The 2012 Indianapolis Colts are very intriguing.
Unlike most teams in the NFL, this season’s success will not be determined by their team record at the end of the season or even by individual statistical achievement.
This Colts team will be judged by the fans, press, and owner a few years from now when the structure they are building this year matures or fails.
The dramatic overhaul of the Colts' management, coaching, and players is the brainchild of the franchise's twitter-chatty owner, Jim Irsay, who made the bold decisions that led to the end of the Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis.
Three years from now will the Indianapolis Colts be returning to the playoffs and begin regularly challenging for the Super Bowl or will Irsay be firing Chuck Pagano? Here are five key factors to this season, with a best and worst-case scenario for each.
1. New coaching staff along with a new culture
. First-time head coach, Chuck Pagano, comes to Indianapolis from Baltimore where he served as defensive coordinator, bringing the 3-4 defense along with a new staff of coaches. This year he must establish his vision for the team, developing the young new players while getting veterans like Dwight Freeney and Reggie Wayne to buy into his leadership.
Best Case: The defense develops an aggressive edge and takes on the demeanor of their coach, with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis becoming reinvigorated by the change in defensive scheme and tone.
Rookie nose tackle Josh Chapman returns from ACL surgery and develops into a valuable contributor on the defensive line. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, along with quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen, develops a strong bond with Andrew Luck, enhancing his first-year experience and maximizing his potential.
Worst Case: Injuries strike early and often forcing defensive coordinator Greg Manusky to constantly scheme from a position of weakness. Veteran players start to complain they aren’t being used properly, possibly even requesting a trade.
Coach Arians and Manusky send mixed signals to their prized rookie quarterback, creating a schism. Cliques develop on the team and veterans stop showing young players the way. Jim Irsay sends out a tweet that the media seizes upon undermining coach Pagano’s authority. Draft picks fail to develop.
2. Ground Game.
If the names Donald Brown and Mewelde Moore don’t fill your mind with visions of touchdowns you’re not alone. Indianapolis heads into this season with those two heretofore underwhelming options at running back along with 5th
round draft pick, Vick Ballard.
The left side of the offensive line is in its second year. Andrew Luck’s first-year survival could depend on the Colts' ability to develop a reliable running game.
Best Case: Donald Brown stays injury-free, providing a steady running game supported by Mewelde Moore’s goal line carries. Vick Ballard develops into a good special teams player and third-down pass catching option out of the backfield. The offensive line improves on its 20thranked Offensive Hog Index
as compiled by Cold Hard Football Facts.The offense develops confidence in their ability to execute plays.
Worst Case: Whether it is from injury or ineffectiveness, a parade of free agent running backs and offensive linemen are brought through the turnstile in an effort to find any success. Defenses are able to stop the run with less effort forcing Luck to throw into tighter coverage while constantly on the run from the pass rush. The punter rarely has to work due to all the fumbles.
3. Player Value
. A young rebuilding team needs draft picks and payroll flexibility. Indianapolis
needs to do all it can to maintain the value of their veterans who could provide Indianapolis with extra draft picks should any of them be traded. If changing the defense to a 3-4 and moving Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to linebacker positions reduces their effectiveness, Indianapolis will have two aging overpriced players to make decisions on.
Best Case: After a successful year at outside linebacker, Dwight Freeney is traded to a Super Bowl contending team in the offseason for a number of valuable draft picks. Robert Mathis is traded in another deal and coach Pagano has several draft picks with which to build his defense. Reggie Wayne leads a young receiving corps, setting a good example with work ethic and media savvy.
Worst Case: A bad year leads to a rift growing between Reggie Wayne and Andrew Luck forcing the Colts to release Wayne when other teams realize they don’t have to trade for him. Injuries and ineffectiveness undermine the value of Dwight Freeney.
4. Getting Lucky
. Andrew Luck is the player whose development stands at the forefront of most people’s thoughts when discussing this year’s team. It will be fascinating to watch the NFL’s overall No. 1 draft pick grow into a great quarterback.
Best Case: Indianapolis scores and they score often. Wide receiver Austin Collie has immediate chemistry with his rookie quarterback and has his first 1,000-yard season. Rookie tight ends Fleener and Dwayne Allen provide Luck with mismatches to exploit. Other teams quit calling Luck a rookie at midseason.
Worst Case: Luck is a human piñata from all the sacks he absorbs. “Getting Lucky” becomes a weekly feature on sports highlight shows wh w
followed by David Carr being interviewed for insight on the effects of all those sacks at such a young age. Luck completes the majority of his passes to AFC South cornerbacks that are used to combating Peyton Manning.
5. Staying focused on Indianapolis.
The very first touchdown Peyton Manning throws in Denver will be a highlight throughout the league. Week 1 the Denver Broncos will be at home against the team they beat so dramatically in last year’s playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football.
The Indianapolis Colts will have already played and probably lost against the Chicago Bears in the Windy City that day. The next time coach Pagano and his Colts face the media a majority of the questions will be on their former quarterback and the accomplishments or failures of the Denver Broncos.
As the Colts' season continues and the losses pile up it will take a great effort from the coaching staff to keep the team focused on what they are doing, despite the constant questions from fans and media about another team and player.
Best Case: The Broncos struggle this season and after the novelty of Peyton Manning leading another team wears off the media’s questions and comparisons to their former leader wane. Excitement over the accomplishments and competitiveness of this year’s Colts team captures the imagination of the fans. Despite losses the team can see signs of improvement and moves into next offseason with enthusiasm.
Worst Case: Peyton Manning returns to MVP form and leads the Broncos deep into the playoffs. The Colts struggle all year leading fans to become disenfranchised and Colts’ players questioning the front office. Crowds in the dome cheer when video shows Peyton’s highlights and boo when the owner or coaches are shown.