Tough one to swallow. Gut-wrenching. Awful way to close it out. This is going to be a really long offseason.
Look, there’s a lot to be said about the ups and downs of this Indianapolis Colts team and season. Starting the season in a 0-3 hole made it super difficult to project Indianapolis to make the playoffs. Few teams in NFL history have accomplished such a comeback.
What makes this season sting so much is that this is one of the most talented rosters top-to-bottom and on both sides of the football that the Colts have seen in a very long time.
Jonathan Taylor was and is a legitimate MVP candidate. Will he get that honor? Unlikely. Why? Because calling the reward anything other than the “best QB this season award” is a bit misleading and because it’s hard to reward the MVP to a player whose team doesn’t make the playoffs.
It’s nearly a certainty at this point that Indianapolis will be watching the playoffs from home.
If you want to know what it will take. The Ravens have to beat the Steelers in overtime. The Raiders need to beat the Chargers. The Dolphins need to beat the Patriots. That’s it. All of those things must happen or the season is over for the Colts.
Michael Pittman Jr. is a quality piece at wide receiver. If he had a reliable quarterback throwing him the football, he could have been a borderline Pro Bowl player in his own right.
Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, and Braden Smith are stalwarts on the offensive line. Two of the three earned Pro Bowl honors and the other will find it difficult to do so as a right tackle.
DeForest Buckner, Darius Leonard, and Kenny Moore are stellar defenders and they play at each level of the defense. They’re all Pro Bowl talents and they’re all under contract in 2022.
The issues for Indianapolis start at quarterback where Carson Wentz fell apart late in the season. Other than a big drive in the fourth quarter on Christmas in Arizona, Wentz hasn’t done a whole lot to help the offense.
The offense also needs more playmakers. The wide receiver room is pretty unproven or unreliable outside of Pittman Jr. The tight end room is also either aging or better at blocking than they are at creating a threat to get chunk yards through the air.
On defense, there isn’t a consistent pass rush. It has been an issue since Robert Mathis retired and remains an issue. Could Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo take a second-year leap and provide more consistent pressure from the edges? Sure.
However, Ben Banogu and Tyquan Lewis haven’t panned out. Al-Quadin Mahummad is a fine rotations edge defender but took a ton of snaps with the defense this season. The team also desperately missed Julian Blackmon at safety after his Achilles injury.
This Colts team is entering what will feel like a painfully small window of playoff-caliber potential. The nucleus of the team is together but in some ways, they’re in the wrong positions. Teams spend years, often decades, in quarterback purgatory, and without a Tier 1 or 2 signal-caller, it’s just super hard to win games in the regular season and even hard to win in the postseason.
The future of the franchise is also going to undergo a lot of change this summer. The list of players who are pending free agents is incredibly long. Chris Ballard’s work over the coming months will have a profound impact on the trajectory this Colts team takes moving forward.
With that said, today the Colts were outplayed in all three phases. This is the second week in a row, as the Raiders punched Indianapolis in the mouth in a similar fashion last Sunday. In two straight win-and-you’re-in games, the Colts were flat. Carson Wentz choked. The defense was quiet against one of the worst offenses in the league, with a rookie quarterback who has been careless with the football.
Our very own Troy Russell has given us warnings all season long. The Colts’ defense is good but not as good as it has gotten credit for to this point. Why? It has relied too much on turnovers and gotten too lucky with recovering fumbles as a part of that turnover identity. These turnovers have resulted in points and allowed Indianapolis to win games, earning a reputation as a scary team to face in the playoffs.
Without turnovers, the defense isn't particularly impressive. It’s solid against opposing rushers but the soft, zone packages allow throws underneath and without a pass rush, it’s just too easy. When Rock Ya-Sin went down early and Kenny Moore was nicked up as well, this defense became really soft — much like it did against the Ravens earlier in the season.
Is the franchise trending in the right direction for the future? Probably. But it comes down to finding answers at some of the most important positions on the field. None more important than quarterback, and right now, outside of getting a free agent veteran to come on a deal the Colts can afford — it’s not looking promising that will be a possibility soon.