How the Colts Have Closed the Gap with New England


Super Bowl expectations are high for the Colts this season which is identified as  a “Super Bowl or Bust” or “Win Now” mentality. Personally, I like the Colts mantra for this season which is “One Focus.” There is much debate regarding the Indianapolis Colts heading into the 2015 season.

Some in Las Vegas list the Colts as a top 5 team while on the other side there are the detractors like CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco and Sports Ilustrated’s Peter King, both of whom remain cynical in their opinions because of the Colts’ recent and “controversial” additions while leaving many weaknesses glaringly unaddressed.

No matter how one might rank the Colts in the ubiquitous weekly power rankings, the Colts look to have an elite offense and an improved defense heading into this season. The questions is whether the Colts have closed the gap on the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots or if they have finally supplanted them as the top AFC team. The Colts are 0-4 against the Patriots in the Andrew Luck era and there is no doubt their week six match up is circled on the calendar. If the Colts are to wrest control of the AFC from New England their first priority is winning this regular season contest.

Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The rosters of both teams have experienced significant changes since the 45-7 shellacking the Patriots handed the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. It is evident with the weapons surrounding Andrew Luck that the Colts have clearly improved their offense during the offseason. Meanwhile while the Patriots defense has been decimated by departures in the offseason.

While many pundits insisted the Colts had to acquire defensive stars and playmakers in the offseason due to their weaknesses of a lack of pass rush and stopping the run. Their opinion was based on the overall ineptitude of the Colts to stop the Patriots running game over the past three seasons and especially in their two meetings last season. Instead of listening to the opinions of others, the Colts took a different approach and added even more firepower to their already stellar offense in free agency and in the NFL Draft.

Perhaps General Manager Ryan Grigson knew more than the experts about what to expect in the upcoming season. While the Colts were adding additional firepower on offense the Patriots were having a fire sale on defense. Since the beginning of free agency, a defensive exodus has taken place in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

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The defensive backfield has been decimated by departures which includes all three starting cornerbacks who left via free agency. Such losses are nothing to scoff at when the list includes  cornerbacks Darrelle Revis (signed with the New York Jets), Brandon Browner (signed with the New Orleans Saints) and Alfonzo Dennard (signed with the Arizona Cardinals). With additional losses within the front seven including DT Vince Wilfork and recently released LB Brandon Spikes, the New England Patriots must rely on younger talent to bandage their wounds on defense.

Grigson raised several eyebrows in the offseason with the signings of stalwart veterans on short-term deals. Grigson refused to over-reach on younger starters desiring max contracts and long-term deals. While many insisted that this strategy only made the Colts older, the true genius in the signings of WR – Andre Johnson, RB – Frank Gore, LB – Trent Cole, G- Todd Herremans and DT Kendall Langford was that these veterans possess two key traits, hunger and leadership.

The Colts have a lot of youth at each of those respective positions. With those veteran additions, there is now a mentor and leader to help develop the younger pool of talent and an incentive to obtain that elusive Super Bowl ring which has evaded those veterans so far in their careers.

The offense of the colts appears much more improved despite being ranked 3rd overall in production last season. Both Johnson and  Gore are “making a seamless transition into the Colts offense” according head coach Chuck Pagano. Gore fills a huge void in the backfield which has not featured a 1,000 yard rusher since 2007.  During Tuesday’s mini-camp, Gore told NFL media’s Jeff Darlington that he looks forward to seeing less crowded boxes in 2015:

At wide receiver, Johnson adds his All-Pro experience to one of the deepest and most talented position groups in the NFL. For the first time in his career he has an elite quarterback to throwing him the ball. The receiving corp’s overall talent is a major factor in considering whether the Colts have closed the gap. Much to the chagrin of several NFL analysts, the Colts selected Phillip Dorsett with the 29th overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As our own Luke Schultheis wrote last week, Dorsett has displayed rare speed. CFL standout Duron Carter – son of Hall of Famer Cris Carter – signed in februrary and has also flashed playmaking potential during OTAs and adds further depth behind T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief. This receiving corp is reason enough to believe the Colts closed the gap and that’s without including tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. With all those weapons at Luck’s disposal and Gore taking hand offs, it’s enough to make Patriots coach Bill Belichick lose sleep at night especially with their depleted roster.

Defensively the Colts have added much needed interior pass rush on their defensive front with the additions of Langford and 3rd round draft pick Henry Anderson. Indianapolis Star’s Gregg Doyel confirmed the Colts have gotten bigger upfront. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was forced to utilize scheme blitzes last season to generate sacks in the wake of Robert Mathis’ suspension and season ending Achilles injury.  With the return of Mathis and having Cole playing on the opposite side makes an imposing combination on the edge. You can expect the sack production to increase in 2015. A solidified secondary has the potential to further improve their upon “no fly zone” with less scheme blitzes and more flexibility in coverage.

With an elite offense and an improved defense the Colts pose a significant threat to the reign of their arch nemesis. New England’s defensive downgrade puts more pressure on the arm of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady who turns 38 in August. Relying on Brady to win a shootout with the Colts may not be advisable. Eventually all regimes do fall. The Colts have closed the gap with New England and are focused on dethroning the Patriots on the their path to Super Bowl 50.