Nothing motivates a team like failure — and to the Indianapolis Colts, that’s exactly what the 2009 season was.
With the Super Bowl defeat still fresh in their memory, the Colts will be looking to rebound behind the brilliance of Peyton Manning. Still, as the Super Bowl proved, they need more than just Manning … but not quite as much as you’d think.
THE GOOD NEWS
1. Passing perfection?
As long as the Colts have a fit and healthy Manning, they’re always going to be at the top of the league or thereabouts — such is his talent. He finished third overall in our pure passer gradings, though it’s important to remember that unlike the guys who finished above him, Manning’s regular season finished a lot earlier.
You blitz him, he’ll make you pay (he had a 93.6 QB rating against the blitz, for what it’s worth). But if you give him time, he’ll make you pay — throughout 2009, teams struggled mightily to stop Manning making plays. And it’s not just what Manning does a passer. He’s a player so good that he negates the importance of the left tackle, with Charlie Johnson‘s struggles hidden behind his ability to read and react to defenses.
Manning has been so good for so long that it’s hard to imagine any of that changing, which means the Colts will continue being a contender.
2. Bringing the heat
We’d like to go down a little less obvious route, but after some deep thinking it would be a disservice to this dynamic duo (and overly generous to any other unit on the Colts’ team) to talk about anything else. Things are looking better considering the addition of Jerry Hughes, which should help take some of the load off Freeney and Mathis (who were responsible for 54.75 percent of the total pressure Indianapolis generated).
After the injury to Freeney hampered his production in the Super Bowl, the extra depth should help keep the pressure on when they lose one of their defensive stars. There’s no easy way to replace our No. 1- and No. 2-ranked defensive ends, but there’s more there than there was.
THE BAD NEWS
1. Failing to tackle obvious problems
Once again the Colts have failed to address their problems on the inside of the defensive line.
The end result? They go into the season with a rotation of last year’s poor starting duo of Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson, the more situational Eric Foster and a Fili Moala who was terrible as a rookie (-10.4 rating).
Breaking the candidates down, Muir is likely to see the majority of the snaps. And with good reason — he’s the least bad of all of them (it feels wrong to use the word best when describing someone who scored a -6.9 overall rating). Muir was the most solid in run defense (still below average) but offered virtually nothing rushing the passer during his 329 attempts at doing so. The other starter, Johnson, is the biggest concern, offering even less pass rush and a far greater liability with his run defense (-11.3 run defense).
As for Foster, he’s done a decent enough job in the nickel. He generated a healthy amount of pressure (33 total pressures including the playoffs) but struggled when he played more snaps in the base defense. This group of players is likely to create the same old problems that the Colts, and without massive player development we can’t see any way around it.
2. No bang for their buck
For a team as prudent as the Colts, a five-year, $43 million deal for Kelvin Hayden was a little surprising.
Granted, Hayden had played well in 2008. But he only managed 637 snaps and was hardly among the league’s elite (ranking 23rd) on his way to 8 pass deflections and 3 interceptions. So when he missed significant playing time we questioned the move, and then we saw his performance and he questioned it even more.
Injury can be used as an excuse (with the concern then being regarding his durability), but the facts remain Hayden gave up 3 touchdowns and a very high 65.8 percent of balls thrown his way while recording only 4 pass deflections and 2 interceptions. He earned his -8.7 rating and will need to play better than the 97th-ranked corner we had him if the Colts are going to contend with the more explosive passing attacks in the NFL.
In looking at the Colts’ roster, there are an awful lot of average and below-average players. But they have a number of players so good they make you look past this. It’s a formula that has worked for many years now and there’s no reason, even with the AFC South getting better and better, to think it’s about to stop now. There’s more January football ahead for this team.