5 Changes Indianapolis Colts Must Make to Get Back on Track
Peyton Manning was the quarterback.
Tony Dungy was the head coach.
A lot fewer people knew the name Jim Irsay.
The last time the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl, it was 2007. They had just beaten a questionable Super Bowl opponent in the Rex Grossman-led Chicago Bears but had proven themselves against other quality teams.
They had overcome a 21-3 halftime deficit against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.
They had survived the endurance test of the stout Baltimore Ravens, kicking five field goals to win.
They were everything you want in a champion.
It's been a downhill slide since then.
Despite appearing in the 2009 Super Bowl, the Colts have been declining since winning that Super Bowl after the 2006 season. The running game has been steadily eroding. The receiving corps has been getting old (and injured). The offensive line has withered away.
How can the Colts right the ship?
I'm glad you asked.
Step 1: Get Jim Irsay out of the Media
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Jim Irsay, the owner of the Colts, has been way too visible in the media. He's certainly been the most visible owner of the offseason.
It's not even close.
Understandably, the world of football is interested in the situation brewing in Indianapolis. The Colts owe Peyton Manning $28 million on March 8. The quarterback has an 85 percent bionic neck.
But that doesn't mean Irsay needs to be making statements every other day. He doesn't need to be updating the media and the fans on what he and Manning are speaking about on a daily basis.
The problem is that Irsay wants to be viewed as a good guy. The solution is simple.
Just be a good guy.
Nobody is going to think any better of an owner who tells radio stations that he and Manning are "lifelong friends" and that they argue about things like Tiger Woods.
Frankly, nobody cares about that.
Let us know when you have something to say about Manning's status on the team. Tell us when you've made a decision to keep or cut him, or if his contract is being restructured.
Otherwise, please stop doing your best Jerry Jones impression.
Step 2: Stop Drafting so Poorly
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Let's make a list of the Colts' last six first-round draft picks: Anthony Castonzo, Jerry Hughes, Donald Brown, Anthony Gonzalez, Joseph Addai, Marlin Jackson.
Now let's see the eight first-rounders before that: Dallas Clark, Dwight Freeney, Reggie Wayne, Rob Morris, Edgerrin James, Peyton Manning, Tarik Glenn, Marvin Harrison.
Slightly different looking lists, right?
The second list has four sure-fire Hall of Famers and another two maybes.
The first list has a variety of issues.
One guy doesn't play for the team anymore. One has caught five passes since 2008. One did a poor job staying healthy, inspiring the Colts to take another player at his same position two years later. One of them has recorded one career sack in two years in the league.
The Colts have whiffed in the draft lately, and that's the main reason Bill and Chris Polian were fired this season. To rebuild this team, the Colts will have to be better at evaluating talent.
Step 3: Commit to the Running Game
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With Peyton Manning's career possibly over, and certainly on a steep decline, it's time for the Colts to shift to a more conservative game plan.
If they decide not to retain Manning, it almost certainly means they intend to select either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in April's NFL draft.
Rookie quarterbacks often rely heavily on a team's running game to protect them. Having a balanced offense can help ensure that the young quarterback is in good game situations rather than constantly facing third-and-longs.
The Colts do not have that running game. They have ranked in the bottom half of the league in rushing attempts and success every year since 2007.
Maybe Joseph Addai is the answer (if he could stay on the field). Maybe Donald Brown is the answer (if he could get more carries). Or maybe the answer lies in the draft. Maybe the offensive line is the problem.
But something has got to change.
If Luck walks into the current situation in Indy, he'll wish he could have stayed in school. He'll probably be the next David Carr, sacked into a state of permanent fear.
Hopefully new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, formerly of the Steelers, has some ideas on how to improve the rushing attack.
Step 4: Make Special Teams a Priority
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In 2011, the Colts were bad at a lot of things.
Nothing was worse than special teams. The Colts ranked last in yards per kick return. Amazingly, they also ranked last in yards per punt return. In 2010, they ranked 29th and 28th, respectively. In 2009, 18th and 28th.
After the 2011 season, the Colts fired their special teams coach.
This is a long-standing problem and the Colts have refused to deal with it. They have been just as bad or worse at covering on special teams.
With the entire organization being rebuilt from head-to-toe, now is the right time to take a good, hard look at special teams performance.
There is no reason to consistently rank in the cellar of the league in special teams. A great return can provide a spark to the offense, something the Colts offense could've used this season. Just as importantly, a poor return can greatly diminish the chances of an offense scoring. It's hard to move the ball 80 yards on every drive.
Needless to say, this is an area of concern.
Step 5: Be Active in Free Agency
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Starting with their own free agents, the Colts should look to make some moves in the upcoming free-agency period.
Defensive end Robert Mathis is set to become a free agent, and the Colts would be crazy to let him get away.
Veterans Reggie Wayne and Jeff Saturday have been long-time contributors to the Colts, but it now looks as if one or neither will return in 2012. Wide receiver Pierre Garçon is also a free agent-to-be.
What do the Colts plan to do about these holes?
While this year's draft will be pivotal in terms of rebuilding, the Colts should also look to free agency to fill some of the many gaps in talent on the roster.
The crop of free agent wide receivers is as good as any offseason has ever seen, and the Colts may wish to capitalize there. They could also look to add a tight end, as Dallas Clark is aging and has become an injury risk over the past couple seasons.
The defense has plenty of room for upgrades, too, especially in the linebacking corps.
Not everything can be solved through free agency, but the same is true of the draft. The Colts have been notoriously absent from free agency during the Bill Polian era.
Perhaps the Ryan Grigson era will be slightly different.