The Indianapolis Colts fell to the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs by a score of 43-22 on Saturday night. After a plethora of mistakes, Indianapolis fell behind early and was never able to regroup.
Now, after their 2013 season has officially come to a close, its time for Indianapolis to look forward and decide the direction of the team moving forward.
There are several developments that must come to fruition for the Colts to deviate away from the current trend of their games turning into one-man shows led by quarterback Andrew Luck. Despite being a playoff-caliber team, the Colts are in need of some major changes if they are to take the next step as legitimate contenders for the Super Bowl.
Let's take a look at a step-by-step process of what Indianapolis must do before the 2014 season is underway.
This should be the Colts' top priority heading into the offseason. After watching Saturday's game against the Patriots, it would be easy to speculate that Luck simply had an off game and forced throws that resulted in interceptions.
Well, that just wasn't the case.
Luck was pressured early and often against the Patriots due to a crumbling offensive line. Although the second-year QB was sacked just three times, he was hit a total of 10 times throughout the game.
This same trend continued throughout the duration of the regular season. Even though Luck was only sacked 32 times in 2013, he was hit 107 times—the third most in the league.
Whether it's through the draft or free agency, the offensive line must be on the top of the Colts' to-do list starting now.
Indianapolis gave up its 2014 first-round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns in order to acquire running back Trent Richardson earlier this season. To put things simply: The Colts look to have received the raw end of the deal.
Through 14 games played with the Colts in 2013, Richardson was only able to rush for 458 yards and three touchdowns on 157 attempts—an average of just 2.9 yards per carry.
To put things into perspective, Donald Brown became the team's featured back midway through the year, and he continued that role in the playoffs. Against the Patriots on Saturday night, Brown carried 17 times to Richardson's three.
The challenge for the Colts now is to figure out Richardson's future. This team needs to build in many different areas to be successful. The decision that must be made is whether to cut ties with the running back by trading him for a loss, or sticking with him and developing him over the offseason.
This may seem like a rather drastic action; however, if it is decided that Richardson will not be able to contribute in a big way, recouping a draft pick for the upcoming 2014 draft may not be out of the question.
This really will not be difficult for Indianapolis. The biggest loss this season for the Colts was the season-ending injury to veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne. The injury occurred early enough in the season for Wayne to return to the team before the 2014 season begins.
However, it was not a secret that Luck and the rest of the offense struggled in Wayne's absence.
T.Y. Hilton was able to establish a solid rapport with Luck, and he picked up a great deal of the slack. After Hilton, there really was not a legitimate second option on the team.
Rookie wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers was able to step up on occasion, but he is still raw and did not record a single reception against the Patriots on Saturday.
Even when Wayne comes back healthy, a backup plan needs to be put into place in case of any setbacks or recurring injuries. The Colts cannot afford to fail to surround Luck with viable weapons going forward.
After all, a great amount of Luck's mishaps this season was due to the fact that he was not on the same page with his weapons. If this same scenario were to arise once again, Indianapolis must make sure that the offense will not take a large step backwards as it did in 2013.
The Colts ranked 26th in the league against the run in 2013. They were allowing opponents to average 125.1 yards per game on the ground over the course of the regular season. Obviously, that trend continued—and even got worse—over the playoffs.
The Patriots decided to run the ball through the heart of the Colts defense on Saturday. They learned early on that Indianapolis did not have an answer to their running game. This led New England to rush a total of 46 times for 234 yards and six touchdowns.
Simply put, that kind of rushing performance should not be afforded to any team in the playoffs.
One of the main concerns in the 2014 draft and free-agency period should be reinforcing the defensive line and linebacker positions. Within these two positional groups are the largest holes on the Colts defense.
The Colts must remain savvy during the draft, as they are without a first-round pick. This may force their hand, as they could look to free agency to fill these gaps.
With so much of this team's success riding on the arm of Luck, it is time for the defense to step up and help him win games.
Once all of these pieces are put into place, there is only one thing left to do: Let Andrew Luck Shine.
One of the most talented young quarterbacks in all of football, Luck has shown that he can do it all. Whether it's by taking on the role of a leader, willing the team to victory with his arm or eluding defenders by gaining yardage on the ground, he continues to thrive through adversity.
A common topic throughout the regular season regarding the Colts was questioning whether Luck was doing too much.
Well, he wasn't.
He was doing exactly what every great quarterback in the history of the NFL has done: Whatever it takes to win.
The problem with Luck was simply his supporting cast. A shaky offensive line, decimated wide receiver corps, ineffective running backs and a defense giving up way too many points are what doomed the team this year.
Once the proper pieces are in place, Luck can continue to do what he has been doing all season. However, with more effective players surrounding him, the debate regarding if he is being overused should not be in question.
Even though the season is over for Indianapolis, this is still a very young, talented team, and with the proper personnel decisions going forward, they will continue to get better.