Indianapolis Colts: Projecting Indy’s ceiling with healthy Carson Wentz

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz (2) draws back to pass Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, during a game against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz (2) draws back to pass Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, during a game against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. /

In Sunday’s victory over the Houston Texans, the Indianapolis Colts embodied the type of team they can be when healthy. Winning 31-3, there was plenty of good to take away for a team that moved to 2-4.

While it’s easy to downplay the victory because it was against the 1-5 Texans, it does prove that the Colts are at least a class above the NFL’s worst, despite what their current record shows.

The victory was highlighted by a dominant Jonathan Taylor, an aggressive defense and a healthy T.Y. Hilton. Taylor’s 145 rushing yards and Hilton’s 80 receiving yards paced an offense that scored 31 points. The defense, on the other hand, had three takeaways and limited Houston to just as many points: three.

As the joy of victory starts to wear off, the question of how replicable this performance really is begins to set in. Should Colts fans prepare for the disappointment that became common in the first five weeks, or was yesterday just the start of good times?

What is the Indianapolis Colts’ ceiling in 2021?

Indianapolis fans should be cautiously optimistic. After starting the year with some brutal losses, they are only second in the division behind the Tennessee Titans, who are certainly a class below teams like the Buffalo Bills.

Fans should be optimistic because ahead for the Colts is a schedule that they could easily turn into a string of wins while making a run at the division. They should be cautious about this optimism, too, because getting too excited only allows for a bigger let down.

If Indianapolis plays the rest of the season with the level of execution they did yesterday, they could finish the year with a 9-8 record at worst. Here is a look at the remainder of the Colts’ schedule:

  • at San Francisco 49ers
  • vs. Tennessee Titans
  • vs. New York Jets
  • vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
  • at Buffalo Bills
  • vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • at Houston Texans
  • vs. New England Patriots
  • at Arizona Cardinals
  • vs. Las Vegas Raiders
  • at Jacksonville Jaguars

It is realistic to expect Indianapolis to go 7-4 over that stretch with wins against the 49ers, Titans at home, Jets, Jaguars twice, Texans, and Raiders. How well they play will determine if they turn this into more or fewer wins.

What must the Colts do to make the playoffs?

A 9-8 record isn’t a shoo-in for the post season. If the Colts finish with that record, they will depend a lot on the Titans for their postseason hopes. If they want to control their own fate, they will have to upset some of the dominant teams on the schedule. Looking at the games they already played this year, that isn’t a far-fetched task.

The teams Indianapolis lost to have a combined 15-8 record and are all above .500 except the Seahawks. The Colts were also competitive in all of the games. They lost to Seattle by 12, the Rams by three, Tennessee by nine and Baltimore by six in overtime.

In order to come out on top of these competitive games, the Colts must consistently use the formula they did Sunday; that’s winning the turnover battle, getting Taylor over 100 rushing yards and stretching the field with Hilton.

The defense hasn’t been as good this season as they have in years past. If they are going to continue to struggle stopping teams, that means they have to create timely turnovers.

The offense must then capitalize with either their workhorse running back or explosive passing game. Taylor is averaging 5.4 yards a carry and Indianapolis won both the games he went over 100 yards. In Hilton’s first game back, he averaged 20 yards a catch on four catches. The combination of a strong run game and a big shot receiver can help the Colts to create more consistent offense.

After such a slow start, they will have to put all of these things together weekly to give themselves a shot at the postseason, but they are capable.