Sunday’s defeat to Las Vegas was a frustrating one. Indianapolis were enjoying an impressive run and had the chance to secure their playoff spot. Had Carson Wentz managed to find TY Hilton with a clear path to the endzone or Darius Leonard managed to sack Derek Carr before he threw the essentially game winning pass to Hunter Renfrow, Colts fans would now be celebrating reaching the playoffs once again.
Unlike many other Colts fans, I don’t think we should overreact to this defeat. Las Vegas can make themselves a playoff team by beating the Chargers this Sunday and looked like one of the best teams in the AFC in the first half of the season. Whilst Indianapolis can still secure their own playoff spot by beating the Jaguars in Jacksonville on Sunday. I know the Colts haven’t won in Jacksonville since 2014, but if they can’t get the win against this Jaguars team with a playoff spot on the line then they don’t deserve to make the playoffs.
I also think Colts fans, including myself underestimated the impact the COVID outbreak had on the team just because players were still able to play. Having most of your key players unable to train for a week is going to affect your team’s performance. If it didn’t, teams simply wouldn’t train. I don’t think that fully excuses why the team looked so lifeless and made so many mistakes against Las Vegas, but I think it does partially explain it. The Raiders are a good team and they had a playoff spot to fight for, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised they looked better prepared and fired up for the game.
One disappointing performance shouldn’t cause us to forget the Colts great work over the past few weeks. This loss doesn’t erase the dominant win over Buffalo, the primetime victory against the Patriots or the backs to the wall brawl against Arizona. This is still a Colts team that gets an impressive number of takeaways and has one of the best run games in the league. Indianapolis are still a team no-one will want to play in the playoffs, even if this weekend reminded us how challenging a trip to Cincinnati would be.
Sunday’s loss to the Raiders doesn’t mean the Colts can’t still make an impressive playoff run, but it does remind us of the areas the Colts will likely want and need to improve next year.
Sunday was another example of why Colts will have to prioritise getting another wider receiver in the offseason. It unfortunately looks like TY Hilton’s brilliant career is coming to an end. Even if TY does continue playing, understandably he’s no longer the same player he was in 2018 and the years before. Michael Pittman has developed into a great receiver in only his second year as he’s achieved his first 1,000 yard receiving season. But the Colts clearly need another good wide receiver to take pressure off Pittman, give Wentz another legitimate option and increase the costs to defences of focusing on stopping Taylor.
We know Reich likes to spread the ball around in the passing game and it isn’t traditionally an area Ballard likes to prioritise resources. But it’s clear that a legitimate WR2 would unlock a lot of possibilities for this offence. The ideal option would be Chris Godwin when he is healthy. Assuming the Buccaneers can’t afford to sign him to a long-term contract given their spending in the past few seasons. Even after his injury, Godwin will probably be more expensive than the Colts are willing to pay. Although the higher salary cap next year would help. Were the Colts to get him, Godwin would likely claim the WR1 role for himself and would offer the high character, deep ball threat and contested catch ability Indianapolis would love.
Another option who will spend his offseason recovering from a serious injury is Michael Gallup. He’s not the superstar wide receiver Godwin is but has shown himself to be a very effective WR2. He’d also likely be much cheaper than Godwin. A third possibility is Allen Robinson. He’s had a very quiet season in a tough situation in Chicago, but we’ve seen in previous years what he can do in unenviable scenarios. The way he’s seemed to have mentally checked out in Chicago may be a concern for Chris Ballard. But bringing him to Indianapolis with Frank Reich and Wentz playing behind this offensive line could be an attractive move for both sides.
In a similar vein, the team will likely have to make some moves at Tight End if Jack Doyle retires. Although they will hope Granson can take a leap in his second year. Zach Ertz would be a popular option amongst the locker room and the fans. He would also likely provide a useful safety blanket for Carson Wentz whilst being more of a playmaker than any of the current Tight Ends. The bigger the move the Colts make at wide receiver, the less need there is to make a move at Tight End and vice versa. But whichever way they address it, they do need to find some more passing weapons before next season.
This may also be the offseason to address the left tackle position after last year’s retirement of Anthony Castonzo. Despite his success in the run game, Eric Fisher hasn’t been as good as the Colts would have hoped for in pass protection. He may get better next year after a full offseason to regain the strength and speed in his injured leg. But at some point the Colts are going to have to find a longer term solution at left tackle. That could mean replacing Fisher in free agency or it could mean keeping Fisher but drafting his eventual replacement and giving them time to develop.
The Colts defence has done some impressive work in the second half of the season against some talented offenses. Their ability to continually take away the ball and in particular the performance of Darius Leonard have been impressive.
However, at times it has felt the turnovers the Colts have forced have masked issues with their defence and in particular their pass rush. That has to be a concern given the pass rush is the most important part of the defence. On the other hand, the situation with the pass rush isn’t as surprising or concerning as it could be. We knew that pass rush could take a step backwards with the loss of Houston and Autry in free agency and the degree of responsibility placed on Paye and Odeyingbo in their rookie seasons. The early signs from Kwity and Dayo have been really positive, suggesting both can make a leap in their second year and hopefully take the team’s pass rush to the next level next year.
That being said, as Ballard says you can never have too many pass rushers. The Colts will hope that 2018 draftees Turay and Lewis can continue to develop next year, but will be alert to any options in free agency that reduces the burden on younger players. My colleague Jack discussed in December the merits of signing Haason Reddick. Were he to become available and affordable this offseason, I too would be keen on the Colts acquiring his services. Although he was available for a significant period of time in free agency last year so Chris Ballard may feel he doesn’t fit their system. Improved edge rushing through the likes of Reddick, Paye and Odeyingbo would have its own benefits. But it would also help the Colts most dangerous pass rushing weapon in DeForest Buckner wreak more destruction from the interior by reducing the double teams he faces.
An improved pass rush would also make life much easier for the Colts secondary. This year has been really positive for the development of Rock Ya-Sin and Isaiah Rodgers. Although the age and regression of Xavier Rhodes means Indianapolis should be targeting another CB this offseason, probably through the draft. Given the continued great play of now Pro Bowler Kenny Moore and the return next year of Julian Blackmon from injury, the Colts could have a strong secondary next season.
Chris Ballard’s priority in the offseason will naturally be giving Quenton Nelson the huge new contract he deserves. There are also a number of current Colts players approaching free agency Ballard will have to decide whether or not to resign. After that is done, even the much bigger cap will leave less room for manoeuvre than we might expect. Not to mention the fact we’ve all learnt not to expect Ballard to be too aggressive or overpay in free agency.
However, if the Colts do end this season looking like plausible Super Bowl contenders next year, we can expect Chris Ballard to be aggressive if he feels there is value. Like any general manager, Ballard can only operate on the basis of the players that are available at any position. So some needs I expect to be addressed in free agency might be addressed instead via the draft and vice versa. Either way, I expect the needs I’ve discussed to the be the areas the Colts focus on addressing this offseason.
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