Colts Have Puncher's Chance in Postseason, but Also Have Well-Defined Flaws

Rivers McCown@riversmccownNFL AnalystDecember 22, 2014

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It was a game that barely mattered to the Indianapolis Colts since the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos hold tiebreakers over Indy, thus making a run at a first-round bye improbable.

The Colts certainly played like it—the final score was 42-7 Dallas Cowboys. The Colts had no chance and no answers, as the Cowboys rolled over them, exploiting every weakness we've seen from Indianapolis this season. 

Top-heavy roster

It's not all that surprising that teams have caught on to the Colts. Because of the state of the roster as former general manager Bill Polian left it, new general manager Ryan Grigson's reliance on free-agency stopgaps and the foolishness that was the Trent Richardson trade, the Colts have built a top-heavy roster.

When you build a top-heavy team and the top isn't playing like the cream of the crop, you wind up with games like this. Luck commented that he thought the team was better than its on-field performance, but unfortunately, he knew the reality of the performance will be judged solely on what the game film shows, via Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star:

Stephen Holder @HolderStephen

Andrew Luck: "I would like to think we’re a better team than we showed, but the nature of sports is you are what you put on film." #Truth

Wideout T.Y. Hilton sat out Sunday's game with a hamstring injury. cornerback Vontae Davis has played through a multitude of injuries in the second half of the season. I am not as down on Andrew Luck's last month as some. However, I acknowledge he hasn't played to his full potential, and this game saw him quickly run into a huge game-script deficit with no deep passing game sans Hilton.

Honestly, the way offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton called this game, the Colts might as well have sat Luck. Instead, we were treated to a heaping helping of run-establishment that will never work, wide receiver screens to receivers with zero elusiveness and contested flat passes to Coby Fleener.

Zero running game

There is no run game. Let's tally up the rushing statistics from Sunday's game.

Rushing Statistics, Indianapolis versus Dallas
Dan Herron734
Trent Richardson213
Zurlon Tipton1-3-3
Source: NFL.com

They literally would have been better off calling every run play as Luck falling forward at the line of scrimmage.

This should come as no surprise to anyone, as Richardson has been so bad for so long that the Colts shouldn't even pretend he's a worthwhile bounce-back candidate at this point. Ahmad Bradshaw replacement Dan Herron isn't the answer either, a few decent efforts be damned. Playing in rotation with Richardson could make Jared Lorenzen look elusive and fast. 

Little pass rush

With Robert Mathis sidelined for the season, the Colts asked 2013 first-round pick Bjoern Werner to grow up fast and were forced to stick with stopgap pass-rusher Erik Walden on the outside. Against teams with bad quarterbacks, that works fine. Against teams with a viable option at the position? Not so much. 

Colts Pass Rush Versus Top-10 DVOA QBs, 2014
Week/QBQB Seasonal DVOA (Rk)SacksHurriesHits
1/Peyton Manning32.4%132
5/Joe Flacco20.5%4151
8/Ben Roethlisberger24.5%0132
11/Tom Brady22.7%046
Sources: Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus

These numbers look even worse when you consider that the explosion of sacks against the Baltimore Ravens came when Werner matched up against undrafted free-agent rookie tackle James Hurst. In fact, after a hot October, Werner has completely faded into the background. 

The Colts can generate pressure and sacks in bunches against the bad quarterbacks of the AFC South, but that won't mean a lot when they're tasked with possibly taking down Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady in a few weeks. 

The passing-game funk

We've been beating this drum a lot lately, but the Colts have had problems establishing a pecking order in the passing game with Reggie Wayne clearly struggling to play through his triceps tear and other injuries.

Before Bradshaw's fractured fibula, he at least provided a threat out of the backfield. None of the other Colts targets—be it receivers Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief or tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen—have really established themselves as a consistent threat, despite ample opportunity.

Colts Passing Offense, Week 11-16
OpponentPass Offense DVOAPassing YardsQB Hits/Hurries/SacksPoints Scored
v. NE-0.8%3033/14/120
v. JAC-60.7%2142/7/323
v. WAS24.7%3611/7/149
@ CLE-20.4%2697/11/325
v. HOU-22.1%1687/13/217
@ DALnot available2286/n/a/27
Sources: NFL.com, Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus

With tackle Gosder Cherilus dealing with injury and guard Hugh Thornton dealing with a case of being Hugh Thornton, the right side of the offensive line has been shuffled so many times that the edges are starting to get bent. It's been another problem that Luck has had to deal with as the Colts have slumped. 

And yes, Luck has made some bad reads and puzzling throws as well. He is prone to bad halves and holds the ball too long at times. 

That's not even every weakness the Colts have. We could stretch this to 2,000 words if we wanted to talk about the run defense, or D'Qwell Jackson's "pass coverage" ability. Suffice to say, there are a lot of reasons to believe the Colts are a one-and-done—at best—team in the playoffs.

Of course, that ignores a lot of things. It ignores that there is literally no reason to believe that a team can't halt the idea of "momentum" on a weekly basis. It ignores the fact that teams like the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants have made runs to the Super Bowl despite unimpressive regular seasons. 

The Colts, at their best, are a team that can compete in any shootout, play bump-and-run defense and shut down a short-game passing offense and have excellent special teams. That's a formula that can succeed in the playoffs.

Can the Colts halt the skid they've been in for the last month? That one's on head coach Chuck Pagano and the luck of the injury draw. I don't think there's any reason they can't on talent, but they have a lot to fix over the next few weeks before their first-round opponent arrives in Indy.

Rivers McCown is the AFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the co-host of the Three-Cone Drill podcast. His work has also appeared on Football Outsiders and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at @riversmccown.