Two Years After AFC Title Game, What Are the Colts?

Can we really consider the Colts contenders anymore?
January 4, 2017, 9:38pm
© Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

2015 was a fall from grace for the Indianapolis Colts. Star quarterback Andrew Luck was hurt for much of the season, and the team that made it all the way to the AFC title game to complain about deflated balls didn't even make it to the playoffs. And they played in one of the weakest divisions in the entire league.

But 2016 was supposed to be different. Luck would be healthy. Colts owner Jim Irsay opted to stick with head coach Chuck "Statistics Say We Should Run 80 Percent of the Time" Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson, who traded a first-round pick for Trent Richardson and used two others on Bjoern Werner and Phillip Dorsett.

And in a division that was arguably even worse than it was in 2015—a division where Brock Osweiler was one of the biggest-money busts in NFL history—the Colts missed the playoffs again. But Indianapolis didn't miss the playoffs because the Texans hit on Osweiler and Will Fuller, or because the young talent surge of the Jacksonville Jaguars dominated the division; the Titans certainly improved, but the door was open. No, the Colts missed the playoffs because they are a bad football team that focuses on the wrong things.

They missed the playoffs because they continually design plays that take forever to get going whenever a blitz is coming. They missed the playoffs because when promising receiver Donte Moncrief missed playing time, Dorsett couldn't handle an expanded role. They missed the playoffs because Pagano was hell-bent on establishing the run despite the fact that Frank Gore, at 33, is no longer elusive or fast.

The Colts missed the playoffs because their defense is terrible. While one of my favorites, defensive end Henry Anderson, struggled on his way back from a torn ACL, the Colts end this year with almost zero in the ledger of positive finds outside of safety Clayton Geathers. This wasn't a bad young defense that improved or showed well in small samples. This was a bad defense full of old, replaceable players—an outpost of the leftover free agents in a Madden dynasty. The place where Antonio Cromartie and Trent Cole and Patrick Robinson come to finish out their careers quietly and with a lack of dignity.

2017 will be here soon. It will almost be two full years since the Colts have won anything that would even remotely label them a contender. They have Vontae Davis, the building blocks of a good passing offense, and some decent young pieces on either side of the ball that aren't game wreckers. On paper, that's plenty to say that they can compete in the AFC South.

But what has it gotten them the last two years? And after doubling down on Pagano and Grigson, who have proven themselves fools again, will Irsay actually find the spine to send them down the tube after another bad season?

Good teams in the NFL are consistent winners because they have depth and can be multiple. The Patriots miss Tom Brady for four games, and they can build an offense around Jimmy Garoppolo's strengths. The Broncos turned over their entire quarterback position and passed better than the year before. Seattle has a bad half with Russell Wilson and comes right back in the next, guns blazing.

The only things the Pagano/Grigson Colts have proven they can do is waste Luck's prime and roll out 1980s football metaphors. And if nothing gives this offseason, you shouldn't automatically presume this team will rise to the top in 2017 because they have the best quarterback in the division.

A quarterback, after all, still needs a team.