Every year we look ahead to the potential and possibilities of the Indianapolis Colts. It almost never fails that our assessments of their season long performances are completely separated from reality. However, it’s what we do and it serves as some enjoyment in this dead period of football as we await training camp with little-to-no real news on the team.
I don’t need to tell you how different the Colts’ roster is from last season with the turnover of the roster, front office and scouting staffs. Also, the team’s most problematic areas on each side of the ball are well known. Fans and analysts alike have their own assumptions of what the Colts will produce this season, some quite drastic in either direction in comparison to last season.
But, it’s more than that. Chuck Pagano is almost consistently on the hot seat, possibly now more than ever with the change in General Manager, and his last five years at the helm is what will be analyzed each season. It’s hard not to especially due to, but not limited to, the defense that has been put out on the field throughout his tenure to this point.
Being optimistic about the recent turnover on the roster and as hopeful as anyone, it’s time to make the arguments for my 3 dubious projections for the 2017 season.
Offensive line allows 25 sacks
This is something the Colts line has failed to do with Luck under center for a full season. Surprisingly enough, the offensive line allowed 29 in 2014 which is quite easily the best season they’ve had. The Colts finally have, both, chemistry and continuity along the line and have seemingly moved themselves out of the need for a revolving door in the trenches.
Anthony Castonzo didn’t have a great season in 2016, but let’s be honest, the line would have been worlds worse without him last year. Jack Mewhort, of course if he can stay healthy, is quite possibly the best of the group at this point. His strength and power to protect and create lanes in the running game are as valuable as anyone else’s skillset of the group.
Ryan Kelly will, in all likelihood, take the next step to being Luck’s battery mate – hopefully – for the next decade. His growth, and chemistry with Luck will make real impressions with an improved ability to adjust the line pre-snap. This will assist in his ability to call out the protections, allowing Luck to concentrate on getting the backs and receivers where they need to be, as well as honing in on the opposition’s secondary and linebackers more.
Both, Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark holding down the right side of the line may still have its issues at times. However, both of them showed great development throughout the season and it appears as though the Colts have a true starting-five for the first time in quite a while.
Another year under Joe Philbin may prove to be massive for this group who has been very close throughout the off-season, building that chemistry and closeness you hope to see from any unit. 25 sacks is a huge step in the right direction, and may prove to be a tall task to meet, yet it’s attainable from this group just the same.
The line was much better than in the past in the running game last season, and if they can make this much of an improvement in protecting their franchise quarterback the possibilities for this offense are endless and would easily put them in the top half of the league amongst other offensive lines. Gimme that!
Defense allows 4 rushing yards per carry/ less than 1,800 rushing yards
If this isn’t something the Colts have desperately needed for quite a while then I don’t know what they need. Since Pagano has been around, the best year the Colts defense has performed against the run has been allowing 4.3 yards per carry in 2014 and 2015. As a result, their best rank amongst the league has been 19th. That’s not going to cut it this year any more than it has in past seasons.
The addition of Johnathan Hankins up front will do great things toward achieving this. A healthy Henry Anderson will as well, and if you can get the best out of an aging Kendall Langford they could be in great shape. The rest of the front seven will be just as pertinent to this goal being reached as well.
John Simon and Jabaal Sheard will be key pieces to the puzzle in getting this defense to be legitimate run defenders, just as they’ll be needed to improve the pass rush that has escaped the team for a couple seasons now.
A young Hassan Ridgeway and one of either T.Y. McGill or Grover Stewart will need to step up and become genuine forces to keep the second wave of defenders respectable too – it’ll take more than just the first unit to be good. Akeem Ayers and Barkevious Mingo – or whoever makes the team as depth – as well as rookie Tarell Basham must be stout against the run if this group is going to approach such an improvement.
Whether you see the yards per carry or the bulk rushing yards allowed as the most important measuring stick, the team has been regularly allowing at least 1,900 rushing yards year-in and year-out. Their best year, in 2014, they allowed 1,814 yards and even that only ranked them at 18th in the league. It’ll need to be a combination of the two aspects being effective for this defense to make significant steps towards being considered formidable.
We continually look at the talent, but the position coaches and especially Ted Monachino have to be better in their design and play calling as much as these players need to execute what’s called. This defense has more talent than it has had in recent years, but it’s not bordering on elite by any stretch. It’ll take an entire group effort to get it done with what they have.
Turnover differential of +10
One of the most reiterated comments from the coaching staff this offseason has been the need to cut down on turnovers. They’ve spoken about cutting Luck down into a single-digit interception quarterback and improving the defense’s ability to turn over the opposition.
The Luck comments are, so-so. I mean he could cut a few mistakes out of his game and that would be more along the lines of what they mean. He’s going to be aggressive and interceptions will come from that approach. But, the defense is the real issue – let’s not beat around the bush.
If the Colts are going to take the next step in team efficiency, churning out more than 8 interceptions throughout the season is a must. Additionally, the Colts will have to produce more fumbles with opportunity to recover those. The Colts did recover 9 fumbles last season, but forcing them is the key – recovering them seems to be more left to chance. Opportunity is the driving force.
Under Pagano the Colts best turnover differential has been +13 in 2013 and their worst was in 2012 with a -12. Combined the Colts have been -14 the past five seasons. That trend simply must stop immediately. A +10 in turnover differential would likely put them in the top 10 of the league in that category and would allow for a lot of other factors to take place. There’s naturally more opportunity to score on defense, less of a likelihood that the team is struggling offensively and would take a ton of pressure off of coaches and players alike.
Of course they could fall on their faces, however, with the added talent I truly believe the defense will be significantly better against the run. Additionally, the linebackers are a better coverage unit and these two factors ultimately force opposing offense's to take more chances downfield creating more opportunities for turnovers.
Though, as I’ve mentioned above, the Colts have a much more talented roster than they’ve had in a while, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are where they want to be. All of these improvements, theoretically, would lead to a more successful team and if they can at least get themselves to improve in each of these areas it will reinforce that this organization is well on its way to better days and away from what the last two seasons have offered a hungry fan base.