Number 5 - Get Healthy
The Colts limped into Thursday night’s contest, missing arguably their best player on each side of the ball, Jonathan Taylor and Shaquille Leonard. Taylor is nursing a combination of turf toe and an ankle sprain. Shaq was hit by Zaire Franklin on a collision early in the Titans' Week 4 game that landed him in concussion protocol, and broke his nose. Julian Blackmon is still out with a shoulder injury that he sustained on an acrobatic interception attempt when the Colts played the Kansas City Chiefs.
On Thursday night, Nyheim Himes suffered a concussion on the first drive of Thursday’s game and has a better chance to get through protocols with the extra time. Another significant loss the Colts suffered Thursday was Kwity Paye, a player that was having an excellent sophomore season. He suffered a high ankle sprain and will miss a few weeks.
The Colts are missing stars and quality starters and they will need to get as many of those players back as possible, and soon if they really want to have a shot at competing this year.
Number 4: Let Gus Cook
Through the first two weeks of the season, Gus Bradley left much to be desired. He seemed stubborn, unwilling to adjust or modify his scheme, and wanted no part of making adjustments. This has changed, and he has started reaching into his bag of tricks.
What I like most about what Gus is doing is he’s remaining true to himself and what he believes in with the Cover 3 match scheme, but he’s mixing in other things and has shown the ability to adjust the game plan from week to week based on matchup. Patrick Mahomes who absolutely shredded Gus last season in two games with the Raiders was held to just 17 points and handed his first loss of the season. Gus has started to blitz and slowly but surely started incorporating simulated pressures on the defensive line.
Regardless of whether it’s successful or not the ability to show versatility and ability to make a switch is what’s most important. The Colts are playing like one of the best defenses in the NFL after holding a struggling Denver offense to 9 points and no touchdowns on Thursday night and the bulk of that I am attributing to Gus Bradley.
Number 3: Feature Alec Pierce More
I was one of the loudest voices via Twitter saying the Colts needed to acquire a veteran receiver (I still feel like they need to). I felt like the Colts were putting too much on the young guys' shoulders. Parris Campbell, who is a good guy, is just not cut out to be a legit number 2 receiver right now. Alec Pierce, the second-round draft pick out of Cincinnati, flashed in Training Camp but has now translated it to the game.
Alec has an excellent release at the line of scrimmage and is able to separate, whether vertically or in and out of his breaks. If he has a rep where he doesn’t get separation? No problem throw it up his 6’3 frame and 40-inch vertical will allow him to go up and make contested catches. Aside from the week 1 TD drop he has shown consistent and strong hands at the catch point in his last 3 games and has put up 15 catches and 222 yards on 20 targets. As these games progress, you can see him gaining confidence and Matt Ryan starting to trust him a lot more. Alec Pierce, through the first 5 weeks of the season, has been the most explosive player on the Colts' offense and must become more of a focal point.
Number 2: Is it time to put Matty on ice?
Matt Ryan is a very accomplished and decorated player in his NFL career. Shattering records in Atlanta and racking up accolades in the process. With that being said, he looks bad through the first five weeks. Yes, he has had his moments where he moved the ball well, and it is hard to evaluate him with the way the offensive line is playing (more on them later), but it has looked rough so far. Matt has been so careless with the ball; being under pressure a lot should result in sacks and throwaways, not automatic turnovers. He has been fumbling at a record-setting rate, and if we’re being honest, he hasn’t been the greatest when he’s had time.
Matt has developed happy feet due to his inability to trust his offensive line. He is trying to bail out of the clean pockets that he gets because he’s just so accustomed to someone being there, and it’s causing him to miss throws. The two interceptions he threw to Caden Sterns are just inexcusable. Sterns does nothing special just simply comes down as the robber to take away crossing routes, and Ryan throws it straight to him. That just simply can’t happen, especially on an offense that currently ranks dead last in the league.
Indy needs to make it a priority to get Ryan back to feeling comfortable in this offense again, even if that requires installing some of the old schemes he ran in Atlanta. With the way this offense is playing, everything should be on the table.
Number 1: FIX THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Let me start by saying this is the worst offensive line I have ever seen in a Colts uniform. It’s bad, like Michael Jackson bad, like the DMV line bad, like calling a fake punt on primetime TV with just a center and a punter only in the middle of the field. Where to begin?
This is the highest-paid offensive line in the NFL, and they are a bottom 3 unit in all of football. Early in the season, it seemed more of a communication issue, struggling to pick up blitzes and stunts that defenses are running. That problem has multiplied into now people are just flat-out getting beaten repeatedly. To the Colts' credit, they have tried to switch it up, but it hasn’t worked.
You have to send a message to this group, and I think the way to do that is to make a change at D-Line coach Strausser/Mawae has to go to make a statement to those guys in that room. Nelson has been fine (when not up against Denico Autry), Braden Smith has been average at best, and everyone else on the line has been awful. Ryan Kelly, one of the top-paid centers in the game, is getting outplayed by Danny Pinter. Matt Pryor is unplayable at this point. You simply can’t trot him out there at either tackle spot. Bernhard Raimann made his first start at LT, and he didn’t have a great game either, which is understandable, considering he is a rookie.
I just don’t see this offensive line magically hitting a switch and becoming a good unit, but the Colts must find the best five and at least be average until this offseason when they have a chance to address the position. The Colts have a lot of things to tackle over these next ten days, but nothing should be higher on that list than this offensive line.