Not much was expected from the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.
They released future Hall of Fame (and leading MVP candidate) Peyton Manning following a spate of neck injuries and surgeries. Along with him were released several key veterans and fan favorites: MLB Gary Brackett, TE Dallas Clark, RB Joseph Addai, and WR Anthony Gonzalez, among others. The coaching staff and front office personnel were gutted and completely re-tooled and their offensive and defensive schemes were switched. . Then their head coach is diagnosed with leukemia. And their roster consisted of mainly cast-offs and rookies, with very little veteran presence (WR Reggie Wayne and OLBs Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney being the main exceptions). And at the top of the list was the fact that the team would be led by a rookie first round quarterback.
Add it up together and you had what most people thought be a second consecutive lost season.
Funny how things turn out in the NFL, isn’t it? Here the Colts sit with a 5-3 record, 2nd in the AFC South, holding down the 5th seed in the (very early) with Luck getting most of the Offensive Rookie of the Year buzz. But the team isn’t without issues. Let’s take a look at each area and see how they grade out.
Overall Achievement: B
Based on what I just mentioned at the top of this post you’d probably guess this was a little higher. 5-3 is a pretty good record given what the Colts have to work with talent wise, and are one 80-yard bomb from being 6-2. But of the teams the Colts have beaten, only two have a winning record – Minnesota and Green Bay. And Minnesota has been tanking hard the last couple of weeks. The Colts defense has been as suspect all year as they have in past seasons, and injuries have hurt the ability to develop team chemistry and consistency, though that appears to be on the upswing a bit. The Colts still have some tough games to play, but so far things have looked better than we could have hoped.
Offense – Passing: B
Before anyone jumps me about this, let me be clear. This is not based solely on Andrew Luck’s performance (see my Luck-Manning comparisons for that). If it were, this could easily be an A, maybe even an A+. But Luck can’t do everything himself. His receivers have had a major case of the dropsies all season, and the pass protection has been poor. If it weren’t for Luck’s ability to move in (and out of) the pocket, the sack total would be much higher than the current 19 they’ve surrendered already. Even with that mobility, Luck is still getting hit far too many times for comfort. If the offensive line can play consistently better, and the receivers continue to catch the ball better, the 6th ranked pass offense should improve even more.
Offense – Running: C-
This Colts finish the mid-season point ranked 19th in the league in total yards on the ground, averaging 105.9. They also rank 15th in scoring touchdowns, and have logged in 4 games with at least 119 yards. So why the C-? They also have two games under 70, and of the teams 5 rushing scores, 3 of them have come from their quarterback. Donald Brown and Vick Ballard (and, to some extent, Delone Carter) have big run abilities, but they are underutilized either due to poor blocking, poor vision, or a combination of both. With Luck throwing the kind of numbers he is right now in the passing game, the opposition will focus more on that aspect of the game, which should give the Indy running backs more opportunities in the second half.
Defense – Passing: D
Don’t be fooled by the #11 rank the Colts have in passing yardage this season. They are ranked that high only because of the porous run defense (more on that in a minute). Despite that yardage number, the Colts rank 21st in passing touchdowns allowed (14), are 18th in sacking the opposing quarterback (17), and rank dead last in interceptions (2) – one of which was by a linebacker in the first game of the season. The unit has been hurt by injuries – Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney, Jerraud Powers, and Vontae Davis have all missed significant time on the field, leaving the well of inexperience behind these guys exposed.
Defense – Running: D-
Defending the run has long been the bane of Indy’s defensive existence. 2012 is no different, though some thought the change to a hybrid 3-4/4-3 form a cover 2 might help in this area. The bottom line is the Colts are still undersized. Mathis and Freeney, while fantastic pass rushers, are often so fast they pass by the running back before a tackle can be made. ILB Pat Angerer, who led the division in tackles last year, has only recently returned from injury, and 5th round draft pick Josh Chapman is only recently returning to practice following an ACL tear suffered in his senior year at Alabama. The one bright spot of the run defense has been the play of free-agent Jerrell Freeman.
Special Teams: C+
Punter Pat McAfee has been stellar, averaging 48.1 yards per punt, with a long of 64. He also has had 10 of the punts land inside of the 20, and has performed admirably in kick-off duties. The one black mark is Adam Vinatieri’s performance. At his current clip, Vinny is converting on just 72.7% (16 of 22) of his field goal attempts, the worst in his storied career. What Tony Dungy once referred to as “money in the bank” is now surrounded by a cloud of uncertainty as Colts fans are no confident that he can make the big kicks.
Guiding a young team with low expectations to a 5-3 record and a possible playoff spot is impressive in and of itself. When you are doing that as an interim head coach, it makes it all the more special. Kudos to Bruce Arians for achieving what most thought to be impossible through the first 8 weeks.
Mid Season Awards
Offensive MVP – If there was any question that this would be Andrew Luck then you just need to pack up and go home. The only other case for this would be Luck’s favorite target, the amazing Reggie Wayne. But Luck’s impact on the game far exceeds that Reggie’s so he easily takes the top spot.
Defensive MVP – This would be a case of throwing a dart with your eyes closed and see what name you hit. There really hasn’t been one outstanding defensive player, as is evidenced by the grades I gave the entire unit. But, if I had to pick one right now, I’d have to go with Jerrell Freeman. He’s done a decent job in relief at linebacker for Pat Angerer.
Best Game – Green Bay (week 5) – This was a game many, including myself, figured the Colts would lose, and lose big. It was the first game the team played after learning of Chuck Pagano’s cancer, and the first game without him at the helm. The team played inspired football in the second half, overcoming a 21-3 Green Bay lead to win it 30-27 on a Luck-to-Wayne touchdown with 35 seconds left.
Worst Game – New York Jets (week 6) – A 35-9 beat down that followed the Green Bay game, absolutely no part of the Colts looked good in this game. They couldn’t run the ball, Luck turned the ball over three times, and the defense couldn’t stop Shonne Green, who had a monster game. This loss though may have helped spur the team on to its current three game win streak.
The next 8 weeks will be interesting for Colts fans to watch. This team has a damn good shot at winning at least 4 more games against Jacksonville, Tennessee, Buffalo, and Kansas City, and perhaps even the struggling Detroit Lions. Tougher match-ups against New England (flexed to a 4:25 start by the league earlier this week) and two games against the 7-1 Houston Texans should really tell us how close this team is to real contention in the AFC.
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