Throughout the offseason, I will be running through a series of Q&As with our fellow SB Nation blogs across the AFC, checking up on the state of affairs for the Jets’ conference rivals.
We continue with a team in Indiana that experienced a roller coaster 2019 — the Indianapolis Colts. Chris Blystone of Stampede Blue was able to answer a few questions regarding Indy’s 2019 campaign.
1. Jacoby Brissett put up below average numbers across the board, while the Colts checked in at 25th in pass offense DVOA and 19th in overall offensive DVOA. Did he hold the team back, or is he a solid game manager to hold the fort down for one more season? Do you see the Colts making any major quarterback moves in the coming months?
He absolutely held the team back. That isn’t altogether surprising. Few teams have a backup plan for dealing with their franchise quarterback retiring two weeks ahead of the season, and Jacoby is a very good backup quarterback who did the best he could given the circumstances.
I fully expect that the Colts will make significant moves at the quarterback position this offseason, and I think that will mean drafting one with an early pick. Because they have Brissett in place, they can afford to bring whoever they draft into the fold slowly and let them develop under Frank Reich’s tutelage before taking over the starting role.
2. The Colts went from an up-and-coming 10-win team to a disappointing 7-win team. Besides the obvious downgrade at quarterback, what were the primary reasons for the Colts’ dip — particularly throughout their 2-7 finish?
The biggest factor was injuries to the wide receivers. The team’s slide following week eight coincided with T.Y. Hilton suffering a major calf injury that kept him out or severely limited until he was able to get healthy in week 16.
Additionally, Devin Funchess, who was intended to be the Colts’ WR2, broke his collar bone in week one and was unable to return from IR. Parris Campbell, the Colts’ rookie wide receiver who was thought to provide a great yards after the catch threat by way of his game breaking speed, started the season with a hamstring injury before adding an abdominal tear, a broken hand, and a broken foot to his rookie season. To cap it all off, tight end Eric Ebron finished his season after week twelve, going on IR to have surgery on both ankles.
By the end of the season, Jacoby Brissett was throwing the ball to a receiver group that primarily consisted of undrafted free agents. That would have been a lot to ask even of Andrew Luck, but it was a completely doomed proposition for Brissett.
3. Anthony Castonzo is an impending free agent. As a fan of a Jets team that suffered from horrendous offensive line play in 2019, I have my eyes keenly fixated on Castonzo’s status. How likely is it that he leaves Indianapolis, and how much do you think he has left in the tank heading into his age-32 season?
Unfortunately for Jets fans, I don’t think there is any way he plays somewhere other than Indianapolis. The Colts have a ton of cap space, love Anthony Castonzo, and will likely do whatever they can to bring him back.
The problem is that Castonzo said at the end of this season that he will be contemplating the idea of retiring. He had one of his best seasons as a pro in 2019, so it certainly isn’t about ability, but he is considering his own long-term health as well as other personal factors he didn’t elaborate on that would be a factor in his deciding whether or not to continue playing.
If Castonzo decides to retire, it will leave a major hole on the roster and be a major hit to the strongest position group on the team. He has been a consistently underrated player and has been a major factor in the rise of Quenton Nelson to such a prominent place in the NFL at large.
4. Indy was led in receiving yards by Zach Pascal with just 607, while T.Y. Hilton averaged a career-low 50.1 yards per game. How much of an issue was this position in 2019, and in what ways do you see the team addressing it this offseason? Is Hilton on the downswing entering his 30s, or did his numbers simply suffer from the quarterback change?
There were a couple of major factors that came into play here. First, as I discussed earlier, was the injury factor. Hilton is 30 years old, and at 5’10” 180lbs, he is starting to see the toll taken on the body of a small NFL receiver. Prior to last season he had missed 4 total games over the prior six years of his career. Last season he played through both a low and high ankle sprain and basically willed the Colts to the playoffs as they made a run late in the season.
The reality is that the Colts cannot keep viewing him as the iron man he has been. They need to surround him with other quality receivers so that he can continue to be effective over the next few years. Thankfully, it appears that this draft is heavy on receiver talent, and I am sure that the team will address it in the draft and potentially in free agency.
Having said that, I think that there were many instances where Brissett simply didn’t trust himself to throw the ball deep, and that further hindered Hilton’s production.
As for Pascal, he should really be commended for the year he had. The Colts desperately needed a receiver to step up, and the UDFA certainly did. He is a hard working guy and should make a good depth receiver, you just don’t want him as your top target.
5. Frank Reich and Chris Ballard are widely regarded as one of the best head coach/general manager duos in the NFL, a reputation they have certainly earned. Did 2019 do anything to significantly change that notion?
There are certainly some Colts fans who have doubts about both of them, but I am not among them. When Chris Ballard took over in 2017, he did so with a lame duck coach and a roster that was heavy on salary and low on talent. His starting quarterback sat out the whole 2017 season with a shoulder injury, after which he was able to move on from the coaching staff and find his coach of the future.
He then hired Josh McDaniels, who infamously did what anyone should have expected from a worthless Patriot, and sniveled his way back to Foxboro, leaving Ballard holding the bag, as well as the handful of assistant coaches who had already signed contracts with the Colts. To cap it all off, he saw his top 5 QB retire unexpected with two weeks to go before the start of this season.
There are currently three Colts players who are under contract that were brought in by Ryan Grigson during his entire run from 2012-2016. To think that Chris Ballard turned over the entire roster and built a team that could lose its franchise quarterback as well as all three starting receivers and still win 7 games is a testament both to the job he has done as well as the coaching job done by Frank Reich.
Colts fans should absolutely demand better from the team, and this is a big offseason for this front office, but it would be silly to discount the major adversity they’ve had to overcome. Thankfully Jim Irsay is a patient owner, and I don’t think the team is going to act rashly.
6. If you could add one offensive and one defensive player from any point in Jets history to the current iteration of the Colts, who would you choose?
This is a great question. As far as defense goes, it is tough to look at anyone other than Darrelle Revis. He had one of the most dominant careers as a shutdown corner in the history of the league during his time with the Jets, and adding a player of his caliber would instantly make this a very good defense. The Colts have a great slot corner in Kenny Moore, and rookie Rock Ya-Sin developed steadily over the course of his first season. If he were paired across from Revis, this defensive backfield would be a major headache.
On offense I had a harder time, but with Anthony Castonzo in question, the choice was made easier for me. I’m taking recent Hall of Fame inductee Winston Hill and putting him right beside Quenton Nelson. The move seemed fitting, since he began his career as a Baltimore Colt.