Relax, everyone. It’ll take another stinker like 2015 to initiate valid questions about his career trajectory
1. Andrew Luck is fine. And the Colts agree. (Hence the $87 million guaranteed.) Luck’s first three seasons were so overwhelmingly impressive, it will take another stinker like 2015 to initiate valid questions about his career trajectory. In order to get back on track, Luck, however, must be willing to play quicker in the pocket—at least when it’s not third-and-long. His best trait is his preternatural ability to extend a play without breaking down its structure. This is a double-edged sword, though. Most of his best strikes come on extended plays, but so do most of the all-too-common crushing blows that he takes.
2. Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski must help Luck by calling more quick-strike passes on early downs. The offensive line isn’t good enough to let the Colts be a regular five- or seven-step dropback team. Chudzinski, who is also willing to run the ball on early downs, prefers to play out of base “12” personnel (1 running back, 2 tight ends, 2 wide receivers). But there’s not enough depth behind No. 1 tight end Dwayne Allen to do this in 2016. Chudzinski will have to build more packages in “11” personnel (1 TE, 3 WR).
3. The biggest area of concern along Indy’s O-line has been right up the middle. Opponents last year exploited the utter lack of athleticism with stunts that looped pass rushers inside, forcing guards and centers to react with quick lateral twitch. GM Ryan Grigson spent a first-round pick on Alabama’s Ryan Kelly, hoping this will fix the center position. Guard remains a question.
4. T.Y. Hilton is a lethal deep threat, but he’s not a true No. 1 receiver. He struggles against physical man coverage and therefore must be helped by a scheme that allows him clean access off the line of scrimmage. Ways to gain clean access: putting Hilton in the slot, putting him in motion and aligning other receivers very close to him, in a “stack” or a “bunch.”
5. Frank Gore can still play. Maybe not quite on an everydown basis, but he’s still a No. 1 back on first and second down. Gore is best served in a gap-scheme ground game that features pull-blockers inside. That capitalizes on his patience and vision, as well as his ability to get skinny through small cracks. The risk with a gap-scheme ground game: your play-action has to feature pull-blockers, which takes extra time to unfold. The reward: if the O-line can hold up, those play-action passes go deeper.
6. The Colts’ best two pass rushers are 35-year-old Robert Mathis and 33-year-old Trent Cole. Both play naturally low to the ground, and last year they flashed the necessary quickness to bend the edge. But there was once a time when Mathis and Cole steadily illuminated these traits. Most likely, head coach Chuck Pagano and new defensive coordinator Ted Monachino will have to rely on designer blitzes for generating pressure in 2016. Expect those designer blitzes to involve linebackers right up the middle.
7. One of those blitzers will be 11-year veteran D’Qwell Jackson, who is coming off a very fine season. Jackson is adept at keying and diagnosing run designs. A 240-pounder who needs to be kept clean from blockers, it helps that he’s playing behind a Colts D-line that’s young in places (nose tackle David Parry, defensive end Henry Anderson) and bigger than those of past years.
8. It’d be interesting to find out why linebacker Sio Moore did not play much in 2015. The assumption would be that he struggled to learn a new scheme after being dealt over from Oakland last September. As a Raider, Moore was one of the bright young linebackers in the NFL. He has sensational downhill burst, especially when attacking runs to the outside. Don’t be surprised if Moore winds up playing ahead of Nate Irving in the base and nickel packages.
9. There’s a lot of pressure on new corner Patrick Robinson. Playing opposite an estimable perimeter stopper like Vontae Davis (once his injured ankle heals, which is expected to be around October), Robinson will be frequently targeted. Inconsistency at the No. 2 corner spot really hurt the Colts last season. Robinson was brought in to rectify that.
10. If Robinson doesn’t perform, Pagano’s hands will be tied. He prefers matchup-based coverages to pair with his designer blitzes. This is particularly true when the Colts show a split-safety look.
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