After watching the Colts flounder around the field at the Superdome last night there was really only one conclusion to what we saw. That was not a good football team. The Colts have been in close match-ups all season long, failed by their lack of a passing attack, miscues on special teams, and untimely defensive collapses. Last night they had all three, opting to begin their offseason hibernation a few weeks early.
In what turned into a sickening celebration of Drew Brees and the Saints’ many humiliations of the Colts, there wasn’t even a hint of resistance from the visiting team. They failed in literally every phase of the game, and allowed Brees to complete 96.67% of his passes.
I am not about to try to convince you that this outing was any better than it looked. This was a beat-down of the highest order and clearly featured one playoff team and one team that deserves to be watching from home. But viewed from a season-long perspective, there are certainly plenty of reasons for optimism. Let’s look at a few.
The Colts defense, by and large, has been the best this franchise has seen in 2019. While they aren’t perfect and are still missing some pieces, they have consistently been the best thing about this team over the course of the season. As good as they’ve been, they have had some mind boggling collapses. Why is that? Injuries have certainly played a part, but I think youth is a bigger factor. This is a really young defense.
How young? Of 11 defensive starters, 6 are 24 years old or younger. Those older players are Clayton Geathers, Pierre Desir, Justin Houston, Jabaal Sheard, and Grover Stewart. Depending on how the draft and free agency go, there is reason to think most if not all of those players will not be wearing the horseshoe in 2020.
This is a defense trending toward being dangerous, and they’ve added playmakers in each of Chris Ballard’s drafts. With the right pieces added, they will be even more dangerous. When you weigh the potential return of players like Kemoko Turay as well as development and improvement from players like Rock Ya-Sin, Khari Willis, and Bobby Okereke, this could be a nasty group for many years to come.
There are some serious issues on the Colts offense, and those are not limited to simply replacing the quarterback. The Colts need to seriously address their wide receiver room. T.Y. Hilton is not getting younger, and the Colts cannot continue to expect him to be their primary receiving threat forever. Parris Campbell is certainly talented, but the Colts can’t rest on the hope that he is going to shake off this year and be better. They have some talented depth receivers, but they need help on the front lines there.
They do have Jack Doyle re-signed, which is a big deal. Doyle is loved by Colts fans, and for good reason. He is one of the more balanced and reliable tight ends in the business, and while the Colts could do with supplementing the tight end room in the draft, Mo Alie-Cox and Ross Travis are both solid players who fill the role needed currently.
Perhaps the most encouraging area for the offense is that with Marlon Mack they have a dynamic running back who can win them games. While the offensive line wasn’t quite as dominant in 2019 as they were in 2018, Mack had his best year by far. He looked like a different runner, patient but explosive. He found the right lanes and made the most of what he was given. His stiff arm remains an incredible sight to see.
The offensive line is also going to be good for a while. While they regressed some in 2019, they were still a solid unit overall. Mark Glowinski is a player the Colts will likely bring in competition for, because the right side of the line needs to be improved and that is perhaps the spot where they could most easily find a good replacement player. If they are able to upgrade the right guard position and add a couple of talented wide receivers, it would make the quarterback’s job far easier, whoever that may be.
Ultimately, this Colts team is in good hands. Chris Ballard, despite some assertions to the contrary, has done an excellent job getting this roster turned around. He has continued to compile draft picks, and far more importantly, to hit on them. 2020 will be his most critical year as GM to date. He will have to navigate the process of selecting a new quarterback for this team as well as using the team’s considerable cap space to better them through free agency and filling out their additional needs through the draft.
As demoralizing as a loss like this is, it really did not feature anything we hadn’t seen throughout this season. It was simply what it looks like when all those issues strike at the same time against a top caliber opponent. Ahead we have an offseason where we hope the Colts’ front office is able to get things turned around quickly. Based on their track record they deserve the benefit of the doubt in that regard.
Hilton didn’t have a great game. He wasn’t a major factor on the offense (no one was). But he showed the kind of heart this team needs from a leader, and will have to lean on in the coming months as they attempt to take the next step in this rebuild. Through a nagging injury, in a game that barely mattered, against an opponent they had no real chance to beat, T.Y. Hilton took the field to play. He didn’t pack it in and say, “See you all next year.”
Winning teams are built on heart like that. Frank Reich can talk about getting better every week, having an obsession to finish, and whatever else he likes. But without players buying in, it is just hollow talk. T.Y. Hilton is the best offensive player on the team, and he showed on Monday night that he is ready to sacrifice for his brothers. That matters for a group of young players, and is worth noting.