On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers take on one of the great young quarterbacks in the league and the Indianapolis Colts. Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Colts and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: After a season where Andrew Luck played poorly and eventually succumbed to myriad calamities, his play has improved. Besides health, what changed to account for the difference?
Honestly, I really think the biggest difference we’ve seen from Andrew Luck this year is that he’s healthy, unlike last year. 2015 was a really rough season for Luck, but the more we see from him in 2016 the more confirmation we seem to get that the main reason for it was the injuries. So I do think that’s the big reason, though it should be pointed out that offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and quarterbacks coach Brian Schottenheimer have worked with Luck on improving some of his fundamentals. In my view, though, the biggest thing is that he’s healthy, and so he appears to be taking the next step forward from 2014. In 2013, Luck was incredibly efficient and threw just nine picks with an interception percentage of just 1.9%, and then in 2014 he put up big numbers, setting a new franchise record in passing yards and leading the league in touchdown passes. This year, we’ve seen Luck put together that production with much more efficient play, which has resulted in him completing 63.7% of his passes (a career high) for 2,284 yards (7.34 yards per attempt), 16 touchdowns, and five picks this year, with an interception percentage of just 1.6%. So what we’ve seen from Luck this year is similar to what we saw in 2014, only making that next step of improvement many thought he would take in 2015. That year was plagued by injuries, however, so it’s really encouraging for the Colts to see him pick right back up where he left off in 2014. Luck is having a career year and is playing very, very good football, but unfortunately for him the team’s record doesn’t reflect that.
APC: Two offseasons ago, the Colts made a series of free-agent splashes. How have those worked out thus far?
Not very well. The Colts’ free agent moves have been filled with plenty of misses and a few hits, but the bottom line is that it has failed to put together a competent defense. Frank Gore has been a good running back for the Colts and has absolutely done his job, and he’s on pace for 1,302 total yards and ten total touchdowns this year. But another one of the free agent moves that year, Andre Johnson, didn’t work out, and he was cut this past offseason. Trent Cole also hasn’t done much of anything for the Colts, and he’s now on injured reserve. So the Colts’ free agent moves that offseason haven’t really worked out well, and that’s true of Ryan Grigson’s entire tenure.
APC: At the midway point of the season, how secure are Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson's jobs? What, if anything, do they need to accomplish to survive 2016?
That’s a great question that I don’t really have the answer to, and here’s why: nobody knows what Jim Irsay is going to do. Last year, it was basically a foregone conclusion that Pagano would be fired, and everyone knew it – the media, the players, Pagano himself. Everyone could sense what was coming… and then Irsay gave him a contract extension. It was an absolutely stunning move, and we’re now seeing the results, as a lot of the issues with this Colts team have been prevalent over the years under Pagano. Grigson is also to blame, as this team is not overly talented. Basically, the Colts are a team that doesn’t have a lot of talent (that’s on Grigson) and a team that also doesn’t maximize the talent it does have (that’s on Pagano). After Irsay’s decision this past January, Grigson and Pagano are tied together and likely are a package deal, and at this point no scenario can be ruled out. If the Colts lose to the Packers and enter their bye at 3-6, is Pagano gone? Probably not, but it can’t be ruled out. If they don’t turn it around this year and miss the playoffs, are Pagano and Grigson gone? Maybe, but again, it’s impossible to predict what Irsay will do. I think the Colts need to make a change, but I thought that last year too. It’s anyone’s guess as to when Irsay will think the same, but if this season continues this way it could be coming after the year.
4. If you were game planning against the Colts, how would you attack them on offense? On defense?
On offense, get to Andrew Luck – and even with a bad pass rush you’d be able to do that, given the state of the Colts’ offensive line. If you can consistently get to Luck, those hits will likely add up and cause him to get a little errant. And that’s your best bet against the Colts offense – get Luck off his game. The offensive line is a weakness, so exploit that with your pass rush. In the run game, the Colts will have a commitment to run at least somewhat, and Frank Gore will get the most out of some of those situations, but the Packers shouldn’t have to put in much extra effort toward stopping the Colts’ run game. The big deal is the passing game, and with good coverage the receivers will be taken out of some plays, as they’ve been somewhat inconsistent about getting open regularly. But again, the bottom line is that you have to disrupt Andrew Luck to truly stop this offense, and the best way to do that is to hit him frequently (which is possible with this offensive line).
On defense, you can basically do whatever and have success – and I mean that only half-jokingly. You can run against this defense if you want, and they’ll also give up plays in the passing game. The Colts struggle to rush the passer, struggle to stop the run, and have a really bad linebacker group. So if I was an opposing offense, I’d utilize the run and some short passes, exploiting matchups with the linebackers as much as possible. Then, you can make some plays against some of the corners (you can do this without having to challenge Vontae Davis), but the basis of the offense should be built around exploiting the linebackers – in the run game, in the area of pass rush, and in coverage.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Which team wins on Sunday and why?
If the Colts hope to win on Sunday, it will likely require a lot of points, another great Andrew Luck performance, and another fourth quarter comeback. I don’t expect this Colts defense to stop the Packers, so the pressure falls on Luck (like it always does). I think Luck and the offense is good enough to keep this competitive, but I don’t see the Colts winning against the Packers at Lambeau. I’ll take Green Bay, 38-27.
We'd like to thank Josh and Stampede Blue for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there, as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Colts. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Sunday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Colts vs. Packers.