It is no secret that the Indianapolis Colts' aerial attack has struggled of late. In fact, it is abundantly clear that they have not been the same since losing wide receiver Reggie Wayne for the season five weeks ago.
The Colts have not been able to find a viable replacement for Wayne, which has made things difficult for second-year quarterback Andrew Luck and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.
Once Wayne's season ended, the Colts put all of their eggs in one basket and hoped that newly acquired wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey would emerge in the veteran's absence. Unfortunately, Heyward-Bey's struggles was a major factor in the Colts' offensive decline.
Heyward-Bey has not only dropped five passes this season, but has failed to gain any kind of rapport with Luck—they just cannot seem to get on the same page.
This has resulted in terrible statistics between these two players. Heyward-Bey has only caught 27 receptions for 286 yards and a score on 59 targets this season. To put those numbers into perspective, he has been able to reel in just 49.76 percent of passes thrown in his direction with the Colts.
Hilton has also struggled as a result. Once opposing defenses realized that Heyward-Bey was not a reliable option for Luck, they began to roll their coverage in Hilton's direction. This resulted in three straight games in which Hilton has not been able to record a single touchdown or more than 46 receiving yards.
Possibly the final nail in the coffin for Heyward-Bey was in the form of a blatant drop on a wide-open pass from Luck in the third quarter of Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans.
Clearly, all confidence in the receiver was lost, and his branding as a former first-round bust was solidified.
It became obvious that a change needed to take place in Indianapolis.
According to Mike Wells of ESPN.com, head coach Chuck Pagano was asked about Heyward-Bey after Sunday's game, and his response seemed to suggest that he was leaning in a different direction. Pagano said, "We've got four guys that are up at the receiver position, so we're going to do what's best for this team and gives us the best chance to win moving forward."
Pagano also had some kind words for rookie receiver Da'Rick Rogers, who was active for the first time this season and drew a pass interference penalty on the only time he was targeted. Said Pagano, "When you saw Da'Rick come off the line of scrimmage and run right by a pretty damn good corner and draw that flag, you get excited about what the future holds for all those guys."
Of course, the head coach was not willing to just come out and say that Heyward-Bey would be seeing a reduced role, and Rogers would see more reps in his place. But after reading into Pagano's comments, it sure seems that this is exactly what will transpire.
Earlier this season, the Colts elevated Rogers from the practice squad after losing Wayne. Although he was not active until last week, he continued to receive praise from Pagano.
During an interview with Chris Wesseling of NFL.com in mid-November, Pagano seemed to look forward to seeing Rogers in action. The head coach said, "You've got a talented football player. Now we are going to give him an opportunity because he's earned it."
The opportunity for Rogers did not come immediately, but looking into the immediate future, it will be here shortly.
This Sunday, the Colts are set to take on the Cincinnati Bengals and their eighth-ranked pass defense. This matchup has a tremendous amount of playoff implications, as both teams currently hold an 8-4 record.
If the Colts are to find any success through the air against the Bengals, a dramatic change needs to be put into place.
The 6'3" frame and 4.5 speed of Rogers will be a welcomed addition to the Colts offense. His physical attributes are right along the lines of Heyward-Bey, but Rogers is also known to be a reliable pass-catcher and a very physical receiver.
Not to mention, Rogers must have a tremendous chip on his shoulder after going undrafted earlier this year.
The Colts offense has been in need of a catalyst to get things going in the right direction. Rogers could certainly be that spark that Indianapolis has been looking for since the loss of Wayne.
Looking ahead to the upcoming marquee matchup against the Bengals on Sunday, this change could not have happened at a better time.