After the week one loss to the Seahawks, I implored you not to panic, even if the Colts lost to the Rams. Now, at 0-3 after a defeat to the Titans, I think it’s fair for Colts fans to panic.
There have been enough things that have gone wrong for the Colts so far this season to fill several articles. But I’ll leave the discussions on the team’s defensive struggles to others because I want to focus on Colt’s offense today.
It’s no secret Colt’s offense hasn’t been anywhere near its best or the level it needs to be this season. Their struggles have been particularly noticeable and costly in the red zone. Others have gone into detail about the stats behind Colt’s recent red-zone issues, but it’s clear that they’ve left a lot of points on the board in the past three games. This is a team that could be 2-1 if only they’d been more efficient in the red zone. But clearly, this offense has issues across the field.
At the start of this season, we knew that the Colts didn’t have the best-skill players in the league like Tampa Bay, Kansas City, or Tennessee. But there was a feeling that this offense had enough talent to beat many teams without necessarily racking up the blowouts or fantasy football points. There was hope that Pittman and Taylor would take big second-season leaps this year, and to be fair, both have played pretty well so far. Frank Reich has also always tended to favor spreading the ball around his offense so having a selection of good players like Campbell, Pascal and Hines perhaps made more sense than focusing on getting one or two elite weapons.
The team has certainly missed TY Hilton so far this season. The Colts have a cataclysmic record of 1-13 without TY Hilton since they drafted him. That doesn’t bode well for Hilton’s continued absence. The team has missed him this season, particularly as fans had hoped Wentz’s big arm would have unlocked Hilton’s deep ball threat in a way we haven’t seen since Luck’s retirement.
If Hilton’s injury were the main issue facing their offense, life would be a lot simpler for Frank Reich and Marcus Brady. But, unfortunately, the problems are far more numerous and series than that.
The most important issue facing the Colts offense this season has been the debilitating injuries to its offensive line. Chris Ballard felt confident going into this season with a good but not exceptional group of offensive skill players because they were meant to work behind an elite offensive line to protect and elevate them.
That has not been the reality this season, and it certainly isn’t what Wentz was promised when he left Philadelphia for Indianapolis. He’s faced constant pressure, been repeatedly sacked, and injured both ankles. As if his broken foot in the offseason wasn’t enough.
Of course, Wentz picked up that foot injury just before Quenton Nelson picked up his eerily similar injury. Now, as Wentz tries to continue to heal his ankles, Nelson picked up his own ankle injury that sidelined him against the Titans. Newly paid right tackle Braden Smith has missed the last two games, and his performance against the Seahawks suggests he was playing hurt then. Ryan Kelly had his own injury in preseason that he doesn’t look to have fully recovered from, and Eric Fisher is still trying to find full fitness after that Achilles injury he suffered last year with Kansas City. In fact, I’m not sure if the Colts have had more than five fully healthy games from their starting offensive linemen so far.
The Colts badly need their offensive line to get healthy and stay healthy. If they can do that, Wentz will have a chance to stay healthy himself and actually make some plays. Whilst Taylor, Hines, and Wilkins will have the chance to be the kind of fear running back committee we expected them to be at the start of the season.
A healthy O-Line will go a long way to making the Colts more efficient in the red zone and will allow them to score significantly more than the 16, 20, and 16 points they’ve scored so far this year. It will also allow Reich and Ballard to assess Carson Wentz properly. Wentz has so far impressed me in complicated circumstances. Still, he must be allowed to play behind at least a solid offensive line before anyone can accurately assess his performance.
However, a healthy offensive line won’t fix all Colt’s offensive problems. Playcalling clearly needs to improve, and the team needs to be much better at converting third downs. The offense also looks a little toothless without TY Hilton. That should be a concern given Hilton’s age and the fact there are no guarantees he’ll be a Colts player beyond this year. We may not like it, but the team does have to consider the prospect of life without TY Hilton.
It remains to be seen whether the Colts will have a first-round pick next draft. Even if they do, Chris Ballard may decide a new cornerback or left tackle a greater priority than a wide receiver. Should Ballard break the habit of a lifetime and be aggressive in free agency by pursuing someone like Chris Godwin, playing this year on the franchise tag?
There’s a lot of football left to be played this year, and the offense may really shine once it gets healthy, but at this stage, Ballard will have to be considering ways to get more explosive at wide receiver and/ or tight end next year.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Pittman and Taylor look like they’re continuing to develop quickly and could both be mainstays of this offense for years to come. Michael Strachan has been a revelation since he was drafted in the seventh round this offseason. He’s obviously still raw and will take time to develop into a consistently impactful player.
The Colts will soon play teams who should be significantly easier opponents than the three playoff contenders they’ve faced so far. They’ll still have to play better to beat them, but if they can get healthy, I’m confident the Colts can play much better and win a lot of games this year. However, it may not be enough to achieve their goals of winning the AFC South and making the playoffs this year. The team’s fragility also calls into question their ability to win a Super Bowl in the next few years.