We crossed over into enemy lines this week to meet up with Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue to discuss this week’s opponent - the Indianapolis Colts.
WCG: From an outsider perspective, this team looks as though it's built like the New Orleans Saints - great QB, boring RB, full complement of WRs, no defense. Does General Manager Ryan Grigson just have Super Bowl XLIV playing on loop, trying to avenge that loss by following the New Orleans blueprint or is there a real vision here?
SB: I do think there are a lot of comparisons between the Colts and the Saints. I actually have a friend who's a Saints fan who at one point this year was venting about the team's issues and I stopped him and just said, "you could just as easily be describing the Colts right now."
The problems with the Colts lie in a lot of places, particularly on the defensive side of the football. Around the roster the Colts just don't have great talent, and they aren't really maximizing what talent they do have, either. The Colts really lack a pass rush and have a ton of weaknesses at linebacker. The Colts' offensive line has let Luck get hit a ton once again this year. The Colts' wide receivers have struggled with some consistency issues when it comes to getting open on a regular basis. The Colts' run game has been solid, but certainly not so much so to carry the team. The coaching has been questionable. And the talent level is average at best.
To many people, that all sounds like excuse-making for Andrew Luck, but the reality is that the team isn't that great. Now, granted, they do have some nice pieces in place. Vontae Davis is a legitimate top-tier cornerback. The safety duo of Mike Adams and Clayton Geathers has been good. The defensive line has some legitimate standouts in Henry Anderson and Kendall Langford. And the offense has playmaking wide receivers in T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief (though he's currently injured), and Phillip Dorsett. And that's not to mention the league's best kicking duo in Pat McAfee and Adam Vinatieri - the latter of which has made his last 32 field goal attempts and has only missed three field goals in total over the last three seasons. So the Colts do have pieces in place, but the problem is that the overall talent level isn't great and that the team is not consistent.
WCG: Andrew Luck struggled last season, battling through some injury issues. Is he officially back to the Andrew Luck of old and what does he need to do this year for Colts fans to consider it a successful season for him?
SB: The most encouraging thing for the Colts this year by far has been that Andrew Luck looks back to his 2014 form (the year in which he threw for 4,761 yards and a league-leading 40 touchdowns) through the first four games of the season, furthering the belief that 2015's struggles were in large part due to injuries. Through four games, Luck has completed 62% of his passes for 1,147 yards (6.9 yards per attempt), eight touchdowns, and three picks (with an interception percentage at just 1.8%, a phenomenal number). That puts him on a 4,588 yard, 32 touchdown pace for a 16-game season. Because of their struggles elsewhere the Colts are asking Luck to essentially be perfect, and he hasn't gotten the most help elsewhere, but overall Luck has had a very good season and looks to be back to his 2014 season form. Even with a 1-3 record, it's incredibly encouraging for Colts fans after a disappointing 2015 campaign. So if he can show that he's still a very good NFL quarterback when healthy - which is what he's been doing so far this year - I think it will be a successful season for him.
WCG: Preseason darling WR Donte Moncrief is recovering from a broken shoulder blade. How has that absence been filled? Has the offense relied even more on TY Hilton or have other players stepped in to fill the void?
SB: It has been difficult for the Colts to replace Donte Moncrief. While the Colts have a very talented trio of receivers at the top of the depth chart, the guys after them are unproven. And Moncrief does have a wide set of skills that the Colts can utilize that makes him a dangerous guy to play, which they've had trouble replicating. Obviously, T.Y. Hilton has proven over the past four years that he can be a legitimate playmaker at the NFL level, and we saw that again in week three as he went for 174 yards and the game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes left. But defenses also know how to plan against Hilton at times, and right now there aren't a ton of guys ready to step up.
Phillip Dorsett has had a nice year and made a long touchdown catch last week, but he still leaves something to be desired in replacing Moncrief this year. And then after Hilton and Dorsett, it's undrafted rookie Chester Rogers, return man Quan Bray, and the recently-signed Devin Street. That's not great. So the Colts have leaned heavily on their tight ends (Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle) and their running backs (Frank Gore and Josh Ferguson) in the passing game with Moncrief out.
I won't lie and say the Colts have just moved on seamlessly with Moncrief out (because it's been a big and impactful loss), but with Hilton, Dorsett, Rogers, Allen, Doyle, Gore, and Ferguson, the Colts should have enough talent to produce - though last week, the Colts had five dropped passes. So it's a work in progress, but the good news for the Colts is that they'll get Moncrief back at some point in a few weeks.
WCG: The Colts defense can't stop anyone and are a bottom 5 unit in DVOA. Is there any reason to believe that Brian Hoyer can't turn in his third straight 300 yard passing game? Are there any bright spots on this unit?
SB: Well... like I mentioned earlier, the Colts do have some talented players on the defensive side of the football (Vontae Davis, Henry Anderson, Kendall Langford, Mike Adams, etc.), but the problem is that the overall talent level isn't great. And so far this year, the Colts' defense has really struggled. The cornerback duo of Vontae Davis and Patrick Robinson is a good one, but here's the big issue: teams can exploit the other areas of the Colts' defense without even needing to challenge Davis. The Colts lack any semblance of a pass rush, as top rush linebacker Robert Mathis has been almost invisible. Their top pass rusher (by far) this year has actually been Erik Walden (who has four sacks in four games), who's on the team primarily as a run defender. And outside of Walden, the rest of the defense has three sacks combined. So the pass rush is a major, major problem, and that makes it much more difficult for the secondary in the passing game.
But furthermore, teams have been able to have success against this defense by utilizing shorter passes, whether on short routes to wideouts or on passes to backs - basically anything you can do to exploit the Colts' struggling linebackers. So in other words, there are plays to be made against this defense. Whether or not Hoyer hits that 300-yard mark, I don't know, but the Bears can certainly game-plan in a way that exploits the Colts' defensive weaknesses and there should be plays for Hoyer to be made this week without having to challenge Vontae Davis too much.
WCG: The AFC South is shaping up to be the worst division in football again this season. What do the Colts need to do to get back on track and win this division and what team is most likely to take this division if the Colts can't?
SB: The bad news for the Colts is that a quarter of the way through the season, they're in last place in the worst division in football. But the good news for the Colts is that they're only a quarter of the way through the season and still in the mix in the AFC South despite an abysmal 1-3 start. The Jaguars and Titans are also 1-3, while the Texans are 3-1. So if the Colts win this week against the Bears and then beat the Texans on the road the following week, all the sudden they're back at 3-3 and at worst only one game out of the division lead. So yes, there's certainly a way for them to get back on track, but until I see any sort of consistently good play from this team or until I see them put together a complete performance in a game, I'm not sure it's expected. I do think the winner of this division will either be the Texans or the Colts, however, and here's why I say that: I think the Texans are the best team in the division and obviously have been playing the best football, but if anyone is going to catch them it will be the one with the best quarterback in Andrew Luck.
WCG: BONUS - Who ya got on Sunday and what's the score?
SB: I really think this one could go either way. The Colts have been within one score late in the fourth quarter in every game so far but have only pulled out one win. If they can keep getting close late in the game, odds are they'll pull some more games out. So I think I'll take the Colts in a close one, but like I said, I can just as easily see the Colts play another ugly game and lose again. To me this game is a tossup, but I'll take the Colts 27-23.
Thank you to Josh and Stampede Blue for the insight!