Reader jado825 wrote an excellent piece breaking down the 2011 schedule and game outcomes if Indianapolis had a solid quarterback in each respective game. While there is no way to predict forward or backward what would have actually happened with a new signal caller, and while jado825 admits that there are legitimate reasons to believe the Colts will struggle in 2012, his insights are thought provoking and worthy of discussion. We've moved it to the front page.
It seems to be common consensus that the Colts won't be contenders this year. Many assert that Andrew Luck is going to need a season to settle down, the defense has lots of problems, and that a team doesn't just go from 2-14 to 10-6 in one year while fielding a rookie-filled team.
But what if we're wrong? What if the Colts do, in fact, have what it takes to contend?
Let me be the first to say that, while I don't expect it, I won't be surprised if the Colts make a sharp turnaround. I don't claim to be able to wield advanced football metrics to support this theory, but here are a few observations worth considering.
First, Luck isn't going to need a year to settle down. Yes, Peyton Manning is the greatest QB of all time, and yes, even he wasn't great his first year. However, this is an entirely different league than the one Peyton entered in '98. This is a league where not one, but TWO passers broke Dan Marino's yardage record last year. This is a league where Cam Newton, notable for his running abilities, was able to shatter Peyton's rookie passing yardage mark while playing for an abysmal Panthers team. This is a league where touching a receiver is practically illegal, either before or after he catches the ball. In short, this is a league designed to make quarterbacks look great, and one in which Luck will thrive from early on. Who says he needs a year to figure out the offense? If Chris Brown, editor of Smart Football, is to be trusted, Luck only needs to know 15 or so plays to run a Manning-esque attack. Are you telling me that a QB who spent the last 3 years under a Harbaugh-developed offense needs an entire year to get up to speed?
Not only does Luck have the skills to be great, he also has the players. While Reggie Wayne's skill has indeed waned, he still provides sure hands and veteran leadership. Austin Collie is a solid wide receiver with good hands. Avery, Fleener and Allen all have a tremendous upside. Donald Brown brings speed and big-play ability. No, it's not a pro-bowl receiving corps, but it's not a weak one, either.
On the defensive side of the ball, it seems to be a forgone conclusion that 2012 will be dreadful. I have to ask, why?
Let me begin by pointing out that Nate Dunlevy said at the beginning of the 2011 campaign that he was quite impressed with the defense. Now, the way I see it, the defense hasn't lost ANYBODY who started last year. Bullit and Brackett were both on IR at the end of the season, and other than that, the defense is the same. In fact, with free agent additions and players returning from injury, I would venture to say that the defense has MORE talent than it had last year. From whence comes this logic that says the D will be worse next year? Will the scheme be different? Yes. Will it be problematic for the current players? I don't think anyone really knows. After all, Pagano has talked about a *transition* to a 3-4. For a moment, let's trust that Irsay and Grigson knew what they were doing when they chose Pagano as coach. What's to say that the transition defense won't maximize the potential of the current players? We need look no further than Wade Philips and the Texans to see that this is entirely possible. A forgone conclusion? No. Feasible? Definitely.
Finally, the point that lends most to the "Colts will suck in 2012" argument is last year's 2-14 record. However, I have always contended that the Colts were much better than their record. Let's do a quick run through each game, this time pretending we had a *decent* quarterback, and guess at what the results might have been.
1. L 7-34 @ Texans I think we lose this game either way. Adjusted Record: 0-1
2. L 19-27 v. Browns We had the ball with a chance to take the lead more than once in this game, and more than once in the 4th. It was Kerry Collins' second game, and he played like it. I think we could have even won this with Collins if he had 3 more weeks of practice. A decent QB and it's a definite W. Adjusted Record: 1-1
3. L 20-23 v. Steelers The score speaks for itself. If Painter doesn't fumble on his first posession, we win the game. Adjusted Record: 2-1
4. L 17-24 @ Bucs Again, the Score speaks for itself. Painter had a chance to lead a game-tying drive, and he couldn't do it. Adjusted Record: 3-1.
5. L 24-28 v. KC If we score 1 touchdown in the second half, we win the game. Adjusted Record: 4-1
6. L 17-27 @ Bengals Again, Painter had a chancge to lead a game-winning drive, and he threw a pick. Adjusted Record: 5-1
7. L 7-62 @ New Orleans This was bad. Adjusted Record: 5-2.
8. L 10-27 @ Titans Though this is 17 Point game, it's a game the Colts could have won (blocked punt??), but not close enough to "give it" to them for the sake of argument. Adjusted Record: 5-3.
9. L 7-31 v. Falcons This could have been much worse. Adjusted Record: 5-4.
10. L 3-17 v. Jags Absolute offensive ineptitude here. A better QB could have definitely changed the course of this game, as evidenced by week 17. Adjusted Record: 6-4.
12. L 19-27 v Carolina Painter throws TWO interceptions in the end zone at the end of this one. Carolina was bad. Definitely a winnable game. 7-4.
13. L 24-31 @Patriots On the one hand, this was not as close as it looked, but on the other hand, the Patriots have a habit of giving up games to the Colts in the 4th quarter. (2009, almost in 2010, and almost here) For the sake of argument, though, we'll mark it up as a L. 7-5.
14. L 10-24 @Ravens This wasn't close. 7-6.
15. W 27-13 v. Titans A win is a win. Adjusted Record: 8-6.
16. W 19-16 v. Texans Ditto. Adjusted Record: 9-6.
17. L 13-19 @ Jaguars Orlovsky had the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win. This is a totally winnable game. Adjusted Record: 10-6.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that this is a quite favorable representation of the schedule. However, the point I'm making is quite valid. The Colts weren't blown out in all of these games, in fact, most of them were winnable. What's to say that, with a better QB, we don't put a couple more in the bag? While it seems ludicrous to arbitrarily assert that "the Colts would have won 8 games more with a better QB", a closer examination of the schedule proves otherwise.
Given each of these points, it wouldn't surprise me if the Colts made a sharp turnaround this year. While I don't expect it (never get your hopes too high), I think it's a quite plausible outcome to the 2012 campaign. At the very least, it's worth asking ourselves the question: what if we are wrong?
Offense and chemistry takes some time to build up. So, if we are going against balanced teams with one phase being a bit exceptional, our chances of a win goes down.
Based on that, I see us losing to the following teams in the NFC North: Bears, Packers, Lions (we beat Vikes)
I see us losing to the following teams in the AFC East: Patriots, Jets (we split with Dolphins and Bills, not sure which one)
I see us losing to the following similarly placed AFC team from last year: Browns (Weeden vs Luck :)) but we lose to Chiefs at Arrowhead, IMO
Divisional teams: We sweep Jags, We split with Titans, We beat Texans in the last game where they may rest their starters.
So, 4 wins at best in our division, 3 wins at worst in our division.
NFC teams - 1 win at best, AFC teams outside division - 3 wins at best, 2 wins at worst
So, best case scenario is 8 wins, worst case scenario is 6 wins. Somewhere between 6 and 8 wins is my prediction.
you really should run a spell check before posting. forgone is foregone, Chancge is Chance, and posession is possession.
Lots of interesting pros and cons, and I won't rehash them. Suffice to say that, after the draft, I think this Colts team is a 5-11 team with a two-game swing variable. I wouldn't be shocked if it took the team a little while to gel and they only one three games; likewise I wouldn't be shocked if it clicked early and they won 7 or so. anything less than 3 or more than 7 in the win column would catch me off-guard.
That said, I could give a rat's ass about our win total this year. It's irrelevant in the grand scheme. What I want to see is simple:
* YEAR ONE: The team to show improvement and start to gel. I want to see our young offensive players start to adjust to the NFL; I want to see our defensive players begin to feeel comfortable in Pagano's system. Overall win total is irrelevant, as long as we enter the off-season feeling like things are starting to fall in place.
*YEAR TWO: I want to see some of our defensive deficiencies addressed via draft and free agency. Team continues to gel and contends for a wild-card playoff spot.
* YEAR THREE: Team starts to hit a critical mass where young talent begins to thrive in system; team should contend for division title.
* YEAR FOUR AND ONWARD: Team begins to peak. Annual seasons of 10+ wins and contending for divisional title every year.
I think it's somewhat unrealistic to expect that Luck will dominate the division as strongly as Peyton did, largely because it counts on all the other teams fumbling their rebuilding efforts as much or more than the Colts hitting on theirs. We need to realize that what happened with Peyton was pretty damn special. If Luck can develop into a top-flight QB and have us in contention for the Lombardi every year, I'll be happy. Anything beyond that is gravy.
Nicely written! I completely agree with you. So much of what happened with the Colts last year was a result of an inept offense that lead the league in 3 and outs. Defense was on the field far too much, got tired, and had huge cushions. So I don't think the defense talent is as bad as the record as last year.
Like you said, it's a favorable interpretation of the schedule. You're counting every tight game as a win, which is never how it turns out. And you're taking a team that went 10-6 with Peyton Manning doing his best Superman(ning) impression and saying they'd have been able to do it with a "decent" quarterback. I think they would have managed 6-10 or 7-9 with a "decent" quarterback.
Aside from that, I just don't see it. It's going to be a youth heavy offense, with a rebuilt offensive line that has more than a couple guys where the jury is completely out. We don't know what we're going to get out of Ijalana or Justice for that matter. Satele is a starting caliber lineman, but why is he on his third team in a short career? We know what Reitz is and it's not an average starting NFL guard. The depth is not much better than last year.
The defense is truly an island of misfit toys. It's a very good point that the Texans managed to make a smooth transition, but that forgets two things. Firstly, Wade Phillips is known for being and ace defensive coordinator and has quickly turned around defenses on multiple occasions. Manusky has been fired twice in two years. Secondly, the Texans talent was far more dynamic than the Colts. A lot of those guys were top 15 picks. They have more than a couple guys talented enough to play in any system. Most of the guys on the Colts roster were drafted and coached up to do one thing : play Cover 2. It's not the same talent caliber.
The Colts might not be as dreadful as ESPN is making them out to be, especially if Luck excels right off the bat, but I have a hard time seeing them do any better than 6-10, and that's if lots of things go right. Of course, I'll love it if they do.
It's an interesting argument and close to the prediction stats made about the season. In fact, pythagorean wins say the Colts should have won 3 games with that roster. Specifically the starting QBs all posted negative wins contributed...seriously. Second Manning was worth just over 3 extra wins in 2010 on his own. Added together that's a net swing to 8-8 based purely on stats. Being generous we were looking at a 9-7 or 10-6 season again. (See AdvancedNFLStats.com, FootballOutsiders.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com for the data)
That said there are some holes in the theory that this will translate into wins this season. First, and most importantly, this isn't the same roster. The roster is incredibly young, lacks chemistry and will likely need some time to learn new systems. Second, statistics show the only teams to make major leaps year-over-year are those that were near .500 and seriously underachieved per pythagorean wins. The Colts slightly underachieved and were no where near .500.
In all likelihood this isn't a 10 win team. I'd be surprised if they win more than 5--delighted, but utterly shocked. A repeat of Manning's 3-13 start wouldn't surprise me.
Cam Newton did shatter Manning passing mark, but a lot of that was built off of the over-inflated first month or so of the season, where the defenses were clearly multiple steps behind the offenses. Things settled down in November in December. I will be shocked if we see another QB beat what was Marino's record this upcoming season.
Also, yes Newton put up those numbers, but they still went 6-10. Newton inherited a 2-14 team that was quite talented for 2-14, with a decent defense in 2010 (which ironically was awful in 2011), two good running backs, a solid o-line and a top-flight when healthy receiver, plus two veteran talented tight ends. Even after all that, again, that team went 6-10, and although Luck is supposed to be incredible, chances are he won't have Newton's season, as that was by far the best rookie season by a QB ever (unless you want to make the case for "winners" like Matt Ryan in 2008 or Ben in 2004).
It's not just better QB play. I think the 10-6 adjust record is reasonable with better QB play and a defensive coordinator who wasn't completely lost. I am, and have been for years, a firm believer that it is better to play aggressive defense and give up the occasional big play, than to give 10 yard cushions to every wide receiver (especially on 3rd and 6.) I think you add a better QB with a more advanced defensive scheme that doesn't present the same vanilla front play after play, and you have a convincing argument that 10 wins is within the realm of possibility.
Albeit we can't exactly expect mirror image results from one year to the next, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the team is far better than what people predict. Part of it is simply that people do not look close enough why they were 2-14 other than the win/loss column. It's a very simplistic view of if a team is good/bad in a season, but even worse to use it as a gauge a teams' talent level going forward. Reality is we have lots of valuable contributors on defense and offense. The key will be Luck's development and the new influx of rookies taking on their roles in the new systems. We've all seen the Colts be one-sided (pass happy or just offense with no defense), and win tons of games in this fashion. Although I think we as fans would be shocked if they won 10 games, I don't think it's unrealistic to expect a 5-8 win season if things go well. Every year we see teams start slow and end hot and carry it into the next season, so just perhaps come November, December and January , we'll see a small glimpse of what 2013 and the future will truly look like. As Nate pointed out in his article today, there's good reason to have hope this team is on the right path in building the next success.
You know, after this draft, I didn't feel like we were going to be picking first again for the next draft either. I think the defense will undergo a Bill Parcells like transformation when he was in dallas. It will start with a 4-3 and when the pieces are in place, then it will go to a 3-4. Remember, Pagano said he wants to run a hybrid. Why not start with a 4-3. You have the personnel to run it already
Yeah, but doesn't the argument work both ways? How many games did we win during the Manning era that we would have lost if our quarterback was just, as you say, "decent?" I mean, how many seasons would we have finished with LOSING records if our quarterback was someone average like say, Matt Hasselbeck or Carson Palmer? There's plenty of parity in the league; that's why it's fun. That's all the more reason why I don't think it should surprise many people that the talent gap between the best teams and worst teams isn't indicative of the record gap. I'm not saying we must have a great quarterback to be a dominant team, but that's specifically why we were dominant for so long. Having the best quarterback pushed us over the top in all those close games we would have probably lost without him. Without that great quarterback, we're not dominant, simple as that (because unfortunately there's arguably no other dominant aspect to any of our great teams over the last decade+, other than the one constant...their passing games).
Another way to reach the same conclusion is to compare the 2011 team with the 2010 team. With the concentration of injuries the 2010 team had at the offensive skill positions and defensive secondary, a strong argument can be made that the 2011 team was actually stronger at every position except QB and CB. But the 2010 team won the division. That's obviously with spectacular rather than merely solid QB play, but it seems reasonable to expect that a healthy Peyton Manning would have gotten the 2011 team at least into playoff contention. If Andrew Luck can hit the ground running and Pagano can re-kindle this team's ability to win close games, a 2012 playoff run is not out of the question.
Yup anything is possible, I say there is about a 20% chance we make the playoffs, if it were not for us being matched up against the NFC north this year that number would probably go up a little. We are no in super bad position, but the thing I worry about more than anything is the LB group, this is the most veteran position but the one that I feel is going through the most change, if they do good I think we will have a shot to be successful this year.
@Neven I 100% agree. I could care less about the win total this season and next. That shouldn't the be focus. "Building the Beast" (or Monster or whatever) should be. If they have to compromise some focus towards wins to get talented young players on the field, so be it. Anyone that would be crying foul for bad seasons this year and next is probably someone that doesn't know the Colts without Manning. Not all (re)building projects are going to go as smoothly as that one did.
@rogcohen I agree at least on the aggressive defense. I think that was one of the great failings of the Manning era. When you have a high powered offense, why play with a defensive style based on attrition? When that offense is sitting on the sidelines, why would you play a defensive style that's oriented on sitting back and waiting for the opposition to make a mistake? Obviously it wasn't just the style that let opponents rip off 8 minute drives, but it didn't help. To me it would have made more sense to play aggressive. You'd give up more big plays and more points, but you'd force more 3 and outs and more turnovers. And at least when you give up points, you probably do it faster. All that means you've got Manning and the boys on the field more often. Advantage Colts.
@ECB I don't think anyone in their right mind would argue that Peyton Manning would have directed that team to a playoff (or at least a near-playoff) appearance last year, if he were entirely healthy. That's completely irrelevant to this article's point that a "decent" QB would have done the same. That assertion is completely unsupported by anything logical, given that Manning is so far beyond "decent" that he's not even on the scale by which we normally measure QBs. For all we know this team has never had a good enough supporting cast to operate at a playoff level without Manning, and that hasn't changed at all with Pagano and Luck. Were they as bad as their record indicated last year? No, but no team is (and no winning team is as good as its record indicates...that's why we watch football...there are tons of close, exciting games). But by all measures, and all logic, the Colts are NOT a legitimate playoff contender this year, barring a miracle rookie year by Luck, or a very improbable set of circumstances that sees our defensive UDFAs all being the most underrated, overlooked players in college football last season.
I agree to the extent that next season the Colts will be bad. I expect a decent 2013-2014, at least a .500 record. We just had one crap season. It shouldn't take two more for the Colts to be serviceable.
@rogcohen I think it was a product of watching Peyton torch those same high risk, high reward, aggressive defenses for so long.
@LukeNukem My point is that the 2010 and 2011 teams had comparable talent outside the QB position. The 2010 teams' wins were inflated by a few games by stellar QB play while the 2011 wins were diminished by abysmal QB play. I expect that Peyton was usually worth 2-3 wins a year over a typical NFL starter, Painter & co. probably lost us 4-5 that a typical QB would have won, and there's probably a difference of a game or two within the typical range. These estimates are based on a couple decades of watching NFL teams continue to play well and win games when a star QB is replaced by a quality backup, but collapsing with incompetent ones - sometimes even the same time when a quality backup goes down and is replaced by a lousy #3, or a lousy backup is replaced by a quality veteran. So I'd expect a typical QB to have won around 7-8 games both years. Barring another rash of injuries, I would expect the 2012 Colts to have a similar or better non-QB talent level, so if Andrew Luck can play at the level of a typical NFL QB, we ought to win around 7 or 8 games. If he exceeds that and the team wins more than its share of close ones, then we get the 10 wins that usually qualify for the playoffs.
@ECB @LukeNukemI just simply do not understand how you can possibly think we have a chance at any sort of playoff run whatsoever in 2012. Yes we got some very good players in the draft, but so did a lot of other teams. This team still has too many holes, and will have to much inexperience on both sides of the ball to come close to making the playoffs in 2012. In the 2013 season, I don't think its out of the question to say we MIGHT push for a wildcard spot. And in 2014, we better be pushing to make a playoff run, or something will have seriously gone wrong by that time.
@LukeNukem The Texans went 7-3 with Schaub and 3-4 with Yates, though Yates' wins were oddly all over playoff teams while his regular season losses were here and at home to the Panthers & Titans. But I'd count Yates at the low end of the "typical" range with Schaub at the high end of that. I think a better example of what I'm talking about is the Patriots going 11-5 after Brady went down in game 1, or the success the Packers have had when Rodgers has been out.
But the larger point is that it is very hard to predict how an NFL team will do. We have just seen our team finish an exceptionally long stretch of consistent success, but most teams bounce up and down. Remember last year at this time the Bengals looked so bad coming off a 4-12 season that their star QB insisted he'd rather retire than play for them again. He looked pretty foolish when they made the playoffs without him.
Many things have to go well for the Colts to have a strong season: Pagano needs to revitalize the defense, many defensive players have to adjust and thrive in the new scheme, the new QB and a few of the new receivers need to have an immediate impact, the O-line needs to gell and its young players need to develop quickly. But all those things could happen, and if they do we can make a playoff run.
@ECB @LukeNukem That must be where we differ. I think Manning is/was worth more than 2-3 wins a year over a typical starter. A lot more. Like, he was worth almost all of them, evidently. And while I'm sure you've watched years of whatever do whatever, you have not watched years of NFL teams built around Peyton Manning continue to play and win games consistently when they've lost him.
By your own logic the Houston Texans, who went from Schaub (a fringe top 10 NFL QB) to T.J. Yates (a fringe NFL player) should not have made the playoffs. Schaub should have been worth a win or two at least, right (which would have been enough to push them beneath the Titans)? And they weren't on a 12-win pace WITH Schaub, so it's not like they really got much worse without him. Why? It's because they have a good, well-coached line, the best running back in the league, an elite defense and the best receiver in the league (and he was injured!). And still, they won 10 games and just barely won their division. What about this roster makes you think the Colts are anything close to 7 or 8 wins with a top 5 QB, let alone a rookie?
Besides, this whole exercise is non-sensical. Yes, it's possible that the Colts could have won lots of games without Manning last year, but all the evidence points to that being impossible. It's kind of why NASA doesn't send astronauts into outer space without space suits and oxygen. While we've never seen what those astronauts could do without that stuff, the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that the result would be tragic.