Not many people saw the 2018 season going the way it did for the Indianapolis Colts, I certainly did not. Although I must say when they were 1-5 I was feeling pretty smug. However, what happened over the next 11 games deserves to be remembered in years to come. The Colts steamed through the second half of their schedule, hitting just one road block, on their way to a road playoff victory. Unfortunately, it all came crumbling down in a cold Kansas City, but that does not mean what happened before that was not impressive and exciting for the future.
As I have indicated above this season quite nicely breaks down into two main parts. So let’s take a look at what happened in 2018 and what it means for 2019 and beyond.
A Messy Start
1-5 does not look pretty, but actually that record is a little unfair when you consider what we saw on the field those six weeks. The Colts realistically had a shot to be 3-0, and maybe even 4-0, if they took their chances. In Week 1 they were driving for the win, before Jack Doyle fumbled the ball and the Bengals returned it for a touchdown. Week 3 they had numerous shots to win it in the red zone against a spluttering Eagles team. Week 4 they failed to convert a fourth down in overtime, that had they made it could easily have been the game winning drive.
The last two games were truly messy and somewhat ugly. Seven turnovers combined on the road against the Patriots and Jets, led to 80 points against them. However, at that point in the season the Colts were struggling with injuries. Against the Patriots, they barely had anyone left healthy on the bench by the end of the game. That was also a Thursday Night Football game on the road. Not easy.
No Run Game
A major issue in those first six games was a complete lack of run game. Marlon Mack played just twice in those first six weeks, and both times they rushed for over 100 yards. The other four times their highest rush total was 84 yards. Part of that is down to them chasing games, but it was clear from watching the game that the run game was not working.
A Resurgent Second Half
When you are struggling there is a switch that needs to flick if you are to get out of the rut. That switch came in the form of the Buffalo Bills and the Oakland Raiders. The Colts did what they should do and beat up on those two bad teams. They ran for an average of 221 yards in those games, and forced six turnovers. That left them going into the bye week on a high. They then got three home games coming out of the bye and did exactly what they were expected to do, they won.
They did stumble in Jacksonville, but that was exceptional circumstances. The Jaguars had just benched Blake Bortles and that defence was desperate to show that he was the reason they were not winning games. It was a buzz saw situation and ultimately it cost the Colts the AFC South.
They finished the season with four more wins before heading to Houston, and winning comfortably to advance to Kansas City and the Divisional round of the playoffs.
The Frank Reich Effect
Reich may not have been the Colts first choice. In fact they somewhat fell into him as their coach when Josh McDaniels backed out on them at the last minute. However, Reich was a huge element for the Colts this season.
Ultimately, they lost the game at home to Houston when they went for it on fourth down. However, by going for it their coach set a tone, they were going to try and win games, no matter the risk. He also showed incredible trust in his offence and that is worth a lot.
In terms of tangible stats Reich’s biggest effect may be on third downs. This year the Colts were first in the league in third down conversion percentage, converting 48.6% of the time. They also ranked fifth in red zone conversion percentage, scoring touchdowns 68.8% of the time. It is not fair to compare the Colts this year to last year, because it is a very different situation, so therefore lets compare them to last years Eagles. Last year the Eagles ranked eighth in third down conversions and first in red zone conversions. That dropped to 12th and 17th this year without Reich on the sideline. It is not all due to Reich, but he deserves a lot of credit.
Offensive Line Domination
The biggest issue for the Colts previously in Luck’s career was they let him get hit too much in the pocket. Not this year. Led by rookie guard Quenton Nelson, the Colts led the league in sacks allowed to opponents. They also went five straight games without letting Luck get hit. That is incredible. If a quarterback of Andrew Luck’s talent has time in the pocket then defences are in trouble. In fact, the two games they lost in the second half of the season were against very good defensive lines. If they can get this line playing that well in the future then they could be a force to reckon with in the next few years.
What were the Weaknesses?
There were a number of weaknesses for the Colts this season, despite all the positives. The running back and wide receiver positions were not convincing. They need a big reliable back who can constantly get them yards on early downs. They also need reliable receivers outside. The lack of reliability cost the Colts at least one game and probably a few more. In a league where games are often decided by one score you cannot afford to let opponents off the hook.
Defensively they need more talent. There main areas are pass rush and secondary, but they can upgrade at quite a few positions this offseason. Darious Leonard is a superstar in the making and they have other good role players, but they need more superstars around Leonard. If they do that it could be fun in Indianapolis in 2019.
Image credit: Yahoo