Head coach Tony Dungy, offensive coordinator Tom Moore, and offensive line coach Howard Mudd are all retired and will be replaced for the coming season.
But Peyton Manning is back, and that’s all that really counts…or is it?
They also lost Marvin Harrison to free agency/salary cap casualty. Now lacking a true No. 2 wide receiver, it appears as though Peyton Manning may finally get his chance to make something out of nothing, something the future Hall-of-Fame quarterback’s most caustic critics have always quipped about.
Even with the new questions about the offense less their former coaches, the defense that was ranked No. 1 in the league in 2007 still has pressing issues of its own.
As usual, the Colts looked to build through the draft; in fact, they didn’t make any free agent acquisitions at all due to their well-stated salary cap problems.
Tom Moore and Peyton Manning came to Indy around the same time. The offensive scheme which Moore created was tailored to, and even personalized for Peyton Manning; likewise, Manning framed himself and his style of play after the offense which Moore created for him.
Manning feels comfortable with new head coach Jim Caldwell as well as the new coaches being brought in to take the places of the assistants who left. Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen was credited by the star quarterback for calling the most effective plays in the red zone, helping the team to league-leading statistics in that category.
Peyton Manning carried the offense on his (right) shoulder last season despite a complete lack of production from the running game. Plagued by injuries at running back, they only went over 100 yards rushing as a team four times last season. Thus, the Colts added insurance to the beleaguered Joseph Addai by drafting the UConn Husky Donald Brown, the heralded halfback who will help keep Addai healthy.
The impact of the loss of Marvin Harrison may not be quite as drastic if Anthony Gonzalez can fill that No. 2 receiver role with confidence. With Peyton Manning throwing him the ball, what reason does he have not to be confident?
Young players like Roy Hall and Pierre Garcon may also be expected to serve more time in the slot, and will need to carry their share of the load when called upon.
Seventh. Twentieth. Nineteenth. Second. Twenty-third. First. Seventh.
That is the history of the Colts defense in points allowed over the past seven seasons. Fairly inconsistent, wouldn’t you say?
It’s easy to say though, that when they perform at a high level, they hold that standard all year long.
The defense is predicated entirely on speed—size and strength are nearly non-existent. From pass-rush specialists Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson, their primary strategy is to swarm to the ball. Not very many of them are incredible physical specimens of strength—men of steel, if you will.
Thus, they drafted USC defensive tackle Fili Moala, a hulking 6'4" 305-pound monster. Though his stats in college may not tell a story of dominance, his contribution was in the way he held the middle of the line, allowing the notorious linebackers to blitz freely.
Their poor performances at the beginning of the season stemmed from their inability to stop the run, but in their nine-game win streak they only allowed opposing teams to go over 120 yards two times. His contributions on run defense will be felt significantly.
Chances of Winning This Year
The Indianapolis Colts will definitely contend in the tight race of the AFC South yet again, probably dwelling somewhere near the top of the rankings of their division as they usually do.
But the question is, where will they end up? With all of the teams in the AFC South (and all over the AFC) taking steps to drastically improve themselves over the course of the offseason, via draft or free agency, the Colts are no longer necessarily guaranteed a playoff spot.
They will need to show the same resiliency, the same competitive grit, that gave them a nine-game win streak to close out the season and a playoff berth for the seventh straight year.
Those seven straight years of playoff appearances are indicative of the Tony Dungy era, which lasted from 2002-08.
Needless to say, Jim Caldwell has some huge shoes to fill. It remains to be seen whether he will bring the Colts the same success that his predecessor brought, but with such a high standard of excellence it’s hard to believe that anything less than a playoff berth will be acceptable to Indianapolis’ hardcore football fans.
Chances of Winning in the Future
The window for a Super Bowl is generally regarded as about three to five years. Thus, one would think that with Indy winning the Super Bowl three years ago, and being touted as contenders for a couple of years before that, their window is closed.
Peyton Manning is 32. Reggie Wayne is 30. Dwight Freeney is 29. But that’s where veteran leadership comes into play.
None of the wide receivers besides Wayne have more than three years of experience. Donald Brown sits behind four-year starter Joseph Addai on the depth chart. Their offensive line is full of youth and veterans alike. If the successors at all of these positions can learn from their predecessors and superiors, they will stand to be an offensive powerhouse for a long time coming.
They will need to bolster their pass rush in upcoming offseasons to help them continue their production on defense. Though their outside linebackers caused four forced fumbles, they produced zero sacks last season. That’s right, a donut.
They are stacked with youth nearly everywhere else on defense, especially in the secondary, and the continued development of key role players will be essential in the Colts defense remaining among the league’s elite over the coming years.