Even After Peyton Manning Era, Indianapolis Colts Are Still a 1-Man Team

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Even After Peyton Manning Era, Indianapolis Colts Are Still a 1-Man Team
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Andrew Luck was drafted with the first overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts with some of the highest expectations for a young quarterback in recent history.

In 2011, the franchise was seemingly in shambles after the departure of Luck's predecessor and future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning, which led to the firing of head coach Jim Caldwell after a dismal 2-14 season.

In came new head coach Chuck Pagano, who brought in Luck to revamp the franchise. However, some things remained eerily similar to the days of Manning.

In Luck's rookie year, the Colts' defense ranked 31st in the league with a negative-71.4 overall rating, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). To put the similarities into perspective, during Manning's last three years with the team, the defense was ranked 29th, 30th and 28th, respectively.

Andrew Luck carried his team to victory yet again on Sunday.

This trend has already begun to continue in 2013. Against a haphazard Oakland Raiders offense, the Colts allowed 378 total offensive yards, 20 first downs, a 53.8 third-down conversion rate and more than 32 minutes of possession to a very inexperienced squad.

On the offensive side of the ball, one thing remains a constant: Reggie Wayne.

Wayne has been one of the most consistent weapons for Colts quarterbacks since he was drafted in 2001. The inconsistencies lie with the ongoing carousel of a supporting cast surrounding the veteran.

After Marvin Harrison retired, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, Anthony Gonzalez, T.Y. Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey have all seen time in the Colts' wide receiver corps alongside Wayne. However, the team has not been able to maintain a consistent secondary threat at the position.

The team has also shared the same troubles at running back.

Longtime starter Edgerrin James left the team after the 2005 season. Since then, the Colts have had five different opening-day running backs over the past eight seasons. The team has not exactly faltered when attempting to run the ball; however, they simply have not been able to excel due to the quick turnaround at the position.

One thing that Manning was fortunate enough to maintain was a solid offensive line. Anchored by longtime center Jeff Saturday, Manning was able to hide other deficiencies and sustain drives due to phenomenal protection.

Luck has not had the same fortune, which places an increased amount of pressure on the second-year quarterback.

In 2012, the Colts had one of the worst lines in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Indianapolis was ranked 31st in the league with a negative-46.4 rating in pass protection.

The Colts did address the issue over the offseason, bringing in Gosder Cherilus, Donald Thomas, Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes. However, ongoing problems in pass protection linger, as Luck was sacked four times for a total loss of 31 yards in Sunday's contest against a questionable Raiders pass rush.

Personnel changes on the offensive line and the quick-hitting offensive scheme of Pep Hamilton should have all but removed that problem.

Not so fast.

Perhaps the argument could be made that Luck has an even more difficult climb to the top Manning had in his early years. Working with a limited supporting cast while attempting to fill some very large shoes is a rather daunting task.

Luck seems to be up to the challenge and has placed this team on his back.

In 2012, despite some rookie mistakes, Luck was still able to pass for 4,374 yards—the seventh most in the league and a new rookie record. The young quarterback made mistakes, but he seemingly willed his team to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth.

After such an improbable run last season, Luck has picked up right where he left off.

With the rest of the offense looking rather lackluster and the defense caving to a poor offense, Luck was forced to carry the team once again. During the Colts' victory over the Raiders, Luck completed 18 of 23 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns—good for a 127.9 quarterback rating.

Despite Luck's success as a passer, he was equally as impressive rushing the ball on Sunday. He rushed six times for 38 yards with a late go-ahead score.

Luck was rather candid when asked by USA Today about his rushing yards:

I went through my reads. As you're sort of stepping up you sort of realize, 'Hey man, there's no one here.' That decision is like 'OK, I can make the first down.' Then you start running and it's 'OK, let's go for the end zone.'

Aside from Wayne, none of Luck's other targets surpassed more than 33 yards receiving. Starting running back Vick Ballard only recorded 68 yards on the ground—a less-than-spectacular performance. Without Luck's skill set and leadership, this team would not be much better off from their dismal 2011 performance with Curtis Painter under center.

The drastic changes in team records from Manning to Painter and then to Luck is a perfect indication of just exactly how much of a one-man show this Colts franchise has been for so long.

Indianapolis has an intriguing matchup next week against a revamped Miami Dolphins team that looks to make a run in the AFC East. Given the vastly higher level of talent the Colts will square off against in Week 2, it is safe to say Luck must be ready to shoulder the load once again and continue his dazzling one-man show.

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