The season is only three weeks old, but it’s apparent that the Colts have legitimate talent on both sides of the ball and that’s thanks to Chris Ballard’s additions. Weeks 2 and 3 have seen tremendous performances from the new faces on defense, offense, and even special teams.
Let’s start with the most important position on the team: the quarterback. The Colts kept Ryan Grigson’s choice for backup quarterback in 2016, Scott Tolzien, and he quickly proved to be a major disappointment. Chris Ballard’s man, Jacoby Brissett, fared much better. He played very steadily in the Week 2 Cardinals game, especially in the first half, but the team faded in the 2nd half and Brissett made a costly mistake in overtime. The following week, he was the star of the team putting together a fantastic performance against the aggressive Browns defense. He picked apart their secondary and exposed their inexperienced players. Brissett went 17 for 24 (70.8%) for 259 yards (10.8 yards per attempt) with 3 total touchdowns (2 rushing, 1 passing). He had a near flawless performance. The Colts put up 31 points and finally got their first win of the year. Better yet, it restored confidence in a faltering Colts offense. It gave the fans and the organization hope that Brissett is a very capable backup quarterback who can get the Colts some wins with Andrew Luck hurt. With the exception of Matt Hasselbeck, you can argue that the Colts have never had a competent backup quarterback since relocating to Indianapolis in 1984!
Even on special teams, Rigoberto Sanchez has been a revelation. I don’t think many people (including myself) expected to see Sanchez punting this year, but he has done it quite well so far. He’s averaging 46.3 yards per punt and 44.2 net average. He’s landed 35% of his punts inside the 20 and only has one touchback out of 20 punts. He’s also received a positive appraisal from Pat McAfee, which says a lot as McAfee is a former All-Pro punter.
The new additions on defense have had great impacts so far. Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, and Jonathan Hankins have been the major contributors out of the new faces. Sheard and Simon have done a great job on the edge, with Simon showing his versatility rushing the passer from the outside or stunting and hitting the A-gap hard. He has 2 sacks and 11 pressures. He also has been good as a run blocker. Sheard has done a good job as a pass rushing specialist, amassing 10 pressures in 3 games.
Through three games, John Simon has been the best player on the entire defense. His versatility is seen in each game. He’s proficient at stopping the run but has proven to be a very good pass rusher. He also plays well in the flats against the running back routes, demonstrating good ability in coverage. He plays the majority of snaps on defense and has been very consistent through three games.
Jonathan Hankins is only playing about 50 to 60 percent of the snaps, mostly because he’s not impactful on passing downs. However, against the run, he has been pretty dominant. He’s been able to effectively eat up two gaps and has been the leading force behind a good Colts run defense. The Colts are allowing 3.3 yards per carry and 85.7 yards per game. Both figures rank in the top ten in the NFL and that’s thanks in large part to Jonathan Hankins.
Margus Hunt, to my surprise, has been one of the most productive 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL through 3 weeks in terms of his pass rushing ability! I did not think that Hunt would have a major impact, mostly due to him being an ineffective player for the Bengals for many years, but according to Pro Football Focus, he is second amongst 3-4 DEs in pass rush productivity, with 13 QB pressures in 59 pass rush snaps, including 5 QB hits. At just over $2,000,000 per year for two years, Hunt has been a decent bargain for the Colts.
The rookies have also been performing well. Malik Hooker and Nate Hairston have the standout players in the 2017 draft class. Quincy Wilson has also done well but has had his fair share of low moments. Hooker has done well playing center-field and has had two interceptions through three games (although one was a gift at the end of the Browns game). Hooker plays mostly on the weak-side of the field as a free safety, and on downfield passing plays, quarterbacks tend to throw to the strong-side of the field and away from Hooker; that isn’t a coincidence. With the Colts playing a lot of Cover 2 through the first three games, Hooker has been required to take the deep half of the field (usually the weak-side) and has done so very well. He is one of the highest graded Colts players through three weeks, according to Pro Football Focus.
Chris Ballard didn’t hide his feelings about the talent on defense, as he performed a major overhaul bringing in many new players. While the Colts are far from perfect, they are much better off now than they were under the leadership of Ryan Grigson. Ballard’s defense shows potential and we’re seeing them make plays. We’re seeing them make key interceptions and pressure the quarterback. They are stopping the run and are one of the best in the NFL at doing so through three games. The Colts defense has still allowed 76 points through 3 games, so they still have a long way to go on defense, but it’s obvious that this defense is improving.
The season is only three weeks old, so there’s still plenty of time in the season for some players to get better or for the top ones to get worse, but for now, I’m encouraged by the play of the new faces. Their good play reflects well on Chris Ballard, who can only do so much as the general manager. He can give the coaches the pieces, but after that, it’s out of his control...