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Looking back and moving on, Colts 2018 season review: Coaching staff

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans Indy Star-USA TODAY NETWORK

The Colts’ season ended just as it began: in disappointment, frustration, and general helplessness. The team was thoroughly outplayed and outclassed by a drastically more talented Chiefs team, falling 31-13 in a game that was, despite an admirable performance by the defense in the second half, never close. The Colts looked like the 1-5 team they started the season as; they were uncreative, uninspired, and frankly untalented.

The disappointment in Kansas City falls mainly on the shoulders of the offense, as once again quarterback Andrew Luck didn’t show up in a playoff game, while head coach Frank Reich’s gameplan was completely unsuccessful. No receiver other than Dontrelle Inman could get open against a pretty average chiefs secondary, and the offensive line, the key to the Colts’ playoff run, was dominated in the run game by a defensive front had been the weakness of the Chiefs’ absurdly awful run defense throughout the season.

On Saturday the Colts looked like a team that wasn’t in the same class of Kansas City or any of the other NFL elites. But the good news, as every Colts fan knows all too well, is that they shouldn’t be.

As admirable as the team’s 10-1 run this season was, it was pretty clear this team was not a true playoff contender as much as we might have tried to convince ourselves otherwise. The team’s best wins of the season came against a Dallas team with an unusually inept performance by quarterback Dak Prescott, twice against a Houston team with an offensive line that would make the Grigson/Pagano Colts proud, and twice against a Tennessee team starting quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert, who’s proven to be terrible, and Marcus Mariota, who Tennessee should and presumably will be looking to replace in the next couple of the years.

All of that’s to say that their divisional round loss must be put in the right context. As admirable as their run was, the Colts were lucky to make the playoffs (thanks to the easiest schedule of the past three seasons) and were lucky to be placed against a Houston team that they were extremely comfortable with.

But while the Colts’ success this season can be seen to some degree as a fluke, the foundation they were able to lay this season is something to be incredibly excited about going forward. The post-Grigson rebuild is over for all intents and purposes. GM Chris Ballard has put together a young core that’s only going to get better, has extra picks in the second and likely fourth round from the Sam Darnold trade and the Donte Moncrief signing respectively, and has $100+ million in cap space that he could and absolutely should use recklessly before it comes time to pay Luck and the young studs from the 2017 and 2018 draft classes in a few years.

This team has all the makings of one that will be ready to truly compete in the playoffs as soon as next year, despite an absolutely brutal road schedule. This is a critical offseason for Ballard and company because if they take advantage of the plethora of resources at their disposal, those Super Bowl dreams fans had at times this season will not be far-fetched.

So what exactly must the team do in the offseason? Let’s dive in, position by position, as the offseason ramps up in the next few months.

Note: UFA denotes an unrestricted free agent, RFA denotes a restricted free agent, and ERFA designates an Exclusive Rights Free Agent.


What They Have:

Frank Reich is going to get some buzz for coach of the year and for good reason. Reich was the driving force behind the team’s turnaround this season, and his ability to cultivate a locker room that is incredibly cohesive is extremely exciting for the team going forward. As a game manager, Reich showed a level of aggressiveness that is uncommon both in recent Colts history and in the NFL in general. Though the obvious example is the 4th down against Houston early in the season, Reich showed an appropriate level of 4th down aggression throughout the season, an area that most teams in the league are not remotely taking advantage of to the fullest extent.

As a play-caller, Reich put on some absolutely masterful performances throughout the year, as he was able to consistently keep defenses off balance, especially when the team went to no huddle. Additionally, though it is hard to know exactly where the responsibilities of Frank Reich end and the responsibilities of offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni begin, the offensive coordinator deserves a ton of credit for the offense’s success despite its well-documented talent deficiencies at wide receiver. Credit also goes to Running Backs coach Tom Rathman and Tight Ends coach Tom Manning.

On defense, Matt Eberflus enjoyed an outstanding rookie season as a defensive coordinator, who put together an incredibly solid defense that was able to keep opposing offenses contained despite a general lack of talent. His effort this year earned him some interviews for head coaching positions, but it appears that the Colts will be able to retain him, creating much-needed continuity for 2019. If/when Eberflus gets his opportunity, I’d expect LB coach Dave Borgonzi, who did a wonderful job this season shaping Darius Leonard into an All-Pro and Anthony Walker into a legitimately impactful starter, to get the job.

What They Need:

As of Tuesday, the Colts have a gaping hole in their coaching staff after the firing of offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, likely due to some combination of the alleged Denzelle Good incident and the fact that DeGuglielmo was never a Reich hire in the first place. I would certainly enjoy it if the team targeted Washington’s Bill Callahan as a replacement.

Overall, Reich did a great job with the team last year, but he is not without his warts. As a game manager, he had a few decisions that irked me, such as allowing Luck to check out of a run at the goal line against the Giants in week 16 with very little time off the clock, or his reliance on the run in the 4th quarter in the Kansas City game despite the fact that the team was quickly running out of time.

Despite putting up excellent numbers all year, the offense came out completely flat in Jacksonville and Kansas City and that ultimately cost them both games. As a play-caller, Reich called runs way too often on second and long, a decision that statistically is close to a drive killer. After the Jack Doyle injury, Reich turned to more jumbo, six OL sets to compensate for the loss of Doyle’s blocking, and for the most part, they were complete duds. Additionally, the offense seemed to turn away from Nyheim Hines towards the end of the season, and he’s a player whose receiving ability could have really helped them in the playoffs against Houston and Kansas City.

In Eberflus’ case, I think it’s fair to say he did the best he could with what he had. The Colts ran far and away the most zone coverage in the league this year, and that simply won’t work against some of the top NFL offenses the Colts will be playing next year and beyond. Being zone heavy is fine, but the defense needs to be able to run straight man coverage more often than they did last year if they want to be successful in the playoffs, something that should be more possible with the influx of talent the defense hopes to add over the offseason.

What do you think of the Colts’ roster as a whole? What player would you most like to add in free agency? What position is in the most need of talent? Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter, @__AlexJacobson.