State Of The Franchise will now focus on the AFC South and the focal point is a team that has new leadership in the front office, the Indianapolis Colts.
What best describes the Indianapolis Colts is a quote commonly used in the hip-hop music scene: “It was all good just a week ago”. Between the 2012-2014 seasons, the Colts went 11-5 each season along with a playoff berth. In those three consecutive seasons, the Colts suffered playoff losses in the Wild Card, Divisional, and Conference Championship rounds. Although they never made the Super Bowl, what was solidified was a sense that the Colts were a real player in the playoff picture.
That was until the behind the scenes friction overshadowed the on-field product. Former Colts general manager Ryan Grigson and current head coach Chuck Pagano were at odds over the past few seasons in the front office. Before you knew it, the disconnect made more headlines than Colts wins. Regardless how you view it, it distracted the team enough to contribute to back-to-back 8-8 seasons. With a new GM in Chris Ballard from Kansas City, the Colts appear to be in good hands. Here is the State Of The Franchise focus on the Indianapolis Colts.
Pagano is entering his sixth season in charge in Indianapolis and what has transpired is mixed reviews. The winning early on in his tenure was great, especially with his battle with leukemia, which he triumphantly overcame a few years back. Yet, he has taken his share of blows from the public. Some were warranted and others were not. Three straight seasons of playoff ball to kick off his tenure is nothing to frown at. In his pocket is a bright offensive coordinator in Rob Chudzinski, who has future head coach written on his forehead. A new defensive coordinator in Ted Monachino has his work cut out for him. He takes over a unit that was 30th in total defense, 29th in interceptions, 30th in run yards allowed per carry, and eight games of 26 or more points.
Everything surrounds around quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck collected three straight Pro Bowl seasons to open his career from 2012-2014 but has not been back since. Make no mistake, it has not been his fault. The franchise quarterback is coming off his third 4,000-yard season (4,240) of his five-year career along with 31 touchdown passes. What provides more value to his production is the fact that he has produced behind an average offensive line. The Colts allowed 44 sacks last season, fifth most in the league. They were also 23rd in the league in rushing behind the aging Frank Gore. Gore totaled 1,025 yards in 2016 but youth at the position will be a key mission before the start of the season.
The reliable T.Y. Hilton provides the explosiveness the passing game and the receiver led the team with 91 catches for 1,448 yards and six touchdowns. Both Philip Dorsett and Donte Moncrief help round out the corps and the two combined for 63 catches and nine touchdowns this past season also. Again, everything centers around Luck on the offense. Pagano knows it, as well as Ballard. We as the general public notices it as well. Whatever success the Colts stumble across, it will be as a result of an offensive line that needs improvement and a rusher who can eventually take the mantle from Gore.
While they Colts were active in free agency on this side of the ball, talent is greatly needed at all three levels. Bringing in Jabaal Sheard, Sean Spence, and Barkevious Mingo in via free agency to help the linebacking corps is a nice start. Having a solid corner in Vontae Davis is also a luxury. The progress of starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison is also vital. The team’s top two tacklers and leading sack master are no longer a part of the operations so leadership is needed significantly. The draft will be a considerable source for a talent upgrade. Most of the pressure is mounted on Sheard, Morrison, Spence, and fellow newcomer, John Simon. If there is little to build off of between those set of players, it may be a long season for Monachino and the Colts.
The playoff seasons are in a distance thanks to the lack of trust and cohesion in the front office. Ballard is a great young mind who will be a probable upgrade over Grigson. Patience is needed with the Colts. Simply because their roster has too many flaws that can be fixed in one offseason.
With Luck under center, their odds are always in play. A young, athletic receiving corps makes things a lot easier for the franchise quarterback. What can also help is improvement on defense. Getting skill and consistency from the offensive line is equally important. A drastic improvement should not be expected over night. However, improvement should be seen regardless.
Pagano can’t live off of making the playoffs early in his tenure. The past two seasons have cranked up the pressure meter for Pagano and with a hands-on owner in Jim Irsay, a lack of production puts him on a flaming hot seat. In their favor is a winnable division in the AFC South. Making the playoffs is not 100% out of the question. On the other hand, neither is suffering another losing season under Pagano.