Many in the national media, even some ardent fans, believed the 2018 Colts would be in the NFL cellars this season. The Colts were consistently ranked in the bottom three in the league with several outlets putting them dead last in their Power Rankings. This was after the national media found out Andrew Luck was returning. They are still ranked as the fourth worst team in the NFL according to ESPN.
Yes, the Colts lost to the Bengals in Week 1. The final score made it look like Cincinnati blew the Colts out. If you just look at the final score, 34-23, you might believe they actually did control the game. If you re-watch the game, you get an entirely different story.
Let’s start by giving credit where it’s due. The Bengals have a well-rounded team. Their defense is consistently good. Their defensive line may be the best in the NFL. Their offense have some big-time play makers in A.J. Green and Joe Mixon. Opposing defenses always need to be aware of John Ross because he can go over the top at any time. The Bengals spent significant capital, both in the draft and in free agency, to revamp their offensive line. It shows. Andy Dalton only needs to be a distributor, not a play maker. That fits his skill set.
Here’s the thing... it still doesn’t seem like the national media is paying attention to what Chris Ballard has done.
The Colts offense under Head Coach Frank Reich and Offensive Coordinator Nick Sirianni is a refreshing change from the previous regime. After watching the opening games of the Colts and Eagles, it appears Reich may have been the mastermind of the Eagles offense. The passing game is fantastic with the route combinations they’ve drawn up leaving wide receivers wide open. It allows Luck to make one post snap read to know exactly where he’s going. It’s simplified so there’s less reason for Luck to hold onto the ball like he had to do in years past.
Another important point is Luck actually had time to throw. Yes, Luck took two sacks against the Bengals. However, he dropped back to pass 53 times. When they pass that much, there will be a couple off plays. If you re-watch the game, the interior of the offensive line held up quite well against the Bengals front four. Luck almost always had room to step up in the pocket, which must have felt odd but refreshing to him. Oh, and Quenton Nelson is a beast. Just watch him again. He crushes some grown men.
As we all knew going in, the tackles would be the problem. On one sack, Braden Smith was subbed in to play LT. A position we’ve yet to see him play for the Colts. His first step was to the right, just like he’d done on the right side, instead of the left. That false step was all Carlos Dunlap needed. It’s all any top edge rusher will need. Once Anthony Castonzo returns the offensive line will improve even more.
When it comes to the Colts defense, one thing is abundantly clear. They are fast. They just fly all over the field. Also, the Colts started young players at all three LB positions. Yes, they will make mistakes. But also consider they barely know the defense. Darius Leonard wasn’t able to participate in off season work prior to training camp. He’s playing just off instincts. That’s incredible.
The LBs, as a group, played well in coverage too. In the past, opposing offenses targeted their TEs when playing the Colts. The Bengals’ TEs had a total of four catches for 53 yards. One catch to Tyler Eifert went for 29 yards after blown coverage in the secondary that didn’t pick him up coming out of the backfield as they understandably had bracket coverage on A.J. Green. Regardless, it’s promising to see active, fast LBs again.
The front four did an adequate job against the Bengals offensive line. They produced two sacks on Dalton and several pressures that directly resulted in turnovers. Kemoko Turay has some nice get off the line of scrimmage. Margus Hunt played extremely well. To the point one might understand why the Colts released John Simon, who, despite playing well in the preseason, still hasn’t signed with a new team. Maybe, just maybe, the fans were higher on Simon that many in the NFL. Regardless, Hunt made many fans forget about Simon with his play. Hopefully he can keep it up.
So you might be asking at this point, all this is well and good but why again are the Colts better than we thought? Well, I’m so glad you asked.
First, as I mentioned above, the Bengals are better than many thought. They will likely win the AFC North division this year. Of course, they’ll lose their first playoff game like always so there’s that. The Bengals biggest concern is their head coach Marvin Lewis. He’s not good. However, the players and coordinators are and they have the talent to overcome Lewis’s deficiencies.
Second, the Colts are young and improving. What you saw in Week 1 is their floor, not their ceiling. Luck played a game that mattered for the first time in over a year. Malik Hooker was making a comeback after an ACL surgery 10 months ago. The team was missing their starting LT and starting RB. Those two being out, especially Castonzo, was huge. Luck was driving late and if not for an unfortunate fumble by reliable Jack Doyle, the Colts were on their way to likely winning that game.
Finally, last night’s game provided a barometer to see how good the Colts may be. Yes, it was a short week. Yes, it was in Cincinnati. However, the Bengals manhandled the Ravens. The Ravens defense was touted as one of the best in the NFL. However, they did not record a sack on Andy Dalton. Yes, the Bengals offensive line is really good. The Ravens couldn’t stop the Red Rifle who scored 28 points in the first half.
Cincinnati’s defense on the other hand put up four sacks on Joe Flacco and caused two interceptions on 59 drop backs. The Bengals defensive line was menacing. The Ravens offensive line was widely regarded as one of the better offensive lines coming into the season so the number of sacks caused is impressive.
Some “fans” would have you believe that neither the Colts or Bengals are any good. That the Colts solid game against the Bengals was a fluke. That giving up 27 points to a legitimate offense means the defense is bad. Don’t believe them. They are living in the past and don’t care to look at facts. Believe your eyes.
After watching the game, did you believe the Colts were overwhelmed by the Bengals? Did you believe the Colts were going to win the game if not for the fumble returned for a TD? The answer to both of those questions should be yes.
As everyone is well aware, I’m no cheerleader. I call it like I see it. With this team I’m cautiously optimistic. Will this team compete for a Super Bowl this season? No. Not a chance. However, they should compete for the division as the AFC South hasn’t looked great. The Colts are moving in the right direction and in a hurry. The Colts are better than the national media tells you. They are better than you think.