8-8

The Indianapolis .500: (Almost) Midseason Review

This post is a follow up to The Indianapolis .500: A Colts Guide to the Unexpected, which has now turned into a miniseries.

Eight weeks in and the Colts are ahead of schedule for my somewhat ambitious preseason prediction. While the Jaguars and Jets games went much worse than expected, the Colts were able to win close games against the Packers (!), Vikings, Titans and Browns to deliver them to four wins. Obviously, winning close games is an important part to success in the league, and even if a 4-1 record in games decided by less than 7 points is probably unsustainable, there is serious reason for optimism. Andrew Luck has been better than advertised, which is incredible in itself, and frankly that is 80% of the reason the Colts are where they are. The offense as a whole has been very average. The running game has, at times, been a bright spot against putrid run defenses (vs CLE, @TEN in OT) but that is more than you could say last year. Cassius Vaughn has been a revelation as the nickel corner too and is just one of a handful of guys who have been really impressive.

Now before you get excited about the Colts being good again, let me make something very clear. The Colts are still a pretty bad football team. DVOA hates them. They are 4-1 in close games, which is likely unsustainable, and I mean, if you have watched this team at all this year, you know they are unbelievably flawed and full of holes. All of that is ok and expected when only being able to work with 60% of the salary cap and coming off a 2-14 year, but it is a fact we have to account for going forward. The schedule is pretty easy going forward and that is good news, but don’t think for a second that the Colts have arrived. They are a terrible team with a phenomenal player at the most important position on the field. Sometimes that is enough to get you to .500.

Game-by-Game

Week 1- Colts 21, Bears 41

No shame in this. The Bears are fantastic, we played them week 1, and they have all the things that expose the Colts as subpar. Tall, talented receiver, all-around back, devastating defense. To be honest, the score should have been more lopsided.

Week 2- Vikings 20, Colts 23

A somewhat impressive and telling win looking back on it. The Vikings shot themselves in the foot repeatedly in this game and probably should have ripped the Colts to shreds, but only half the Vikings offense was working (Harvin), as Peterson was controlled. The last Vikings TD was fairly lucky and made the game seem closer, but it didn’t end up mattering as Luck once again owned the last two minutes and set up Vinatieri for the game-winner.

Week 3- Jaguars 22, Colts 17

The Colts outplayed the Jaguars in this game but allowed two huge gains, one to Maurice Jones-Drew and the other to Cecil Shorts, and it lost them the game. Oh yeah, Captain Clutch missed a key field goal too. It is a game the Colts will regret losing but is frankly one of those games that is just a coin flip. Games like these are to be expected with a young team and a coaching staff that likely doesn’t have the entirety of its offense or defense installed. There will be at least one more game like this where you just shake your head.

Week 4- Bye

Week 5- Packers 27, Colts 30

An emotional win and unless the Colts beat the Patriots (unlikely), the win of their season. #Chuckstrong was born and while this close game also swung the Colts way, I think we can safely call this game an outlier due to the emotion and digging out of a huge hole after the Packers offense totally imploded in the second half. This game also may mark the best game of Reggie Wayne’s outstanding career.

Week 6- Colts 9, Jets 35

These games are going to happen, you just wish they wouldn’t happen against a very mediocre team like the Jets. Luck was bad, nothing went well for the Colts and the Jets just ran all over their sorry asses. This happens to young teams. It doesn’t happen to legitimate playoff teams. The worst the Colts have played all season.

Week 7- Browns 13, Colts 17

Josh Gordon dropped the game-winning TD and the Colts get the win in a game best-remembered for how few possessions there were, especially in the first half. Look, Cleveland isn’t terrible but if you need any convincing at all that the Colts are a pretty fluky 4-3, this is the game. Trent Richardson even got pulled halfway through the first half! It was not pretty, but it was a win. That counts for something, but not for everything.

Week 8- Colts 19, Titans 13 (OT)

The Colts were truly horrendous in this game. The defense was ok, despite some favorable Offensive PI calls, but the offense was just trash for much of the game. Add in the blown fumble call at the end and it is a minor miracle the Colts beat the truly shitty Titans.  In overtime, the Colts ripped the Titans apart like they should have all game and won. Luck had at least two interceptions straight up dropped and there is just not a ton positive to say about this game. The road struggles are pretty characteristic of a young team, but concerning nonetheless.

 

I think just looking that over tells you that the Colts aren’t particularly good, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get to 8-8 without too much trouble. TV pundits are going to start screaming about how good the Colts are, especially after Luck carves up a terrible New England secondary in what will likely be a 41-34 loss (or something), but you know better.

Ironically, the thing that isn’t getting brought up nearly enough is how good Andrew Luck has been. There are a few whispers starting about his great QBR, how well he throws on the run (out of necessity), and his completion percentage downfield, but most of the talk is about that commercialized whore in Washington. Nothing against him personally, just sick of hearing about him. Just for a second, try to imagine where this team is with a replacement-level QB. We can argue about who that would be, but pick any of Josh Freeman, recent Philip Rivers, and Carson Palmer. If ANY of those guys is the QB, this team is at the bottom of the AFC South.

Another little exercise: here’s a list of QBs without including Luck. Where do you put him?

  1. Tom Brady
  2. Aaron Rodgers
  3. Eli Manning
  4. Matt Ryan
  5. Ben Roethlisberger
  6. Peyton Manning
  7. Drew Brees
  8. Jay Culter
  9. Matthew Stafford
  10. Matt Schaub
  11. Tony Romo
  12. Joe Flacco
  13. Robert Griffin III

It is a rough list, don’t spend too much time quarreling over the order of the top 5 or anything. Where do you put Luck in this RIGHT NOW and not projecting potential or a few years down the road? I put him just a touch behind Jay Cutler in 9th. If we’re projecting down the road, I put him even with Eli, maybe even on Rodgers level. Think about that for a second. Andrew Luck is 80% of the reason the Colts are competitive this year, and I really don’t think that is an exaggeration. Think about the Colts offense in abstract terms. You have one very good WR that teams will focus on almost exclusively. You have a couple of promising rookie TEs that are decent but not great yet. You have no running game to speak of against 75% of the league. Is this a recipe for success for any QB? No! that is a disaster waiting to happen! When Cromartie mostly took Wayne out of the game, we saw what happens. The Browns had the capacity to do it took with Joe Haden. Yet Luck has been incredible almost all year. Yes, the Jets game was rough, and he didn’t look particularly good against the Titans either, but what he is doing is astounding. His command of Bruce Arians offense is sublime and the reason the Colts are anywhere near .500. I sometimes object to judging a QB on his performance in the last two minutes since it is often against a soft shell defense. It shows how well he knows the offense but with mitigating factors. Nonetheless, Luck has lead the Colts to 34 points in the last two minutes of quarters this year, not to mention at least a few missed FGs in those stretches. That accounts for 25% of all Colts points this season. Four minutes of a 60 minute game contain 25% of the Colts points.

I’m not sure if that is a good sign since Luck kills it in high-leverage situations, or a bad sign that the Colts can’t score for so much of their games, but once the rest of the team gets the offense down, a no-huddle attack with Luck will likely be deadly. I think anyone who has watched the Colts this year knows how good Luck has been, so I will stop praising him for now and let his play do the talking. He is without a doubt the Rookie of the Year.

The other guy I want to go out of my way to praise is Cassius Vaughn. When I wrote my Colts preview, I was extremely concerned about a secondary that had not yet added Vontae Davis. With Davis the Colts are pretty solid against 2 WR looks, but with the league emphasis on passing and the rise of more and more 3 WR looks, a nickel corner that can tackle and cover is huge. The Colts had nothing of the sort entering the season. Enter Vaughn who has been a revelation and has helped shore up a Colts defense that needed lots of help through the air. Unsurprisingly, there aren’t any clips of his coverage on YouTube. But take my word for it or watch him any week and he is probably already better than Jerraud Powers. He needs more seasoning before he can step up to that slot, but I would bet slot receivers are far below their average production vs the Colts. This has been a big development for a Colts secondary in need of a few pieces.

Looking Forward

Week 9 vs Miami (Prediction: L)

This is almost definitely a loss. Miami is really balanced, really good on defense and just a better team than the Colts.

Week 10 @ Jacksonville (on a Thursday) (Prediction: 50-50)

Who knows with these Thursday games. If Jones-Drew misses the game then the Colts should win it, but it is also a road game on a Thursday. Toss up.

Week 11 @ New England (Prediction: L)

Too much passing and too much talent to lose to the Colts despite a very shaky secondary.

Week 12 vs Buffalo (Prediction: W)

The Bills are bad and it is in Indy. Chan Gailey is one of many coaches who should be preparing for unemployment.

Week 13 @ Detroit (Prediction: 50-50 but expecting a L)

This is one of those games that looks winnable, but the Colts have no answer to Calvin Johnson or Titus Young and it is in Detroit. It is a winnable game but I would be very surprised if the Colts won.

Week 14 vs Tennessee (Prediction: W)

The Titans are really bad and you’d hope that the Colts stuck it to them in this game after their poor showing.

Week 15 @ Houston (Prediction: L probably but let’s file it under unlikely toss-up)

The Texans should have the division wrapped up at this point, but somehow doubt they will be resting starters at Week 15. Expecting a loss in Houston, though perhaps a close one since the work load on Arian Foster will likely be relieved and I have no fear whatsoever of the Texans passing game..

Week 16 @ KC (Prediction: W)

Honestly, even though it is in Kansas City, if you can’t beat the Chiefs you are terrible. They haven’t held a lead this year (only win in OT). This is a win or a huge embarrassment.

Week 17 vs Houston (prediction: W)

Yup, the rested starters at last and the Colts get a free W.

Results: 3 almost definite wins, one toss up, and two unlikely toss ups.

Find a way to win one of those three and the Colts are .500. Win two of three and have an outside shot at a playoff game in Pittsburgh or Denver (can you imagine the publicity for that?). Win all three and… well you can’t win all three because the division likely isn’t locked up for the Texans if the Colts can get to 10-6, but if somehow the Colts won all three of those games, that is 10-6 and a season that is too good to be true. Literally. It would be a fluke. But stranger things have happened. I think they only win one of those three toss ups, but I could be wrong. The Indianapolis .500 rolls on and looks 10x more possible today than it did weeks ago. For that, I’ll give myself a big pat on the back.

AFC Playoff teams: New England, Houston, Denver, Pittsburgh (unless Baltimore turns it around fast), Miami (WC), ????? (WC)

That last one is wiiiiiiide open. The fact that I have Miami as the other playoff team should make that pretty clear.

NFC Playoff Picture: Atlanta, SF, Chicago, NYG, Green Bay, Minnesota/Seattle

That is one hell of a conference. Just the fact that we could have two genuine Super Bowl contenders playing in the Wild Card round (Chicago v GB or NYG v GB) tells you all you need to know.

Premature NFL Draft Thoughts

There are a lot of needs on this team, but most notably they are Nose Tackle, Wide Receiver, the offensive line, and Strong Safety. If available (and he likely won’t be), Star Lotuleilei (DT, Utah) would be incredibly. John Jenkins from Georgia would be similarly outstanding. The Colts will likely address either WR or OL in Free Agency, but not both. If Ace Sanders (WR, South Carolina) declares, I could see the Colts taking him as a punt returner and potential Mike Wallace type to go with Wayne. They COULD go for a safety in the first round like Eric Reid (LSU) but I would be surprised if they didn’t address the lines first.

Thanks for reading. There will also be a postseason recap post and MAYBE a postseason post.

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