Since starting the season 0-2 with back-to-back losses to the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, the Indianapolis Colts have won three straight games against the Titans, Jaguars, and Texans. Those three wins have given the Colts a 3-2 record and made many forget about their worrisome season openers. Lost in all of this though, is that the three teams Indy has beaten are a combined 3-11 and the team still has a -14 point differential through five games. Neither of those facts have me screaming ‘contender’ when I look at the list of dominant teams that have emerged in the AFC (not to mention the Falcons, Packers, and Cardinals in the NFC).
So what exactly is wrong with the Indianapolis Colts? They aren’t short on big names on either side of the ball, and coach Chuck Pagano has a generational player in Andrew Luck to lead his offense. But in the NFL, having a roster full of high draft picks and former stars isn’t enough to deliver consistent wins. A team must be solidly built from top to bottom, and that starts with the offensive and defensive fronts.
The Colts have long chosen to neglect those areas of their roster and they’re paying for it this season. On defense, the Colts have struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks while registering just six sacks through five games. That has allowed opponents to sit in the pocket and pick apart their secondary – which has allowed the 5th most passing yards per game.
On offense, Luck and Matt Hasselbeck have done a good job of avoiding sacks to keep from losing yards, but they have still been hit 71 times already this season – the second most hits in the NFL. While that doesn’t always mean a loss of yards through a sack, those quarterbacks are often forced to throw the ball away and lose a down. That has crippled the team offensively and has prevented the team from getting the ball to their big playmakers in T.Y. Hilton and Phillip Dorsett.
Speaking of Dorsett, he represents one of the biggest reasons for the team’s recent struggles. An undeniably electric player during his time at Miami, Dorsett was taken with the 29th overall pick in the 2015 draft, despite the fact that the Colts had glaring needs on the offensive and defensive lines. The pick surprised analysts and league insiders everywhere, but it actually wasn’t a departure from their recent drafting strategy.
Since 2005 Indy has had nine first round picks and taken six skill position players. Granted, one of those players was Luck, but the rest have failed to make a significant impact. Drafting skill position players with high draft picks isn’t necessarily a bad strategy, but it is far more important to take a lineman or linebacker if needs exist in both areas.
For comparison, the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers (the two premier franchises in the NFL) have taken just six skill position players with their last 21 first round draft picks combined. Not surprisingly, those teams have consistently been among the league’s best teams since 2005. Their strong fronts have allowed them to cycle through a wide cast of skill players as keeping their QBs protected allowed their receivers to get open, and pressuring opposing passers set their defensive backs up for success.
But instead of learning from the best teams in the league (recent Steelers and Seahawks picks reveal similar trends to those of the Patriots and Packers), Colts GM Ryan Grigson has continually passed up players who could solidify his offensive and defensive fronts. It’s very difficult to expect Pagano to get consistent performances from his team when his defensive line can’t pressure the other passer and his offensive line can’t protect his quarterback. That makes the rumors that Grigson is in favor of bringing in a new coach next season even more ridiculous than they were already.
In case anyone needs reminding, Grigson is the same guy who invested $80 million combined in Gosder Cherilus, LaRon Landry, and Andre Johnson – and that’s not even taking the disastrous Trent Richardson trade into consideration. It shouldn’t be too hard to realize that the man sitting at the GM’s desk has had more strikeouts than home runs, and it’s not really close. While there is certainly plenty of talent across the Colts’ roster, that talent is clustered in the offensive skill positions. That isn’t likely to change anytime soon either. Those offensive players are locked into expensive contracts and as previously mentioned Grigson doesn’t draft frontline players on a frequent basis.
With all of this in mind, it isn’t hard to see what’s wrong with the Indianapolis Colts. Organizational dysfunction and inconsistent play from the team’s best players don’t properly sum it up either. Grigson has taken a team building approach that doesn’t allow his premier players like Andrew Luck and Vontae Davis to be at their best. Sitting at 3-2 in a bad division isn’t a bad place to be in the standings, but the structure of their roster should be a major cause of concern for Indy fans.