NFL Goes Awol: Indianapolis Colts

Right now the Indianapolis Colts are 8-4, with five of those wins in comeback fashion. Just a couple seasons ago Peyton Manning was the face of their franchise, who delivered a championship in his dozen years at the helm. After he went down and missed all of last season, the Colts went 2-14. With the first pick of the draft they selected Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, and have played themselves back into the playoff picture.

This kid has played under the hype and the pressure for several years, and he has excelled up to this point in his rookie season. Sure, his 17 touchdowns barely edge out the 16 interceptions he’s thrown, but the offense is predicated around his leadership and abilities. He’s got the arm, mobility, and so far his winning touch is stamping the decision of a new regime in Indianapolis.

It’s never easy to move on from a future Hall of Fame quarterback (Manning) and head coach (Tony Dungy from a few years ago), but this franchise continues to persevere. New head coach Chuck Pagano, was successful as the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens in 2011 after being promoted from secondary coach. That was an elite defense and before that, he coached the Oakland Raiders back when they had Nnamdi Asomugha, playing at an All-Pro level. Whatever he did in such a short amount of time as defensive coordinator in Baltimore worked, and the same can be said for the foundation he laid in Indianapolis so far. He is in the midst of a battle with leukemia (God Bless him), and his class act has inspired an organization dealing with a lot of adversity lately.

Bruce Arians was known as the offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Contrary to debatable play-calling for the black and yellow, he worked well with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and was part of the 2008 Super Bowl team. He was brought to Indianapolis to work with Andrew Luck, and has done so by making him the focal point of the offense while serving as the interim head coach in the absence of Pagano.

They say all good things start at the top. Colts Owner Jim Irsay became the youngest owner in the NFL when his father passed away in 1997. He was 37 years of age at the time and hired GM Bill Polian, who parted ways with the team after last season. Those two gentlemen deciphered the debate between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, and we all know how that story unfolded. This past offseason Irsay was at it again, when he hired the Director of Player Personnel of the Philadelphia Eagles, Ryan Grigson. Philadelphia had an excellent run in the NFC playoff picture and as Super Bowl contenders, so perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that the Eagles have struggled since Grigson became the GM of the Colts. With a month of football remaining in the regular season, the Colts have 48 players on the roster with 4 years in the league or less (11 rookies). As for veteran receiver Reggie Wayne and linebacker Robert Mathis, excellent job resigning team leaders with plenty left in the tank.

Right now this team is slated as the 5th seed in the AFC (8-4), vying for a wildcard spot with a slight advantage over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (7-5). Entering week 14, the playoff picture illustrates that Andrew Luck and the Colts would visit Peyton Manning and the Broncos, a matchup worth seeing if Murphy’s law permits.

On the football field, the backfield by committee combined with the quarterback’s running ability exceeds 100 yards per game. Led by Luck and the 5th best passing attack, Indianapolis ranks as the 3rd best offense in the league (behind New England and Detroit). Although they rank in the early 20’s against both the pass and run defensively, the 20th ranked defense should improve just by getting healthy. Healthy in terms of keeping Pro Bowler Dwight Freeney on the edge of the defense, and hopefully their head coach and defensive guru (Pagano) can make his return to the sidelines.

They might be a year or some amount of time away from seriously contending for a Super Bowl, but they’re pulling off wins and with a strong finish, will earn the opportunity to make things interesting. That one hiccup of a season last year is more than a fair trade, for acquiring back-to-back franchise quarterbacks and tasting the postseason. Not to overlook the challenge at hand during an exciting time, but an improved defense with Luck avoiding a sophomore slump could have them on the heels of the Houston Texans for the division next year.