Before the season began Greg Cowan and I had a long, lopsided debate about the potential this new era Colts team had for 2012. Statistics and prior history suggested somewhere between 3 and 6 wins. Anything more would be considered an abberation but my voice was somewhat quiet in comparison to Greg's booming insistance that the Colts could be a playoff team. While partly tongue-in-cheek, Greg truly believed that the team had 6-8 wins minimum lined up with the potential to steal a few more and maybe back into the playoffs.
He's winning the debate obviously and I can't exactly complain as this has been more fun for me than anticipated.
That cautious optimism brings us to a pivotal game for the Colts in 2012. The Dolphins, like the Colts, are 4-3 and in the hunt for a wild card spot in the playoffs. This weekend's game could have mammoth implications for the entire AFC.
Knowing that, here's seven questions I have about this weekend's surprisingly important tilt between former AFC East rivals:
1. Who won the Vontae Davis trade? Given that Davis has been incredibly invisible when on the field the Colts won't likely miss him this weekend while he sits due to an injury. In all fairness to GM Ryan Grigson, this trade appears to be a major mistake.
2. Will Andrew Luck find comfort outside the pocket without Coby Fleener? Fleener also will miss this week's game with an injury which is particularly tough for Luck. When plays break down and Luck is forced out of the pocket he's been very confident in Fleener's ability to adjust his route. The chemistry we all expected exudes itself in those circumstances. Dwayne Allen should see his productivity rise but Luck certainly has lost a security blanket.
3. Will the Dolphins abuse Cassius Vaughn? With Davis out Cassius Vaughn is expected to get the start. Expect the Dolphins to key in on this as Paul Kuharsky notes.
4. Can Andrew Luck will this team to a victory? There is little question that this is already Andrew Luck's team. He's spent much of the season running from certain death or picking himself up off the turf. Without fail he gets up with a smile on his face and a quiet determination to make the opposition pay. So far that's served him well and the rest of the team seems to have picked up on this attitude. In tight games this team is winning when perhaps it shouldn't which in many ways can be attributed to this new spirit.
5. Who starts at running back? The seriously underrated Donald Brown missed practice on Thursday which landed him on the questionable list for Sunday's game. While rookie Vick Ballard was the star in the OT win last week the Colts are a better running team with Brown in the backfield. Let's hope Brown returns and the team continues to run left.
6. Will the Colts get Tannehill, Moore or both? While Ryan Tannehill is certainly having a standout rookie year he's also banged up. He will likely start but don't be surprised if the Colts also get a dose of Matt Moore should Tannehill look the least bit shaky. This week Moore took most of the reps with the first unit.
7. Who wins? I usually don't do this but the outcome of this game is incredibly important to both teams. I've flip-flopped more than anyone running for office on this pick. My gut says the Dolphins defense will be one heck of a challenge but my heart says that spunky kid under center for the Colts will get it done again. Don't hold me to anything but I like the Colts in another tight one.
I am with you and against you on the Vontae thing, for a 2nd rounder we expected a guy that would come in and contribute heavily right away, as well as a guy that could stick around and become a top corner in the future. In his time here he has had both good and bad game so the first part is still kind of in question, but not looking as good as we would like, the second part we still have to find out about.
Good thing since this is his contract year, maybe we can sign him for cheaper than we would if he was to have done really good this year. In that case if he gets back to playing at his potential then we get a steal, until he tries to sit out the start of the season that is.
I don't think the Luck Fleener chemistry has been that big of a factor so far this season, atleast nothing that substantially stands out from other guys with Luck.
@paulcareyjr I can tell by your posts that you really watch the games, but I'm wondering if your opinion is being tainted by the early games. To me, Fleener has gotten better (or at least more productive) every game. And lately he has been extremely valuable in catching big passes that have kept drives going.
I would like to point out, that Dallas Clark started out his rookie season very slowly and it took him well over half the season before he started making any contribution at all. Sure, the Colts had more weapons Clark's rookie season than they do now, but he was a first round pick. I just think it takes a little longer for a tight end that is known as a reciever to get acclimated to the NFL. And I think Fleener has made real progress.
@DougEngland I agree with you on all those points, but I just don't think the chemistry between him and Luck has been a big a factor. Luck seems to find guys that are open on all downs and tries to get it to them. Fleener would have had big catches early on as well if he could have held on to passes, I think his progression this season has been really good, with both separation as well as catching balls.
One interesting think is that I now think is chemistry between a WR/TE and a QB, more so with a TE, coming from college to the NFL is overrated. The reason being the routes that they were able to get away with in college are not always going to be there in the NFL due to the athletes in the league at LB, and they will need to build chemistry at the NFL level as well. Hopefully the relationship they had in college will help that NFL chemistry grow faster, but either way, I expect both Fleener and Luck to make big strides next season as well as for the rest of this year.
@paulcareyjr I think it's a bit of a myth that 2nd round picks are surefire starters or even heavy contributors. It's more common to draft a 2nd round bust than a 2nd round starter, those are simply the numbers. I know a lot of people assumed that 2nd rounder would be at the top of the draft, making it almost like a low end 1st, but the Colts are outperforming those expectations which devalues that pick even further.
Either way I would say what Davis has been so far would qualify as "heavy contributor", the only thing holding him back has been injuries, he's gotten better each games he's played in the system. His only bad game was week 1 and he'd only just joined the team, a tall order for anyone (not to mention the Colts got smoked and everyone looked bad, not just him).
This isn't actually his contract year, his rookie contract was for 5 years so he still has the 2013 season on his rookie contract, meaning for at least one more season the Colts will be getting him at bargain basement prices (something like $1 million a year). If he doesn't prove himself by then well at least we'll know. I still think it was well worth a 2nd round pick to get a very talented corner with nearly unlimited potential.
@Colt_Following I am with you as far as the 2nd round production stuff, I made a post about it at one point in time, but you also have to think in the mind of a GM, they really value draft picks, and every draft pick not had, especially a high one, is a chance they don't have to find the next great thing.
You are right on the contract, I thought is was the last year, I also think the Colts must resign him for me to fully like this trade though. I know the value of a 2nd, but if this is just a two year rental I can not say that I will be all the way happy.
I also think that he had one bad game, but none have been impressive, atleast to my standards.
@Colt_Following True, I was a fan of the move when it happened, still think he has a shot to be special, and I think it is not as much about learning the defense, but being comfortable with the system and the people around him, there really has to be an on-field chemistry with the secondary.
I also think he did not have a good game against Percy Harvin, but a lot of that was the DC fault as well.
Grigson has done a good job and you are right about the 2nd round pick, especially if the guy that succeeds is at a position we could have used. Probability shows that Davis would be a better option than going for a gamble in the mid second round.
I think it is early for judgment as well, like I said there have been ups and downs but I think that trade was much more than 7 games in the season. The injuries really suck though and hopefully he gets and stays healthy soon.
@paulcareyjr Well resigning him shouldn't be a problem, assuming they want to at that point, which I think they will. Davis has really only played in 4 games and in 3 of them I'd say his performance was above league average. He hasn't yet shown the skills that had him as the 11th ranked CB by PFF in his rookie season, but he's also been fighting injuries and learning a new defense. I guess it depends on what you consider impressive, he allowed 1 reception in 2 different games and has not allowed a TD since week 1... those are pretty solid numbers from my point of view. Regardless the Colts still have the 7th ranked pass defense in terms of yards, that's not awful.
I say give him time, it's way too early to evaluate that trade at this point, and even if it turns out that Davis wasn't the answer (though I honestly believe he will be) I still applaud Grigson for being aggressive and trying to get winning pieces now. The job Grigson has done both in the draft and hiring coaches and players to make this team competitive with 40 million in dead cap space and a 2-14 roster from last season has been nothing short of miraculous.
Unfortunately we know that everyone will evaluate this trade a year from now by looking at all the players the Colts "could have drafted" (meaning anyone who turns out to be good from the middle of the 2nd to the end of the draft) regardless of whether the Colts would have realistically taken them, such is revisionist history.
I do have to take issue with calling the Vontae Davis trade a "major mistake." It's way too early to determine that, and quite frankly the fact that he's been invisible is a good thing for a CB, unless they are intercepting passes you really don't want to hear their name called during a game. He had a rough outing against the Bears, but he'd been on the team all of 10 days, that's to be expected. In his past 3 games he's only allowed 4 receptions for 28 yards and no TDs (in fact he hasn't allowed a TD since week 1).
The injuries are obviously a concern but he's only missed 4 games in his 2 NFL seasons coming into this year so he doesn't have a history of being injury prone, it's just one of those things. He's been the Colts most consistent corner after week 1 and I don't think it's fair to say he won't be missed, I think he very much will be. Cassius Vaughn is a major step down in my opinion. Give the kid at least a year before making any judgment on the trade, I think he's been solid and will only get better as he becomes more comfortable, I for one am very glad we have him.