If you have been trapped on a deserted island without any internet access, I hate to be the bearer of bad news: the Colts are injured, really Injured. As of right now, there isn’t a single non-Special Teams position group that isn’t affected by the injury bug. Wentz has two sprained ankles & Ehlinger is just now returning from a preseason injury. Jonathan Taylor is dealing with a knee injury this week. TY Hilton is working his way back from injury, and Parris still has lingering issues with his Achilles injury. Jack Doyle is banged up and practicing in a limited capacity. The ENTIRE STARTING OL is working dealing with injuries, with 2-3 of them poised to miss this next game entirely. Even the Depth OL is dealing with some injuries for Danny Pinter, Will Fries, & Sam Tevi. Kwity Paye left early last week with a hamstring injury, which might limit him going forward. All-Pro LB Darius Leonard has been playing with an ankle injury that has lingered since offseason surgery. Rock Ya-Sin is Out this week & Xavier Rhodes has just recovered from his own injury. Even Khari Willis is out this week with Andrew Sendejo filling in at SS.
With all these injuries right now, and most of them being leg injuries that tend to linger, it is time we as Colts Nation need to reevaluate our expectations. No, this doesn’t mean that the season is over, but fans should temper expectations, and we need to reprioritize what is essential for this team’s future. At an 0-3 start, the odds of making the playoffs are low. Only six teams since 1980 have made the playoffs after starting 0-3. However, with seven teams able to make the playoffs in the AFC, the odds are a bit better. And the AFC South is not a powerhouse division, not by a long shot. Only 1 of Colt’s three losses was a division opponent, and all 3 were 2020 playoff teams. The schedule will get better after week 5, but the Dolphins and Ravens are no cakewalk either. So see, there is still hope (however small) for a season to be salvaged at this point. The margin of error is small but not impossible. But the Colts need to fix several significant issues and get healthy fast.
I know I hope it is in short commodity for Colts fans right now. But, unfortunately, there is a very good chance the Colts don’t make the playoffs and are watching football at home in January. Playoffs are the hope, but not the expectation at this point. Some might be starting to call for executives and coaches to be fired at this point. While they have not been perfect (see red zone efficiency & player rotation complaints), they should be given some slack considering the disarray to the personnel due to the injuries above and their past 3 years of success despite many unforeseen obstacles. They can improve, but getting rid of them could lead to much, MUCH worse management. Instead, we as fans must look at this year for what it is: an evaluation year of Carson Wentz.
Heading into the year, I and many Colts fans had the hope that with the strength of the Colts roster, Carson Wentz could be protected, asked not to play hero ball, and shake off the bad habits that plagued him in 2020. But with the rampant injuries plaguing the roster, that plan has certainly changed. Wentz has been asked to be the hero to keep the Colts in games, and despite that, has avoided, for the most part, the costly turnovers and mistakes that tanked his previous season. But Wentz has not been perfect, especially last week playing on 2 sprained ankles. Despite the immense pressure (39 pressures and 20 QB Hits, both among the highest in the NFL), Wentz has been solid. Not spectacular or MVP 2017 level, but he has not been THE reason for the Colts 3 losses. His mistakes are still there; his accuracy has had its inconsistencies. His slower release, partially due to trying to buy time because of the OL’s inability to stop any rush, blitz or not, has sometimes cost the Colts. He does need to work on his progression speed. If his ankles continue to limit his mobility and the pass protection doesn’t improve, it will be tough sledding for him and the offense.
However, for all his faults, he has toned down the hyper aggression that got him in trouble. His accuracy has improved, and when he is healthy, his escapability has saved the Colt’s OL several major times, allowing him to buy time to deliver the big strike. He has been relatively turnover-free (2 turnovers in 3 games), and his only INT in his 106 attempts this season was a poorly drawn shuffle pass at the goal line (costly, but not fully his fault). Wentz, if given the time in the pocket, can deliver the deep ball. However, those opportunities have been few, as shown in his very low 6.1 Average Depth of Target (ADOT).
Despite these obstacles, Wentz has impressed. But he must be protected both now and long term. Playing through injury is a dangerous gambit for any player, especially for a potential franchise QB with a banged-up line upfront. While Wentz will be essential for any hope of the Colts to mount a comeback this season, the Colts might be wise in resting him until fully healthy, possibly even wiser if they do so until his OL is healthy. I am not saying bench him for the year, but 1-3 weeks could be enough time to let his ankles heal and allow him to have at least 4 of his starting OL healthy. This would also reduce his snap %, helping the Colts protect their 1st round pick in 2021 from the Eagles (but would not get him to below the 70-75% threshold yet).
Give Eason or Ehlinger, or Hundley a chance to play and see what the backup situation is. While the next 2 opponents are far from easy (Dolphins and Ravens), there is hardly a guarantee that the Colts could win those games even with Wentz playing. The Dolphins this Sunday could be beaten with an old-school smash-mouth run attack featuring Taylor and Hines, so let’s use that strategy without jeopardizing the investment into Wentz. Ravens, meanwhile, could be a tough challenge if the Colts aren’t healthy, so regardless of who is under center, it would be a likely loss. In this scenario, the Colts would be either 1-4 or 0-5 to start, which might occur with or without Wentz anyways. But at least after those 2 games, the schedule gets easier, Wentz and the roster are likely healthier, and we can properly put him in a position to succeed and evaluate him.
Wentz may be the Colt’s long-term solution at QB; he may not. But allowing him to absorb this much punishment and jeopardize his health to play through games the Colts are strong underdogs benefits no one. I find it reckless to leave him in the lineup until he is healthy and the OL has shaped up. Especially with Colt’s history of QBs playing through injury to win in the short term, causing long-term damage to their health (Manning’s neck injury & Luck’s variety of injuries, especially the labrum injury). Let’s allow our current QB to heal and be evaluated properly, so he may truly help the Colts this season and beyond.