Thursday, September 4, 2014

10 questions (and one easy answer) about the Colts

Will Andrew Luck lift himself to elite standards? The quarterback position has been secure for more than a decade in Indianapolis (minus featuring Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky), due mostly to a certain No. 18 who now wears orange. The rift that divided Colts fans after Peyton Manning's departure has never fully healed and probably never will. Still, there's a lot to love about "the next guy," who's entering his third season under center for Indy. Andrew Luck is known for his clutch play and late-game heroics. Will he elevate his play to be "The Guy" and bring more consistency to complement his winning ways?

How much will they miss Robert Mathis? A lot. You can't replace a guy like Mathis. No matter how great Bjoern "I bring in da good stuff, coach" Werner has looked in camp and the preseason, Werner isn't Mathis. That's not the second-year player's fault, though. Simply put, no one is Robert Mathis. If the Colts can survive a four-game stretch without their premier defensive player, they'll set themselves up for a good year.

Is the secondary a primary strength? Vontae Davis got a huge contract. Greg Toler--when healthy--has shown flashes. Darius Butler is solid at the nickel. Man-to-man/press coverage should be a strength of this group. It's the back end that scares most fans. LaRon Landry delivers huge hits but commands a big salary. He's not a great cover guy. The second safety spot, anchored for years by Antoine Bethea, remains a huge question mark. It looks like veteran Mike Adams will get the start, and while he's got a terrific last name, it's hard to know what we'll get. Delano Howell, who filled in admirably last season, may not even see the field this year.

Can the offensive line keep defenders off Luck's back? This is the question. We're entering the third season of this being the question. Luck is adept at running and will make plays with his legs, but I'd prefer not to see him running for his life yet again this season. After a decade-plus of solid protection for Manning, the Colts can't get things figured out on the line. Injuries certainly play a role here, but some questionable decisions--like the big contract for Samson Satele and the team's stubborn delay in rectifying that situation--also contribute to chaos along the line. A young group will be responsible for keeping Luck's jersey clean. Will they be able to do it?

Will anyone in the AFC South challenge the Colts? It seems Indy is a lock to win the division, based on what I keep hearing. The Texans have great defensive talent but lack a top-caliber quarterback and underachieved last year. The Jacksonville Jaguars are biding their time until Blake Bortles becomes the everyday starter. The Tennessee Titans simply haven't been any fun since Jeff Fisher left. I can't predict if the Colts will run the table in the division but they're certainly capable of it.

Will Reggie be Reggie? From all indications, it seems like Reggie Wayne is back. I won't believe it until he goes off for about eight catches and 100+ yards. I certainly hope No. 87 is back in top form. The Colts looked lost without him last year until the lights came on for T.Y. Hilton. I hear analysts say Reggie's a "fringe" hall of famer. While I don't agree with that sentiment--I think he's worthy of the yellow jacket--a strong comeback would give his team a boost and help cement his legacy as one of the greats.

Will Colts fans ever get over Peyton? No doubt about it, it stings to see Peyton in orange. We're doing this for the third season, if you can believe it. He's still all over the place in commercials and NFL promos...and each time I see that orange jersey, it just feels wrong. I've made my peace with his departure, but many fans haven't. The Colts traded a jammed salary cap for youth. There's no way the team would've been able to keep Peyton and field a championship-caliber team. At the time of his release, it wasn't really clear if he'd regain his form even though everyone knew he'd do everything he could to come back. I think Colts fans took last year's Super Bowl implosion harder than Broncos fans. That's how much we love Peyton.

Will the defense finally dominate? The Colts were embarrassed by Kansas City before a miraculous comeback and were subsequently beaten to a pulp by New England. They showed flashes last year of being an elite defense...or at least a top 10 one. This needs to be the year everything comes together. There are no more excuses about new schemes or players who are unfamiliar with each other. Chuck Pagano is a defensive-minded coach. Let's see some pride from the unit.

Will Richardson prove his worth? You can't write about the Colts without mentioning Trent Richardson. The target of a major trade last season, Richardson is in the crosshairs. His blitz pickups are pretty good. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can...well...he's supposed to be able to run the football. It would be great to see him elevate his game. Let's face it, a strong running game (or at least the threat of it) would make life a lot easier for everyone on the team.

How can the Colts slow down the Broncos' offense? Amphetamines.