Posted by Will Brinson
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While the Colts were (*YAWN*) winning their ninth straight division title last year, holding off challenges from, I don’t know, the Jaguars I guess, Indianapolis showed cracks in its foundation that will have to be rectified if the Colts plan to continue dominating the AFC South.
Remember when the Texans upset Indianapolis in the season opener, and we (or at least, I) thought it was a brand new day in that division? Remember when, with the 38-35 loss to the Cowboys in Week 13, we wondered if Indianapolis, 6-6 at the time, would even make the postseason? Well, the Colts corrected themselves to win the final four games of the regular season, winning three of three division contests in the process, to earn the chance to lose to the Jets in the first round of the playoffs.
The Colts, though, no longer seem infallible. They’re, in fact, awfully beatable, and they’ll have to make some corrections this offseason to make it 10-straight championships.
Running game, head coaching questions
The Colts haven’t compiled a top-10 rushing attack since 2001, but that hasn’t stopped them from taking home nine-straight 10-win (or better) seasons since then (for the record, Indianapolis had the No. 7 rushing offense in the league in 2001, but the team finished 6-10). Last year, though, you could see the lack of a top-notch back to bail out QB Peyton Manning when he wasn’t playing well was a real detriment to the team.
The Colts ranked 29th in the run game last season with 92.7 yards per game. Hey, it’s an improvement on 2009 (32nd in the run game with 80.9 yards per game), but still, it’s not good enough.
Regarding Jim Caldwell, is anybody convinced he’s the next coaching legend? His record is outstanding, but the critics would say you could throw any old guy wearing a headset out there and pay him to watch Manning win games for you. I’m not saying those critics are right; I’m just saying it’s something to think about (though it’s not a great thing that owner Jim Irsay had to give him a vote of confidence after the 2010 season).
1. Better quality offensive linemen
This partly ties into the running game, but the Colts are in need of a solid group of guys to protect Manning. C Jeff Saturday is fine anchoring the middle of the line, though he’s in his mid-30s now, and while the line improved late in the season (not that it had anywhere to go but up), a left tackle would be nice so Charlie Johnson could move to the right side of the line. Manning does a nice job of getting the ball off quickly (which is why he doesn’t take many sacks), but you don’t want him taking more hits than he must. Although the Colts hardly ever draft offensive linemen in the early rounds of the draft – Bill Polian just doesn’t do it – this year might not be a bad idea to start.
2. Run-stopping DT
While Fili Moala, in 2010, had a big improvement over his rookie season, the Colts still ranked 25th in run defense. That’s why many mock drafts have Indianapolis selecting Oregon State’s Stephen Paea with the No. 22 pick (Polian also isn’t a fan of taking DTs very high in the draft). There’s little question that DEs Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney don’t have a problem finding the quarterback. But in order for the Colts to make deeper playoff runs – and four times in the past six postseasons, they’ve failed to win a game (the other two times, they made the Super Bowl) – they need somebody who can stop the run.
3. Backup QB
It’s time to stop thinking of Manning as an immortal Superman who rarely makes mistakes and never gets hurt. Instead, Manning was more mistake-prone than usual last year (his 17 interceptions were the most since 2002), and his backup, Curtis Painter, is simply not starting NFL quarterback quality. The problem here is that Manning – who is still a top-five quarterback, for sure – is going to make sooo much money the remainder of his career, Indianapolis probably can’t afford to bring in a quality, start-on-a-dime signal-caller. So, for now, the Colts will continue to pray the 35-year-old Manning doesn’t fall off a cliff (figuratively and literally).
Caldwell took a ton of heat after the Colts playoff loss to the Jets for calling an ill-advised timeout that allowed the Jets to regroup and win the game at the last minute. Sure, he’s 24-8 (2-2 in the postseason) in his two years in Indianapolis, but Caldwell isn’t shown the same respect as his predecessor Tony Dungy (one was the leader of the team, some say, and one is basically a figurehead coach).
On offense, though, Manning is the one running the offense, and how he plays usually is how the Colts go. For now, Indianapolis will be fine, because Manning is still really, really good. But what if he’s not next year? Is Caldwell the guy who can right the ship if everything is going bonkers? Frankly, we don’t know for sure. It shouldn’t matter this year or next (unless Manning gets hurt). But soon enough, that question will be the most relevant one to ask.
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