The Cover 4.com presents you with The Win Now Indianapolis Colts! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour
Coming into the 2013 NFL season, people weren’t expecting the Indianapolis Colts to replicate their magical 2012 success. Admittedly, I was one of these people. Through five games, the Colts are 4-1. If I told you before the season that they would be off to this type of start, you might not have been surprised because their schedule had them playing the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars which would seem like relative locks for wins. The Colts, however, took a different and more impressive route to their first four victories.
The lone loss for the Colts was handed to them by the Dolphins. I went back and looked at the box score, and the results were peculiar. The Colts led in all significant categories (total yards, passing yards, rushing yards, first downs, third down efficiency and time of possession) and each team turned it over once. The final score was 24-20, and you could say the Dolphins escaped with a win by the looks of that stat sheet. Their four wins include the aforementioned creampuffs Raiders and Jaguars but what sticks out is an impressive and dominant win against the San Francisco 49ers and a nail biter victory against the Seattle Seahawks’ vaunted defense. The Indianapolis Colts are no longer a team that should be regarded as average or maybe even above average. Advanced stats and metrics have come a long way, and the Colts’ 2012 season screamed overachievement by having the look of a 7-9 team while going 11-5. If you want some more nitty gritty on that, this article does a pretty good job outlining just how lucky they were last season. I tend to side with advanced metrics more often than not, but sometimes numbers can’t account for a variable that defies the logic and objectivity mathematics gives us. That variable is Andrew Luck.
At the end of the 2012 season, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III were the talk of the town. They were all young quarterbacks that seemed to be the future stars of the NFL. It’s hard to believe a No. 1 pick in his rookie season didn’t generate much buzz (either good or bad) after his first season, but this was just the case. People (read: ESPN) love to sensationalize stories and games even if they gloss over the players and teams that are doing just as well or even better. For ESPN, everything has to fit a narrative. Even though the numbers clearly show that Griffin and Wilson had better numbers, they were also put in better positions to succeed than Luck. For Griffin, Mike Shanahan created a hybrid offense that was tailor made for him to excel, the read option and having a surprise rookie year from Alfred Morris played perfectly with his strengths as a quarterback. For Wilson, he had the support of a top-five running back (Marshawn Lynch) and also had a top-five defense protecting the lead for him, so he was not forced to do more than he had to. Luck had none of these royalties the other two were afforded. You could make an argument that the Colts running back tandem was serviceable, but they can not hold a candle to Morris and Lynch. Beyond Reggie Wayne, they didn’t attempt to surround him with weapons in his first year, even though Coby Fleener and T.Y. Hilton have emerged as legit NFL starters after promising rookie campaigns. On top of that, the Colts gave up the most QB hits last year (114) which over a 16 game season amounts to a little bit more than seven hits a game, a ghastly figure. And to boot, their defense was No. 25 in yards allowed on defense, so more often than not Luck was made to throw when defenses were expecting it, and most likely forced throws to try and mount a comeback. All of these shortcomings were not lost on Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay, who addressed all the shortcomings of the Colts this offseason and during the 2013 regular season. Irsay, known for not being complacent and certainly not reserved, pushed all the chips to the center of the table and went all in to bring the Indianapolis Colts another Lombardi Trophy.
By saying Irsay “pushed all his chips to the center of the table” it may have given the impression that he made a rogue decision. This is certainly not the case, it was a smart and calculated move that I would be very happy with if I am a Colts fan. Part of the reason Irsay did right by selling out for Super Bowl aspirations is because Luck (and all young players on rookie deals) are on dirt cheap contracts under the new CBA. Some numbers: Russell Wilson’s cap hit ($700,000) for this year means that Mark Sanchez will make more money in one game than Wilson will all season. Yeah. However, draft position matters. Wilson was drafted in the third round, so he is compensated less than Griffin and Luck, who are at $5 million a year. With such incredible signal callers at bargain prices, it gives teams a chance to sign impact players they might not be able to afford once those rookie contracts are up. However, before the new CBA was signed, teams had to shell out the big bucks for their first overall picks before they even took a snap in the NFL. Case in point: Jamarcus Russell, who the Raiders paid $61 million ($32 million of which was guaranteed) to be an overweight black hole under center. Somewhat related: new Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor requested to wear #2 for his jersey number after Russell was released and was denied because the team didn’t want another quarterback wearing #2 again. Anyway, I am 100% on board with Irsay being all in; having a world class quarterback only making $5 million the next couple years is a luxury few are offered. But just because I agree with the strategy doesn’t mean I agree with what he did with all that cap room.
To be fair, Irsay did address all the aforementioned shortcomings with his team, he just went about it in an illogical and more expensive way that will eventually come back to bite him. For their offensive line, the Colts signed Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas. The Thomas contract was a savvy signing, but the Cherilus contract seems to be a gross overpay and is not even the worst one they made. The worst contract they made was to Erik Walden, an above-average linebacker but not one that you pay $4 million year. The last particularly bad contract that sticks out is the one they gave to the marshmellow man himself, LaRon Landry. Landry, a safety who is a workout freak, keeps putting on muscle to his frame even though it makes him slower in pass coverage, so apparently Irsay thought the next logical step was to pay him $6 million a year. I appreciate the effort Irsay put into making his team better, even if that effort was somewhat misplaced. The final move that made the Colts throw their hat in for a Lombardi Trophy was when they made an in-season trade a few weeks into this year for enigmatic running back Trent Richardson. Richardson’s body of work certainly suggested that he wasn’t worth the first round pick the Colts had to give up for him, but I thought maybe Indianapolis could put him in a better position to succeed (namely: not having Brandon Weeden as his quarterback). That seems not to be the case, as Richardson seems on his way to be labeled as a bust after being taken No. 3 overall in 2012. Another swing and a miss by Irsay.
I will just bluntly say what I was eluding to in those previous couple of paragraphs: Irsay was handed an opportunity on a silver platter and simply screwed it up. In a particularly weak conference, if Irsay had made savvier signings in the offseason they might have been able to afford a couple more key players that could contribute in a big way. The Colts made a big splash on the first day of free agency, overpaying players they thought would also be sought after. Smarter teams stayed complacent, waiting until they had the leverage to underpay players because the players had no other option but to sign (cough cough Aqib Talib and the New England Patriots). Looking back, you could say that I was somewhat piling on Indianapolis with the decisions that it made, but my claims were justifiable. The Colts are still a good, if not very good, team, and can do some serious damage in the playoffs assuming they make it. It seems like they will be, because it seems like someone has a Matt Schaub voodoo doll and is just endlessly jabbing it with every pick six that poor human being throws. With the Texans faltering, the division seems ripe for the Colts to grab a stranglehold on. Irsay may have screwed up some decisions this past year, but it may not end up mattering with a stud like Luck under center.
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