The Indianapolis Colts entered the regular season as the new “it” team of the NFL – the fan-friendly darlings ready to turn a corner and become real contenders.
With a revamped offense and another year under Andrew Luck, the Colts, who made and subsequently got crushed in the AFC Championship game last year, looked like they could realistically compete for the Super Bowl this season.
But that optimism took a hit after a disappointing Week 1 showing and some concerns about the state of the Colts’ internal affairs.
The Colts came out flat in their season-opener against the Buffalo Bills, losing 27-14 and not even scoring until the third quarter. The rebuilt Bills also had a great showing, but the degree to which the Colts struggled was jarring.
The Bills’ first-time starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, had an efficient outing, completing 14 of 19 passes for 195 yards with one touchdown, while adding 40 rushing yards. The Colts’ run defense got beat up by Karlos Williams and LeSean McCoy’s combined 96 rushing yards while giving up a huge 51-yard touchdown to Percy Harvin, who’d been injured throughout much of training camp and preseason.
Additionally, the Colts’ two biggest offseason additions – Frank Gore and Andre Johnson – were lackadaisical, finishing with 31 rushing yards and 24 receiving yards, respectively. Top receiver T. Y. Hilton left the game early with a knee bruise and could miss some time. Luck had a rare poor performance, going 26-49 with 243 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, and just a 63 passer rating to Taylor’s 123 passer rating.
But while the Colts figure to recover fairly well on the field, even if there are concerns about the run defense and the age of their free agent additions, there are bigger concerns off the field. According to a report from Bob Kravitz of WTHR Sports, there may be a rift within Colts management, particularly concerning head coach Chuck Pagano.
According to Kravitz, Pagano wants more personnel control that General Manager Ryan Grigson and owner Jim Irsay aren’t ready to give him. Additionally, Grigson and Irsay have doubts about whether Pagano can take the Colts to the next level.
There’s a reason why the Colts only offered Pagano a one-year contract extension for a not-very-significant amount of money: Neither owner Jim Irsay nor Grigson is completely convinced Pagano can take them [to] the places they want to go. And we know how high the stakes are here, not just for this season, but for this era: Already, Irsay has gone on the record, perhaps imprudently, and said he expects to compete for multiple championships during the Luck Era. He is still smarting from the fact the Colts won “just” one Super Bowl with Peyton Manning. My sense is, he’s not going to show the same kind of patience with his leaders that he’s shown in the past.
With Pagano in the final year of a four-year contract, he could remain a lame-duck coach forced to wait out the year under the burden of expectation.
Kravtiz also mentions that Grigson and Irsay are unhappy that the Colts have been blown out several times by elite teams, most notably 45-7 to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.
This could set up a problem further down the road. The Colts’ schedule is not terribly brutal – five of their next eight games come against teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season, and only one of their final six games comes against a 2014 playoff team.
While the Colts might self-correct some of the things that went wrong on the field in Week 1, it could also give them a false sense of security. With an easy schedule, they don’t have many chances to prove themselves against the best of the NFL.
Games against the Patriots in Week 6 and the Denver Broncos in Week 9 will be important, but there aren’t many “measuring-stick” games to see where the Colts really stand in the NFL’s power rankings.
How the Colts fair in those games will be interesting to monitor. Has their team actually improved enough to beat the top teams in the NFL, and how will the front office handle Pagano depending on the results of those games? It’s too early to fret, but a team with perhaps the most momentum from the offseason suddenly has several issues.