Bill Parcells famously said, “You are what your record says you are.” If that maxim holds true, the Colts aren’t a very good football team. At 1-4, they are dead last in the AFC South. They are one of the youngest teams in football with an average age of 25.8--that’s with Adam Vinatieri at 46. This team has just 7 players, Vinny included, who are 30-years-old or older.
In line with expectations for a young team with an all new coaching staff, this team has struggled with consistency. They’ve been unable to close out games that they should have won. They have had some coaching miscues that have cost them, which you’d expect from a staff with a first-time head coach and two first-time coordinators. At times they simply haven’t been able to make the plays needed to win. Some of that is due to inexperience, and some of it is due to the team lacking talent in several areas.
All this begs the question: Why are fans still so buoyant about this Colts team? Following a harrowing loss against the Patriots in New England which saw what felt like half the team exit with injuries, fan confidence dropped by just 8% according to this week’s FanPulse survey. At 84%, it still sits well above the Titans, Jaguars, and Texans.
So what gives?
There are a couple of possibilities. First, Colts fans have been hearing from Chris Ballard all along that this is a multi-year process. He set pretty honest expectations ahead of this season. This was a team that was to be a work in progress. The bar for success across the season at large was that the team show marked improvement in areas of deficiency.
One of those areas which the Colts have struggled heavily in over much of the last decade is in creating an impactful pass rush. We have seen that change this season. The Colts are currently tied for 3rd in the NFL in sacks, with 17. That is just 8 sacks shy of their season total last year. Definitely a sign of improvement.
Another area of improvement has been in protecting the quarterback. Despite missing starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo and suffering a slew of other injuries on the offensive line, they’ve done that. The Colts have faced a barrage of tough defensive lines and have given up just 10 sacks, compared with 14 through 5 games last season. Some of this has been due to scheme and some has been improved depth and skill on the line, but with the impending return of Anthony Castonzo, the line play should be better still.
The linebacker group has been a major weakness for the team in recent years as well, and the breakout performance of rookie Darius Leonard has almost certainly had an impact on fans’ perception of the team. Leonard missed last week and still leads the NFL in tackles. His play so far has him as a front runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and that kind of spark on the defense has fans believing the arrow is pointing way up for that side of the ball.
Another significant factor is the effectiveness of the 2018 draft class. There are already five players who have made significant contributions in terms of playing time from this draft class. Additionally, Deon Cain showed a great deal of promise before being injured, and Braden Smith has looked good when called upon as well. Tyquan Lewis hasn’t seen the field, going to injured reserve before the start of the season, and Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin have been special teams contributors and filled in due to injuries.
Getting this much contribution right away from your rookies is both a good and bad thing. It means your team isn’t that great because otherwise rookies likely aren’t able to start, but it also means you’ve got guys who are getting experience that will be invaluable down the road.
I say all this to say, Colts’ fans expectations and confidence may be staying high due in large part to the fact that they have adopted a long view for the team. They may not be a great team this year, but with a good draft class and some key free agents, they can be next year.
The other possibility is that fans have seen so much improvement despite the level of injury across the roster, that they think this team has the potential to go on a run. The Colts’ schedule softens up heading into their bye week, and after that they have all but 1 of their divisional games.
While many don’t see the Colts as a team capable of putting together a great deal of success, they’ve been without a lot of key players early in the season and still hung around with some very good teams. If they are able to get healthy down the stretch, this is a team that has the capability of rattling off a lot of wins.
Andrew Luck has rounded into form over the last two games, despite his surrounding cast largely inhabiting the medical tent. A healthy team around him could be enough to begin a major turnaround. If the Colts are able to win out through their bye week they’ll sit at 4-4 with a favorable back half of their schedule and a chance to get healthier still.
If there is one thing that the Colts have learned since 2012, it is that if you’ve got Andrew Luck and you are within striking distance, you’ve got a chance.
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