The title may seem puzzling to fans of the boys in blue and white after failing in so many levels to live up to all the preseason hype and predictions placed on them by many experts. After all, what could go wrong? For starters, their most important player, Andrew Luck, missed 9 games resulting from two different injuries after teams were able to knock him around like a pinball. Yes, the offensive line was bad even bad by normal Colts bad offensive line sub-standards. Even beyond that the offense never seemed to be operating as most expected, in fact, the offense looked quite dysfunctional much of the season. Then factor in a bad defense plagued by injuries and it becomes clear why this team failed to win the coveted AFC South crown as the team has been able to do most years with nary a problem. By now you may be asking yourself where is the optimism alluded to in the title? Let me make my case.
1. The team finished 8-8
Let that sink in. The team finished .500 with these guys: Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie “Clipboard Jesus” Whitehurst, Josh Freeman, and Ryan Lindley while Luck held a clipboard. Wow, that looks like a typical roster of QB’s that you’d find on some of the sad-sack teams of the NFL (Cleveland, you know I’m strongly implying you), but as Colts fans we’re not used to seeing that. In spite of all of this, these guys came in and gave the team a chance to win and possibly host a playoff game. Now comes the part where the team will decide who will back up Luck going into the 2016 season. The team seems deeper at the back up level and has the option to keep the aging Hasselbeck or go with one of the young guys listed above.
2. Offense-Change in Philosophy
The Colts started the 2015 campaign with an offensive identity that was supposed to be the re-incarnation of the “Greatest Show on Turf” or some pun on that. Pep Hamilton was solidly in charge as the team’s offensive coordinator and with his relationship dating back to Luck’s time in Stanford what could go wrong? For starters, the offense never seemed to click from the get go. Hamilton seemed to favor the stretch the ball down the field plays as opposed to the more controlled “West Coast Offense”. Maybe that was the problem from the get go? Hamilton never wanted to label the offense, but maybe that is what should have been done. Once Pep was let go Rob Chudzinski came in and corrected that idea and gravitated towards a more traditional West Coast Offense, getting the ball out quickly into a playmaker’s hands. Coach Chud was retained in the coaching purge this offseason and looks to build on the success his style showed once he took over.
3. The Draft
The Colts are drafting higher than they have in recent years with their first round pick at number 18 and they should be able to bring in someone that can help the team in one of the many different areas of need. Probably the biggest area of need comes on the offensive line, followed closely by defensive backs, and defensive pass rushing. The draft looks especially strong in all of these categories so depending upon who is available and the circumstances at the time the team should be able to bring in some young talent that can help. Grigson has done a spotty poor job drafting after the 2012 draft class and has done an especially poor job with the team’s higher round picks. Jim Irsay recently gave him a 4 year extension so expect an improvement in this area. Coach Pagano should have more input in drafting players and that could result in improvements, right?
4. The War is Over?
Going into the season reports surfaced regarding turmoil between the Grigson and Pagano and by season’s end the reports seemed to be confirmed as Pagano was reported to be let go once the final game was over. Well, we all know it didn’t play out that way and both men walked out of “Black Monday” with a fresh contract extension carrying them (now tied at the hip) to the 2019 season. By all accounts Irsay gave the men an ultimatum: Work together or look for employment elsewhere. It seemed the pair decided that opportunity is too good to throw away over petty differences. Now that there appears to be harmony I would expect this to carry over to the organization as a whole. Pagano has always done a great job controlling the locker room. If there was a divisive line because of the friction then it no longer exists.
5. It all Starts with Luck
Much has been made, and rightly so, concerning the protection of Andrew Luck. He needs to be on the field if the team is to arrive at the promised land. Last season Luck was hit, harassed, and just plain beat up way too much. This lead to many of the changes in the coaching staff. The status quo was no longer acceptable and the mission to protect Luck will hopefully become the focus this season. By the emphasis placed and restated recently by Irsay, it will happen or else pink slips will be handed out sooner rather than later. The team has some pieces to work with, but as stated previously the team will probably add help through the draft and if the right free agent is available I would expect Grigson to make the move. Luck is approaching a big contract and protecting the franchise will become even more important as he could become the highest paid player in the league.
This team is by no means an elite team, but they aren’t far away if a few pieces fall their way. Shoring up the line is priority number one and improving the defense is also a necessity. It also seems that the front office and the coaching staff are on the same page and now are both dependent on the other for success to translate to wins on the field. The Colts had a nightmare season but still managed to finish 8-8. It seems that the team is primed for explosion next season and hopefully the good type this time.