The Indianapolis Colts are looking to improve on 2015 8-8 result and having some semblance of consistency on offense will go a long way towards improving the win column in 2016.
Trying to predict the Colts offense from week to week last season was a fools game. There was nothing resembling consistency and the offense didn’t do anything particularly well in 2016. Andrew Luck was never truly healthy, but at his best they were able to knock off the eventual Super Bowl champs and take the runners-up to overtime.
Matt Hasselbeck did an admirable job filling in for Luck last season, and his performance in Houston on a short week after being hospitalized for food poisoning should earn him a special spot in the hearts of Colts fans. But the additions of Andre Johnson and Frank Gore didn’t make the Colts more dynamic and the former of the two became a detriment to the team (save for Johnson’s performance in Houston).
The Colts were 30th in offensive efficiency, according to Football Outsiders. Their passing attack was 28th and rushing was 30th. A year earlier, the Colts were middle of the pack in efficiency at 17th (13th in passing, 27th in rushing). In more traditional stats, the Colts went from third in yardage in 2014 to 28th in 2015.
While it is still unclear what the offense will look like under offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, there is a lot to like about this side of the ball heading into 2016. Here’s what success will look like for each unit.
Luck stays healthy, improves on 2014 performance. Also learns to slide and get out of bounds.
As Luck goes, so go the Colts. This team will once again be dependent on his brilliance in 2016. While Luck clearly needs more from his support cast, there is plenty he can do to protect himself and make the offense more difficult to defend.
That starts with getting the ball out of the pocket more quickly. Quick throws and even quicker reads will translate to fewer hits, even more so than an improve offensive line would. The least sacked QBs are always the ones who get ride of the ball faster.
Luck needs to learn when to let a play die. Patience is something that even Peyton Manning took awhile to learn (coincidentally at about this same point in his career). While one of Luck’s most important attributes is never giving up on a play, it is that same feature that caused him to miss nine games last season.
Having consistency at center and coherent game plans all season long will be an improvement on last year’s campaign. There is no reason to believe that Luck won’t return to form in 2016 and there’s a good chance he’ll improve on his 2014 season.
The five same players start every game, give up fewer sacks (37 in 2015), and create some breathing room for the running backs.
Adding Ryan Kelly was a great start. We can argue about the value of taking a center with a first round pick, but Kelly is a vast improvement over all of the centers Luck has had in the NFL (save maybe A.Q. Shipley, who is still confused as to why he was benched).
The Colts still have to figure out who will start along the right side of the line at guard and tackle. GM Ryan Grigson is throwing warm bodies at the problem and letting new line coach Joe Philbin sort everything out.
Continuity will be key for the Colts in 2016. They have used 86 different line combination since drafting Luck. While you want the best possible protection, there is also a desperate need for consistency. These two things can go hand-in-hand, provided they start out with a strong lineup and no one meddles with it during the year.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
The receiving corps has a great starting trio with an awful lot of speed and ability. There is also Quan Bray, who will be primarily used as a return man but is in the same mold as Hilton and Dorsett. However that leaves just Moncrief as the only experienced receiver over 5-10. The Colts could use a bit more size at the position and there are five rookies at 6-0 or taller fighting for a roster spot.
Allen is the most intriguing player in this bunch. He’s undeniably talented and could be a top five tight end in the NFL if he can only stay healthy. It was clear Allen wasn’t used correctly in 2015, just a year after he recorded eight touchdowns. With a hopefully better line, Allen will be able to be used more as a pass catcher instead of an in-line blocker.
Hilton is at a bit of a crossroads with his career. He’s been a very good wide receiver in his first four seasons, but he needs to take his game to the next level. We said the same thing before 2015, but that can be chalked up to a lack of Luck on offense. He has the talent to be a top 10 wideout in the NFL, but needs to take that next step and earn the contract he recently signed.
Frank Gore tops 1,000 yards rushing (first time for a Colt since 2007) and his backups do an admirable job filling in. Frankly, this isn’t tough to improve on over the past four seasons.
The Colts seem to be pinning the run game on an aging veteran, much like what they are doing with the pass rush. Gore did his best in 2015 behind a weak line and with an inconsistent passing attack that didn’t afford him much extra space. A hand injury may have led to more fumbles from him than normal as well.
The problem is that Gore is 33 and the Colts are looking for a 1,000 yard back. Only 11 players in the history of the NFL have rushed for over 1,000 yards after turning 32, and just five have done it after turning 33. The odds are simply against Gore having the kind of season the Colts will want (and need) from him.
The Colts don’t need much from the run game either. Just enough to make it a credible threat thus making opposing defenses bite on play action. Considering the improvements on the line, running back is easily the weakest offensive unit since we don’t yet know how much more Gore can squeeze out of his body. A healthy Luck, improved blocking, and the same amount of effort from Gore as he gave in 2015 would make the rushing attack look far better this coming year.