No need for Colts to panic after loss to Bills
After a second consecutive busy offseason in which Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson made some key moves to acquire veteran players, expectations for a special year resounded throughout Indianapolis.
For many Colts-believers, however, today’s regular season opener may douse those hopes.
Final score: Bills 27, Colts 13.
Before fans in Indianapolis start to panic, be reminded that it’s only one game. In 2003, the eventual Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots, lost their opening game in Buffalo, 31-0. They would go on to win 17 of their final 18 games — including Super Bowl XXXVIII.
I’m not saying the Colts are as good as the 2003 Patriots team, but it puts Sunday’s loss into perspective. And while star quarterback Andrew Luck’s box score stats were ugly — 26 of 49, 243 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs — he actually finished with a positive grade from us at +0.4 (although it was largely boosted by his play in the running game — +0.9).
More important is the real concern about the injury status of the top WR, T.Y. Hilton (+2.1 game grade before his injury). Hilton was taken for X-rays on his knee after the game, which came back negative, but he is going to undergo an MRI and is expected to miss some time.
Hilton finished last season as the No. 11 wide receiver in PFF’s rankings (+24.0 overall rating) and is clearly quarterback Luck’s favorite target. If he misses time, newly acquired veteran WR Andre Johnson needs to prove he hasn’t lost a step at age 34. Johnson’s PFF overall rating dropped from +38.7 in 2012 to +29.8 in 2013, and all the way down to +13.1 last season. He earned a -2.1 receiving grade against Buffalo.
If Johnson’s production continues to decline, Luck will need to rely on the team’s young WRs. Grigson took some criticism after using a first round pick on University of Miami WR Phillip Dorsett (+0.4 on 17 snaps versus Buffalo) this past April; the Colts already boasted a well-stocked WR core with Donte Moncrief, who was drafted in the third round last year, and 24-year-old CFL star Duron Carter, who was signed this past February after catching 124 passes for 1,939 yards and 12 TDs in his two seasons north of the border.
Out of those three players, I believe Moncrief has the highest ceiling in 2015. The former Ole Miss Rebel finished 2014 as the No. 6 PFF rookie receiver (+7.8) and adds a dimension that neither Hilton nor Dorsett can: size. At 6 feet 2 inches, 220 pounds, Moncrief is five inches taller and weighs 40 pounds more than Hilton. That extra size should come in handy for the Colts running game and red-zone packages. He earned a negative grade (-0.2) against the Bills, however.
It will be interesting to see if head coach Chuck Pagano and coordinator Pep Hamilton finally start to provide balance to the offense while taking the burden off of their star player in Luck. Before the Colts conceded 10 to the Bills on Sunday, the Colts’ executed 23 pass plays versus seven rush plays.
If Hilton misses extended time, it might be a good excuse for the Colts to balance the attack and not put so much pressure on Luck to win every game. As good as Luck is, if you take away his rushing stats, he was only the 10th-ranked PFF passer in the league last year at +24.2.
The major takeaway: Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s remember, it’s only one game. Luck and the Colts will be fine, but they may need to take a little pressure off of the passing game going forward.