Trent Stutzman

Why The Colts Won't Improve In 2013

Created on Jun. 05, 2013 12:26 PM EST

The Indianapolis Colts have gone through a success roller coaster over the past few years. From a 14-2 run to the Super Bowl, to a 10-6 first-round exit, way down to a 2-14 aging dud and back up to an 11-5 revitalized playoff team, the Colts sure have taken their fans’ emotions for a wild ride.

Given the team’s youth and immediate success, it should naturally only get better in 2013 and take the next step towards winning a Super Bowl, right? Not so fast.

While the Colts do have a very promising future, several key factors suggest they will take a step back this upcoming season before taking off in 2014 as a year-in, year-out Super Bowl contender.

First of all, there’s the installation of a new offensive system. New OC Pep Hamilton’s offense will differ greatly than Bruce Arian’s of last year. Rather than constantly chucking the ball down the field, Hamilton wants to focus on efficient plays. Set up a powerful running game and look for quick, efficient passes to draw defenses in, then Andrew Luck is allowed to unleash the deep ball when the time is right.

This strategy will result in longer offensive drives for Indianapolis, and thus fewer possessions over the course of a game. That’s not what you want when you’ve got the best young quarterback behind center. The less opportunities he gets, the less times he’ll drive his offense to the end zone.

I have no doubt Luck can still run the offense efficiently, but what about the rest of the offense? Wide receivers – check. Tight ends – check. Running backs – maybe. Offensive line – no idea.

Vick Ballard proved last year he can be a workhorse running back that gets better as the game goes on, but I wouldn’t say he’s the guy you want for an entire game of power running. Delone Carter certainly has power, but he comes up a little short in the talent department.

If the offensive line is the same as last year, there’s no way any running game – or pass protection, for that matter – will be successful. The line should be much improved with the signings of Donald Thomas and Gosder Cherilus. But what if rookies Khaled Holmes and Hugh Thornton take over at center and guard for Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn (which they probably should)? That would leave Anthony Castonzo as the lone returning starter from 2012. Offensive line is a unit that needs time to gel in order to fully maximize its potential. 2013 may be full of growing pains for the line.

Then there’s the intangible aspect of a football team. The Colts started out 1-2 in 2012 before learning that HC Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with cancer. The players rallied around their beloved leader with great inspiration to finish the regular season on a 10-3 run. And they did it all with an awful defense and offensive line, okay special teams and mediocre running backs. They overachieved a bit, relying purely on the passing game. Although the entire #ChuckStrong movement was heartwarming, it will be hard to keep finding inspiration when Pagano has basically recovered. Overachievement is something that typically doesn’t last for more than one season.

Finally, there’s the schedule. The Colts had to face the entire NFC North and AFC East last year. Their two other non-divisional foes were the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns. Outside of the division, that’s a total of two juggernauts (Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots), one other playoff team (Minnesota Vikings), two quality teams (Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears) and five really bad teams (New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Chiefs and Browns).

This year’s non-divisional schedule has three juggernauts (San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos), six pretty good/quality teams, some already being good in 2012 and others that should greatly improve this year (Cincinnati Bengals, San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, Chiefs and Dolphins) and only one team that should be pretty bad (Oakland Raiders).

Inside the division, the Houston Texans will probably take a step back, but the Tennessee Titans made some shrewd offseason moves and will be better.

Overall, this year’s schedule will be tougher for the Colts than last year’s. That’s not a positive outlook for a team that was outscored by 30 points and outgained by 189 yards by its opponents in 2012. Eventually the Colts’ record will reflect those numbers if they don’t improve.

All things point towards 2013 being a down year. But in the long run, it will prove to be a necessary growing pain for a perennial championship contender.

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