The Indianapolis Colts have been a good football team that hasn’t been quite good enough to contend. Does the addition of future fringe Hall of Fame quarterback Matt Ryan change that? Or is Ryan’s best football already behind him? Let’s take a closer look at the Colts:
Opening Win Total: 9.5
Current Win Total: 9.5 to 10
Schedule Difficulty: Easy
Nothing alters the capabilities of an offense like a quarterback change. Colts owner Jim Irsay eviscerated Carson Wentz once he was traded to Washington this offseason. Matt Ryan brings stability to this football team. Ryan is an upgrade over Wentz just about across the board, which means this offense will look different this season. That said, we can still get a baseline idea on what the Colts do well offensively even though Ryan hasn’t yet taken a regular season snap for Indianapolis.
Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Colts offense was:
- 26th in net passing yards
- 2nd in rushing yards
- 9th in points per game
Former NFL executives Bill Polian and Rick Spielman, as well as quarterback Michael Vick are all optimistic about Ryan’s addition. Former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano believes Ryan could finally be the answer at quarterback that Indianapolis has been looking for since Andrew Luck retired. I’m on board with Ryan as an upgrade, but I’m closer to our Mike Tannenbaum’s stance on Ryan at this point in his career.
For the Colts to truly contend in an AFC littered with dynamic quarterbacks, we’re going to need a Kurt Warner or Carson Palmer level career resurgence from Ryan. While that’s certainly possible, our expectation for Ryan should be closer to a middle-of-the-pack starter as Tannenbaum suggests. The Colts offense will be a better, more stable one this season because of Ryan. However, expecting 37-year-old Matt Ryan to go out and consistently win shootouts against the Josh Allen’s and Patrick Mahomes’ of the world is a big ask.
Ryan will be better supported in Indianapolis this season than he has been in years, which is why a career resurgence is on the table. That starts with the Colts top-ten offensive line, headlined by the best guard in football: Quenton Nelson. Along with Nelson, C Ryan Kelly and RT Braden Smith comprise the foundation of this unit. I thought third-round rookie LT Bernhard Raimann was one of the steals of the draft. That said, transitioning from the LT for the Central Michigan Chippewas to the LT of the Indianapolis Colts is a massive jump for a rookie. That’s a big reason why Matt Pryor is still in the mix to start at LT. Danny Pinter is making the jump from reserve to potential starter at right guard this season.
Behind that offensive line is running back Jonathan Taylor, who led the NFL in rushing last year. If Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp doesn’t have a historic season, Taylor is the reigning Offensive Player of the Year. Nyheim Hines is one of a handful of reserve backs that are a true asset in the passing game. Given Taylor’s massive workload last season, it makes sense if the Colts take more off Taylor’s plate through Hines. The combination of Taylor and Hines makes up one of the best running back rooms in the league.
The Colts’ wide receiver group has some question marks, but Michael Pittman is an obvious third-year breakout candidate. Pittman is coming off an 88-1082-6 campaign on 129 Carson Wentz targets. A rhetorical question that I have routinely asked this offseason is: can Michael Pittman be Matt Ryan’s new Roddy White? Former second-round speedster Parris Campbell is a nice skillset compliment to Pittman. The issue there is Campbell hasn’t played more than seven games in any of his first three seasons. I like second-round rookie Alec Pierce, who could be a factor early this season. If Keke Coutee makes the roster, then I could see him stepping into a similar role as Russell Gage did as a Falcon.
Tight end Mo Alie-Cox is a former Division I basketball player that has flashed dynamic play making ability. The potential is there with Alie-Cox, it’s more so a matter of consistency. For the first time, the path is very clear for Alie-Cox to take over at tight end for the Colts.
It’s worth noting that the Colts recently lost their punter Rigoberto Sanchez for the season. That loss could influence certain fourth-down decisions this year.
Former Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is now the head coach of the Chicago Bears. Former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley replaces Eberflus, which will be his fourth stop in the NFL as a defensive coordinator. Bradley was most notably the defensive coordinator for the Legion of Boom in Seattle. While the new play caller will change things for this defense, we can still get an idea of what this group is capable of.
Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Colts defense was:
- 10th in rushing yards allowed.
- 18th in passing yards allowed.
- 24th in sacks, 10th in hurries, 18th in knockdowns, and 17th in pressures.
- 9th in points allowed per game.
The Colts are a good defense, plain and simple. That starts with their quality front headlined by one of the best interior linemen in the league: DeForest Buckner. Indianapolis added difference-making Edge Yannick Ngakoue this offseason. Ngakoeu and Buckner combine for one of the best inside-out pass rushing duos in the league. Last year’s first-round pick, Kwity Paye, improved as his rookie campaign went on. If Paye takes a step forward this season, the Colts pass rush could approach the top ten. It’s worth noting that Paye left August 24’s practice with a knee injury. Last year’s second-round pick Dayo Odeyingbo has shown promise both on the edge and inside. If Paye were to miss any time, Odeyingbo’s playing time will be on the rise.
Colts’ defensive centerpiece Darius Leonard is now the highest paid linebacker in football. The Colts linebacker has changed his name to Shaquille Leonard. He’ll headline the Colts linebacker group alongside Bobby Okereke, who is coming off his best season. Veteran Zaire Franklin rounds out this unit.
The Colts’ secondary has undergone substantial roster turnover this offseason. Perimeter corners Xavier Rhodes and Rock Ya-Sin are out, but former Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore is in. Gilmore’s play has declined some since his 2019 Defensive Player of the Year takedown, but he still represents a potential upgrade over Rhodes or Ya-Sin. Be it in the slot or outside, Kenny Moore II will have a big role in this secondary. Who joins Gilmore and Moore in the nickel remains to be seen. Third-round rookie Nick Cross joins Julian Blackmon at safety. All-in-all, the Colts will have three new starters in their nickel package this season.
The Colts have an interesting start with back-to-back road games in Houston and Jacksonville. They then get the Chiefs in their Week 3 home opener. That game against Kansas City kicks off a difficult five-game stretch: vs. Titans, at Broncos (TNF), vs. Jaguars, at Titans. A 4-3 record through their first seven games should be considered a win for the Colts.
Leading into their Week 14 bye the Colts have a six-game stretch with no easy outs: vs. Commanders, at Patriots, at Raiders, vs. Eagles, vs. Steelers (MNF), at Cowboys (SNF). If Indianapolis can enter their Week 14 bye with a 7-6 record or better, then they’ll be in good position for their stretch run.
Coming off their bye, the Colts begin a difficult two-game stretch with a trip to Minnesota, followed by a Monday Night tilt with the Chargers. Indianapolis then visits the Giants before hosting the Texans in the regular season finale.
Unspectacular, rock solid, physical football has been the name of the game for Frank Reich’s Colts. That’s how Indianapolis beat the 49ers on the road in primetime and blew out the Bills in Buffalo last year. The Colts were 2-5 in one score games with Carson Wentz last season. Those narrow defeats came against the Rams, Ravens, Titans, Buccaneers, and Raiders. Matt Ryan is very capable of flipping these kinds of situations for Indianapolis.
The addition of Ryan is going to make this already dangerous team better, whether we get a late career resurgence out of the veteran quarterback or not. I have the Colts entering their Week 18 home game versus Houston with a 9-7 record, which is a matchup they are expected to win. That 10-7 outcome sounds closer to the floor than the ceiling of what the Colts are capable of, though. I’m taking the Colts over at 9.5 games, with the expectation that they win the AFC South.