The Diary of an Illinois Boston Fan

NFL Previews

A 2015 preseason title favorite, the Indianapolis Colts were lucky enough to draw even at 8–8 after seeing Andrew Luck break down from years of getting beat up. There was more than substantiated talk of coach Chuck Pagano getting canned in the wake of the immense criticism GM Ryan Grigson took all last year, yet it seems like the owner talked some sense into Grigson to keep Pagano aboard and see what he can do with a healthy Luck and an improved offense as a whole. As it was, the Colts kept making real leaps towards a super bowl before 2015 having gone further in the playoffs every year since Luck was drafted. It’s now time to see what they can do as they’ve got their best young talent all with real experience under their belts.

Projected Offensive Depth Chart:

QB: Andrew Luck

RB: Frank Gore

OL: Anthony Castanzo, Jack Mewhort, Ryan Kelly, Hugh Thornton, Mike Reitz

WR: T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief

TE: Dwayne Allen, Chase Coffman

As I said above, Luck is set to return and looked solid in his limited preseason work for the Colts. A disastrous start against Buffalo last year proved to be more about his body breaking down than his play level dropping even though he still has a tendency to hold on to the ball far too long which has allowed defenders to take free shots on him. His biggest weakness is his poor decision making, throwing 28 interceptions in his last 23 games. Luck has elevated himself in all other facets of the game…his passing in all route lengths, his running abilities, and his command of the on-field play calling…which is why his heel of throwing picks is so surprising because everything else should work together to lower that number. He’s the only player not considered a “gunslinger” that throws that many interceptions. It seems to be a mental stigma from enduring so much abuse along with his overwhelming belief in his ability to make something happen. This year he’s got to take advantage of his solidified offensive line to help reduce those turnovers if he wants a real shot at his first ring. Last year with Matt Hasselbeck at the helm, the Colts were mediocre…imagine what they’d be like with Luck returning to his 4700 yard, 40 touchdown form.

The Colts finally stopped using the Peyton Manning method of building a roster and realized that protecting their star was the best option. No one on the Colts line is an outstanding player like a Joe Thomas or Tyron Smith but they’re collectively a very good bunch that build off one another’s strengths and overcoming weaknesses. Mewhort and Castanzo in particular pair up very well on the left side. Castanzo is one of the weaker starting left tackles in the run game, while showing top tier ability against the pass rush. Mewhort meanwhile was a craftsman with creating run lanes but asking him to shift his feet back to protect against bulky DTs and you’ll understand why the Colts gave up next to the most sacks to interior defensive linemen last year. Now, adding rookie Ryan Kelly to the mix should help Mewhort against the pass thus letting him take control of the run game and finally allowing Castanzo to develop his run abilities in a symbiotic fashion while dominating ends and LBs again.

Frank Gore has as much to gain from the new line as Luck does. After having his worst season last year, Gore wants to try and prove there’s still a little bit left in the veteran workhorse. Nearing his mid-thirties, Gore has plenty of wear on his tires and was bent and bruised far too often last year behind an inept line from the center through the right tackle. With the right side generally being the run block side, Gore usually was stuck running into his own men and getting blindside blasted by DTs and 3–4 ends, causing major issues for his older body. I expect the Colts to make serious efforts to run more on the left side where they can create space and break the edge for their back that still has some agility left. Gore will never be a 1300 yard constituent again and he doesn’t need to be…even getting 1,000 yards would take some serious pressure off Luck and open up the passing game once again.

With the departure of players like Coby Fleener and Andre Johnson the Colts now can experiment with their more agile and versatile playmakers. Basically working with 3 cheaper versions of peak DeSean Jackson, Luck will have plenty of opportunities to spread the ball around. T.Y Hilton has fought hard to improve his all-around game but losing Luck curbed some of his finite learning last year. With Dorsett and Moncrief expected to take pressure off of him, I’d like to see Hilton reinvent himself as a modern John Taylor…turning slants into 80 yarders while not being afraid to take a lick over the middle every so often as a possession guy. He can certainly up his touchdown totals purely by beefing up and craft his route running at least sharper if not working to make use of more than 4 moves.

I’m mostly interested in Allen. Like I said with Coby Fleener in my Saints piece…Allen and Fleener switched with Allen becoming a blocking specialist. Well, now it’s on Allen’s shoulders to return to the player he once was…a dynamic pass catcher with receiver speed. Since he became a blocker he’s just a return to form away from becoming the deadliest weapon X the league has seen in decades. An all-around player given the keys to his position with a top 5 passer to get him the ball? The world is Allen’s oyster if he can stay healthy.

Projected Defensive Depth Chart:

DL: Kendall Langford, David Perry, Zach Kerr,

LB: Erik Walden, Sio Moore, D’Qwell Jackson, Robert Mathis

CB: Vontae Davis, Patrick Robinson

S: Mike Adams, T.J. Green

Much like their counterparts down in Nashville, the Colts are very weak defensively across the board. Luckily, they’re not devoid of young players with semi-decent upsides.

Their best player, though, happens to be their oldest. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney wrecked havoc down in the south for years until the Colts and Freeney parted ways a few seasons back — even then Mathis continued as a one man wrecking crew, singlehandedly keeping the Colts defense relevant since the changing of guard from the older Manning, Freeney, Clark, and Wayne to the youthful exuberance gracing Lucas Oil Field now. It says a lot about a player of his age and discernable single skill set that keeps getting chances to play. Clearly he’s not any closer to hanging up his cleats than he was right before he tore his ACL two years back. While Freeney had the spin move, Mathis was and still may be the fiercest handwork end in the game. Like the great Deacon Jones, Mathis could subtly ring a lineman’s bell with a quick smack to the head that would set him off his footing. Unlike Jones, Mathis had to do it more precisely and carefully as not to invoke a penalty. He makes slight upwards jukes towards the helmet from the bottom of the face mask which may be even more disorienting than a slap to the ear hole seeing as it changes line of sight as well. Mathis might be old but I don’t see him on his last legs just yet.

Vontae Davis is currently nursing another injury that’s threatening to take away his formative years from him. Still, when he’s on, he’s one of the best the cornerback position has to offer. Blessed with the size of a safety, speed of a receiver, and recovery time of some of the top corners to play the game…Davis is the prototype corner in this always moving league. Early on in his career with Miami he let his hot headedness get in the way and he was drawing penalties once out of every 150 plays, coming close to reaching the top 5 of all time individual season records for penalties on defense. Coming to Indy, noted defensive guru Chuck Pagano refined Davis’ anger and turned it into the nastiest press move. Within 5 yards, Davis can change the outcome of any pass play before the opposing quarterback realizes it, that’s what led to him having the post pass breakups within 10 yards the past 3 seasons. He’s got a knack for shutting down slant and curl routes while not allowing himself to be burnt too often. Even if he does continue to suffer setbacks, it’d be hard to see him waste time pretending to play corner when he could easily slide into a safety role. I’ve always been incredibly high on Davis and I’d like to see him get more credit for anchoring a defense that will only be asked to do just enough while his high octane offense will be the key to a super bowl trip.

Again the Colts were 8–8 last year with disastrous injuries and mishandlings along the way. Pagano now has a much longer leash and his perpetual All-Pro Franchise QB returns to finish what they were expected to in 2015. The youth movement is real for Indianapolis and they’ve got stars in the making. Even if they’ve got another youthful team nipping at their heels.