AFC South: What is Wrong With The Indianapolis Colts?

October 26, 2015 • Joe Messineo • AFC South, Features, Front Page, Indianapolis Colts

It’s time to ask the serious questions about the Indianapolis Colts. Is this team any good? Is there something wrong with Andrew Luck? Will either of those things even matter since the AFC South is such a dumpster fire?

The answers are not quite as simple, but they can be summed up easily enough:

1. Not really

2. For sure

3. Of course not

At 3-4 with a -27 point differential, the Colts have the fifth-worst differential in the entire AFC. Even the 1-5 Tennessee Titans and 1-5 Baltimore Ravens have performed better in that regard. Indianapolis’ season has been saved by the division it plays in and nothing more.

The Colts have played four games outside of the AFC South thus far. In those four games, the team is 0-4. It started with back-to-back losses to the Bills and Jets to start the year. The Indy offense looked absolutely horrendous in both games, but people wrote off the results as just one of those things that happen against really good defenses.

Six weeks later, the excuses don’t hold up entirely. The New York Jets still have one of the best defenses in the league, but Buffalo is another story. The Bills have yet to look as good as they did Week 1 against Indianapolis.

Following a 0-2 start, the Colts won three straight games by a total of 12 points. All three games came down to the final possession. For two of the wins, Matt Hasselbeck played quarterback instead of Andrew Luck. Luck was sidelined with a shoulder injury, but Hasselbeck was more than adequate in his stead. In fact, Hasselbeck’s two games were the best this team has looked all season.

The long-time veteran quarterback has a shade less than passing and three touchdowns on the year with that 2-0 record. After the Week 5 win over Houston though, Luck was ready to return. Another built-in excuse materialized. The Colts would surely be better now that Luck is healthy. He was banged up early in the year, which explained his erratic play. Now healthy again, we are ready to see the MVP-caliber Luck behind center.

Except that wasn’t the case. In Luck’s first game back, Indianapolis hung toe to toe with the mighty New England Patriots. If not for a foible on special teams, Indy might’ve taken the game down to the wire. But the final score overshadowed and oversold the Colts’ performance. At no point did the game seem in doubt for New England. Beyond that, Luck was good in the box score but still didn’t seem like his old self. He threw the ball a season-high 50 times, completing 60 percent of his passes. But he barely cracked , averaging per attempt. 6.2 YPA is a lower mark than that of 31 of the 32 qualified quarterbacks this season. It speaks to Luck’s inability to get the ball down the field whether because of nerves or, more likely, because of a lingering issue with his injury.

Luck was fine against NE, but Luck wasn’t Luck, and the team lost anyway. The next time out, we would see the real deal. Surely by Week 7 all the problems would be behind this team and the real production could emerge.

Against a shoddy New Orleans defense, rather than emerge, Indy looked even worse. It got down big to the Saints, losing 27-0 midway through the third quarter. The Colts mounted a comeback and got the final score to 27-21, but it was too little too late. Luck finished with good stats again, but they were mostly empty. He was off all game. He threw two more interceptions, his eighth and ninth picks of the year; he completed fewer than 53 percent of his passes, dropping his season completion percentage to 56.2 percent, 45th in the NFL out of all 52 players who’ve attempted at least one pass this year. Luck barely outpaces St. Louis punter Johnny Hekker, who has completed one of his two pass attempts on the season.

The Colts’ 3-4 record doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of Luck though. The rest of the roster hasn’t lived up to expectations either. The defense ranks in the bottom half of the league in DVOA according to Football Outsiders. The special teams are well below average in all aspects outside of the punting game where Pat McAfee leads the league in value over average.

But in past years, none of the rest of that seemed to matter. To answer questions one and two again, this team isn’t very good because it hasn’t been very good for a while outside of its offense, and its offense took a crippling hit because there continues to be something wrong with Andrew Luck.

The only logical explanation is his shoulder is still hurt. Nothing else would explain how arguably the best player in the NFL could drop from pending MVP to below replacement-level. His career QBR stats have dropped each season since his rookie year, but the previous drops were almost inconsequential. His figures went from 67.4 to 63.5 to 61.5 last season. Now this season, his QBR has plummeted to 38.3. With more experience and new, better weapons around him, the numbers should be reversed.

Luck’s issues should have Colts fans very worried about the rest of this season. If he gets sidelined again, the team’s ceiling is very low with Hasselbeck at QB. If Luck plays but doesn’t improve, the floor is lower than ever. Of course, Indianapolis still sits in first place in the AFC South, the worst division in football for yet another year. Indy is 3-4 on the season, 3-0 against its division and winless against everyone else.

A very tough schedule is coming up for this team. With games against Carolina and Denver preceding its Week 10 bye, Indy could come back from its break 3-6 with Atlanta up next. The Colts would also still have to travel to Pittsburgh and Miami later in the year. It would be a hard slog to even reach eight wins, yet 7-9 could win this division title. No other South team has more than two wins overall or more than one win within the division. If that’s the case and seven victories is all it will take, not to worry Colts fans. Indy has three more games against the South. That will get them to six wins. Is it too much to ask for Luck and company to go 1-9 outside of the division? That’s all it takes to make the playoffs.

Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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