Entering the season with serious divisional title and potential deep playoff aspirations, the Indianapolis Colts have had an incredibly disappointing season, now at a 4-8-1 overall record.
Following an offseason where team owner Jim Irsay publicly declared that “all chips were in,” the Colts have since fired their head coach and offensive coordinator, as well as benched their starting veteran quarterback Matt Ryan—only to reinstate him into the starting lineup just a few games later.
It turns out the Colts late season problems from 2021 (and subsequent shocking collapse) ran a lot deeper than just the since cast off Carson Wentz—as they’ve only persisted.
While the unit’s played better as of late under interim head coach Jeff Saturday, the Colts offensive line hardly resembles the supposed strength it was widely expected to be—often struggling to even be a league average unit during the majority of the 2022 campaign.
There have still been some bright spots for the team—including a defense that has become one of the better units in football. However, not nearly enough, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, with a unit that consistently struggles to score enough points to win games.
So how do we improve next year’s 2023 Colts?
Here’s three ways to start:
1. Finding a Franchise Quarterback
If the Colts were running an ice cream parlor, the popular ‘flavor of the month’ among the Horseshoe faithful clamoring for finding a new franchise quarterback would be Florida’s Anthony Richardson (and just let me say this small caveat, Go Gators!).
The 6’4”, 232 pound sophomore quarterback is still raw and developing as a passer, but has some high level athletic tools and developing pocket presence to potentially dream upon.
There’s still a long way towards now, and private workouts and the NFL Combine, let alone, the NFL Draft, so I won’t get too carried away here in evaluating quarterback hopefuls.
The Colts currently hold the 7th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft (and could eek even a little lower in draft position when it’s all said and done)—as their only remaining winnable game may be in the season finale hosting the Houston Texans (1-11-1).
After watching a twilight in his playing career Matt Ryan, who looks much closer to hitting the golfing greens than he does his prior MVP form, one thing is clear: the Colts have to get much more dynamic at starting quarterback from both a mobility and arm strength standpoint.
Greater mobility allows the Colts to run play-action and RPOs and also can help make up for a struggling passing pocket at times with a dual-threat option’s unique ability to escape the initial pass rush and extend plays on the move—with additional throwing windows and just taking off with the football.
Extra arm strength can help challenge opposing secondaries downfield, keep defenses honest against the run, and generate more explosive chunk plays—instead of having to grind out lengthy drives with runs and short passes (which can be stalled with penalties or negative plays such as sacks).
Is that Richardson?
Could it be another highly touted quarterback prospect?
It’s too early to tell, but the annual retread quarterback carousel for the Colts has to stop.
The team has had five starting quarterbacks in the past five years, which stifles the offensive continuity and never lets the franchise obtain much needed stability behind center.
Not only that, but in a stacked quarterback conference that includes Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, and Justin Herbert, the Colts simply have to find a much more athletically gifted passer to keep up with the AFC’s current torrid pace at the position.
2. Shoring Up the Blindside (*and Overall O-Line)
Is rookie Bernhard Raimann the answer?
The still green 3rd round pick initially got off to a slow start for the Colts, but has shown some flashes and appears to be steadily improving at left tackle (even if his anchor in pass protection remains a major concern at times).
Currently, Raimann is PFF’s 37th best graded offensive tackle with a +68.7 overall grade, including a +75.9 run blocking grade. There’s some hope he can be the long-term answer along the blindside for Indianapolis as he gains more experience and further develops.
That being said, the Colts choosing departed veteran starter Eric Fisher over Charles Leno Jr. (+75.9) and passing over Christian Darrisaw (+90.0) in the 2021 NFL Draft two years ago continues to loom large for the franchise—and not in a good way.
Either way, for the Colts offensive line to improve, it starts with obtaining consistent production from the left tackle spot—and then the franchise has to look at addressing both starting center, where highly paid former Pro Bowler Ryan Kelly hasn’t looked himself in over a season and a half, and then right guard, where there remains a sizable void since both veteran Mark Glowinski and Chris Reed departed in last year’s free agency.
The Colts have some tough decisions to make both at left tackle and along the interior.
3. Better Head Coaching
Look, I’m not going to pile on Jeff Saturday here.
The former All-Pro center for the Colts inherited a bad football team near midseason and the same warts that plagued his coaching predecessor, Frank Reich—namely an inept offense led by a way past his prime starting quarterback, and further hampered by an underperforming offensive line, are the same ones limiting his own coached team.
The Colts have seen firsthand the good of a ‘rah-rah, players want to go through a brick wall for him’ former standout NFL player, now turned successful NFL head coach, the Tennessee Titans Mike Vrabel, who has consistently owned them since Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement.
Colts team owner Jim Irsay may have been searching for that same ‘players coach’ spark by hiring Saturday, who was a locker room leader during his own playing days, has a high football acumen as a former renowned technician, is well spoken (even previously being a member of the national media at ESPN), and who simply has a knack for motivating those around him—both on and off the field.
Like Reich, maybe his hands are simply tied by his personnel (and collectively a bad offense), but I haven’t exactly seen innovation and aggressiveness by Saturday offensively. What I’ve seen is a head coach who likes to run the football a lot (as was traditional back in the day) and take the points, when in doubt. The problem is, it’s a passing league where analytics and heightened calculated aggressiveness often rule.
That doesn’t mean that Saturday cannot eventually be successful at this level, but at the very least, he’s an aspiring head coach who will need better coaches to surround him, namely at offensive coordinator.
More than likely though, it appears that the Colts may need to turn the page on the seemingly (and still shocking) short-lived Saturday experience all together—with top candidates such as Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh or San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans definitely piquing potential interest these days.