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With Shane Steichen, Anthony Richardson in place, Colts find needed sense of direction

The Indianapolis Colts have found their head coach, and they believe they’ve found their quarterback of the future in Anthony Richardson, too.

Indianapolis Colts v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

A 9-8 finish to the 2023 season has the Indianapolis Colts believing again. For the first time in several seasons, their organization has found a much-needed sense of direction.

It starts with rookie head coach Shane Steichen, who, despite dealing with a number of injuries to key players, like rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson and running back Jonathan Taylor, managed to help Indianapolis finish 11th in total scoring offense and find new and creative ways to tailor his style of play calling by incorporating as many players as possible.

Injuries caused both Taylor and Richardson to miss time this season, with Richardson missing one game due to a concussion he sustained in Week 2 against the Houston Texans and suffering a season-ending AC joint injury in Week 5 against the Tennessee Titans. Taylor battled an ankle injury that caused him to miss the first four games of the season along with a thumb injury that kept him out for three more games for a total of seven.

Taylor and Richardson managed to play just a single snap together, while running back Zack Moss and quarterback Gardner Minshew were tasked with filling in for both players at points during the regular season. Several key offensive linemen, including left tackle Bernhard Raimann, center Ryan Kelly and right tackle Braden Smith, also missed time at points during the season. So, too, did impressive rookie wide receiver Josh Downs and go-to wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.

Yet, the Colts kept finding ways to remain in the thick of the AFC playoff race, despite a 3-5 start and with Steichen being the driving force behind quite the turnaround from just a season ago.

Let’s remember exactly where the Colts were just one season ago. The team was 4-12-1 and coming off perhaps one of the organizations worst seasons in quite some time, which saw former head coach Frank Reich fired after an underwhelming showing in Foxborough against the New England Patriots, the first in the franchise's history to be let go in-season. Indianapolis finished its 2022 season with interim head coach Jeff Saturday, which only followed with several more losses, including surrendering the greatest regular-season comeback in NFL history to the Minnesota Vikings, a game at one point where Indianapolis led 33-0 and eventually lost in overtime, 39-36.

The franchise had gone through a multitude of changes at quarterback in the years following Andrew Luck’s retirement, which included veterans Jacoby Brissett (2019) Philip Rivers (2020), Carson Wentz (2021) and Matt Ryan (2022). It wasn’t until during the 2022 season where everything had come to a halt. Their processes over time, in part, had failed them, and the Colts as a franchise had no true sense of direction.

That is, until Steichen and Richardson came along. Steichen had arrived following a close 38-35 loss in Super Bowl 57 to the Kansas City Chiefs. From the very start, the former Eagles’ offensive coordinator was “dialed in,” as Colts’ general manager Chris Ballard would say of his first-year head coach. It didn’t take long for people around the NFL to start taking notice, too.

“Dialed in. Always dialed in. All ball...There’s never a lack of confidence or a seed of doubt in what he’s doing. And he sees the big picture,” Ballard said during his season-ending press conference on Thursday. “He’s a tremendous problem-solver, and he’s extremely demanding, not only of players but also of staff, of all of us.”

The same can be said of rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson, who was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Despite many believing he was more of a project coming out of the University of Florida, the 21-year-old quarterback showed immediate promise with his dual-threat abilities while simultaneously showing growth as a passer.

Early returns on Richardson were very promising, with the rookie signal-caller, in just under 200 offensive snaps, scoring seven total touchdowns (three passing, four rushing) and throwing for 577 yards with only three turnovers (one interception, two fumbles).

Ballard noted the promising abilities of his young quarterback but also made sure to mention that Richardson still had work to do to get back healthy and make room for improvement.

“We’re encouraged about what we saw. Don’t stamp him yet. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and he’s got a lot of work to do. But it’s encouraging,” Ballard said. “He will work and he’s very gifted. This guy’s a legitimate passer, and I believe that. I think he’s going to continue to get better and improve the more he plays. Anthony can play from the pocket and throw the ball accurately.”

Indianapolis will have work to do this offseason, no doubt. But they’ve got several legitimate weapons on offense. As a rookie, Josh Downs set a franchise record with 66 receptions, surpassing both Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison and Bill Brooks. Michael Pittman Jr., who’s set to be a free-agent this offseason, had his best season as a pro. Pittman Jr. set career-highs in several categories, including receptions (109) and receiving yards (1,152) while scoring four touchdowns. Jonathan Taylor, meanwhile, returned to his old self for much of the season, too, as he recorded 741 rushing yards on 169 carries (4.4 per attempt) and seven rushing touchdowns.

Defensively, there’s a lot to like about what the Colts have as well. Defensive ends Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo took massive leaps in 2023, both setting career-highs in sacks with 8.5 and 8.0, respectively. Free safety Julian Blackmon, set to also be a free-agent this offseason, set a career-high in interceptions with four to go along with 65 solo tackles and eight pass deflections. Linebackers Zaire Franklin and E.J. Speed were also critical in the Colts’ defensive successes of the season, with Franklin breaking his own franchise record for tackles recorded in a single season with 179. These are just a few of the ascending pieces Indianapolis’ defense could have to offer in 2024.

Indianapolis also reestablished themselves upfront along the offensive line, with guard Quenton Nelson making his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl and center Ryan Kelly and right tackle Braden Smith having bounce back years. Left tackle Bernhard Raimann took major strides in Year 2 toward becoming the Colts’ left tackle of the future, a pivotal piece for Richardson’s development going forward.

Their roster is still very young, no doubt. One of the NFL’s youngest, to be exact. But that didn’t stop the Colts from overachieving this season.

Under one of the league’s best offensive minds in Steichen and with a promising young quarterback in place in Richardson, for the first time in a long time, the Colts have a newfound sense of hope and a direction where they feel they can build on the successes from the 2023 season. Their efforts start with the offseason ahead as the organization works toward the expectation of competing for an AFC South division title moving forward.

“We should legitimately be competing for the division and playoffs,” Ballard said. “That’s our expectation. That’s really our expectation every year, but I think that is really possible here going forward.”