Just 5 weeks ago, many Colts fans on the various Facebook comment sections and message boards were ready to call in the 2018 season. They had dropped 4 straight games (3 of which were one score games), and were 1-5, after a failed comeback attempt against the Jets. However, there is resilience in this team. That resilience, mixed with an easier second half schedule has become a dangerous combination over the course of the last month. Now, Indianapolis has won four games in a row, and are in the thick of the wildcard race. They have clawed back to second place in the AFC South standings as well, behind only the 7-3 Houston Texans (who they will play in week 14).
Keys to victory against Titans
Andrew Luck: It’s been really great to see Luck back on the field in any capacity this year, but he’s exceeding even the highest of expectations so far this season. He now has 7 straight games with at least 3 touchdown passes, and 33 straight performances with at least 1 touchdown pass. Tallying 29 touchdowns to 9 interceptions, Luck is on pace to eclipse his career best in touchdowns, and close to a pace that would break Peyton Manning’s franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (49). Currently Luck is throwing an average of 2.9 touchdowns per game, which puts him on pace for 46.4 to end the season.
Offensive Line: Have you ever seen a cleaner pocket than what we’ve witnessed over the past month? When’s the last time you saw an effective Colts running game before this year? This is all thanks to great draft picks and free agent acquisitions by GM Chris Ballard. Improving the o-line was one of his priorities this last offseason, and boy did he deliver! Last season the Colts gave up a league worst 56 sacks. This year big number 56 Quenton Nelson, seems to have changed the identity of this line all by himself, as he’s become the vocal leader of the line, and has shown incredible sportsmanship on the field. Always rushing over to pick up his teammates, always there to congratulate teammates on touchdowns. You couldn’t ask for a better 1st round pick. The line has miraculously turned it around this season and is just 1 sack behind the Saints for first place in that category.
Hungry Defense: The Colts have forced at least one turnover in every game this season. (Two forced against Tennessee) Matt Eberflus’ system has been welcomed with open arms this year, as I believe the transition to the 4-3 scheme has been seamless. The Colts are up to 26 sacks on the year, after only getting to 25 last year, and have forced 19 turnovers. They also have great young talent including Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore III, and Malik Hooker, which means we could see this type of energized defensive play for years to come.
With the Texans writing the textbook on winning close games, and leading the AFC South at 7-3, it may be more realistic to see the Colts contending for a wildcard spot. The #6 seed is wide open, as the Bengals, Ravens, Dolphins and Titans are all tied with Indianapolis at 5-5. Over the next six weeks, the Colts play just one opponent with a winning record (Houston Texans week 14). Two of those games are against teams the Colts have already beaten once, so the remaining schedule is definitely worthy of some optimism. If they don’t manage to sneak into the playoffs however, Frank Reich and the Colts have proven many things to their doubters. Luck is back and playing at his best, Reich, albeit the backup option for Indianapolis, undoubtedly has the chops for being an NFL head coach, and there’s a lot of reason to believe that Indy will be one of the top teams in the league next year. Another offseason of solid free agency and draft picks, could ascend Indianapolis to heights not seen since the 2006-2007 season.
AFC South Standings
Houston: 7-3 W7
Indianapolis: 5-5 W4
Tennessee: 5-5 L1
Jacksonville: 5-5 L6
Photo Credit: South Bend Tribune