Indianapolis Colts 2013 Preview – Six Questions Must Be Answered for Colts to Return to Playoffs

by Kent Sterling

Andrew Luck was 10th in Ron Jaworski's annual QB rankings.  That will be the lowest he will ever rank if he can stay upright.

Andrew Luck was 10th in Ron Jaworski’s annual QB rankings. That will be the lowest he will ever rank if he can stay upright.

The Colts have added a lot of pieces to their roster, so GM Ryan Grigson didn’t make the mistake of falling in love with the magical 11-5 record posted in 2012.

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Prior to the Colts doing it in 2012, no team in NFL history won 11 games while being outscored by 30 or more points.  Of their five losses, three were by 20 or more points, while a fourth was decided by 12.  Their first five wins came by a combined 13 points in regulation (one OT game was eventually won by six).

Grigson was able to see many areas that required an upgrade, and they were addressed.  One area where the Colts are as solid as anyone in the NFL is at quarterback where Andrew Luck showed every attribute that makes one special.

Here are the six questions that must be answered positively for the Colts to make a return to the postseason.

Can Luck limit the sacks and interceptions that came nearly as often as the touchdowns and positive plays?  

Andrew Luck must take several steps forward with new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.  Luck is a leader with ability to extend a play and make throws, but needs to reduce the number of sacks he’s subjected to.  If Luck posts another season with 41 sacks and 18 picks, it could be a long season, but Luck is smart and diligent enough to evolve into an elite quarterback this season.

If Luck goes down, any chance for a special result for the 2013 Colts ends.

Can all the new blood on the Offensive Line gel?

There could be as many as four new starters on the Colts offensive line.  Gosder Cherilus came over from the Detroit Lions to anchor the right tackle spot.  Ben Ijalana is supposedly healthy and ready to be a productive member of the unit for the first time since tearing his ACL in game four of his rookie season in 2011.  Hugh Thornton was drafted in the third round three months ago.  Donald Thomas is a guard who started seven games last year for the Patriots.  You can’t have too much depth on the o-line, but the five men trusted to protect Luck and open holes for Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard must play as one.  The assembly of this group is a test for Grigson to not just grab disparate parts but bring together men who fit together.

Can Darrius Heyward Bey be a game breaker?

The Colts have weapons, but the wild card is new receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who signed as a free agent after escaping Oakland.  He has great top end speed, but has been criticized because of his hands.  DHB replaces Donnie Avery, who had similar speed and poor hands.  Avery caught on 60 of the 125 balls thrown to him.  That 48% rate ranked among the lowest in the NFL.  DHB’s 51.2% wasn’t much better.  With T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, and the venerable Reggie Wayne, the Colts receiving corps is robust.

Can Vick Ballard/Ahmad Bradshaw combine for 1,400 yards rushing?

The Colts offense needs balance, and 27 year-old former NY Giant Ahmad Bradshaw was brought in to bring it.  He’s got bad feet and ankles which have limited his ability to stay on the field.  Great talent seated doesn’t do anyone a lot of good.  The Giants didn’t let Bradshaw walk because they were thrilled with his potential to produce moving forward.  The Colts didn’t overpay, so his signing was a good risk that could pay off.  He’ll platoon with Ballard, who had a fine rookie year with 814 rushing yards.  Former first round pick Donald Brown appears a likely candidate to be cut in camp.  He’s not a great blocker or receiver, and those attributes are key in Hamilton’s offense.  His base salary of over $1.7 million paints a big target on his back if Bradshaw maintains health in camp.

Can Bjoern Werner net eight sacks?

The Colts grabbed Werner late in the first round after he was projected in the top ten if not top five in many mock drafts during the 2012 college football season.  It’s not essential that Werner become a dynamic pass rush guy, but it is necessary for this defense filled will good but not great talent to play at a level greater than the sum of their parts.  There is every chance that the secondary can be outstanding with Antoine Bethea and LaRon Landry at safety and Vontae Davis, Darius Butler, and Greg Toler at corner, but knowing in July what will happen in December is a fool’s game.  Werner and Robert Mathis making quarterbacks uncomfortable will make or break the defense.

Can Fleener and Allen become Gronk/Hernandez?

We’re not talking about the body and surgery counts of the two former starting tight ends of the Patriots, but the on field impossibility of finding defensive schemes to take away all the weapons the Colts might employ with the combination of Allen and Fleener on the field with Bradshaw/Ballard in the backfield and Wayne/Hilton/Heyward-Bey wide.  The options for Luck should be diverse and dynamic.

Colts fans should not expect their offense to be the Greatest Show on Turf quite yet, but there are a lot of pieces to this puzzle that could give defensive coordinators sleepless nights.  Protection + weapons = nightmares.

The Colts could finish anywhere from 6-10 to 11-5.  Playing the NFC West will be a tough test, but two contests each against Jacksonville and Tennessee, and games against the AFC West should help balance the schedule a bit.

The tilt fans will look forward to most will be Peyton Manning’s return to the building that would never have been built had Bill Polian chosen Ryan Leaf instead in the 1998 draft.

The best game might be the visit from the St. Louis Rams.  I project both teams into the Super Bowl that will crown the champion of the 2015 season.  Both teams are young, well coached, and have a growth curve that should peak in the 2015 season.

Here’s how the 2013 season will break down:

  • 9/8 – vs. Raiders – Win
  • 9/15 – vs. Dolphins – Win
  • 9/22 – @ 49ers – Loss
  • 9/29 – @ Jags – Win
  • 10/6 – vs. Seahawks – Loss
  • 10/14 – @ San Diego – Win
  • 10/20 – vs. Denver – Loss
  • 11/3 – @ Texans – Loss
  • 11/10 – vs. Rams – Loss
  • 11/14 – @ Titans – Win
  • 11/24  @ Cardinals – Win
  • 12/1 – vs. Titans – Win
  • 12/8 – @ Bengals – Win
  • 12/15 – vs. Texans – Loss
  • 12/22 – @ Chiefs – Win
  • 12/29 – vs. Jags – Win

That gives the Colts a 10-6 record, and that’s an optimistic look at a season that could go either way.  It’s impossible to guess how injuries will affect a season, and for a team that went 9-1 in games decided by seven points or less in 2012, good luck picking games through your wits at a higher rate than by flipping a coin.

Logic would say that level of good fortune is impossible to maintain, but the Colts will be a better team in 2013 that 2012.  It’s a good thing for the Colts that football is played by men, and not determined through a Venn diagram.

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