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Football Outsiders on 2017 Colts: Improved offensive line, tempered defensive expectations

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Houston native Rivers McCown, former Battle Red Blog writer, answers questions posted by Stampede Blue regarding his thoughts in the Football Outsider Almanac.

NFL: International Series-Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, Football Outsiders puts together a detailed collection of football information that includes statistics and analysis the NFL, college football, and fantasy football projections. This collection is called the Football Outsiders Almanac.

This year’s version of the almanac includes commentary regarding the Indianapolis Colts by contributor Rivers McCown, formerly of Battle Red Blog on the SB Nation network. Stampede Blue posed some questions after reading McCown’s commentary.

1. The offensive line made some strides last year, particularly at the end of the season. The assumption following last season was that there was the left side with the experience and the right side was unknown. With Mewhort returning but lining up on the right side, how might this impact your projections for the stability of the line?

As long as Mewhort is playing guard and not tackle, it won’t matter for the purposes of our projection system. Indy’s line is better than they’re given credit for, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t have their best season of the Andrew Luck era this year.

2. Last season, the Colts did a poor job of breaking tackles. Some of argued that this is primarily due to the regression of Frank Gore’s athleticism in the open field. While this might be a factor, is it possible a big reason is the offensive scheme the Colts run? So many of the Colts routes in the receiving game take a lot of time to develop and require considerable distance in the air for passes to travel, does this allow defenders to opportunity to close on the receiver and make immediate stops or is this a player ability issue?

To some extent, sure. Most offensive players are better at breaking tackles if thrown a screen out wide or given space to work with underneath. But this is a roster-wide issue: outside of Robert Turbin, the Colts just didn’t have much in the way of tackle-breaking ability last year.

3. The Colts defense has undergone considerable change over the off-season and one part of that change will cause a drastic reduction in the unit’s average age. Based upon the players that have been added to the roster, particularly the ones who have NFL experience already, would you project a defensive improvement statistically?

Sure, as long as by “improvement” you mean “slightly better.” NFL defenses that are thrown together on the fly don’t have terrific track records, and this is definitely a defense that needed that kind of talent infusion regardless of the consistency. I think you can argue the Colts had the worst front seven in the league last year. This year I think they can climb out of the bottom five, especially if they find healthy Henry Anderson.

4. How big of an impact do you foresee missing Clayton Geathers will have on the defense in the coming season and on the depth of the secondary based upon his performance in 2016?

I expect a huge downgrade if T.J. Green is the guy taking his snaps. Geathers was a plus safety last year, and Green was anything but that. Green’s young enough to develop into a better safety, I suppose, but I’d still view it as a pretty big surprise. It says everything that the Colts had no issues drafting Malik Hooker despite their investment in Green last year.

5. Often specialists are overlooked on NFL teams but Pat McAfee was one of the best punters in the league. Statistically, will meaningful reduction in performance from the punter have a meaningful statistical impacts on the Colts ability to win in 2017?

Sure. Special teams DVOA only plays about 1/7th of a role, but that’s not nothing. McAfee had a down year last year compared to his prime, so I don’t think the Colts are going to be lost in the weeds without him. But when you consider that he was also the kickoff specialist and they’ll ideally want to find someone else to carry that role for Adam Vinatieri as well, it’s a spot where they could certainly lose some field position next year.