The Colts are in the middle of a rebuild, right? That has been the common refrain from fans and analysts alike all season. This is a team that is still a year or two away from really competing. There are just too many holes to truly run with the best teams in the NFL.
The problem with that assessment is that no one bothered to tell the Colts. In a season where we were largely hoping to see marked improvement across the board and an Andrew Luck who could show that he was able to return to form after a protracted absence, we have gotten instead a well-coached team that looks like it could beat anyone in the NFL as the regular season comes to a close.
In consecutive weeks the Colts have handled a Texans team that was on a 9-game win streak and a Cowboys team that was on a 5-game win streak. What is more impressive still is that rather than the old blueprint for this Colts team of letting Andrew Luck go to work and hoping that is enough, they’ve won in different ways.
Against the Texans it was a combination of strong defensive play and Luck taking deep shots to T.Y. Hilton. Yesterday against Dallas, it was a smothering defensive performance and a ground and pound game behind the formidable young offensive line that paved the way to a shutout win. Contributions from rookies like Darius Leonard and Tyquan Lewis as well as a young secondary made the Cowboys offense that had been rolling look totally impotent.
So how good are they really? 1-5 seems like a distant memory for this team, who since that time have found their stride on defense as health and reps have given way to a very strong group. Since that time we’ve seen Darius Leonard sustaining a rookie season that could very likely end up with him as an All-Pro.
As a unit the defensive line has hit their stride down the back stretch of this season, finding ways to repeatedly abuse opposing quarterbacks and making teams pay when they can’t get receivers open quickly. Complementing that effort perfectly has been the emergence of the secondary who are playing their best football of the season and have essentially shut down top receivers over the past two weeks.
What’s more, this team has taken on some of the best running backs in the NFL and proven itself up to the task of limiting them. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus seems to be hitting his stride in terms of play calling and has really got a feel for his team’s strengths and how best to use them. While there aren’t a plethora of game breakers across the group, this defense is loaded with guys who can make a play and who do their jobs well. That kind of balance can be huge in the playoffs.
In all reality though, this isn’t a team that has to have a dominant defense. The reason? Andrew Luck. Luck has had a fantastic return season and has gotten better and his arm stronger as the season has progressed. Despite the loss of Jack Doyle, and no notable receivers to speak of behind T.Y. Hilton, Luck inside of Frank Reich’s scheme has been efficient, smart, and dangerous.
The offensive line since the return of Anthony Castonzo has been essentially a brick wall, allowing the second fewest sacks in the league through 15 weeks. They trail only the Saints, who have attempted 140 fewer passes than they have. That is just plain incredible. The job of this line has been ridiculous. With the renewed running game we saw yesterday, this offense only stands to get more deadly as the season goes on. Frank Reich has continued to improve, and if he is given a balanced attack that can open up the play action, this offense can be deadly.
Despite a relative lack of skill position players on the offense, a combination of Reich’s play calling and Luck’s brilliance has enabled them to get players involved and be very successful. Eric Ebron, the presumed first round bust at tight end who was signed in the offseason, has been incredible, setting the franchise record for most touchdowns by a Colts tight end in a season, and has two games to go yet.
So the question remains, how good is this team? At their best, as in the way we’ve seen them play the past couple weeks? They are good enough to beat any team in the NFL. Over the past few weeks as we’ve watched the white hot Saints, Rams, and Chiefs cool a bit from their ridiculous levels of the earlier parts of the season, the Colts have been the ones heating up.
They got a gut check game against Jacksonville to remind them that there was no room to take a week off. Now they’ll face the next two weeks in “must-win” mode. Games against the Giants and Titans will be critical to getting into the playoffs, and they’ll need either Baltimore or Pittsburgh to drop one game to make that possible. Additionally, if the Texans were to somehow lose out and the Colts win out, they would take the division.
Once in, this is a team that no one will want to face. Given their youth, it is certainly possible that they could show up flat and drop a game to anyone. However, they have proven over the past several weeks that they are not a team to be taken lightly, and through solid coaching, sound play, and breakout performances from their young defense, this is a team that can absolutely contend for a Super Bowl this season. Regardless of how this season finishes, it is tough not to be excited about the possibilities for this young team as they grow and move forward.
So what do you think? Is this team ready to contend now?
How good is this Colts team?
This poll is closed
They have the potential to beat anyone if they make the playoffs
They’ve shown a ton of improvement, but they aren’t ready for the top tier teams yet.