Then and now: 2017 recap and 2018 season outlook

This time a year ago, the Indianapolis Colts were in a state of disarray. Their owner (Jim Irsay), GM (Chris Ballard), and ex head coach (Chuck Pagano) had many of us buying in to the belief that Andrew Luck would return before the end of the 2017 season. As we all know now, that day never came. The Colts stumbled out of the gate and never recovered. Very few bright spots were found in a disappointing campaign, where they ended their season 4-12 and a 3rd place finish in the AFC South. Out of all the heartache that Colts fans endured last season, there are still a few positives to take solace in while heading into 2018.

The first of three pros in this list is probably the most obvious. The most important piece of the Colts puzzle was missing in 2017. Andrew Luck returns to the field this Sunday against Cincinnati after a grueling 20 month wait since his last regular season appearance. That was 2016, a year in which Luck finished his season with 4,240 yards passing, 31 touchdowns through the air, 13 interceptions, and 96.4 quarterback rating. His play helped elevate that of his teammate T.Y. Hilton as well. Hilton’s 1,448 receiving yards led the league in 2016, as he beat the likes of Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons), and Odell Beckham Jr. (New York Giants). The ability that Luck had in 2016 was nothing short of impressive, especially when you take into account that he suffered through the entire season with that shoulder injury that kept him out all of 2017. Looking at 2016’s end result(a so-so 8-8 record), it hardly seems worth the wait to get that shoulder surgically repaired. You know the old saying though, “hindsight is 20-20”. In 2018, with a full recovery made, an optimistic attitude, and a little bit of a chip on his shoulder (pun absolutely intended), Andrew Luck looks to return to the elite status that he’s capable of.

The second pro is the complete coaching staff overhaul. Over the last three seasons, ex head coach Chuck Pagano went just 20-28. We could say that many of the losses could be chalked up to a bad injury bug that resulted in a wheel of quarterbacks during the 2015 season. We could also say that friction between Pagano and then GM Ryan Grigson led to poor draft and free agency decisions. At any rate, the last three years of Colts football has been rough for fans to endure. It has been a far cry from the progression that seemed to be showing during Andrew Luck’s first three years in the NFL. The AFC Championship appearance in 2014 is now a distant memory, and Pagano and the Colts have parted ways.

Now we have a familiar face leading the charge. Frank Reich, last year’s Super Bowl winning offensive coordinator, will take the helm. While many football fans easily recognize his Philadelphia Eagles affiliation, they may not recognize that he has actually been with the Colts before. In fact, he began his professional coaching career with Indianapolis in 2006. Starting out as a coaching intern, he worked his way up the ladder to become an offensive assistant in 2008. From there, Reich would be named Quarterbacks Coach in 2009. 2009 was a success for Reich, as Peyton Manning earned League MVP honors. Reich held that position until the end of 2010, and transitioned to Receivers Coach in 2011 where he managed to coach Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garçon to 70 plus receptions and 900 yards receiving, despite having Manning on the sidelines all year due to a neck injury. After the 2011 season Reich traveled throughout the NFL, making coaching stops in Arizona, San Diego, and Philadelphia before finally returning back to where it all began in Indianapolis. He brings back a little nostalgia, and with last year’s Super Bowl victory, a reason for Colts fans to feel hopeful for the future.

Lastly, we’ll take a look at some analytics, and why last year’s stats may bring optimism to Colts fans for the 2018 season. The number 6 is notable from last season. This is the number of games that the Colts lost by a touchdown or less. Four of those games were by 4 points or less. We can speculate what might have been for Indianapolis if they had their starting QB, or had their premier rookie safety Malik Hooker not been injured most of the season, or had they fixed the offensive line, which would go on to give up a league high 56 sacks (including 10 in a single game to Jacksonville). This year, there’s a lot to be excited about. A fresh new coaching staff, a revamped offensive line that features first round draft pick Quenton Nelson, and a reasonably healthy Colts roster going into week one. Not to mention a significant change to the defense, as Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus helps them transition to a 4-3 scheme, and of course the return of Andrew Luck. These aren’t the Colts of the last three seasons. These Colts look dedicated, determined, and hungry for victory.

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