5 Bold (and Slightly Less Bold) Predictions for the 2014 Indianapolis Colts
It's time to start making predictions. After all of our discussions, lists and rookie reviews, it all boils down to what we think the team will be doing come the regular season. After that, of course, comes the playoffs, and the question of whether the team will even make it.
The Colts look to have an exciting year ahead of them, no matter what happens in the playoffs. They have a franchise quarterback, a deep silo of weapons and one of the league's easier schedules. Is that a third straight playoff berth I hear?
The Colts Won’t Win the Super Bowl
Early last week, Nate Davis of USA Today predicted that the Colts were going to win a Super Bowl. That, in part, led to this piece by Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue proclaiming that the Colts are expected to win the Super Bowl in 2014. This makes little sense to me.
Now, let me make this clear. I’m not saying the Colts can’t win the Super Bowl. I am not saying the Colts are a bad team and everybody in Indianapolis is terrible.
I am saying that they shouldn’t be among the favorites to win the Super Bowl right now. There are three teams that get the lion’s share of the Super Bowl favoritism, and those are the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. There are very, very few credible analysts that will put the Colts on the level with those three teams right now.
The Colts certainly have a chance to win a Super Bowl, although it would take some luck and all-time performances from Andrew Luck, but to say it’s expected puts things in a completely different realm that this team currently does not deserve. The team still has glaring holes on defense and on the offensive line, holes that will make it very difficult for the Colts to win the 50th Super Bowl.
Is it impossible? Absolutely not. But I agree with Mike Wells of ESPN.com: It sure isn’t the most likely outcome of this season.
I will say, however, that the Colts take the AFC South for a back-to-back division championship and their third straight playoff appearance.
Andrew Luck Will Take a Leap Forward
In the previous slide, I mentioned that it would take a few superhuman performances from Luck in order for the Colts to win a Super Bowl in 2014. The positive side to that is that Luck should take a major step forward in his development in 2014, making those performances distinct possibilities.
Luck had some real struggles during the back half of last season, as the team was blown out by mediocre teams like St. Louis and Arizona while struggling mightily against bad teams like Houston and Tennessee. By the end of the season, Luck had somewhat figured out how to manage his poor interior offensive line and inconsistent defense, but the playoffs and heightened competition saw the Jekyll-and-Hyde version of the second-year quarterback return.
Luck was brilliant at times in both playoff games, but also a turnover machine, throwing seven interceptions.
In 2014, I expect him to put together 16 games of play like he did in the first seven games of 2013. That is, I expect him to be a top-10 statistical quarterback at the very least. With a litany of weapons available to him and another year of experience, this is the year that Luck’s full potential is really going to be on display. That is, as long as he can stay healthy.
The Offensive Line Will Improve…Kind of
There are legitimate reasons that the Colts offensive line should improve in 2014. Hugh Thornton, for example, should develop and improve in his second season in the league. Donald Thomas returning from injury should help at left guard. Samson Satele didn’t exactly set a high bar for Khaled Holmes to live up to.
With Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus providing relatively steady play at tackle, the interior can’t really be worse than it was in 2013, right?
Yes and no, would be my answer. One would think Thornton would develop in his second year, but there are plenty of players in the league that never seem to put it together. Considering how unimpressive Thornton was for most of last season, that would put the Colts in a poor position.
There’s no guarantee that Thomas, who’s never started 16 games in a season, returns from injury well. Khaled Holmes couldn’t get on the field when Satele was in Indianapolis last year, so there’s definitely no guarantee that he’s an upgrade. While Satele was not a starting-quality center, he did have a massive experience edge over Holmes.
Jack Mewhort is an addition, but he’s a rookie with no NFL experience. And if you don’t think that injuries are going to continue to be an issue on the offensive line, you are an eternal optimist.
I think the interior will improve in 2014, but the extent of that improvement will be much smaller than some expect, and it may not be very noticeable. It’s definitely not turning into a strength anytime soon.
Pep Hamilton Evolves
We’ve discussed ad nauseam about the burden that Pep Hamilton carries. Hamilton ran the ball too much and at the wrong times in 2013, didn’t maximize his quarterback’s strengths and utilized inefficient personnel groupings.
I’ve been one of Hamilton’s biggest critics, but I do think that he will evolve into a better offensive coordinator in 2014 and lead the Colts offense to prominence.
Now, I don’t think Pep will be perfect. He’ll likely rely on the power run game and power formations more than I’d like. But I do think we see better use of players like T.Y. Hilton in 2014, along with more sets that maximize Luck’s talents.
It’s the latter that the offense will really depend on. As I tweeted about earlier this week, Andrew Luck’s talents won’t be on display if you try to force him to be a West Coast-style quarterback. Let him drop back deep in the pocket and create plays by extending them and finding holes deep down the field.
Andrew Luck gets better as the dropback gets deeper. DON'T MAKE HIM A WEST-COAST QB. https://t.co/Hr1OvILGkb— Kyle J. Rodriguez (@ColtsAuth_Kyle) June 8, 2014
You don’t need to protect him as much as you need to let him free.
Mixed Defensive Results
It’s more difficult to project the defense in 2014, because you really have to separate the potential improvement or decline into two categories: run defense and pass defense.
First, I absolutely expect the run defense to improve. The addition of Arthur Jones is a major upgrade on the defensive line in run defense, and the continual maturation of Josh Chapman at nose tackle is an exciting thing. With a defensive line rotation of Cory Redding, Ricky Jean Francois, Jones, Chapman and a little bit of Montori Hughes and Fili Moala thrown in, the defensive line has a pretty solid group of run-stuffers.
The main group of Redding, Jean Francois, Jones and Chapman combined for a positive-39.6 Pro Football Focus grade against the run last season. With the linebackers relatively unchanged (D’Qwell Jackson isn’t very good in run defense anymore, but neither were Pat Angerer or Kelvin Sheppard), the run defense is better on paper.
The pass defense, however, doesn’t inspire the same confidence. The secondary suffered a major blow in losing Antoine Bethea, even in his recent aging. Combine that with a lack of pass-rush improvements, Robert Mathis’ suspension and his likely regression to the mean in sack totals and you get a pass defense that has a much better chance of declining rather than improving.
The team should be better against running backs and tight ends with Jackson added to the linebacking crew, but how impactful that will be to the overall defense is questionable.