Where does your franchise stand heading into 2022? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.
Members of the Colts organization, Colts fans around the world and those who love this team the way Jim Irsay loves vintage guitars.
The Colts' 2021 season didn't go the way most fans wanted it to. Which is putting it lightly and we will talk about that in a minute. But there are a lot of reasons to be excited this year. Let's take a look.
One high note from last year: That Week 15 win over New England. Well, that and getting somebody to actually give up a draft pick for Carson Wentz. But in all seriousness, it was that Week 15 game after the bye. Saturday night football. Jonathan Taylor goes 67 yards to slam the door shut on the Patriots. Beating your nemesis is always sweet.
One low note from last year: Losing to the Jaguars with a chance to make the playoffs in Week 18. I mean, it's become an annual tradition to lose to the Jaguars away from Indianapolis; the Jaguars own a seven-game home winning streak over the Colts dating back to 2015 (the 2016 meeting in this streak was in London). But this game was bad. Like almost unsettling. If it makes you feel any better, the Colts also could have wrapped up a playoff berth with a win in Week 17 over the Raiders ... but lost that game as well.
Head coach: Frank Reich. He did have to apologize to Irsay for putting in a good word for Carson Wentz last season. In other words, Reich is like your friend who convinces you to try this fancy beer that everybody liked for a few weeks back in 2017, but it turns out that it wasn't as great as you remember it. And you spent all of these years remembering only the good times and not the stifling hangover that came along with it. And now that you think about it, Nick Foles was kind of better anyway.
But I think we're all still in on Reich. I mean, they won nine games last year. They weren't terrible. And he's now moving on to his fifth quarterback during his coaching stay. Which is a shock because when you take a gig with Andrew Luck at the helm, you sort of figured you were set. Still, the Colts were above .500 in three of the last four years despite the revolving door at quarterback, so he's good.
Quarterback: Matt Ryan. I like Matt Ryan. He's still good. Consider that Tom Brady (44) and Aaron Rodgers (38), still prettygood players, are the only starting quarterbacks older than him. Most people will consider Ryan an upgrade over Wentz, but it's fair to point out Wentz had more touchdowns (27 to Ryan's 20) and fewer interceptions (7 to Ryan's 12) last year.
Now that Matty Ice is paired with Frank Reich and a Jonathan Taylor-led running game, not to mention that offensive line, I would think Ryan bests those touchdown numbers. He might not get back to 4,000 yards again -- 2021 was the first time Ryan failed to reach that mark since 2010 -- but he's going to be more efficient. He's going to make bigger plays. And he should make the Colts the favorite in the AFC South. I mean, they are the favorites, right?!
Projected 2022 MVP: Jonathan Taylor. I love Cordarrelle Patterson, the Falcons' leading rusher from last season, but Ryan is getting a huge upgrade at the running back position. J.T. led the NFL in scrimmage yards and scrimmage touchdowns last year. He had more rushing yards after contact (1,272) than any other player had in total rushing yards last year. Do me a favor and read that last sentence again because it's incredible. Taylor needs 16 total touchdowns in 2022 to break Hall of Famer Barry Sanders' record (47) for the most TDs by any player in their first three seasons in NFL history. And remember last year when you all scoffed when I said to take him first in your fantasy leagues?
New face to know: Yannick Ngakoue, edge rusher. Why is this guy on his fifth team? I don't get it. He's been very productive at every stop. And while you would think he would be used to being bounced around the league like he's your friend's Netflix account, I still don't get it. And the dude is kind of upset at the Raiders for letting him go.
2022 breakout star: Kwity Paye, edge. I really liked him coming into the 2021 draft. He's one of those players who has the raw ability you just can't teach. I was bullish on him coming into this season based on the potential alone. But you put Paye -- who had four sacks, three tackles for loss and 10 QB hits as a rookie -- opposite a guy like Ngakoue, and he's prime for a huge breakout season.
- Week 2 at Jacksonville Jaguars. I mean, come on guys.
- Week 10 at Las Vegas Raiders. The Gus Bradley/Yannick Ngakoue REVENGE GAME. How is this not in prime time? Actually, my dad was telling me that this was a lively rivalry game back in the day.
- Week 17 at New York Giants. The Colts close the regular season with two winnable games. Games they should be favored in, against the Giants and Texans. Obviously, things can change over the course of a season. But this seems to set up nicely for the Colts; though, we said that last year, too.
Will the Colts be able to ...
... protect Matt Ryan? You can count on the Colts' offensive line being good like you can finding a Friends rerun on TV. Solid once again in 2021, this unit was led by Quenton Nelson, one of the best linemen in the game. He sat out four games last season, but it was the first time in his career he missed time, so I'm not worried about it becoming a trend. Here's my thing: Obviously, the line was very good, as J.T. dominated, but the Colts ranked 30th in pass-blocking efficiency, according to Pro Football Focus. Something doesn't add up here. But the switch at quarterback could end up benefitting the offensive line -- which is not a shot against Wentz.
... overcome the loss of Matt Eberflus? The Colts had 33 takeaways in 2021, second only to the Dallas Cowboys' 34. But former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is now at the helm in Chicago and replaced with Gus Bradley. Should I point out that I'm a Bears fan? Anyway, it's not like Colts are without talent. Darius Leonard is the only player in the league with at least 10 sacks and 10 interceptions since 2018. He also leads off-ball linebackers with 11 picks, 17 forced fumbles and 30 passes defensed over that span. The team's defensive leader is expected to miss the start of training camp (back) but is believed to be ready for Week 1. DeForest Buckner has 36 sacks and 78 quarterback hits since 2018, with only Aaron Donald and Chris Jones logging more sacks or quarterback hits among all interior defensive linemen.
One storyline ...
... people are overthinking: Can Matt Ryan still get it done? Ryan has not won eight or more games in a season since 2017, when the Falcons finished 10-6. But to me, that string of losing seasons is more on the Falcons than the former MVP. Ryan has the most wins, passing yards and passing touchdowns among active quarterbacks without a Super Bowl win. And to think, he didn't win a Lombardi Trophy partly because he lost to the Patriots, who had Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels -- the guy who turned down the Colts gig, which ultimately led to Frank Reich getting the job. I'm not sure what this all means, but drop that tidbit the next time you're having a conversation and impress your friends.
... people are overlooking: The Colts' receivers are kind of good. Even though PFF has the Colts ranked 25th in their 2022 receiving corps rankings, the unit's collective size should tell people not to sleep on them. Which I wasn't aware I was doing. Michael Pittman Jr. had career highs in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns last season. He led the Colts with 88 receptions, 1,082 yards and six touchdowns. I'm also a huge fan of second-round pick Alex Pierce, who could be an instant impact guy. And while I don't think you should expect a rookie tight end to come in and immediately do big things, third-round selection Jelani Woods was a solid pick who could surprise.
For 2022 to be a success, the Colts MUST:
- Make a deep playoff run. I was going to say beat the Jaguars. Just kidding. You don't bring in a near-40-year-old quarterback without the intention of not only making the postseason but making a pretty deep run. If the Colts don't make the playoffs, especially with the Titans (division winners the last two years) having question marks, it would have to be viewed as a huge missed opportunity.