Originally written February 06, 2013 on isportsweb.com:
When you look at the pre-season predictions for the 2012 Indianapolis Colts, you would have surely thought the prospects were bleak. Many a pundit foresaw the dreariest of seasons for Indy, ranging from one or two wins, with some thinking that the Colts may match the 2008 Detroit Lions in going 0-16. I myself saw a five win season as feasible, if on the high end, and if that had been the case I would have considered it a good year. And really, who could blame us? The team went through the type of purge that is usually crippling for a franchise. Gone were future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, along with other key players and favorites such as center Jeff Saturday (congrats on the retirement BTW, Jeff), TE Dallas Clark, and MLB Gary Brackett to name a few. Gone was head coach Jim Caldwell, who led the Colts to a berth in Super Bowl XLIV, and general manager Bill Polian, who drafted the likes of Manning,WR Reggie Wayne, DE/OLBs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and numerous other front office staff. In their place we had QB Andrew Luck, the #1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, a rookie GM in Ryan Grigson, a rookie head coach in Chuck Pagano (who installed a new defensive scheme), an interim head coach in offensive coordinator Bruce Arians (who took over for Pagano for 12 games while he battled leukemia), and a host of other rookies, undrafted free-agents, and various other cast-offs. So why would anyone think the Colts would be any good at all in 2012? Well, they were. The Colts blew away any and all expectations, winning 11 games and making the playoffs. A season for the ages, to be sure. Yes, at times the Colts looked exaclty like what the really were – a young, inexperienced, and less-talented team prone to mistakes (as you’ll see in my grades). But the magic was in their constant ability to overcome those disadvantages time and time again. The season could have ended on a better note than it did (a 24-9 loss to eventual Super Bowl participant Baltimore), but you can’t take away the great fun that this squad provided all year. Now on to the grades (check out my mid-season review here: http://isportsweb.com/?p=191436). Overall Achievement: A- I’m not sure how many different ways it can be said, so we’ll just go back over it. 2-14 last season. Peyton Manning, Jeff Saturday, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett – gone. New coaching staff, new front office staff, new offensive and defensive schemes. The head coach out for 12 games while he battled leukemia. All of this spelled doom for the Colts in 2012. So how do they respond? 11-5 and a playoff game. Sure, the team looked like what it is at times – young and inexperienced with a lack of real depth. But the sky seems to be the limit now for Indy, and with over $40 million in cap space, the Colts brass should be able to build on the strong first year of a new era. Offense – Passing: B+ Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck was a revelation in 2012. Yes, he had high expectations, not only because he was the number one overall draft pick, but also due to the fact that he replaced the legend of Peyton Manning. His success in his first campaign can’t be denied – 4,374 yards (an NFL record for a rookie quarterback), 23 touchdowns, and a smattering of other rookie records: Most 300+ yard passing games (6),  most yards in a single game (433), most wins (11), and most comeback victories (7) among them. But Luck isn’t the only aspect of the pass game. Reggie Wayne had one if the best seasons of his career, but the other pass catchers struggled throughout, with only 3rd round pick T.Y. Hilton really start to surge as the time went on. And the pass blocking was horrendous. If Luck is going to have a long future, this has to get better immediately. Offense – Running: C  This has been an area of concern for the Colts ever since they let Edgerrin James go in free-agency way back in 2006. The players that have fielded the running back position since – Joseph Addai, Dominic Rhodes, Donald Brown – have largely been failures, though Addai did manage to hit 1,00o yards twice and make a Pro Bowl. But things may have changed with the drafting of Vick Ballard. Ballard didn’t get many carries to start the year, coming off the bench behind Brown. But when his number was called after Brown had to sit out with various injuries, he began to prove himself. In his first 5 games, he totalled just 29 carries for 67 yards (2.3 average). In the final 11, he carried 182 yards for 747 yards (4.1 average). If he continues to improve next year, and if the offensive line improves as well, he could have a breakout season in 2013. Defense – Passing – D+ When your best hope at stopping the opposing quarterback is Vontae Davis, you know you have issues. It seems like GM Ryan Grigson, not happy with the depth at the position to begin the year, added 40 defensive backs (an over exaggeration). If that weren’t enough, they gave up a 2nd round pick to acquire Davis from the Dolphins. And still the team allowed the 26th most yards (374.3) and only notched 12 interceptions (T-20th), and the front seven only got to the quarterback 32 times (T-23rd). Sure, they only gave up 23 passing scores, but that might have more to do with the porous run defense than any actual pass defense plays. Next to the offensive line, the cornerback and safety positions are a priority this off season. Defense – Running – D As bad as the pass defense was, the run defense was even worse. They gace up 137.5 yard per game on the ground (29th), and 14 scores (T-21st). A lot of this has to do with the plague of injuries the Colts experienced in both the linebacker and defensive line units, and some of it can also be attributed to switching schemes this past off-season. But even had those units stayed healthy for the majority of the season, the general lack of talent and depth would have likely kept this grade in the D range anyway. Special Teams – C+ Punter Pat McAfee had a pretty good year, averaging 48.2 (4th) yards a punt, and the punt team only allowed an average of 6.3 yards per punt return (8th). They still gave up too many yards on kickoffs, allowing 24.7 yards per return (25th) with one touchdown. But the real kicker (see what I did there?) is the the inconsistencies of Adam Vinatieri. He connected on only 78.8% of his field goal attempts (26th). Vinny’s geeting up there in the age department, and this may be a harbinger of things to come. Or it could be that he just had a bad year. It will be interesting to see if GM Grigson will bring in some competition in the offseason. Coaching – A+ Not really sure I have to justify this one, but I’ll make it quick. Coach Pagano, out with leukemia. Coach Arians, the interim. 11-5 record. Playoff berth. Arians becomes the first interim coach ever to win NFL Coach of the Year (with Pagano coming in second). Good enough? Final Season Awards Offensive MVP – QB Andrew Luck Yet another that realy doesn’t require reasoning. See above notes from the passing game. Basically Luck was the Colts offense all season long. Defensive MVP – LB Jerrell Freeman Most people outside of Indianapolis likely still have no idea who Jerrell Freeman is. As a quick explanation, he was a free agent pick-up from the CFL’s (Canadian Football League to the uninitiated) Saskatchewan Roughriders, where he had played since going undrafted out of Mary-Hardin Baylor, a D-III school, in 2008. A gem of find for Grigson in the offseason, Freeman notched 145 tackles, 2 sacks, and returned an interception for a touchdown in week 1 against Chicago. He made plays consistently all season long, and if fellow inside backer Pat Angerer can stay healthy this coming season, the middle of the Colts D should be quite a bit tougher to get through. Best Game – Green Bay (week 5) There’s no change in this from the mid-season review. It will stand as the best performance of this team from 2012. Worst Game – New England (week 11) Ditto here. The Colts played like a lost team in this one, as New England exposed the deficiancies in the defense. I’ll be posting my final Luck vs. Manning comparison later in the week, and will begin posting about the free agency and the draft in the coming weeks as well (including my “Fan vs. the Experts Mock Draft Challenge” that anyone who read my posts on FanNation.com will recall). Follow me on Twitter @IrishColt1
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