The Indianapolis Colts have had an exciting first half of the season with almost all of their matches coming down to the last few minutes. The team has showcased a number of new young and exciting players with a mix of some of the old guard. It’s clear the team is entering a new era and there have been a lot of bumps in the road. Which positions have performed well and which have not?
Anthony Richardson showed plenty of flashes at the beginning of the season, especially when under pressure since he utilized his feet. He displayed his incredible arm and did a lot of good with his feet, despite the fact that he didn’t protect himself properly and was injured on three separate occasions because of it. Richardson did struggle with a clean pocket due in large part because he didn’t trust himself to throw into tight windows despite having the arm to do so. The ability to go through your progressions and make tighter throws than the ones in college will come over time. The graph below does sum up his weaknesses.
As for Gardner Minshew, it’s been a lot of good and a lot of bad. Towards the beginning of the season, he played incredible football and led the Colts to some big wins. As the season has gone on, he has become a turnover machine, but his play has been good enough to keep them in games. It’s truly a strange combination as the Colts are playing well with him but also in spite of him. It’s become clear that Minshew is an elite backup quarterback who’s good to have in a pinch, but when relied upon for long periods of time, he will show his weaknesses.
Zack Moss has been an incredible surprise and on paper has been one of the best running backs in the league this season. He will surely regress but his first half has been beyond amazing.
The return of Jonathan Taylor has added a new spark to the offense and he looks rejuvenated. His quickness and burst are back and he’s popping off a few big plays a game now.
In my opinion, the Colts have the best 1-2 punch of any backfield in the NFL.
Without Josh Downs, this group is a B- or C+. Michael Pittman has had some great games, but there isn’t a lot of consistency from him. Pierce has made a few plays this season, but he isn’t proving to be the #2 receiver we expected him to be. The backups haven’t made much of an impact, so as mentioned before outside of Downs this group has been one of the 5-6 weakest groups in the league.
That leads me to Josh Downs. In short, he’s a star. The routes he runs (not only the crispness of them, but the variety), the quickness and his intelligence show that he’s a next level receiver. He has displayed top 15 in the NFL ability and reminds me in many ways of Amon-Ra St. Brown. He has been mostly used in the slot, but as the Colts get even more comfortable with him, I expect him to slowly becoming a co-WR1 with Pittman and could be the Colts’ leading receiver in the major stat categories by the end of the season. The Colts hit it big with him.
The tight end group has been underwhelming for the most part. There hasn’t been a true weak link as Granson, Mallory, Ogletree, Woods and Alie-Cox have all been fine, but no one has emerged as a bona fide #1 guy that can be trusted on a game to game basis.
Of the group, Granson has been the best performing one although he’s missed a few games with some injuries. Nevertheless, on top of always being a good receiver, he has now become a capable blocker. I’m not sure he could ever be a #1 tight end on a playoff team, but he is surely good enough to be a rotational #2.
The offensive line has been average/middle-of-the-pack in just about every stat category and based on the eye test, the group is fine. In my opinion, of the five main starters, none of them have been spectacular and none of them have been weak. Raimann has allowed the most pressures with 15, which out of 278 pass blocking snaps means he allows a pressure once every 18 passing plays or about 2 per game. It’s not great, but it’s definitely not bad.
Will Fries is just behind Raimann in terms of pressures allowed and allows a pressures once every 24 passing plays, or about 1.5 per game. Braden Smith is behind him with one pressure every 25 passing plays. Nelson is behind him, averaging 1 every 31 passing plays, followed by Kelly who allows one every 83 passing plays.
In terms of run blocking, Fries and Raimann have been fine, they struggle to do damage in space or at the second level, but their intial punch and get off is good. Kelly, Nelson and Smith have been the stronger ones in this area.
In my opinion, Ryan Kelly has been the best performing offensive lineman of the group and it’s been encouraging to see his return to high level play. He should be in the conversation with 4 or 5 other players for an All Pro spot.
The defensive line can be split into two groups: DeForest Buckner and everyone else. Without Buckner, this group is a C-. Buckner has single handedly carried this group and has made a bunch of monster plays. He might be playing the best football of his career, at least since he’s been with the Colts. Grover Stewart was also playing very well before his suspension and that has since affected the Colts.
In terms of their pass rushers, Ebukam has been a nice addition and while Odeyingbo and Paye have had some splash plays, no edge rusher has emerged as a game changer or a true every down impact player. This is concerning because the lack of pressure (especially on the edge) coupled with a weak secondary is the main reason why the Colts are the worst team in the NFL in terms of points allowed. This needs to change.
Zaire Franklin has emerged as the man of the group. There’s no ifs or buts. Darius Leonard has not been the same and the amount of impact plays he has made has gone significantly down. EJ Speed has proven to be a good complimentary linebacker and is more than capable of being the Robin to Batman (Zaire Franklin).
Franklin has hit a new level; not only is he consistently making nice tackles and many for losses, but he has added a spark and intensity to the defense, similar to that of Leonard in his early years. He is the leader of the group and the guy that many seem to feed off of. He still has a lot to clean up and while he is involved on what seems like every play, he does have to fix his tackling issue as his missed tackles percentage sits around 12%, which is high for a linebacker.
The group as a whole is average, but there are many things to be encouraged about.
The secondary is the worst in the NFL. There is no other way of putting it...
Matt Gay has been worth every penny so far this season, going as far as winning a game for the Colts (against Baltimore). He has shown tremendous strength in his leg, with good accuracy, as many of his kicks go down the middle with little movement and don’t seem to fade or hook too much.
Sanchez has been fine, no complaints.
Coverage and return teams have been also fine. No splash plays, but at least no splash plays allowed.
Shane Steichen gets a good grade so far. While I may not agree with the play calls in many key situations, he is showing good aggressiveness in key situations, which is what you want to see in the modern day NFL. There is not benefit to being conservative anymore.
His play designs are fantastic and innovative. You can see the offense is only in its infancy mode because many of the designs can easily be built upon and enhanced. It’s very exciting and encouraging to see its potential.
The defense is too rigid in their coverages and doesn’t blitz enough, which means they are too reliant on their front 4 to generate pressure and they just can’t. That puts a lot of pressure on the secondary to be sharp and they just aren’t. There are too many bad decisions, hesitations or busted coverages with no one to bail them out. When the secondary is weaker and inexperienced, the rush up front needs to be strong. The Giants have proven that blitzing at a high level with a below average secondary is a formula for success.
Steichan and the offense would get an A- and the defense gets more of a C-. The overall unity of the group is tough to measure since I’m not in the locker room so I will refrain from judging that from the outside.
Overall Grade: B-
If the average team is a B, then the Colts being just below the average team makes a lot of sense. They’ve beaten the Ravens, Titans, Texans and should’ve beaten the Browns, but lost to the Jaguars (twice), Rams and Saints, and the losses can be mainly attributed to poor play from 2 areas in those games. It’s not as if the Colts are bad across the board and are losing games, oftentimes in their good games there are many areas that are thriving. This team has potential.