In 2013, the Indianapolis Colts fielded an offense that was merely average in the NFL. Despite having one of the most dynamic up and coming young quarterbacks in the league, the Colts failed to realize the full potential of their offense.
One of the big problems was a lack of weapons on the field. No Reggie Wayne, no Dwayne Allen, a useless wide receiver in Darrius Heyward-Bey, and an insistence on Trent Richardson as the primary running back severely limited this team’s production.
For some reason, coach Chuck Pagano and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton insist on not only running the ball first, but also on running it out of predictable sets. They have a philosophy that is rooted in 1970′s NFL. But, as Pagano has said repeatedly, that won’t change as long as he is the head coach.
The Colts are set to have a stable of running backs with a ton of question marks. Richardson is a huge disappointment while Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw are both returning from season ending injuries. Couple that with a lack of a starting center and the power run game Pagano wants isn’t too appealing.
Also troubling is the coaching staff’s reliance on fullback Stanley Havili. While the run game generally appeared to be better with him on the field, advance stats gave him a very negative rating at the end of the season and his run blocking numbers (-6.8 per Pro Football Focus) are appalling. Equally annoying is the insistence on getting Havili involved in the passing game, when you have so many better options.
That means this team’s strengths lie with the passing game, as they always have. It wasn’t the rushing attack that keyed off the comeback against the Chiefs, it was big passing plays and Andrew Luck heroics.
The Colts are going to have an improved T.Y. Hilton, a well healed Reggie Wayne, and newly acquired Hakeem Nicks at wide receiver. Nicks is a vast improvement over Heyward-Bey. Nicks managed to finish the season with a positive rating, despite recording no touchdowns, in a terrible Giants offense where Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions.
The Colts now have three receivers who all finished with a positive rating last season and give the team more options down field. Couple that with the return of Allen from his hip injury and an improved Coby Fleener, and it would be surprising if the Colts ran the ball at all.
That list of receiving threats doesn’t even include the likes of Da’Rick Rogers, LaVon Brazill, or Griff Whalen. Not all of them will make the final roster, but all three made big plays for the Colts in 2013 and will make for an interesting training camp fight for the fourth spot.
The Colts need to operate out of a spread offensive set which will highlight the team’s passing abilities while also allowing the team to run the ball. Indy was far more effective running out of a spread set and someone reviewing film has to acknowledge that fact.
The schedule also is fairly forgiving to the Colts. While these ratings are all based on last season’s team’s, many of their opponents will either be marginally better or worse in 2014. All ratings are based on defensive DVOA from Football Outsiders.
The Colts have six divisional games. The Houston Texans finished with the best defense in the AFC South and still ranked just 18th in the NFL. However, everything with the Texans is changing and their rankings from 2013 are rendered moot if they draft Jadeveon Clowney. Honestly, the thought of Clowney and J.J. Watt chasing down Luck is terrifying.
The Tennessee Titans were third in the division, but 22nd overall in the league. The Jacksonville Jaguars were of course last and 28th in defensive DVOA in the NFL. In all honesty, the Colts should have six wins with fairly big offensive games against these three opponents.
The Colts also face the AFC North this season. This division featured two of the best defensive team’s in the league in the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens. The Bengals ranked fifth, and will likely be pretty high up there once again. The Ravens were seventh and have a defense that seems to be improving with more experience.
The Pittsburgh Steelers finished 19th in the NFL, but still have an excellent coach (until the final minutes of the game). Cleveland, which should have a solid defense on paper, ranked just 24th in the NFL.
The NFC East features some of the worst defenses in the NFL. The exception being the Giants who had the sixth ranked defense per DVOA. The Washington Redskins were 21st, the Philadelphia Eagles 23rd (and horrible against the pass), and the Dallas Cowboys checked in at 30th.
The Colts also face the New England Patriots, 20th, and the Denver Broncos, 15th.
After looking at the opponents, the Colts face just three teams who ranked in the top 10 in the league defensively, and just one more team that ranks in the top half of the NFL.
With the combination of new and healthy weapons for Andrew Luck and the fairly easy schedule, the Colts should be able to put up a lot of points. This won’t be the 2013 Broncos, but Indianapolis will have one of the prolific scoring offenses in the NFL.