It was quite the eventful preseason for the Indianapolis Colts. The month of August has been full of headlines that don’t necessarily correlate to a positive outlook for the team, but, thankfully, idiots’ opinions like mine don’t guarantee the outcome of the season. To use the old sports adage, “THAT’S WHY THEY PLAY THE GAMES!” The Colts open the 2016 season at home against the Detroit Lions. Let’s delve into what you need to watch for Week 1.
The Return of Jim Caldwell
Colts fans are all too familiar with Jim Caldwell. He followed Tony Dungy from Tampa Bay to Indianapolis in 2002, serving as quarterbacks coach for Peyton Manning, then as head coach, before being fired following the 2011 season.
You can’t put the blame on Caldwell for the 2-14 season, though. As you’re all aware, Peyton Manning missed the entire year due to a neck injury, leaving the archaic Kerry Collins (injured in Week 3 against the Steelers, ultimately, ending his career) and Curtis Should-Have-Been-A Painter to lead the offense.
Caldwell did lead the Colts to Super Bowl XLIV in 2010, but were beaten by the New Orleans Saints, along with Indianapolis’ Hank Baskett. Baskett (whose job as a receiver was to catch balls) couldn’t hang on to a surprising on-side kick to open up the 3rd quarter. That mistake gave New Orleans major momentum, which led to a 31-17 championship win. Would Caldwell still be the head coach of the Colts if Baskett recovered that on-side kick? It’s a stretch, but it’s fun to think about the domino effect it may have had.
Jim Caldwell has a career head coaching record of 44-36 (26-22 with the Colts, and 18-14 with the Lions.)
Can The Offensive Line Protect Luck And Open Up Running Lanes?
A porous offensive line has been the black cloud hanging over the team since the Andrew Luck era began in 2012. The good news is, GM Ryan Grigson (who played 3 NFL seasons as an offensive lineman) finally made a major move to address the problem. Alabama center Ryan Kelly was taken with the 18th pick of this year’s draft. But, Kelly doesn’t solve all problems, because he’s bound to make rookie mistakes.
The rest of the starting front consists of 2nd year man Denzelle Good at right guard, and Joe Reitz at right tackle. Colts brass is high on Good, but it’s still unknown whether he’s talented enough to hold his own. GM Grigson touched on his potential at last spring’s NFL owner’s meetings, saying “I think Denzelle Good could play about any spot he wants. He blocked people in ways that you don’t typically see a rookie, let alone anyone block, in terms of finishing, raw power and athleticism.” But, the facts are, 7th round picks are usually drafted late for a reason, and until we can see consistency from the big fella (6’5 355 lbs.) it’s tough to imagine him having a major impact.
The Colts will have their hands full this week against the Lions, as veteran defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and star defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, will do everything in their power to disrupt Indianapolis’ plans. It’s important to keep Ansah off of Andrew Luck as much as possible. He was 3rd in the NFL last season in sacks with 13.5 (J.J. Watt 17.5, and Khalil Mack 15).
One way to keep Andrew Luck upright and uninjured is to have a capable running game. We know 33-year-old Frank Gore will run hard, but unless the offensive line can give him room to run, it won’t matter. Indianapolis hasn’t had a running back earn 100 yards in a game since December 16th, 2012 (Vick Ballard). That’s 56 games, and the longest 100-yard rushing drought in the NFL. Ouch.
Can The Defense Create Enough Pressure To Combat Injuries In The Secondary?
Simply put, the easiest way to win an NFL game is to put pressure on the opposing quarterback, while protecting your own. Unfortunately, the Colts have issues with both aspects of that. 35-year-old outside linebacker Robert Mathis, who is the Colts’ best pass rusher, didn’t see the field in the preseason as a sure-fire way to make sure he’s healthy for this game. He did have his second worst sack total of his career (7) last season since his rookie year (3.5). Even if he can stay healthy all season, can he make a big enough impact to change games?
Defensive end Kendall Langford, who also finished with 7 sacks last season, hasn’t practiced since he undewent arthroscopic knee surgery on August 9th. If he is available Sunday, it’s unfair to expect him to be at his absolute best. Second-year defensive end Henry Anderson, who’s dealing with a knee injury himself, isn’t expected to take the field against Detroit. So, where will the pass rush come from? Your guess is as good as mine. The silver-lining is that the Lions’ offensive line is young, and susceptible to mistakes . The left side of their line consists of left tackle Taylor Decker (2016 1st round pick), and left guard Lakin Tomlinson (2015 1st round pick).
If the Colts aren’t able to put pressure on Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford, it’s not like this group of cornerbacks can be relied on to hang in coverage for extended periods of time. The team’s best defensive player, Vontae Davis, is out with an ankle injury. So, recent signee Antonio Cromartie, and free-agent pick up Patrick Robinson, are left with the task of covering receivers Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Anquan Boldin. Obviously Pro Football Focus isn’t the end-all-be-all in judging a player’s value, but they did give Cromartie a negative season grade and ranked him 103rd among 118 cornerbacks last season.
So, will the Colts’ preseason issues roll over to Week 1? We’ll find out, Colts Nation.
MGM Grand Las Vegas Line (9-4-16)
Lions @ (-4) Colts