2014 Record: 11-5, Lost in the AFC Championship Game
After an 0-2 start with losses to Denver and Philadelphia, the Colts kicked into high gear, going 11-3 over their final 14 games to march to an 11-5 record and another AFC South Championship, their 3rd in a row. Led by superstar QB Andrew Luck who threw for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns, the Colts lit up the scoreboard. Only twice did the Colts score less than 20 points while defensively the Colts were able to hold opponents under 20 points 7 times. This is a recipe for success and the Colts rode it to the playoffs. In the playoffs, the Colts continued their run by easily dispatching of the Cincinnati Bengals followed by sending Peyton Manning home for the winter with a win over the Broncos. As we all know, the Colts season came to a deflating end as they were squashed by the New England Patriots 45-7 in a game that probably wasn't even as close as the score indicated.
Lighting Up The Scoreboard
As you would expect with a team who has a veritable superstar under center, the Colts did pretty well offensively. Their ranks are below:
406.6 yards per game: 3rd of 32
28.6 points per game: 6th of 32
305.9 Passing yards per game: 1st of 32
100.8 Rush yards per game: 22nd of 32
3.9 yards per carry: 25th of 32
42 Passing touchdowns: 1st of 32
9 Rushing touchdowns: 24th of 32
29 sacks allowed: 8th of 32
What obviously jumps off the page is the Colts pass game. They led the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns. Andrew Luck is officially "The Man" in Indy and the Colts let him off the leash last year. One guy who really reaped the rewards is breakout WR TY Hilton, who's tremendous speed and route running ability put a ton of stress on a defense and led to 1345 yards in 2014. Hilton put on a show against the Houston Texans (223 yards, 1 TD), Pittsburgh Steelers (155 yards, 1 TD), and Cleveland Browns (150 yards, 2 TD, beating Joe Haden for 100 of those yards and both TDs). It wasn't just Hilton having all the fun however, as Reggie Wayne (779 yards), TE Coby Fleener (774 yards) and rookie Donte Moncrief (444 yards) also helped contribute to the passing attack.
Where the Colts need some help is in the backfield running the football, where they weren't very productive or efficient. They were in the bottom half of the league in rush yards, yards per carry, and rush touchdowns. Even worse, consider that out of the 9 rushing touchdowns the Colts scored, Andrew Luck had 3 of them. So the Colts generated only 6 touchdown runs from their running backs. The Colts acquired Trent Richardson from the Browns 2 years ago for a first round pick, but he was an epic flop. Ahmad Bradshaw provided quality play as a runner and pass catcher, but he wound up injured and missing the season. Boom Herron filled in better than most could hope but he had fumble issues and doesn't have a lot of talent. The Colts need better production from the run game going forward.
The Colts stayed mostly intact in the offensive staff. Pep Hamilton remains as the coordinator. Charlie Williams has shifted from WR coach to RB coach, and assistant OL coach Hal Hunter has been promoted to co-head OL coach. Jim Hostler, the one time Niners offensive coordinator, was brought in to coach the WRs. The Colts also promoted Rob Chudzinski to assistant head coach.
But can they play D though?
The Colts certainly had the offense to contend but did their defense stack up? Here are the numbers:
342.7 yards allowed per game: 11th of 32
229.3 passing yards allowed per game: 12th of 32
113.4 rushing yards allowed per game: 18th of 32
23.1 points allowed per game: 19th of 32
12 interceptions: 21st of 32 (tied)
41 sacks: 9th (tied)
27 passing TDs allowed: 20th of 32
14 rushing TDs allowed: 21st of 32 (tied)
4.3 yards per rush allowed: 23rd of 32
I think it would be safe to say that the Colts were middle of the pack in terms of defense in 2014. They were slightly above average in pass defense and slightly below in run defense. This somewhat jives with what the Colts have been all about for the last 15 years. While they weren't horrendous against the run, their lack of overall size and strength is a bit of a hindrance in stopping the tough run games. In the AFC title game, LeGarrett Blount ran all over the Colts as they were physically manhandled.
However, their pass defense was quite good and former Miami Dolphins first rounder Vontae Davis looks to be coming into his own as one of the great corners in the game. Greg Toler is no slouch on the other side, and safety Mike Adams was a Pro Bowler in 2014. The Colts also did fairly well in the sack department, ranking in the top ten, and this is without the contribution of Robert Mathis, their best pass rusher. Mathis is scheduled to return this season and should provide a boost to the Colts pass rush.
Also of note, both Colts specialists (kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee) were selected to the Pro Bowl after great seasons. The Colts are very sound in the kicking game and that is an underrated piece of their success.
WR Reggie Wayne- 64 receptions, 779 yards, 2 TD
RB Trent Richardson- 519 yards, 3 TD, 229 receiving yards
PR Josh Cribbs- 608 KR yards, 125 PR yards
S LaRon Landry- 45 tackles, 2.5 sacks
DT Ricky Jean-Francois- 13 starts, 18 tackles, 3 sacks
WR Andre Johnson- 85 receptions, 936 yards, 3 TD
RB Frank Gore- 1106 yards, 4 TD, 111 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD
DE/OLB Trent Cole- 52 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 3 FF
G/T Todd Herremans- 8 starts in 2014
DE Kendall Langford- 25 tackles, 1 sack
ILB Nate Irving- 46 tackles, 1 sack in 8 games
S Dwight Lowery- 79 tackles, 1 sack, 2 FF, 2 INT
Free Agency Thoughts
Coming off of a year where the Colts were only one win away from playing in the Super Bowl, they were among the most aggressive teams in free agency in adding talent, but did so with low cost veterans to plug their weak spots, and they did an excellent job in my opinion. Andre Johnson is a big, physical WR who still put up 85 catches last year catching passes from a trio of quarterbacks who combined aren't close to Andrew Luck. He should be an upgrade over Reggie Wayne at the #2 WR spot. Frank Gore, although old, still had a productive season in 2014 with an 1100 yard season and represents a likely significant upgrade over the completely unproductive Trent Richardson. Inserting these two into the starting lineup not only makes the Colts better at both spots but also gives a relatively young Colts team two highly respected veterans to lean on. Todd Herremans was injured in 2014 and is also getting up there in years but he is a tough player, capable of playing guard or tackle, and is a quality starter. The Colts offensive line had struggles last year and Herremans, again, represents a likely upgrade.
Defensively, the Colts made some strides through free agency to try to get tougher and better up front and against the run. The Colts brought in Kendall Langford, a 315 pound defensive end who fits the 3-4 as a run stuffer and provides a modicum of pass rush. They also imported Nate Irving from Denver, an early down run stopper who was rated by Pro Football Focus as the #4 run stopping inside linebacker in the first 9 weeks of 2014 until Irving went down with injury. He will combine with Langford to give the Colts some more beef to stop the run. Trent Cole is a nice addition as well, he's a smart veteran who knows his responsibilities against the run and gives the Colts another pass rusher to throw at teams. Between the signing of Cole and the return of Robert Mathis, along with the potential progression of 2013 first round pick Bjoern Werner, the Colts may be looking at a very formidable pass rush in 2015. Former Jet Dwight Lowery has managed to stick around the league as a middle of the road starting safety and provides some ball skills in place of LaRon Landry.
Round 1, 29th overall: Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami
Round 3, 65th overall: D'Joun Smith, CB, Florida Atlantic
Round 3, 93rd overall: Henry Anderson, DE, Stanford
Round 4, 109th overall: Clayton Geathers, S, Central Florida
Round 5, 151st overall: David Parry, DT, Stanford
Round 6, 205th overall: Josh Robinson, RB, Miss State
Round 6, 207th overall: Amarlo Herrera, ILB, Georgia
Round 7, 255th overall: Denzelle Good, OL, Mars Hill
The Colts first pick probably raised some eyebrows, as it certainly did to mine. The Colts decided to go wide receiver in the first round grabbing Phillip Dorsett, the speedster out of Miami. While I am a fan of Dorsett, it seems like an extraneous luxury pick by the Colts who could've really used an impact defender or offensive lineman early. Dorsett will add to the WR corps that includes TY Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Vincent Brown, and Duron Carter. I suspect Dorsett will be slowly worked into the game plan as the Colts try to figure out how they deploy their embarrassment of riches in the passing game. Still, you can see the logic as TY Hilton is due for a contract and even if he is signed, the Colts could be looking at a long term 3 WR set that has TY Hilton and Phillip Dorsett (2 speedsters who can blow the top off) and Donte Moncrief who is just an athletic freak.
I actually like what the Colts did in the mid-rounds. D'Joun Smith was an under the radar prospect but a guy who really competes, and Henry Anderson is a big, tall blue collar lunch pail type guy who can be a major factor in the DL rotation early in his career. Josh Robinson is a potential steal there in the 6th round, the guy is a compact, bowling ball of a player with good hands out of the backfield. Teams are not going to want to tackle this guy after tackling Frank Gore all game. All in all, after the first round, the Colts did not go with the "sexy" pick but opted to stick to their board and grab solid prospects.
The 5 Best Players on the Colts
As you can imagine with an 11-5 team, the Colts have some pretty good players. These are the 5 guys that stand out.
Andrew Luck- Quarterback
Let's get the obvious out of the way first. Andrew Luck is a superstar and pretty much inarguably one of the top 8 quarterbacks in football. The amount of talent, poise, smarts, and clutch play Andrew Luck has displayed in 3 years is an absolute rarity and he is well on his way to being in the conversation as the best quarterback in football. You sometimes wish Luck would throw less interceptions but this guy is special.
TY Hilton- Wide Receiver
Hilton, who entered the NFL as a rookie with Andrew Luck in 2012, has quickly ascended as one of the best young WRs in the game. After cracking 1,000 yards in 2013, TY Hilton made another leap in 2014. While he had the same amount of receptions as he did in 2013 (82), he added 250 yards to his total to finish with 1,345 yards. Hilton is one of the exciting WRs out there, capable of shredding the top off a defense while also being able to work the middle with his route running. Revis, Cro, and Skrine are not going to have it easy chasing down Hilton, who once made the Legion of Boom look terrible.
Robert Mathis- Pass Rusher
Robert Mathis missed all of last year, and his status as of right now is still up in the air, but his outstanding track record as a pass rusher has him high on this list. Mathis has recorded 111 sacks in his career, including 19.5 sacks just 2 seasons ago in 2013. He is a non-factor against the run, but that's what he's not out there to do, he's out there to sack the QB. And he does it really well.
Vontae Davis- Cornerback
In a former life, Vontae Davis was a supremely athletic but underachieving first round pick by the Miami Dolphins. He has since blossomed and made good on his athleticism and talent that made him a first round pick since going to Indy. Davis had a banner season last year, was Pro Football Focus's #2 graded corner (above Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis), and his metrics were superb as he was 2nd in the league in cover snaps per reception allowed and 6th in yards per cover snap allowed. Davis is an animal, and I'm glad he never was able to become this while with Miami.
Anthony Castonzo- Offensive Tackle
Anthony Castonzo, a Colts first round pick out of Boston College, took a while but now seems to be realizing his potential that made him a first round pick. Castonzo had a very nice season last year, particularly in pass protection as he allowed only 2 sacks and 9 QB hits. His pass blocking efficiency was good for 8th among offensive tackles in the league. He is not a big asset in the run game, but all things considered he is a very, very good left tackle.
My oh my. After giving the Jets an opening weekend at home against the Browns, they are immediately thrown into a road matchup against a team who was in the AFC Title Game. This will be the first true litmus test for the Jets. The Colts were a winner already and may have actually become a significantly better team, at least on paper. They have a top notch, young, improving QB with even more weapons to throw to, they've added some solidity to the offensive line, they found a running back who has had plenty of success in this league, and they brought in some beefy reinforcements on defense. The Colts went into this offseason wanting to show that they are ready to go to the Super Bowl and win it. Message received, Colts.
Offensively, the Jets are likely going to have to rely on Chris Ivory, Stevan Ridley, Bilal Powell, and/or Zac Stacy, whoever is on their depth chart at running back. To have a chance this game, the Jets are going to have to control the clock and play keep away. The Jets do have the power backs that often are a source of frustration for the Colts. Even with bringing in Langford and Irving, it may not be enough to drastically change the Colts run D. If the Jets can establish the run game, it will set up Geno or Fitz with play action fakes and the ability to attack the weaker parts of the Colts secondary. If the Jets can't get the run game going however... it could be a long day as the Colts send the dogs and force Geno to throw into the strength of the secondary.
On defense, Macc's newly built secondary will be put to the test. The Colts have the ability to flood the field with wide receivers between Hilton, Dre, Moncrief, and Dorsett. The Jets are extremely stout against the run and I do not anticipate the Jets will have a problem shutting down the Colts run game. I suspect the Colts will try to spread the field with wide receivers and try to pick out good matchups on the Jets nickel and dime corners. Getting to Luck is going to be paramount so he doesn't have time to find those guys.
This is the first litmus test for the Jets new and improved defense, and I'm really excited for this one. This may be the game that shows if the Jets are for real or if they are still a ways away.
Game Time: Monday, September 21, Lucas Oil Stadium at 8:30 p.m.
Be sure to check out the Colts SB Nation Site - Stampede Blue.