Indianapolis Colts – Super Bowl Favorite In the AFC??

Most of the time you look at what a team projects to and you waffle with will the team play up to those expectations. In the case of the 2015 Indianapolis Colts, the maturation of the rebuilding process beginning with Peyton Manning’s release, should pay off this year.

Luck scores in last year's playoff win in Denver.

Luck scores in last year’s season opener in Denver.

Let’s face it the Colts struck gold in the selection and development of Andrew Luck. Every year he has elevated his game along with another playoff accomplishment. At the end of the 2013 season, he brought the Colts back in a 45-44 wildcard thriller before falling to Brady’s Patriots in the divisional round. Last year his Colts won a couple playoff games including a 24-13 win against Manning’s Broncos signaling a changing of the guard.

In that game he out-dueled Peyton and looked to be the more confident quarterback with more command of the field. Our eyes didn’t deceive us. Luck was sure of himself and his teammates fed off his energy. Along with his playmaking ability, you could see he was capable of carrying a franchise.

However once again Luck and the Colts were struck down by the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game 45-7. What was different about the loss last year is we clearly saw he didn’t have the talent around him to beat New England. The year before they were just a step behind Brady’s boys where last year, a retooled Patriot secondary obliterated the league’s #1 passing attack.

It’s evident: To get to the Super Bowl the Colts need to get Luck some dogs to help lead the pack. Enter Frank Gore and Andre Johnson.

How many championship teams over the years have brought in grizzled veterans to lend experience and tone for a young team?? Remember when the ’81 49ers brought in “Hacksaw” Reynolds and Fred Dean?? How about the ’92 Cowboys bringing in Charles Haley and Thomas Everett?? What about the ’01 Patriots bringing in LB Bryan Cox?? The latter was just as impotant.. go back and see which “alpha dog” lead them onto the field for Super Bowl XXXVI. it was Cox…yet I digress

Gore set the tone in San Fran just like Lynch does in Seattle.

Gore set the tone in San Fran just like Lynch does in Seattle.

Frank Gore brings a punishing, tone setting style to an offense that can be described as finesse up to this point. Indy couldn’t knuckle up with two tight ends and impose their will on a defense. Gore brings that will and toughness to an offense relying too much on trickery. Knowing his time in the light is short, his hunger to get back to the Super Bowl will fuel the team’s urgency to win now.

The same can be said for fellow [[_]] alumnus Andre Johnson.  Year after year he’s had to watch the Colts foray into the NFL playoffs as his Houston Texans stumbled. They played in Super Bowls and AFC Championships. Now they have retooled on the run and came within a game of the big dance last year. How envious has he been watching this from up close in the same division?? So he’s staying within the division  (Calvin) and joining ranks with Gore to bring a veteran hunger to forge a tougher team mentality than the last few years.

Andre Johnson fightDid we say a tougher mentality?? Now I know you remember the fight between Johnson and former Titan Cortland Finnegan. Well this is a microcosm of the toughness he’ll bring to the offense converting 3rd and 7’s over the middle this season. A 7 time Pro Bowler will work the intermediate routes while TY Hilton will blow the top off opposing defenses.

With all the departures in New England this team should ascend to Super Bowl L. A third shot at New England with an even more mature Luck will come up rosy for Indy. Don’t forget LB Robert Mathis will return to join free agent DE Trent Cole to rush the passer. They join former Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year D’Qwell Jackson to improve last year’s 11th best defense. If this team is playing with a lead they will be hard to beat.

All they need is a good draft to address a few needs and luck when it comes to injuries.

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2014 AFC Pedictions

Under normal circumstances Taylor Blitz Times would have these published before the season starts. However this has been a different off-season where more focus was on historical articles. Although we’re 1 week into the new season, we still haven’t seen a sample size large enough to alter The Chancellor of Football’s picks.

2014 AFC Champions will be the Denver Broncos

2014 AFC Champions will be the Denver Broncos

AFC North Champs: Cincinnati Bengals

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots

AFC South Champs: Indianapolis Colts

AFC West Champs: Denver Broncos

Wildcards: Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens

The representative to make it to Glendale, AZ and Super Bowl XLIX will be the Denver Broncos. They will narrowly defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game they should win at home.

Ware will make Von Miller a better player as well.

Ware will make Von Miller a better player as well.

Lets face facts, not many trust Bengals QB Andy Dalton but he will take a big step up this year and win his first playoff game. He won’t have the moxie to take on not only Peyton Manning but what should be one of the AFC’s best defenses. The signing of DeMarcus Ware, TJ Ward, and Aquib Talib give the Broncos a defensive swagger they haven’t had before.

More importantly none of these players have won a championship which only adds to the overall hunger of the team. The Broncos won’t score anywhere near last year’s 606 point performance. They won’t have to as they will become more balanced.

The player that is growing on The Chancellor the most is Andrew Luck.

The player that is growing on The Chancellor the most is Andrew Luck.

Right behind these two teams will be the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots. Was there anyone more impressive than Andrew Luck in week 1 of the NFL season?? The fight he brought the Colts back with was infectious. He made his entire team believe they could come back and they were playing without DE/LB Robert Mathis. The Colts gained more from that 31-24 loss in Denver than teams that won in the first week.

The Patriots will bounce back from week 1 but will they feel the effects of trading away G Logan Mankins the rest of the season?? Brady and the offense was under attack in their 2nd half loss to the Dolphins. They gained less than 100 yards as Miami pulled away. Bill Belichick will right the ship and they should win the AFC East with at least 11 wins.

The Bengals and Colts look like the two that will play in the 2015 AFC Championship Game however we have to get through 2014 first. The Broncos will look to take a more battle hardened team to Glendale than the one they took to New York last year. Will Denver win Super Bowl XLIX??

 

AFC Divisional Playoff: Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots

After one of the greatest come from behind victories in NFL history, the Colts have earned a first class trip to New England. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to stop the Patriots from making a 3rd straight trip to the AFC Championship Game. The Colts are riding an emotional high but do they have the horses to win a high stakes playoff game against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady??

Andrew Luck came of age in last week's comeback. The Colts will always believe they can win from this point forward, no matter the deficit.

Andrew Luck came of age in last week’s comeback. The Colts will always believe they can win from this point forward, no matter the deficit.

One of the items that gets lost in the aftermath of last week is Indy gave up a near playoff record 513 yards and 44 points. They gave up 378 yards passing and 4 touchdowns to Alex Smith at home, and now they plan to improve on that against Brady on the road?? Never forget weaknesses are magnified in the playoffs. Hard to improve on the 20th ranked defense when they’re not playing well.

Don’t forget the last time Tom Brady saw the Indianapolis Colts, he draped 59 points on them. Of course fans will say Luck is playing better now. However he doesn’t play linebacker or cover receivers. Last week, Pro Bowl DE Robert Mathis had a timely sack and forced fumble, but that was it.

Legarrette Blount has played like Dorsey Levens  of late.

Legarrette Blount has played like Dorsey Levens of late.

Now some may point out the Patriots aren’t the same team they were a year ago and they’re right. Brady has had a modest season by his standards. Yet the Pats have shifted strategies. In their last two games against the Ravens and Buffalo Bills, they rushed for 142 and 267 yards respectively. Those were the 10th and 12th best defenses also, Indy’s is 20th. One was getting revenge on the defending champions that ended their season last year, and the other was against a division rival playing in the equivalent of their Super Bowl.

Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will pressure Andrew Luck today.

Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will pressure Andrew Luck today.

The Colts will need to run the football and control the tempo of the game. If not Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will come after Luck. Their not as flashy as a Robert Mathis but they did combine for 19.5 sacks 3 forced fumbles and 4 fumble recoveries. Add to that the genius of Belichick when it comes to taking away an opponents best receiver. He will keep TY Hilton from getting open which will make Luck hold the football even longer which will allow the rush more time to get there.

Everyone has their eye on Andrew Luck but The Chancellor of Football’s is on the defensive alignment and assignments that Belichick will throw at him. I have gone on record calling him the greatest coach of the last 50 years in the NFL. He configured a 2 man line defense that slowed the 90 Bills in Super Bowl XXV. The week before he stopped Joe Montana and the Niners from 3-peating with normal 3-4 and safeties over the top. He stopped The Greatest Show on Turf when he repeated his Super Bowl XXV performance upsetting the Rams in XXXVI. He spent the last decade keeping Peyton, Edgerrin James, and Marvin Harrison from reaching the Super Bowl while he won 3. Each of those teams had 3 Pro Football Hall of Fame talents on those rosters.. Do you really think he can’t stop a second year quarterback and a modest talent in Hilton??

Look for LaGarrette Blount to get the football on a rainy day. The Colts weren’t tackling well last week and will struggle stopping the run. In a physical game the Patriots will win 31-13. What happened to this team when they played earlier against the Seahawks and 49ers?? They rose to the occassion then and Head Coach Chuck Pagano needs them to wake up and get back to that tonight.

Who do you have in this game??

 

 

 

 

Overcoaching In the NFL

One of the more unique pitfalls many NFL teams fall into is the inability to formulate a gameplan around the personnel they have. Too often on Sundays we’re seeing teams with inexperienced quarterbacks lined up in a Pistol (short shotgun), regular shotgun accompanied with 4 and 5 receiver sets.  Then you see these elaborate play sheets coaches have to chronicle what they would do in down and distance situations if….. Stop!! There is no need to go into a football game with 200 plays and formations.

Tom Matte's famous wristband resides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Tom Matte’s famous wristband resides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Too many NFL offensive co-ordinators and head coaches want to be seen as geniuses on ESPN is where this is coming from. If you follow the evolution of the play sheet, you had a series of formations and plays that were manageable. Have you ever taken a look at the famous “wrist-band” of Tom Matte?? A former Baltimore Colt running back who was forced to play quarterback when quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo were injured in 1965.

As you can see there were 5-7 plays for each down and distance circumstance. Head Coach Don Shula came up with the concept so that Matte could call the plays necessary to move the offense. The Colts lost a 13-10 playoff game for the Western Conference that sent Green Bay to the NFL championship game and Matte’s wristband went into NFL lore.

What is interesting is the wristband disappeared for more than a decade in the NFL . As we fast forward through the evolution of football, more and more NFL coaches had sheets that they would use to send the play in. It really started to gather steam when the late Bill Walsh decided to script his first 15 plays back in 1979. That script accompanied down and distance play situations and the the list became a full fledged chart on the sideline. Walsh was truly a genius reviving the principles learned from Paul Brown to be effective in the modern game.

Here is an example of what one of these play charts these coaches carry around looks like.

Here is an example of what one of these play charts these coaches carry around looks like.

From that point on every coach had to have a chart to show he knew his craft as well as Walsh did. At least imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Yet where has that left us?? How many times have you watched a team burn multiple time outs because they couldn’t get their personnel in fast enough?? How often have you watched a team struggle for 28 minutes on offense and finally click in a 2 minute drive before the end of a half? Before the end of a game?? Why??

The late great college basketball coach John Wooden once said there was too much overcoaching in the modern game of basketball. The Chancellor definitely feels the same thing is happening in the NFL. It’s ironic when a team can’t make heads or tails with what their game plan is and then start moving the ball in the final few minutes.  Why was Viking quarterback Matt Cassel in shotgun formation more than 20 times when he has one of history’s finest backs right there in Adrian Peterson?? Overcoaching!! And it’s running rampant throughout the NFL.

Even Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady has a "Tom Matte" wristband the size of a bible.

Even Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady has a “Tom Matte” wristband the size of a bible.

Everyone wants to line up as though they have Tom Brady or Peyton Manning at the helm when in truth, only 10 to 12 teams have quarterbacks who can be trusted. Whether we’re talking Alpha or Beta quarterbacks, these guys can be trusted to win games on the road or at home. Most of these teams would benefit from simplifying their offense.

Players need to be playing, not thinking. Go back to last Sunday’s match-up between the New Orleans Saints vs the New England Patriots. All game long, young Patriot receivers were running the wrong routes, dropping passes. When the game was on the line and the routes were simplified…bang receivers were holding on to the football. Brady threw the game winning 17 yard strike to Kenbrell Thompkins (who?) with just :05 left.

Even the late Tom Landry had to “dumb down” his offense for a young Roger Staubach to thrive.

If you have a veteran quarterback, let him call the plays. In the most critical juncture (under 2 minutes) he calls them anyway. He should during the middle of the game as well. If you are grooming a young signal caller, it’s best to get him acclimated from more traditional sets. Sure you open the offense with a few open formations here and there. Yet watch how the Colts are grooming Andrew Luck. They’re using a fleet of running backs to pound the defense and allow Luck to perform play action throws against simplified reads. If you have watched, Luck has improved every single week and is set to have his biggest game of his young career this week. He and the Indianapolis Colts host the Denver Broncos as Peyton returns to Indy. A winnable game if they stick to a simplified approach.

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The Deal of 2013: Trent Richardson Traded To the Colts

Richardson has been dealt to Indianapolis.

Richardson has been dealt to Indianapolis.

The NFL is still buzzing over the Cleveland Browns trading away Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts. When this came across the wire yesterday our CEO recounted how heavy Brown’s brass attended the Texas A&M v. Alabama game last weekend. So naturally it brought about the question: What did Cleveland gain by making this trade??

For starters they get a #1 pick going into next April’s draft. Yet what does that say about this year??

The optimism of the Browns offense in the preseason disappeared as soon as the regular season dawned. They could only muster 10 points at home in a loss to the Dolphins.  In that game Richardson had 13 carries for 47 yards. However it was Brandon Weeden’s 3 interceptions that were the focal point of the loss.

The offensive woes continued in Baltimore where the team looked to bounce back against the Ravens. Now you have to remember this was a defense that was humiliated on national television as they gave up an NFL record tying 7 touchdown passes to Peyton Manning the week before. It was also on a Monday night, so the Ravens would appear to be vulnerable. Both in psyche and fatigue. Their performance in week 1 was so bad, that after holding Weeden to 227 passing yards in week 2, they’re still 25th in the league against the pass. Yet Richardson in another tightly contested contest, a 14-6 loss, was held to 58 yards on 18 carries. Something happened between these two games that convinced Cleveland brass they had seen enough.

Sure Richardson has been nicked and had injuries here and there but what running back doesn’t? We watched Ray Rice go down with a hip flexor in the same game and the Ravens have Bernard Pierce taking most of the carries there anyway. We don’t see the Ravens making moves regarding Rice do we?? So what gives??

Jim Irsay was quoted as saying they have to protect Luck better.

Jim Irsay was quoted as saying they have to protect Luck better.

Neither Brandon Weeden or Trent Richardson are players selected by the current coach /gm combo. New Coach Chudzinski wants to put his stamp on the team and two weeks into his new regime, he fields the league’s 28th best offense with a runner that has 105 yards rushing. That isn’t going to get it done anymore than Weeden’s 1TD vs. 3 interceptions. They had to make a move right now with the most trade-able commodity they had to draft the quarterback of the future. Weeden has 14 weeks 7 hours and 32 minutes to show he is the future of the Cleveland Browns. If not, watch for the Browns to draft a Johnny Manziel and bring in a #1 receiver to go with him.

The reality is the NFL and all teams function as a corporation. You acquire assets so that when it’s time for any liquidation, those assets still have worth. Ask yourself who would trade for a quarterback who is damaged goods psychologically like Weeden?? The Browns did what they had to do and with the performances of running backs drafted in the middle rounds lately (see Alfred Morris) and you realize they can duplicate Richardson’s performance for far cheaper. Sure this throws away the entire season for the Cleveland Browns but the question is: They are 0-2 now and lost to a Baltimore Raven team that was still staggering from a week one beatdown. How many wins were the Browns going to get with Richardson had he stayed??

When you have draft a quarterback number one you’re putting the franchise in his hands. Where Weeden is coming up short in Cleveland, in Indianapolis Andrew Luck seems like a decade long fit as the signal caller. Yet over the first two weeks of the season, the Colts are 27th in sacks allowed with 7 and 28th in quarterback hits allowed with 14.  Or they were on pace to allow 56 sacks and 112 hits on the quarterback. This would probably get Andrew Luck knocked out due to injury at that rate. In comes a runner that should provide more physicality than Ahmad Bradshaw, who only has 97 yards on the season. Luck is just behind him with  76 yards running for his life.

Trent Richardson reporting for duty with the Colts.

Trent Richardson reporting for duty with the Colts.

Now they get a power runner free from teams stacking 8 man fronts on him with a quarterback that can complete passes downfield.  Luck in return has a running threat that can keep defenses honest. This should workout well for the both of them. As for the fans of Cleveland?? Sigh!! Say goodbye to the competitiveness of the 2013 season. The Browns will likely use the draft picks on Johnny Manziel and a stud receiver. Why overpay for a running  back when so many are on the open market you can get in the 3rd or 4th rounds?? Only time will tell if they made the right move or not in the eyes of Browns fans. However in The Chancellor of Football’s eyes….brilliant move. Kill two birds with one stone.

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2013 Indianapolis Colts – Skill or Luck In First Season Under Andrew??

Lucas Oil Stadium with championship banners hanging.

Lucas Oil Stadium with championship banners hanging.

Not a bad first season in Indianapolis without Peyton Manning playing the lead at Lucas Oil Stadium. The light and sound stage that Andrew Luck commanded saw the most unlikely of scenarios that played out in the 2012 season. The Indianapolis Colts charged to an 11-5 record despite a Hall of Fame quarterback exiting stage left, first year Head Coach Chuck Pagano having to leave the team to battle Leukemia, which left interim coach Bruce Arians and top draft choice Andrew Luck to fend for themselves. Now a full year later we have to ask if the Colts will build on that success or take a step back.

Normally we shouldn’t have to until you realize former Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians is now the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. His development of Luck along with astute play calling, was part of the reason they had 7 game winning drives. There was no head coach to interject or suggest a few things that could have disrupted the flow Arians and Luck developed. Although they brought in Pep Hamilton, his former offensive coordinator from Stanford, will it be as successful a relationship on the professional ranks?? We have to get through his growing pains as a first time NFL offensive coordinator.

Andrew Luck avoids Mario Williams and gets off a past vs. Buffalo.

Andrew Luck avoids the rush to get off a pass against Buffalo.

Quarterback: Has there ever been a quarterback who answered so many questions about being the number one selection?? Only a few The Chancellor can think of and many shared the spotlight during their 2012 rookie campaigns. For the season Luck connected on 339 of 627 passes for 4,374 yards, 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Yet there is a growing feeling that a sophomore slump is imminent.

The pendulum started to swing as the 2012 season was concluding. Over the second half of the season, defensive co-ordinators were drawing a bead on his tendencies and forcing him to pull the ball down more. He was sacked 41 times in 2012. Far too many…however they did sign Matt Hasselbeck if Luck was lost to injury.Without Arians, how will the in game adjustments be affected?? Especially those in the fourth quarter??

One theme that shows up is how he fared when he faced teams twice. When the Titans and Texans went against him a second time, his completion percentages were 47% and 50%. His maturation has to stay ahead of what he will see of opponents adjustments upcoming.  Don’t forget this is a quarterback who is mobile. People overlook that. He did escape the pocket 62 times for 255 yards and 5 touchdowns. With the pressure the Colts took last year, roll-outs could be utilized to great effect although it shuts off half the field for a young signal caller. Luck will have a setback year that will leave him relegated to a rank of average as a quarterback. Year 3 or 4 will see him regain some of his top shelf play from a good rookie season.

Offensive Backfield: Last year the Colts running by committee was to keep opposing defenses honest. Yet the inability to run the football may have been filled with the signing of former Giant Ahmad Bradshaw, just one week ago. Although in his sixth year, he has run for 1,000 yards in 2010 and 2012 while rushing for 4,232 yards during his career. More important is his 4.6 yards per carry where no Colt back had an average better than 3.9 yards. Bradshaw was a cap casualty in New York and should be the starter and upgrade this position to average.

TY Hilton along with Ahmad Bradshaw will be Luck's receivers to move the chains along with Wayne.

TY Hilton along with Ahmad Bradshaw will be Luck’s receivers to move the chains along with Wayne.

Receivers: Last year’s biggest coup was to talk Reggie Wayne (The [[_]]) in returning to Indianapolis instead of venturing out as a free agent. He was the go to guy, gathering in 106 receptions for 1,355 yards and 5 touchdowns. A spectacular season, yet at 35 (in midyear) can we expect another season at such a torrid pace?? He keeps himself in good shape and now has 968 receptions for 13,063 yards, 78 TDs for his career. Questions arise on his Hall of Fame candidacy yet there should be a slight drop off in production for 2013. http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-2012-elite-performers/0ap2000000122013/2012-Best-of-Reggie-Wayne

Last year the Colts had success developing TY Hilton in the slot (50 rec./861 yds /7 TDs) alongside a veteran Donald Avery (60 rec / 781 yds /3TDs). Luck may have to lean on Hilton and his underneath receivers more this season. Hilton will see his reception total go up to 80-85 receptions this year. We don’t know if  Hamilton will utilize the spread as Arians once did. Receivers will be average in 2013 based upon use and ability to score.

An All Pac 12 performer that lasted until the 4th round. Khaled Thornton from USC.

An All Pac 12 performer that lasted until the 4th round. Khaled Holmes from USC.

Offensive Line: This is the group Colts brass worried the most about. This line will have a new look now they drafted G Hugh Thornton of Illinois in the 3rd round and G Kahled Holmes from USC in the 4th. Holmes did play center for the Trojans for two of those years and offers some flexibility. He was an All Pac 12 performer and started 37 games for the Trojans. Both these guys will stick.

Why?? They made some changes in the off-season but will it be enough to keep Andrew Luck upright. We already mentioned they were 23rd in sacks allowed with 41, but they were second to last in hits allowed on the quarterback with 116. If they do that again, Luck will miss some time in 2013. Thank goodness for Luck’s scrambling ability or he could have missed time last year.

However this team needs a bit of a push in the running game as they were below league average with only 3.8 yards per carry. Toward the strong side the Colts were an anemic 38% in converting from the goal line or 3rd /4th and 2 or less. They had to revert to several quarterback draws to outfox defenses and they ran into a buzzsaw when they faced Baltimore in the playoffs. They couldn’t play heads up with such a physical defense and couldn’t score a touchdown. This will be a year of growth for this group and we have to wait into the summer to give them a grade as high as average up from bad.

Defensive Line: When making a transition to the 3-4 from the 4-3 as this team did in 2012, you are going to experience some growing pains. One new assignment that will transition is the right defensive end. Where Dwight Freeney was the speed rusher from the blind-side, to a space eating combination DT/DE that holds ground and power rushes. Freeney, with 5 sacks last season, didn’t fit this new model and along with cap considerations has been released.

Notice  Fili Moala, Ricky Jean Francois, Aubrayo Franklin, and 5th round draft selection Montori Hughes are all defensive tackles acquired this off-season to fit this new team need. They need to be more stout up front as this team was 26th in yardage allowed and 31st in average yards per play given up at 6 yards per pop. This defense couldn’t get itself off the field in the playoff loss to Baltimore. They allowed a whopping 7.8 yards per play, 439 yards of offense, and 6 of 10 times the Ravens were able to convert 3rd downs. This was against a Raven offense that had yet to hit it’s stride. This group has to make more plays and rates as bad and we need to see more before we improve this ranking.

Werner has to prove he wasn't a reach in the 1st round after a disappointing combine.

Werner has to prove he wasn’t a reach in the 1st round after a disappointing combine.

Linebackers: This is another group looking to make the leap from utilizing left over players to bonafide 3-4 linebackers. Former Packer OLB Eric Walden and Lawrence Sidbury were signed early on in free agency. The long armed Walden is versatile enough to rush the passer or clog intermediate lanes against the pass. Then the Colts landed Bjoern Werner of Florida St in the 1st round of the draft. When you draft an All American who finished with 23.5 sacks for his career and voted ACC Player of the Year, you expect him to be on the field. He’ll probably rush from a down lineman position in this first year. There are some questions about him coming out of the combine but we’ll see.

Incumbent OLB Jerrell Freeman (145 tackles / 2 sacks) may have to take an ILB position with all this competition and Robert Mathis (8 sacks) still in the fold. If the newcomers can provide the desired pass rush, Mathis can return to the strong side DE position as well. To improve on competition inside, the Colts traded for former Buffalo Bill Kelvin Sheppard. The Colts should see drastic improvements with all this reinforcement at linebacker. Taylor Blitz Times believes Werner will compete for AFC Rookie of the Year honors. The Colts have upgraded to playoff caliber with the assortment of talent brought in.

Vontae Davis is a member of a secondary in transition.

Vontae Davis is a member of a secondary in transition.

Secondary: One area the Colts wanted to improve was in the secondary. They signed free agent LaRon Landry to come in at safety and released Tom Zbikowski. Landry is a better pass defender and the Colts should move the sure tackling Antoine Bethea (100 tackles /0 ints/ 7passes defensed) to strong safety. However the Colts also selected S John Moyett in the 6th round.

At corner they re-signed Darius Butler and Vontae Davis to return as an up and coming set of cornerbacks.  In 2012, Butler returned 2 of his 4 interceptions for touchdowns and defensed nearly the same amount of passes (8) as Cassius Vaughn (9). Even though Vaughn started 10 games last year.

Davis, the younger brother of 49er TE Vernon Davis, is a superior athlete with the tools to become a legitimate NFL star. A little focus and a pass rush can help get him there. Last year he had 51 total tackles, 3 interceptions, 8 passes defensed and one sack.  He should be better with an improved pass rush and the secondary has a better center fielder in Landry. This group right now is average with a chance to upgrade this position this summer.

 

Overall: One saving grace for the Colts is they play in a relatively weak AFC South. The Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars have yet to find themselves and have no identity. They are in a two team race between themselves and the Houston Texans. However they got by on spirit and having teams off kilter facing a team that was unknown from a personnel perspective. Arians could just let loose with his play calling since he wasn’t the head coach. The fact they were playing for a higher cause (coach Pagano battling Leukemia) allowed the 2012 Colts to soar to that 11-5 record. Now it’s about their X’s and O’s and ability to professionally be better than their opponent.

Now with Pagano at the helm, expect a few more possessions to be called conservatively especially at the end of halves. Seven times they scored at the end of halves last year, where with a Head Coach thinking for the team overall won’t always be so aggressive with play calling.

Last year they went 3-1 against the NFC North, where now they face the NFC West with defensive powers in Seattle, San Francisco, and Arizona. Now if you throw in the Rams, they are facing last year’s 4th, 3rd, 12th and 14th best defenses. All of those figure to be prominent with the Seahawks and 49ers having Super Bowl aspirations. There is a four game stretch where we’ll learn where they’re going in weeks 11-14. They travel to the Titans, then go to the Cardinals, host the Titans, then travel to Cincinnati. Last year they swept the Titans but they were blood baths with one of them an overtime win.

Before they take on Houston who is the bully on the block. This team is going to be 8-8 this year if Luck is healthy the whole season. Things are worse if he goes down. When you have 9 games decided by 7 or less, a fickle bounce of the ball is the difference between being 8-8 or 12-4. Last year with Luck, pun intended, they were 11-5. With a first time NFL offensive coordinator, a second year quarterback who develped his play with a departed coach, and a look at this overall roster, this is a 6-10 team. However Andrew Luck is worth at least two more wins. Expect growing pains in Indianapolis for the 2013 season.

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