's for sure), they still need to get the big play game going. It makes sense, but when the Colts are at the best it's because they're getting those big plays too in order to open everything else up. When the Colts have been limited this season, it has been in part because they're not getting as many big plays. The Colts can't always control whether or not the big plays are open when they get into a playoff game, but they certainly can control taking those shots. And it's something they need to continue to do.
One of the Colts' best pure pass rushers at this point is rookie outside linebacker Jonathan Newsome. He played just 30 of the 80 defensive snaps on Sunday yet still register 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. The Colts utilized him more on Sunday as a pass rusher and he impressed, and that's something they need to continue to do moving forward. The Colts' pass rush isn't that good when facing good teams, and that's in large part due to them not having a star rusher but rather relying on blitzes. I don't think Jonathan Newsome can be that guy this year carrying the rush, but he absolutely has been impressive and he might be able to provide a help that the Colts have been needing in terms of pass rush. With Newsome, Erik Walden, Shaun Phillips, Cory Redding, and then sometimes Bjoern Werner, the Colts have some options at pass rusher - but come playoff time, they need to be sure they're continuing to get the rookie Jonathan Newsome more involved in pass rushing situations.
Continue to Start Joe Reitz at Right Guard
This one is the one that will probably be disagreed with by some, but it's something that I think the Colts need to consider as they get ready for the playoffs: I think they should continue to start Joe Reitz at right guard. Somebody asked me last week who I thought the best five were along the Colts' line and at right guard I said that I think Reitz is the best option they have right now. On Sunday, he wasn't anything special, but he wasn't bad. He wasn't the weak link of the offensive line, and for the most part the unit actually had a relatively positive game. And Reitz served as a noticeable upgrade over Hugh Thornton at the right guard position. I know Pro Football Focus grades aren't everything, but Reitz's grade on Sunday was better than all but one of Thornton's individual game grades this season (eight games). We know that protecting Andrew Luck has been a huge issue at times for the Colts this season, and I think that if they're really serious about getting the best possible protection out there for their franchise player come playoff time, they'll continue to start Joe Reitz at right guard.
Are there any other things that you noticed the Colts doing on Sunday (outside of the box score) that you think is helping them get ready for playoff football next month?