The Colts did an amazing job going from 2 wins in 2011 to 11 in 2012, the 2nd biggest turnaround in NFL history. Even more impressive, they did it in the face of, as Chuck Pagano would call it, “circumstances,” as Head Coach Pagano had to leave 3 games into the season after being diagnosed with leukemia. “ChuckStrong” became a rallying cry for this team, which went 9-3 in their next 12 games under interim Head Coach Bruce Arians, giving Pagano back a 10-5 team when he returned late in December after being declared cancer free. They closed out the season with an emotional home win over division rival Houston.
However, the Colts didn’t really play as well as their 11-5 record would have suggested. They were the worst rated DVOA team (25th) to ever win 11 games. They won just 3 games against .500 or better teams and only two games by more than a touchdown. They had 4 losses by double digits and finished in the bottom half of the NFL in points per game and points allowed per game, ranking 18th and 21st respectively. Once they got to the playoffs, it was clear they couldn’t hang with the big boys in a 24-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
If the Colts were to play as well next year as they played this year, they’d probably win around 7 games. Their schedule will get tougher and while their 9-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less is impressive, that tends to even out to .500 in the long run. Besides, when you realize that most of those close wins came against the likes of Tennessee, Kansas City, Detroit, and Buffalo, it’s not so impressive.
The good news for the Colts is that they are young and clearly well managed so there’s no reason to believe they can’t play better next season than they did this year. That may not reflect itself in the win/loss record and I don’t know if I’ll pick them to make the playoffs again next year, but they have a bright future. This off-season will be all about adding more talent to this roster and building around Andrew Luck.
The Colts’ biggest weakness was exposed in their post-season loss to the Ravens. The Colts’ offensive line was terrible all year and the Ravens were able to pressure Luck on seemingly every drop back, making it impossible for him to get anything done downfield. They ranked dead last overall in pass block efficiency. Luck was actually one of the best in the league at avoiding sacks, only taking a sack on 14.9% of pressured drop backs, but they need to get him some help at upfront.
The biggest problem was at guard. They struggled for consistency there all year as four different guys, Mike McGlynn, Jeff Linkenbach, Joe Reitz, and Seth Olsen, saw significant action there. Every single one of those four was awful, which isn’t a surprise considering none of them are proven starters. They really need help at this spot.
The Colts’ trade for Vontae Davis didn’t work out, one of the only missteps for this new regime last off-season. He couldn’t stay healthy and they ranked 23rd against the pass this year. He’ll be a free agent next off-season. Cassius Vaughn, Jerraud Powers, and Darius Butler played significant snaps, as well, this season, but only Butler played well and he’s a free agent this off-season. Powers is also a free agent and Vaughn, their worst cornerback, will be a free agent next off-season. Like guard, this is somewhere where they are currently using replacement level talents and need to bring in some blue chip talent.
Antonio Johnson really looked out of position playing the 3-4 nose this season. He struggled in all facets of the game and graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 80th ranked defensive tackle out of 85 eligible. There’s a reason the Colts ranked 31st against the run. A free agent this off-season, the Colts should take this opportunity to bring in a true nose tackle, something they were unable to do last off-season, when converting to this new 3-4 scheme.
They also used replacement level talent here. Antoine Bethea is a former Pro-Bowler and not a replacement level talent, but he struggled this year, as did journeyman Tom Zbikowsi. Joe Legefed looked alright in limited action, so maybe they’ll give him a shot. Bethea will probably get another shot, because they don’t have another choice, but he’ll be a free agent next off-season. They should add another young player in the mix.
Left tackle Anthony Costanzo was their best offensive lineman and right tackle Winston Justice wasn’t as bad as their interior linemen, but after a strong start to the season, the journeyman replacement level talent started to show his true colors. They might be okay with him there another season, but they might not be. They should look to at least bring in competition.
I don’t know if it was injuries, or age (33 in February), or that he was a poor fit in the new 3-4 scheme, but Dwight Freeney really didn’t play well by his standards this year. He’s a free agent this off-season and they can’t really count on him long term and he’d probably be best off somewhere where he could play in the 4-3 scheme he’s been dominant in throughout his career. If he leaves, Jerry Hughes, a former 1st round pick, is an obvious candidate to replace him, but he’s been inconsistent at best in his career. Meanwhile, on the other side of the formation, Robert Mathis is heading into his age 32 season.
3-4 Defensive End
Yeah, I’m going to use that term again, replacement level talent. It’s remarkable that the Colts were able to have this kind of success this season considering the previous regime hadn’t drafted a Pro-Bowler since 2006. They used a bunch of different replacement level talent guys at this position this year and only Drake Nevis, a 2011 3rd round pick, was even decent. Again, they ranked 31st against the run. Cory Redding was a free agent acquisition from Baltimore, where Pagano was once defensive coordinator, but he didn’t play as well as he normally does. His age, 33 this November, probably has something to do with that.
TY Hilton and LaVon Brazill were quite the finds in the 3rd and 6th round respectively last year. However, veteran Donnie Avery is a free agent, as is the injury prone Austin Collie, while #1 receiver Reggie Wayne is heading into his age 35 season. He’s coming off a fantastic year, but even the average top-20 receiver (all-time) has his final 1000 yard season at somewhere around age 34.5, which is right where Wayne is right now. His abilities could fall off a cliff at any moment. Another young receiver could be needed.
I don’t know what the cap hit would be like to cut him since they just signed him to a 3-year deal last off-season, but center Samson Satele is not worth the 2.7 million he’s due next season. He was a big part of their poor offensive line play and ranked among the worst centers in the league, 33rd out of 36 eligible on ProFootballFocus. If he’s not back, AQ Shipley, who played well when Satele missed time with injury this year, deserves the first crack at the job, but they’ll need competition. Either way, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them use a late round selection on a center.
Pat McAfee and his boom stick are free agents this off-season. He’ll need to either be re-signed or replaced.
TY Hilton returned punts at a high level this season, but they might not keep him in that role long term as he becomes a bigger part of the offense.