When the Indianapolis Colts disappointingly walked off the field after almost upsetting the then 13-3 Buffalo Bills on the road in early January of 2021 in the wild card round, it felt like this was an ascending franchise that was on the brink of becoming an upper echelon team in the AFC—and for many years to come.
Perhaps a more dynamic quarterback, standout pass rusher, or another big time offensive playmaker away from making that leap among the NFL’s truly elite teams year-after-year.
Instead, not even two years later, the Colts are closer to ‘calling it quits’ then contending.
Just ahead of the NFL trade deadline, Tuesday’s trading away of versatile electric receiving back Nyheim Hines showed that the Colts are no longer worried about chasing the Super Bowl contending Buffalo Bills these days—as they’re one step closer to waving the white flag on the season than even thinking about hoisting an elusive Lombardi Trophy.
To be fair too, that’s the Colts current reality.
At 3-4-1, the Colts are technically still very much in the AFC playoff hunt with a lot of games left to play in the regular season—even if the AFC South seems realistically out of reach, two games behind the Tennessee Titans, and their divisional rival owning the tiebreaker (having already been swept)—and head coach Mike Vrabel’s squad now on a five game winning streak.
However, the Colts are clearly in flux as a franchise right now.
They recently demoted their new veteran starter Matt Ryan, who didn’t even last until midseason.
They just fired their offensive coordinator Marcus Brady.
And now just arguably dealt one of their most explosive playmakers, further depleting an offensive weapon cupboard that was already pretty barren.
It was a Colts team theoretically built to win in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Even if they didn’t have an elite quarterback like the Josh Allens, Patrick Mahomes, and Joe Burrows of the AFC, they were a well-rounded squad who were projected to be a tough out against anyone—with an expected strong power running game and revamped defense too.
Get the ground game going, with a smart and accurate passer behind center. Have the defense get hot. And who knows, maybe you have something for colder weather playoff football to make a potential deep postseason run come January and February.
While the defense has largely held its own, the Colts offense has been nothing short of lousy. It starts up front too for Indianapolis. The supposed strength of the team, the offensive line (i.e., the league’s highest paid), has inexplicably become one of the league’s worst. Whether it’s being now highly paid and getting complacent, injuries, or the Monstars taking their talent—maybe even attributable to poor coaching, either way the Colts offensive line hasn’t played up to its ability, and we’re talking about their Pro Bowlers too.
One objective measure currently ranks them 29th in pass blocking, and star running back Jonathan Taylor has been largely bottled up, unable to routinely shake multiple defenders in the hole and find clear rushing lanes for chunk yardage plays.
It’s an offense that simply can’t score enough points right now to consistently win games.
It’s an offense that struggles to even get to the high teens in points.
The Colts tried to get a spark offensively with elevated quarterback Sam Ehlinger this past weekend, but it was a similar result. The Colts again had multiple turnovers and only mustered 16 total points—en route to losing to a very mediocre Washington Commanders team at home, who were also starting a backup quarterback behind center—in relief of injured starter Carson Wentz.
If the Colts cannot beat that Commanders team at home, then there’s not much hope that Indianapolis is going to suddenly put it together this season. There’s no real reason for optimism, and right now, no clear direction of what the Colts are wanting to become.
The Colts may have traded Hines, but they didn’t trade anyone else, so while they were slight sellers (and wanted to accommodate Hines’ personal wishes), this wasn’t a full fledged firesale by any means.
Still, if you had asked anyone just after that heart-breaking playoff loss to the Bills in January of 2021 or even last year, after the Colts simply took it to the Buffalo Bills and won 45-15 as road warriors that Indianapolis would deal one of its top playmakers, Nyheim Hines, to NFL MVP candidate Josh Allen’s squad for such a relatively meager package less than two years later, I think you would’ve gotten a consensus, “Hell no!” from the loyal Horseshoe faithful.
(*Keep in mind, Hines rushed for 75 rushing yards on just 6 carries against the Bills during that close January of 2021 wild card loss).
Sure, Hines was underutilized and his ceiling was likely capped offensively here with having a bellcow now dominating the backfield reps, Taylor. However, it’s rare to see an impact playmaker dealt to your primary conference ‘competition’ (i.e., the top team that you ultimately have to get through to win it all)—and at a discounted price to boot.
Instead, it’s a byproduct of the current times, but these in flux Colts have clearly fallen—descending a bit closer to a true ‘blow up’ and retool, than even thinking about realistically battling the Super Bowl favorite Bills.