There was more uncertainty surrounding the Indianapolis Colts than any other team in the league heading into Week 1, and while plenty of questions still remain going forward, much has already been settled just one game into the season.
Most of it was settled before they’d even finished a half, as a matter of fact.
The following are 10 things we learned about the Colts this afternoon, and as if you didn’t already know, none of them is anything to be happy about.
The entire Colts season was all but written off as soon as news broke that Peyton Manning would be missing the majority of it, and the notion that somehow a team with four other former All-Pros on it could no longer even compete just because their starting quarterback was missing did not sit very well with this group.
The sense of frustration on behalf of the Colts was palpable before the season even began, and this afternoon against Houston, it was evident in every move they made.
They threw on their first offensive play. They hustled on both sides of the ball. They refused to smile under any circumstances.
This team has a chip on its shoulder, and even though that might not make much of a difference after the way they looked today, they did at least confirm that it’s there.
For a team so hell-bent on vindication, the Colts sure didn’t do much to prove their critics wrong this afternoon.
They said the Colts offense just couldn’t click without Peyton Manning directing it.
They were right.
They said the Colts defense would buckle without the cushion of a Manning-driven lead to rely on.
They were right.
And when they said the Indianapolis Colts are a two-win team without Peyton Manning in the lineup, all the evidence we have so far indicates they were right about that too, and if the team that plays Cleveland next week looks like the one we saw today, that assessment might actually prove to have been a little high.
The Colts still have plenty of time to change the tide, and there’s still no question that sprinkled throughout their roster is enough exceptional talent to do it.
One game into the season, however, and the possibility they’ll actually pull it off could not seem any more remote.
Any time a franchise quarterback goes down, it’s natural to assume his team is going to be worse off without him. This is especially true in the modern era when the passing game is more vital to success than it’s ever been before, and even more so when the team in question relies on its quarterback to the extent that Indianapolis does.
But when a former 10-6 playoff team is down 34-0 to a team they beat 30-17 in their last meeting and the only discernible difference is the absence of one particular player, there have to be other factors at play.
Jim Caldwell has been a voiceless, anonymous ghost his entire career, and while the public has so far overlooked his complete lack of a presence because his team just kept on winning, there’s no way he’ll be able to continue evading mass scrutiny if the Colts keep playing the way they did today.
The Colts were outplayed in every aspect of this game.
They gave up 363 total yards in the first half alone. They gave up passing touchdowns. Rushing touchdowns. Special teams touchdowns. They converted only one third down the entire game, while letting Houston rack up 26 total first-down plays (12 rushing, 13 passing), and their first trip to the red zone didn’t take place until the fourth quarter, when the game was already well out of reach.
If there isn’t significant improvement in all areas next week, backlash against Caldwell will begin to mount.
It’s amazing how much is painfully obvious about this team after just one game, and none of it is positive.
Most obvious is that it looks lost without its best player playing.
Most disturbing is that even if Peyton were playing, it’d still have plenty of problems.
The Colts that played today looked worse than they did last year, and the team that played last year looked worse than the year before. The Colts know where their weaknesses lie, but fail to address them year after year.
The offensive line is still a liability. The defense is still undersized. The team was much more active than usual in free agency this offseason, but the only new starter they have is a rookie offensive lineman they acquired through the draft.
What’s that old saying about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?
Don’t they have a word for just that sort of thing?
Now that we’ve seen the team in action, every nervous Colts fan out there can finally rest easy today, now knowing full well just what kind of season they have in store for them.
A long one.
This year is going to be painful to watch for everyone in Indianapolis. Even if the Colts do somehow surprise everyone and overachieve this year, a realistic win-ceiling has already been set for them after today’s abysmal performance, and let’s just say it’s definitely not a two-digit number.
It’s not like they don’t deserve it or anything, though.
Colts fans are used to seeing their team lose meaningful games three or four times a year, tops. They’re arguably the most spoiled fanbase in the entire league, and until this season, their team had been a serious championship contender for practically a decade straight.
They all knew this day was coming, they just didn’t think it would be here so soon.
And they really hoped it wouldn’t take place until after February 5, 2012.
If you still have any doubt just how much impact Peyton Manning had on his team, just look at the Colts’ schedule this year.
Indianapolis has five primetime games this year. They’re on Sunday Night Football three times, they’re on Monday Night Football in Week 4 and they’ll get another shot at Houston in a Thursday night game on NFL Network in December.
Is there any chance they’d have landed those lucrative spots if the NFL knew the team they’d be getting is the one that played today?
If the Colts continue the path they’re on, then, that means everybody else is going to have to suffer through this mess right along with Colts fans, as there’ll be five times this year when the only football option on your TV screen will be to watch those atrocious Manning-less misfits frolic around for another 60 minutes.
And as happy as other teams must be to know the AFC probably just lost one of its premiere contenders, we’re all going to miss out on the year’s worth of awe-inspiring highlights we all know Peyton would have provided this season had he been healthy.
Kerry Collins may still come around. He’s with a new team; we’ve all been famously reminded that this offense isn’t exactly “vanilla,” and as such a tenured veteran, he’s definitely earned the benefit of a doubt.
The Kerry Collins that played today, however, had no business trying to lead this offense yet and never should have taken the field to begin with.
He simply wasn’t ready.
It wasn’t just that he was unfamiliar with the offense, either (which he was), he looked like he was unfamiliar with the game of football. The guy threw 10 passes in the preseason and hasn’t started a regular season game in almost a year. A month ago, he was retired.
A few hours ago, he looked like he should’ve stayed that way.
He still could bounce back, and he could come out next week a stronger, more confident replacement.
Until that happens, though, the Colts still have a huge void at their most important position.
Joseph Addai ran hard today, but he didn’t get very far: together, he and rookie Delone Carter compiled just 64 rushing yards, and neither back had much impact on the game beyond that limited contribution.
What do you expect, given that the offensive line has been a concern for years now and that today, with every starter healthy, it was as big a concern as ever before?
The offensive line was just as bad at creating running lanes as it was protecting Kerry Collins, and if it mattered who screwed up more than who in today’s nearly scoreless meltdown, these guys would have to be near the top of the list.
The running game has been questionable in Indianapolis for years.
Today, we learned this season will probably be business as usual.
The Colts defense was always statistically bad, but they were also the personification of the “bend, don’t break” cliché.
Without a potent offense to keep them in favorable situations, we’re now seeing for perhaps the first time what this unit is really made of, and one game into the season, the results are far from pretty.
The Texans moved the ball at will for as long as necessary to put this one away, and the Colts defense had no answers for anything the Foster-less Texans threw at them.
This unit has so far shown no improvement whatsoever and, in fact, looks even less competent than it did last year (20th overall in total defense).
Unless the defense has a complete overhaul and soon, expect the lopsided losses to start piling up quickly for this team.
Even only one game into the season, with a showing this poor the prospect of the Colts landing a high draft pick next year already seems virtually inevitable.
And don’t think fans in Indianapolis haven’t already realized what that means.
Andrew Luck is the universally anointed heir to Manning, and if Week 1 is any indication, the Colts already have a leg up on their competition in the race to obtain him.
The Chiefs had a pretty poor performance today, losing by 34 points to a Bills team nobody expected to do well, the Steelers were demolished 35-7 by their biggest division rival, the Ravens, and the Falcons, a popular preseason pick to represent the NFC in next year’s Super Bowl, fell to the Chicago Bears to the tune of 30-12.
Is there any doubt every one of those teams will still have more wins than the Colts this season, however?
Who’s going to do worse?
There’s a lot of bad teams out there, but none look worse than the Colts do right now, and at this point, none are therefore more likely to be picking early come next April.
And with little else for Colts fans to look forward to after today’s troubling loss, that’ll just have to do.