The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner. With that being said, it’s time to launch our team previews. FOXSports.com contributor Taylor Jones will answer important questions for every franchise.
2012 Record: 11-5. Eliminated in wild-card round by Baltimore
What must the team accomplish to consider the season a success?
This is an interesting question, because I’m not sure the Colts can match their 11 wins from 2012, but I’m not going to discount them making another playoff run. 2012 was supposed to be a rebuilding season. By all accounts, it would be a mirror image of the 1998 season in which Peyton Manning was a rookie and the Colts posted a 3-13 season, but they completely outplayed expectations. Advantage Andrew Luck.
The Colts were fairly active in free agency, but failed to bring in a surefire upgrade over last year’s roster. Many would argue that they were too active and overpaid for players that are nothing more than just your average role players. See: Erik Walden and Gosder Cherilus. All the while, the Texans got healthy and the Titans added integral pieces to help the running game get back to form. If the Colts can post even 10 wins — regardless of making the playoffs — that should be viewed as a successful follow-up to the completely surprising run of 2012.
What is the team’s biggest asset?
Luck obliterated Cam Newton’s single-season rookie record for passing yards and was able to do it while leading his team to 11 wins, just two fewer wins than Newton has posted in his first two seasons combined. But that doesn’t mean Luck has no room for improvement. In fact, Luck’s 23 turnovers (18 interceptions and five lost fumbles) were the second-most in the NFL. Only Mark Sanchez had more and anytime you are in the same conversation with Sanchez can’t be a positive thing.
Additionally, Luck only completed 54 perecent of his passes and was sacked 41 times. His favorite target, Reggie Wayne, after having the luxury of playing in the same offense for the first decade of his career, will now have the mentally taxing challenge of learning another new offense, his second in just two years at the ripe age of 35.
Luck may have been outstarred by fellow rookie Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, but Luck is still the best quarterback of the bunch and has the best upside moving forward. However, Luck will have to improve on a record-setting rookie season if the Colts want to match the success of last season.
Which rookie stands the best chance to succeed?
Replacing the Colts’ defensive emotional and statistical leader of the past 11 seasons will be no small order, but the Colts drafted Bjoern Werner with the 24th overall pick to do just that. Werner is far from the same explosive player that Freeney was, but he is very capable in his own right. With his blue-collar approach, he is more comparable to Jared Allen in that his productivity is far greater than his athletic ability. Werner has a nonstop motor and plays with a high level of intensity for the entire four quarters. He’s actually much better in the run game than Freeney ever was at the point of attack.
Werner grew up in Germany and is still learning the game after only playing two years of football before going to Florida State. This year, he will be learning an entirely new position as the Colts will ask him to stand up in the 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker. I liked him more as a down lineman, but I felt the same about Ryan Kerrigan who made the transition look easy for the Washington Redskins. Werner has those same rigid movements that Kerrigan shows in space, but as long as he isn’t asked to drop back too often, it may not be that big of a deal.
What is the team’s biggest addition/loss from the previous season?
The Colts got a preview of what it will be like without Bruce Arians in the wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens last season. Arians was hospitalized with an illness prior to the game and the offense was never able to find its rhythm in his absence. Luck is familiar with new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton from his time at Stanford, but it was the chemistry between he and Arians that will be hard to replicate. This is just another reason why this team may take a step back before it starts moving forward again.
Where do you predict the team will finish in the division?
When Manning left the Colts, it was supposed to be the Houston Texans’ time to dominate the AFC South. While they did win the division, it was only by one game as the Colts were knocking on the doorstep up until the final week. I’m not sure the Colts will be able to keep pace in the same fashion this season as the Texans are still the team to beat and the Titans have gotten markedly better.
The 2012 Colts rallied around Chuck Pagano last season as he battled cancer and that was clearly a rallying cry for the entire city, but this year, the Colts are going to have to create their own momentum and Pagano has tried to shift the focus from him onto the Lombardi Trophy. That may be a little ambitious, but the Colts are heading in the right direction.