by Ian Hill
Every year, the Indianapolis Colts go into training camp as one of the elite teams in the NFL. Every year, Andrew Luck gets a little better and little more dangerous. Yet every year, they fall short. Sure, they get one game closer to another Vince Lombardi trophy in Indianapolis, but if we know anything about the Colts, coach Chuck Pagano, and especially Andrew Luck, that’s simply not good enough. This year will be different.
Of course, Andrew Luck is elite. He may actually be the best quarterback in the NFL. So we’re not going to specifically talk about him much. We don’t have to. In 2014, he had a 61.7 completion percentage for 4,761 yards, 40 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. So there. Yet why did the Stanford educated quarterback come up short again? The individual stats are great; they could and shall be a lot better. The Colts ranked 13th in 2014 with a 41% 3rd down conversion rate. They were also 12th in red zone touchdown percentage and tied for 21st in total turnovers. Those are some very pedestrian numbers overall, especially for a team with such individual stats.
First off, the running game has been sub-par for a while. The Colts have always been known as a passing team, from Johnny Unitas to Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck. That’s not to say Indy hasn’t had some good backs along the way. Far from it. Lately though, it’s been bad. They got lucky with Ahmad Bradshaw last year (before he got injured) and Donald Brown in 2013, but they had to find someone, anyone, who was willing to produce after the Trent Richardson catastrophe.
Enter Frank Gore. Yes, he’s getting on in age at 32. In running back years, that translates to about 85. However, Gore notoriously trains harder than anyone around him and has eight 1,000 yard seasons out of the last nine. He has shown no sign of slowing down. The interesting thing is how he comes into play with a team that threw the ball over 60% of the time. Gore might actually be better this year. Gore typically ran against eight-man fronts in the NFC West with the 49ers. This year, however, it is very likely that he will see a lot of seven-man fronts with the arsenal of wide receivers on the Colts’ roster. Defenses are going to have to choose their packages wisely which spells great potential for Gore. Remember, a good running game directly contributes to a good passing game. As an extra added bonus, he has Dan “Boom” Herron behind him to keep him honest.
Yet let’s not forget about the receiving corps. The Colts’ passing game will be dramatically improved by the addition of Andre Johnson and the Colts’ first round draft pick, Phillip Dorsett (scary thought isn’t it?). We all know Johnson’s resume: A perennial top-tier receiver with hall of fame numbers. Even though he’s getting a bit older at 33, he doesn’t have to be what he was in Houston when you’re across the field from T.Y. Hilton. Johnson can now play under defense backfields while Hilton takes the safeties deep. Pair that with the tandem tight ends of Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, and you have all the weapons you could ask for.
Why stop there? Donte Moncrief and his 13.9 YPR are back along with highly touted Miami product Phillip Dorsett. In 2014, Dorsett caught 36 passes for 871 yard and 10 touchdowns. You’ll see him in a lot of four-receiver sets and he will probably get the bulk of the return duties. Think of him as this year’s Emmanuel Sanders.
With all those weapons, the Colts will finally get over the hump of falling short in the red zone and on 3rd down. Colts brass did well in these key pick-ups and drafted very intelligently. The tools are all in place and the rest of the NFL is officially on notice.