With no more football for a staggering seven months, it’s never too early to take a look at the future. With that in mind, we post our first look at the 2014 Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts continue to make baby steps with Andrew Luck and another championship run. They slightly overachieved this season, making the Divisional Round of the playoffs before being bounced by that team from New England.
The Colts beat both of the Super Bowl teams this season. At one point, they had a team that could have been in the upper echelon of the AFC and it wasn’t a stretch to think they might make a championship run.
Then the injuries started piling up. It started with the loss of Vick Ballard in practice (leading to that trade). He was quickly joined by starting right guard Donald Thomas and potential Pro Bowl tight end Dwayne Allen. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw was added a couple weeks later. Reggie Wayne was the next player to be ruled out for the year.
The Colts lost five starters. Yet they still managed to make the playoffs. It helps that the AFC South is a bit of a dumpster fire and the AFC in general is pretty weak.
Getting most of these players back will be a huge boost to the team, at least on offense. The other teams in the division are in rebuild mode and the Colts will likely take home another AFC South crown in 2014.
Things That Have to Happen
- Fix the Interior of the Offensive Line. Getting Thomas back from IR will help, as will a David Thornton entering his second season due to experience. What the Colts really need to do if find a long term option at center. One of the big reasons for the Colts of the 2000s success was having Jeff Saturday anchoring the line. He had a rapport with Peyton Manning that improved the protection even when the talent wasn’t that stellar. If the Colts want to feature a run heavy offense, then having better interior players is key.
- Improve the Defense. Like, all of it. Right now, the game plan is “hope Robert Mathis does something cool.” Top to bottom, this unit needs help.
- The Colts desperately need someone else to rush the passer. Mathis is outstanding, but we can’t count on him having another 19.5 sack season. Bjoern Werner is still a project, but should be better in year two. Erik Walden isn’t much of a pass rusher (or anything else). This isn’t something the Colts should look for in the draft, but there might be possibilities in free agency.
- The secondary needs a lot of work. The Colts appear to be building from the inside out (line, linebackers, then secondary) which is basically the opposite of say Seattle (which just did horrible things to the best offense in history). Vontae Davis is priority number one in terms of players to re-sign. Without him, perpetually injured Greg Toler is the best CB on the roster. The Colts also need to strongly consider re-signing Antoine Bethea. Without Bethea, all the Colts have is a shaky LaRon Landry at safety. That is a scary thought.
Things That Should Happen, but Might Not
- Re-sign Pat McAfee. This should be a no-brainer. He was rated as the third best punter in the NFL last season and is a pretty good tackler too. The fact that he does double duty as punter and on kickoffs should make the decision easier.
- Re-sign Adam Vinatieri? I’m torn on this issue. He’s 41, but last season showed that he can still drill 50+ yard field goals (2-for-3 from this range). Couple that with the fact that he wasn’t asked to do kickoffs, and it seems like a good idea to lock him up for another year.
We’ll take time to break down who the Colts should and shouldn’t resign, as well as who they need to cut, in the near future.
I’d take some time to preach a philosophical shift from the coaching staff. Something about how you should build a team to pass the ball and stop the pass. But that won’t solve anything. Luck has shown before that he can be dominant in run heavy offense (see: Stanford years).
What the Colts need to do is build a defense that can win games. Not something that might get a stop now and then. It needs to be able to dominate a game. The offense will be fine next season with all the returning players, but the other side of the ball is a real concern.
The Colts will be near the top of the AFC just by getting healthy and resigning a few key players. There is no reason to believe that the Colts can’t make a run at a Super Bowl berth in 2014.