After reaching the playoffs in 11 of the last 12 seasons, the Colts hit rock bottom in 2011. With star quarterback Peyton Manning sidelined by injury, the team opened the season with 13 straight losses and failed to win their first game until December 18.
Their nose dive to the bottom of the NFL standings resulted in massive off-field change as team vice chairman Bill Polian, general manager Chris Polian and head coach Jim Caldwell all lost their jobs.
Finishing below 31 other teams in the standings did have a silver lining, however, as the Colts were given the opportunity to select blue chip quarterback prospect Andrew Luck out of Stanford with the number one pick in the draft.
Important Additions: CB Vontae Davis, DL Cory Redding, OT Winston Justice, S Tom Zbikowski, WR Donnie Avery, DT Brandon McKinney.
Important Losses: QB Peyton Manning, C Jeff Saturday, TE Dallas Clark, RB Joseph Addai, LB Gary Brackett, WR Pierre Garcon, S Melvin Bullitt, OT Ryan Diem.
Reasons To Believe
1. Lucky Break - Comparisons to Manning will be inevitable, but Luck may be the one prospect who will be able to survive – and thrive – in the enormous shadow left by the former Colts legend. Despite being in the spotlight for two college seasons and having his game dissected in every way possible, there is little, if anything to criticize about his game – on or off the field. Like any young quarterback thrust into a starting role, there may be an initial learning curve, but don't be surprised to see Luck coming into his own come the second half of the 2012 season.
|Alot has changed around Reggie Wayne over the last few seasons. The veteran receiver should make life a little easier on his rookie QB though.
2. New Coaching Staff - Former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is the new face on the sidelines in Indianapolis. An aggressive, defense first approach will be welcomed, especially since it will be in stark contrast to the laid back, stoic style of Caldwell which grew old fast once the Colts free fall was in full effect. Pagano will look to implement the Ravens' attack oriented 3-4 defense, and with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, he has two valuable pieces to play with.
3. Fresh Start - Although Manning was the face of the franchise, at 36 years old and coming off a serious neck injury, the Colts were likely better off cutting ties and going in a younger direction. It is almost always a better idea to part ways with an aging star player a year early rather than a year too late, and with Luck in the fold, the Colts were able to totally commit to the rebuilding plan. Initial struggles are likely unavoidable, but the Colts are hoping that in a year's time they will be back in competition for a playoff spot because they chose to take a proactive approach to their quarterback situation.
Reasons To Doubt
1. Defensive Adjustments - The transition to the 3-4 is not always an easy thing to do, especially when veterans like Freeney and Mathis have little experience rushing quarterbacks as linebackers. Pagano will also have a defensive depth chart littered with first and second year players, which could be beneficial down the road, but could lead to some short-term pain.
2. Offensive Line Issues - You would think the main priority for a team investing their future in a prized quarterback would be strengthening its offensive line. Instead, the Colts have put together a patchwork line that will likely include three new starters in Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn and Winston Justice. Luck has good pocket presence and nice scrambling ability, but to expect him to remain healthy with a below average line is a recipe for disaster.
3. Running Game Questions - Heading into his fourth season, the Colts are hoping Donald Brown will finally be able to seize the opportunity and live up to what was expected of him when he was selected with the 27th overall pick in the 2009 draft. Brown has not averaged more than 10 carries per game at any point in his NFL career, so his durability will be tested if he wins the starting role. A dependable running game will be a huge help to Luck's development, but it is far from a sure thing.
What To Expect
It will likely be another trying season in Indianapolis, but success will not be measured in wins and losses. If Luck is able to progress the way Manning did towards the end of his rookie season, Colts fans will have reason for optimism. Bettering the 3-13 mark Manning put up in his first season is something that seems attainable.