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The Indianapolis Colts ended their 2023 season in a heartbreaking 23-19 loss to the division rival Houston Texans. In a “win-and-you’re-in” scenario, the team fell short. The behind and dropped flat throw by Gardner Minshew to RB Tyler Goodson as the final offensive play of the season will haunt fans over the coming months. Despite the Herculean efforts of some standout Colts, the “good guys” couldn’t pull it off.

“Probably doesn’t come as suprise, but it’s rare when a Colt rushes for 188, team piles up 227 in loss.
*Jonathan Taylor’s 188 is 2nd-most by a Colt in a loss. Marshall Faulk had 192 in 38-31 loss at Balt. in ’98.
*Colts’ 227 is most in Indy era and most since 1961. 5th-most ever.”

Mike Chappell via X (@mchappell51)

It’s Important To Remember The Colts Expectations Entering 2023

The sting of the final defeat will fade away, and when it does, the fan base must keep perspective on how well the Colts did relative to expectation. Remember heading into the season:

  • The Colts were coming off of a 4-12-1 2022 season
  • This was Shane Steichen’s 1st season as a head coach in the NFL
  • The Colts have the third-youngest roster in the NFL
  • The Colts had a rookie QB, one of the top-five youngest starting QBs in NFL history
  • The offensive line was coming off of its worst season since 2017

With all these known factors before the offseason training program began, I made the prediction that the Colts would make a modest to strong stride in the right direction in 2023.

“Hence my range for the Colts is 6-9 wins.

6 wins: slight improvement & better in close games, but have some growing pains at various key spots

9 wins: big jump & a lot goes right w/ personnel growth, health, scheme improvement + better luck.”

-Jay Robins via X (@RobinsLucas)

Notice “9 Wins if a lot goes right” as the high end of that range. As many Colts fans can attest, 2023 was a highly strange year where not much went right.

Everything Went Wrong For The Colts In 2023

  • June: Starting CB Isaiah Rodgers Sr. suspended for the entire 2023 season due to 2022 gambling violations. Subsequently cut.
  • June-October: Star RB Jonathan Taylor contract dispute, mysterious ankle injury recovery, and his agents tweeting saga. Resolved with high RB contract in time for Week 5.
  • August 17: WR4/5 and star gunner Ashton Dulin suffers ACL tear, out for season.
  • August 29: C2 Danny Pinter suffers a season-ending ankle injury.
  • September & Late December: Top backup RB Zack Moss out with injury.
  • October 3: Starting CB Dallis Flowers out on IR with torn Achilles.
  • October 8: Promising Rookie QB Anthony Richardson suffers a season-ending AC joint injury, needing surgery to resolve. His third injury in four games played. Backup Gardner Minshew plays 14.6 games of the season.
  • Entire Season: Five members of the 2023 Colts’ draft class end up on IR; one missed half the season (Brents), another is a healthy scratch nearly half the season (Adebawore), another is cut after preseason (Rush).
  • October 17: Starting NT Grover Stewart suspended six games for PED violation.
  • October 22: The Browns game with two egregiously blown calls (that the NFL admitted to missing) cost the Colts a key win.

The Hits Kept Coming For Indy

  • November 21: Former All-Pro LB and defensive captain Shaquille Leonard is waived.
  • November 26: Jonathan Taylor injures thumb, misses three games.
  • December 16: Colts WR1 Michael Pittman Jr. concussed after a blatant targeted hit to the head by Damontae Kazee. Kazee was ejected and suspended for the rest of the year as this was his sixth unnecessary roughness violation of the year. Pittman Jr. missed the rest of the game and the next week.
  • December 20: Colts WR4/returner Isaiah McKenzie and backup CB/gunner Tony Brown suspended for rest of season for conduct detrimental to team.
  • December 26: Colts starting safety Julian Blackmon put on IR with a shoulder injury.
  • December 29: Colts TE Andrew Ogletree arrested for domestic violence and placed on the commissioner’s exempt list.
  • Almost Entire Year: Missing at least one starting OL almost every week (11 games of meaningful snaps for developmental rookie OT Blake Freeland)
  • Entire Season: No Jelani Woods at TE.

And despite ALL OF THAT, the Colts still hit the high end of my projected win range for the 2023 season. In a season of so much chaos, so much unpredictable circumstances occurring, and so much bad luck… the Colts still got to double their 2022 win total (4.5).

I’ll Tell You Why Dr. Reynolds: Because of Shane Steichen and his Coaching Staff

After the disastrous 2022 campaign, GM Chris Ballard and owner Jim Irsay conducted one of the most extensive coaching searches in modern NFL history. 13 candidates initially interviewed, an unprecedented three rounds of interviews, spanning a month and a half long. But at the end of the search, former Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen emerged as the Colts’ new head coach.

Only one year into his tenure, Colts fans should feel very good about this hire. Steichen steadied the ship, earned the respect of players while demanding accountability (and enforcing it), proved to be a weapon of an offensive mind with adaptability to an ever-changing lineup (especially with two very different QBs), and elevated many players to either rebound or have career seasons in 2023. While he probably won’t win it, Steichen was a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate for guiding the Colts to as much success as they had despite that much adversity.

The Breakouts/Bounce-Backs

Steichen and his coaching staff did a strong job installing their scheme and leadership in the locker room. This led to the following players having either breakout years or bounce-backs from disappointing 2022 seasons:

  • LT Bernhard Raimann
  • C Ryan Kelly
  • RB Zack Moss 
  • WR Michael Pittman Jr.
  • DE Dayo Odeyingbo
  • DE Samson Ebukam
  • DE Kwity Paye
  • LB Zaire Franklin
  • LB E.J. Speed
  • Nickel CB Kenny Moore II
  • Safety Julian Blackmon

Each of these players stepped up for big seasons and were essential to the Colts’ 2023 success. While Pittman Jr., Moore II, Blackmon, and Moss are all free agents in 2024, expect Indy to be very interested in bringing them all back (as the front office has the resources to do so).

The Step Forward For The Colts Heading Into 2024

Ultimately, 2023 should be seen as the first season since 2020 where the Colts took a positive step in the right direction. It was the first year that the team improved their win total since 2020. And unlike 2020, Indy is focusing on creating long-term, sustainable success with a young roster in key positions especially.

Was the season a success? Wholeheartedly.

But are the Colts satisfied with just nine wins? Absolutely not.

Now, they will focus on continuing to build and develop their young core, gain more stability (much less random craziness in 2024), and continue to gain even more familiarity with the scheme in Year 2. With that, expectations in 2024 will be much higher than they were heading into 2023.

The bar isn’t just a modest improvement on wins to get close to or above .500. The bar is a 2024 return to the playoffs and a potential AFC South title. Should the Colts continue to progress, stabilize, and add talent, those expectations will become reality soon enough. First up? Free agency and the 2024 NFL Draft.

More Stories From The Blue Stable:

-Colts Fans Should Rejoice That Shane Steichen Is HC

-The Maniac’s Legacy In Indianapolis

-Maybe Not Today, But Anthony Richardson Will Be A Star

Jay Robins

Twitter: @RobinsLucas Instagram: Lucas._.Robins

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