Savour it, everyone. After many long months of waiting, we’re just days away from the Colts playing competitive football once again. For all the Colts’ week one struggles in recent years, Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks promises to be great.
The first five games of the Colts schedule are brutal; all five opponents could easily have winning records this year. I’d expect four of them to make the playoffs. It won’t be an easy start to the year. But if you’re a team like the Colts expecting to make the playoffs yourself and hoping to win a Super Bowl in the next half a decade, you’ve got to be able to beat these kinds of teams consistently.
I’m not sure which of those first five teams will prove the toughest test (although I suspect it will be the Rams), but I do think Seattle will be the most interesting test.
Chris Ballard has run the Colts with a clear philosophy that games are won in the trenches. Accordingly, he’s built his team, recruiting some of the league’s best players in Quenton Nelson and DeForest Buckner.
The Seahawks will be one of the best possible tests of just how successful Chris Ballard’s philosophy is. They have one of the very best Quarterbacks in the league, one who has been consistently elite since he entered the league almost a decade ago. Alongside Russell Wilson are some talented offensive weapons in DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Chris Carson.
This team has won at least ten games in all but one season (when they won nine) since 2011 and has improved their record every year for the last three years. Seattle is clearly a good football team: they’re the kind of team the Colts will have to beat if they are to be a great team capable of going deep into the playoffs themselves.
However, the Seahawks do have some clear weaknesses. These weaknesses are primarily in the trenches, the Colts’ areas of strength. Whether the Colts can beat Seattle by dominating the trenches will be one of the key tests of whether Chris Ballard’s philosophy can lead the team to a Super Bowl.
It’s fair to say that the Colts’ strength is their offensive line. Nelson, Kelly, and Smith are surely three of the team’s best six players, with Nelson and Kelly both making the NFL’s top 100 players list. There are questions about the health of the unit as Nelson and Kelly recover from their respective injuries. The team will also miss Fisher until he returns from his injury.
Even with all that considered, the Colts should still be able to put one of the league’s best offensive lines on the field this Sunday. They’ll be facing a mediocre Seahawks pass rush. Seattle was better at getting to the Quarterback after trading for Carlos Dunlap midway through last season, and Jamal Adams has had some success in blitzes. But overall, this is far from the most challenging test the Colts offensive line will face this year.
If the Colts’ offensive line can impose their will on Seattle, they’ll significantly increase the chances of Wentz bouncing back from his horror year last season. In doing so, Wentz and his wide receivers would have the chance to target the Seahawks soft secondary and help Taylor in his fascinating matchup against Wagner.
However, the battle between the Colts defensive line and Seattle’s offensive line is even more interesting and important. The Seahawks offensive line was well below average last year, leading to Russell Wilson being sacked 47 times last year. Wilson has been sacked at least 40 times every season since 2012, leading to him being vocal in the offseason about wanting better protection.
The Colts’ pass rush was decent in parts last season but not quite good or consistent enough. We know DeForest Buckner is one of the best in the league, and the Colts believe he could win Defensive Player of the year. However, Buckner didn’t get the help he needed from teammates, and the Colts moved on from Houston and Autry this offseason.
In their place, they’re hoping for first-round pick Kwity Paye to make an immediate impression. The Colts front office is also really high on Dayo Odeyingbo’s potential. But he’ll miss at least the first few games of the season, and the team isn’t banking on him making a significant impact until year two.
Alongside a strong performance from Paye, the Colts are relying on Kemoko Turay to stay healthy and Tyquan Lewis and Ben Banogu to make that leap this year. If all that happens, the Colts will have a formidable defensive line this season. Week one against Seattle will be a great opportunity for those young edge rushers to make their mark on the game and show what they can do.
They’ll need to be good if the Colts are to win the game. Russell Wilson is an excellent Quarterback, and if he’s given time, he’ll find Metcalf and Lockett and pick the Colts apart. The good news is the Colts’ excellent linebacking duo of Leonard and Okereke should stymie Seattle’s rushing game and help keep Wilson from running too often. This should keep Wilson in the pocket and under pressure.
Despite the Colts’ weakness at that final starting cornerback, I like their secondary. Moore and Rhodes are quality players, whilst Willis and Blackmon have real potential. If the Colts pass rush can play the way we hope they do, their secondary will be well placed to capitalize on any opportunities that come their way.
Both the Colts’ offensive and defensive lines will face greater challenges this season than Seattle. Their matchup with the Rams in week 2 promises a biblical clash between Quenton Nelson and Aaron Donald, whilst the 49ers and Buccaneers have real strength in the trenches.
But this week’s game with Seattle (assuming Nelson and Kelly are available and close to full fitness) will tell us whether the Colts can beat top teams by dominating the trenches.
If the Colts’ defense is to make the jump to a top-five defense and avoid giving up the second-half comebacks we saw last season, they’ll have to be significantly better at getting to the quarterback. If Wentz becomes the great quarterback he can be once again, the offensive line will have to be lightyears better than the one he was saddled with in Philadelphia last year.
If the Colts’ trenches can live up to their potential, the Colts can be one of the best in the league and a tough team to beat. Whilst Chris Ballard will be able to congratulate himself on having a successful philosophy and take pride in the fact his team will be on the right track to win a Super Bowl.
Sunday’s game against Seattle will go a long way to telling us whether the Colts are on that track. Although it is the Colts’ first game of the season, so knowing the Colts, perhaps the team will lose the game but have a great season anyway.