2015 Indianapolis Colts Team Preview

Andrew Luck has the Colts on the brink, again.
Andrew Luck has the Colts on the brink, again.

Indianapolis Colts
Head Coach: Chuck Pagano
2014 Record: 11-5
Postseason: 26-10 W over Bengals in Wild card; 24-13 W over Broncos in Divisional; 45-7 L to Patriots in AFC Championship

Odds to win Division: -410
Odds to win Conference: +400
Odds to win Super Bowl: +950
Season Wins: Over 11 (-125); Under 11 (-105)
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The Indianapolis Colts are looking for a fourth straight AFC South division crown, but more importantly hoping to find its way to the Superbowl.  

The Indianapolis Colts have been on the cusp, but being on the cusp is hardly the goal.  And the ignominious acts that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots pulled became the disappointing theme of last season.

“We’d like to win at least two world championships,” owner Jim Irsay stated. The Colts certainly have the talent to make that a reality, and GM Ryan Grigson has constructed the team to be among the Superbowl favorites over the past three years.

The Colts have gone 11-5 for three years straight, and this year the focus has to be mostly on the postseason. Regular season success is hardly the measure by which great teams judge themselves, and the blowout handed to Indianapolis by New England in the AFC Championship continues to sting on a very real level.

It spawned memes, hate, and the title “Deflategate,” but we will stray from dwelling on a story that has already received immense coverage.  It was a pretty crappy ending to the season for Colts fans, needless to say.  Brady is now reviled by Colts fans, and it is pretty easy to understand—naturally, this source of angst may motivate the Colts just as much as it angers fans.  So, there’s that.

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All the controversy aside, the team is contending, and Grigson said he likes the high expectations. He’s possessing the knowledge that his team is on the brink undoubtedly contributes to embracing the “title or bust” theme.

The Colts made some valuable free agent additions of players that are ready to contribute right now, older veterans. Among those are RB Frank Gore and WR Andre Johnson, both of whom have some left in the tank to improve this team’s offense further still. The main attraction is, of course, Andrew Luck, but the Colts have made sure to put the supporting pieces around the prized QB to ensure his success, the Colts success.

Management has done its job, so now it’s up to Luck and Chuck Pagano to get the most out of a talented roster.

The offense is rightfully constructed around Luck’s game. He’s now made three Pro Bowls and certainly lived up to the hype that surrounded him coming into the NFL (Everyone remembers the “suck for Luck” theme surrounding his entry to the NFL). Most importantly, and overlooked, is that OC Pep Hamilton understand the value of giving Luck backfield options.

The ground attack has been mediocre (or bad, really) and ranked No. 22 in the NFL last season. Gore should alleviate some of that and generate yards for a team that averaged just barely over 100 yards per game on the ground.

Luck is now entering just his fourth NFL season, and he’s now truly beginning to enter his prime. He makes teammates better as a great QB does.

Last season, Luck threw for a career best and club-record 4,761 yards passing with an NFL best 40 TD passes. Even these gaudy numbers can get better still. Luck needs to accept there is a time to throw it away, and that will help him cut down his fumbles, not to mention some careless interceptions he incurred.

Luck had just nine INTs in 2013, but last season that figure was 16. Getting it back under 10 would only further solidify his spot as one of the NFL’s premier QBs. Few doubt Luck can keep this team contending.

Having a premier franchise QB pushes teams over the top, and the Colts continue to count its blessings in having a true franchise QB. He averaged 7.3 yards per attempt last season and wasn’t limited to throwing the ball; Luck pushed for first downs on the ground quite often.

If anything goes horribly awry injury-wise, the Colts have Matt Hasselbeck waiting in the wings, and even at age 39 he is still a good, competent option who could keep the team from spiraling out of contention should Luck have to sit for a while.

Trent Richardson was certainly a failure at RB. Win some, lose some. The Colts signed Gore to fix this issue, and Gore is all that Richardson was not: namely, consistent and durable. Though Gore is 32, he is still a great fix until the Colts land a younger, premier talent to develop. Gore rushed for 1,000 yards or more in eight of the last nine season and averaged 4.5 yards per attempt over his career while appearing in 148 games total.

Needless to say, Gore brings plenty of experience and will make good decisions with the ball in his hands. Even as good as Gore is, the Colts will give plenty of carries to Dan Herron, Vick Ballard and rookie Josh Robinson.  Both Robinson and Ballard officially made the roster now, per Indy Star (Aug 20).

Herron is very solid, and Ballard led the team in rushing his rookie season (2012, with 814 total yards). Ballard tore his ACL in his right knee in 2013 and tore his Achilles in 2014. Expecting him to bounce back to that 2012 production may seem something of a long shot, but he will have every chance to prove himself once again.

The Colts have wisely surrounded Luck with some good receivers. Though the Colts no longer have Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne locking down the WR positions, the team has some youthful brilliance that may be better still. T.Y. Hilton is a big play threat and is coming off back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, while also making his first Pro Bowl appearance last year.

Andre Johnson is about to turn 34, but the former Houston Texan should still be a very valuable contributor in Indy. Johnson has caught for 13,597 yards in 12 seasons and Luck is going to know how to get the most out of his still immense talents. Behind Hilton and Johnson, the Colts have a strong young cast of receivers waiting in the wings.

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The cupboard is stocked to transition and continue to bless Luck with the options he needs to air it out. For right now, however, the Colts are seeking to win and that means playing proven and productive veterans like Johnson and Gore.

On the OL the Colts turn to a shuffling unit that still should be pretty good. Anthony Castonzo has experience and is a great protector of Luck. Jack Mewhort is a good creator for the backs and a good pass protector too. Luck is not left unprotected by this line, but developing consistency and chemistry will prove its biggest issue. And it may not be much of one, at that.

Though there are questions to be resolved on the line, it has the stalwarts necessary to ensure Luck gets what he needs from it.

Defensively the Colts are just about average. It ranked No. 18 in rushing yardage allowed (113.4) and No. 12 in pass coverage (229.3). The DL has not been good at stopping the run and New England blasted it. The Patriots averaged 219 (!) yards per game in its three matchups versus Indy and though the run coverage has improved since 2012, it is still not really even passable.

DC Greg Manusky has his work cut out for himself with depth issues and a lot of players who really have to step it up. Among those is Robert Mathis who leads the Colts in career sacks but tore his Achilles in Sept.

Jonathan Newsome led the team in sacks as a rookie with 6.5. Mathis had 19.5 in 2013 and had 10-plus in five seasons. The Colts want that, again. The secondary features an outstanding CB in Vontae Davis and a very good S in Mike Adams, but there is still questions outside of that pair. Greg Toler and Dwight Lowery round out the starting secondary.

The special teams are an area the Colts excel in. Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee are about as good as it gets for placekicking and punting, respectively. Vinatieri is 42 years old but still deadly accurate and McAfee is a Pro Bowler in his own right—as is long snapper Matt Overton.

The return game is not as set, and the team will turn to one of its younger players to handle it. Josh Cribbs is gone, so the team will choose between the likes of Phillip Dorsett and D’Joun Smith.

Overall, it is Superbowl or bust for the Colts. There’s too much talent not to win the division, but division titles are hardly what premier players strive for in their careers. Indy is +400 to win the Superbowl at oddsmaker 5dimes, and the O/U is set at the mark the team has played at the last three years (11 wins).

We, too, expect the regular season to shake out much the same, while determining this team’s playoff fate is heavily dependent on whether Gore is able to rejuvenate the team’s ground game. Luck is enough to keep this team winning, but the postseason will be highlighted, in bold, and the main focus for ownership, coaches, players and fans.

Prediction: 11 wins

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