NEED MORE THAN LUCK
This is an article from the Sept. 7, 2015 issue
The Colts, who last season ranked third in yards gained and sixth in points scored, used their free-agent money to sign aging former superstars Andre Johnson (Texans) and Frank Gore (49ers), and their first-round pick on speedy receiver Phillip Dorsett (Miami). The Colts are building a monster, all right ... a monster fantasy football team.
How those players are going to help Indianapolis topple the Super Bowl champion Patriots, a team that has beaten the Colts three times in the past two seasons (twice in the playoffs) by a combined score of 130--49, is anyone's guess. Yet all you hear out of Indianapolis is that the pressure to win is on coach Chuck Pagano, who has yet to have his expiring contract extended. Not a word is said about the architect of the team, general manager Ryan Grigson, and his future status.
Make no mistake: If the Colts don't play better on the field this season—and everyone in Indianapolis, including owner Jim Irsay, is expecting this team to make the Super Bowl—it will be because of Grigson's failings.
You don't need a degree in pigskin to know the Colts have been consistently weak on the offensive and defensive lines. No quarterback in football was hit more than Luck in 2014. Indianapolis averaged 3.9 yards per rushing attempt, 24th in the league. On defense the Colts allowed 4.3 yards per attempt, which ranked 22nd in the league. Only the Cardinals and the Bengals had worse pass rushes, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Colts signed only Kendall Langford, a cap casualty of the Rams, on the defensive line and waited until the third round (where instant contributors are few and far between) to draft some help. They didn't sign anyone on the offensive line, hoping a good left tackle (Anthony Castonzo) and a full year from center Khaled Holmes can improve the unit. Moving second-year tackle Jack Mewhort outside from guard should be an upgrade from Gosder Cherilus, who was released. Those three will have to be good, because left guard Lance Louis and right guard Todd Herremans have had issues in their previous stops.
The Colts need a few old dogs to give them some bite at outside linebacker as Robert Mathis, a premier edge rusher until he tore his left Achilles last year, tries to come back from that potentially devastating injury at age 34. Trent Cole, 32, was an underrated player for the Eagles and should still have some good football in front of him. Former first-round pick Bjoern Werner has been a bust so far for Grigson; Erik Walden, who was given big money coming from the Packers, isn't an every-down player.
The Colts are set at inside linebacker and in the secondary. D'Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman are as good against the pass as they are against the run inside, if the line does its job. Vontae Davis is a difference-maker at cornerback, and has solid help from Greg Toler and Darius Butler. Mike Adams is looking to build off a standout season, and free agent Dwight Lowery is an upgrade at the other safety spot.
But the question remains, Have the Colts done enough on either line to become the contenders they believe themselves to be? Since quarterback Andrew Luck was drafted in 2012, they've taken an incremental step each postseason: 0--1, 1--1 and then 2--1, with a loss in last year's AFC championship game. A pessimist would say the Colts had great fortune in all of those victories: The Chiefs lost a 38--10 lead in the third quarter; the Andy Dalton--led Bengals were the walking wounded; Indianapolis struggled to put away a Broncos team that was led by an obviously hampered Peyton Manning, who had the eighth-worst yards per attempt (4.59) in his career.
The AFC is wide open this season. The Patriots are still the team to beat, but they should be weaker on defense without corners Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, which plays to the Colts' aerial attack. The Steelers might have a better offense, but even the Colts' defense has the edge. Baltimore's strength is in its lines but is a little weak on the outer edges. Denver has a well-rounded team, but can Peyton Manning play as well in January as he does in September at age 39?
Maybe the Colts are right about themselves, maybe they are Super Bowl contenders. If they aren't, then the blame needs to lie with the front office, not the coaching staff.
SI'S PREDICTION: 11--5
ANDY BENOIT ON THE COLTS' WEIRD DRAFT
When GM Ryan Grigson drafted Miami's Phillip Dorsett at No. 29, America said, Wait, what? Reportedly, so did a few Colts players. Sure, with his dazzling speed and playmaking prowess, Dorsett is a worthy first-rounder. If afforded clean access off the line, he can take the top off a defense. But the 2014 Colts already had the NFL's top-rated passing game. Their two best wideouts—25-year-old T.Y. Hilton and 22-year-old Donte Moncrief—still have their peaks ahead of them, and longtime Texan Andre Johnson (above) was signed as a badly needed possession receiver. Given the Colts' mediocre pool of defensive talent—particularly up front and in the pass rush—Grigson's selection of Dorsett looks a lot like a father of four buying a second sports car. But you can follow the GM's logic: With Andrew Luck, who has no discernible weaknesses, on track to become an all-time great, you can't go wrong by giving him more weapons. Defensive coordinators gulp when considering the electricity Luck has around him now—and he plays for a coordinator, Pep Hamilton, who has been very shrewd about leveraging receivers' speed through downfield route combinations. The Colts now have the scariest passing game in football.