5 Ways the Indianapolis Colts Can Get Back on the Right Path in 2012
2011 has been an unmitigated disaster for the Indianapolis Colts.
Peyton Manning's absence exposed a slew of flaws with a team that hit bottom after an unprecedented run of success.
The Colts had made it to the playoffs for eight consecutive years between 2002 and 2010 and were perennial contenders. This year, they have yet to win a game and have looked absolutely awful at times.
What do the Colts need to fix to get back on the right path in 2012.
Here are five solutions.
Hire a Top-Tier Defensive Coordinator
The Colts fired defensive coordinator Larry Coyer a few weeks ago after his defense continued to underperform.
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The Houston Texans defensive turn-around this year is primarily due to new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. One man can make a huge difference. Phillips has the Texans' defense ranked No. 1 overall in defense and playing hard every game.
The Colts need to find a solid replacement for Larry Coyer who will lead a turnaround for the defense. Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis (if he re-signs with the Colts), Antoine Bethea, Pat Angerer and Jerraud Powers are good players, but they need better pieces around them and a better scheme to make it hard on opposing teams' offense.
I don't know who the perfect candidate would be, but if current Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier is fired, he'd be an excellent choice.
Have Respectable Quarterback Play
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The Curtis Painter experiment exploded in a shower of Erlenmeyer flask shards, awful interceptions and wretched decision making.
Kerry Collins wasn't much better in the first few games of the season before he was injured. The jury is still out on Dan Orlovsky, but it's too late to show much at this point anyway.
Either Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck would be far superior to that trio of stinkitude.
While it's still an open question as to whether Manning will be released or traded, due to their deplorable record, the Colts have the inside track on the first pick in the 2012 draft. That means that they would have the opportunity to draft Andrew Luck. Stanford quarterback Luck is widely considered to be the best quarterback prospect to come into the NFL since Manning himself.
Although there will no doubt be some growing pains for Luck, he will bring much more to the table as the offensive touchstone than Painter, Orlovsky or Collins did this year.
Draft Defensive Talent, Especially for the Secondary
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The Colts haven't drafted well in higher rounds for the past few years. Guys like Mike Pollack, Tony Ugoh and Jerry Hughes underperformed and didn't live up to their high-draft status.
While Larry Coyer's soft Cover 2 defensive scheme did the Colts no favors this season, there's also a severe talent shortage on defense. After Jerraud Powers, the talent at cornerback is woefully inadequate.
Jacob Lacey should be relegated to nickel packages, and while Chris Rucker and Kevin Thomas are still young, they are too raw right now to be difference makers.
The Colts have never been very good on special teams, but their struggles have been particularly egregious this season. Improving their defense and getting more depth would help the team in all phases of the game.
Either Fire Jim Caldwell or Free Up Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen
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Jim Caldwell's coaching seat is hotter than Atlanta after William Tecumseh Sherman visited. He's done nothing this season to show that he can rally a team or make decisions that will positively impact the outcome of games.
My biggest beef with Caldwell is that he is timid when he should be bold and seems to react instead of being aggressive and proactive.
A winless team needs to do things differently to gain competitive advantage. Where have the trick plays, onside kicks and decisions to go for it on fourth down been? Those types of bold moves can change the momentum of games.
If the Colts end up "oh-fer" for the season, I won't be surprised if Caldwell does lose his job. His replacement will almost certainly be an upgrade.
If he's not fired, the Colts need to encourage offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen to take off the gloves and really open up the offense.
Ensure That Key Offensive Playmakers Get the Ball
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This point is closely tied to better quarterback play, but it still makes sense that one of the reasons why the Colts offense has been so anemic is that their playmakers aren't getting the ball in places where they can make plays.
Pierre Garcon has shown that he's a dynamic receiver with the length and strength to make incredible plays.
Dallas Clark was exceedingly quiet even before his leg injury slowed him down.
Even the normally productive Reggie Wayne's numbers are down this year.
These guys absolutely have to catch accurately thrown balls in stride in order to get positive yards after the catch.
Better quarterback play and finding ways to get the ball to playmakers in space will greatly improve the Colts' offense in 2012.