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It’s no secret Chris Ballard loves the ‘trenches.’ I mean, he really loves them. He’s consistently said that he truly believes games and championships are won and there. The entire identity of the Colts team he’s molded has been based on this philosophy.

In some ways, this isn’t the traditional Colts approach to building a Superbowl winning team. But then again, you can’t just find an all-time great quarterback like Johnny Unitas or Peyton Manning. And as the Colts have painfully found out, securing a generational talent like Andrew Luck isn’t enough if you can’t surround them with the right talent.

Ballard has made no apologies for building from the front, and it’s an approach that has certainly paid dividends so far. His biggest moves to date have been the decisions to draft Quenton Nelson and trade for Deforest Buckner. Although it certainly didn’t hurt to pick up Leonard and Smith in the same 2018 second round.

There’s a temptation for NFL teams to make the mistake of thinking that all they need to do to succeed is try to emulate the team that just won the Superbowl. How many NFL teams spend their time transfixed with finding the next Patrick Mahomes? As if he isn’t a generational talent?

The importance of Tampa Bay’s offensive and defensive lines to their Superbowl success do partially vindicate the Colts’ focus on the trenches. But I think it’s actually more important that the Colts have an identity. They have a philosophy, and they’re working year after year to craft a team capable of implementing that philosophy.

Impulsive general managers might look at the Buccaneers and decide they need to improve their offensive and defensive lines. Chris Ballard decided four years ago he wanted his team to be great in those areas.

There’s a fitting quote from the great Giants executive George Young that we know is close to Chris Ballard’s heart:

“The NFL’s such an impulsive business. The coaches are impulsive. The owners are impulsive. The players are impulsive. The fans are impulsive. The agents are impulsive.”

“I’m not impulsive.”

The most impulsive teams either have decision-makers who aren’t confident of their long-term job security (look at the Chicago Bears) or teams who are in win-now mode and think they’re one piece away from a Superbowl (think of the New Orleans Saints for the past few years).

The Colts haven’t fallen into either of these traps. Jim Irsay and Chris Ballard have made clear from day one that this would be a long-term project with no cutting corners. Ballard has built a formidable roster but resisted overpaying for players or resorting to the kind of accounting magic that leads to significant dead cap space when it goes wrong.

There’s every indication that Ballard will continue to build the team’s identity in the draft later this month. Debate may rage over whether the team should prioritize a left tackle or an edge rusher, but there appears to be a consensus that those are the two greatest needs.

The retirement of Anthony Castonzo is undoubtedly a significant loss, but there is plenty of talent in the draft capable of filling the hole at left tackle. If the Colts make the right choice, they promise to continue to have one of the best offensive lines in the league.

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You can bank on the Colts leaning into this particular strength this year. One of the main reasons the team believes they can get the best out of Carson Wentz is the confidence they have in their offensive line’s ability to protect him.

The team will also be acutely aware that if they want to get the best from their talented trio of running backs, they’ll need a line capable of creating the holes for them to exploit.

The defensive line is less strong, although it does have significant potential. Deforest Buckner is one of the best pass rushers you could ask to anchor your line, but his supporting cast didn’t do enough last year.

Grover Stewart has been a great success, but his strengths lie in stopping the run. The departures of Autry and Houston (who hasn’t been re-signed at the time of writing) do leave the Colts with questions to answer at the position.

Ballard has invested significant draft resources into the pass rush in recent years. Turay, Lewis, and Banogu were all second-round selections. None of those three have yet reached their potential, but all is not lost.

Prior to his devastating ankle injury in 2019, Turay was showcasing flashes of real potential as an edge rusher. He wasn’t able to repeat that form when he returned from injury at the end of last season, but given a full off-season, he has an opportunity to be an impactful and important player this year.

The team will also be hoping and expecting more from Lewis and Banogu, although Lewis has been by far the better of the two. If the Colts can draft the right pass rusher and develop Turay, Lewis, and Banogu, they could have a strong defensive line this year.

If the Colts can get their trenches right, they’ll immediately reap the rewards. We don’t know what the situation will be with Deshaun Watson by the time the season starts. But at this stage, the Colts are on course to face Watson, Lawrence, and Tannehill twice a year.

Whilst that may seem like a daunting prospect, the Colts will also be facing some mediocre to terrible (I’m looking at you Houston Texans) offensive and defensive lines. The Colts have a real opportunity to dominate the trenches within their division, neutralizing some elite quarterbacks and giving themselves a great platform to get to the playoffs in the process.

Frank Reich’s team was competitive but fell agonizingly short against the Bills in the playoffs last year. I’m sure that when Reich attempts to strategize a Superbowl run this off-season, the Bills and Chiefs are at the forefront of his mind.

Both are undoubtedly immensely talented teams, but neither are without their weaknesses. It was downright painful for Chiefs fans to watch Mahomes play so well in the Superbowl yet be savaged so comprehensively by the Buccaneer’s defense. Kansas City may have invested heavily at guard this offseason, but they’ve also let go of both their starting tackles. No one is claiming the Chiefs will be easy to beat in the AFC next year, but they do have vulnerabilities.

Buffalo’s offensive line doesn’t appear to have the same weaknesses. Their Achilles heel could be their defensive line. The Bills were clearly unable to constrain Mahomes in either of their two meetings last year. The Colts will be well aware that Buffalo’s pass rush was unable to cause them significant problems in their playoff clash.

All this doesn’t necessarily mean the Colts are on course for a Superbowl run if they get the trenches right. But I don’t think that’s the standard for a successful season. Irsay, Ballard, and Reich are a patient and methodical trio. They’d love to win big this year, but more than anything, they’ll be looking for progress.

I think there are four key questions the Colts will be looking to find the right answers to this season. Do they win the AFC South? Can they win a playoff game? Have they found their left tackle for the next decade? Are their young pass rushers good enough?

Get the right answers to these questions, and the Colts will be set up to not only have a successful 2021, but they’ll also be well placed to succeed for the next five years and beyond. They may even have the opportunity to fulfill Jim Irsay’s dream of securing a second Lombardi trophy. We can all dream of that.

SebastianBench

SebastianBench

I'm a Colts fan from the UK. I'm an MA Broadcast Journalism student at Cardiff University. I started supporting the Colts when me and my brother bought Madden 08 and I choose The Colts because they had the best offense and worst defense in the game. My passion for the Colts and the NFL has really bloomed over the past five years and continues to go from strength to strength. For this I can thank finding the right friends and the magic of NFL Redzone. Twitter: @BenchSebastian

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