2015 AFC preview: Indianapolis Colts
From now until the Patriots begin training camp, Phil Perry looks at the 15 other AFC teams: The biggest question they face heading into the season, their storyline on offense, their storyline on defense, and their "threat level" to the Patriots.
Today's opponent: The Indianapolis Colts
THE BIG STORY
Can Andrew Luck and the Colts reach the next step?
In every season of Andrew Luck's professional career thus far, he and his teammates have progressed one step further in the postseason. As a rookie, he had the Colts back in the playoffs. In his second year, Indianapolis found itself in the Divisional Round. And last season, visiting Gillette Stadium for the AFC title game, Luck was a game away from heading to the Super Bowl.
Right now, there are those in Las Vegas who believe that Luck's club is the favorite in the AFC to win Super Bowl 50 (8/1), not the Patriots (9/1).
And can you blame them? All the numbers suggest Luck will continue his upward trajectory as one of the game's top passers.
But in order for him to get through the Patriots and the rest of the conference, he'll need a lot more help from his defense. If Luck can't make the next step in his postseason push, the reason will be, in all probability, the fact that Indy's defense largely resembles the same group that fell to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, 45-7.
OFFENSIVE STORY LINE TO WATCH
How do Luck's new weapons get acclimated?
After an offseason of splash moves in free agency and in the draft, there is currently an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions for the Colts.
They got deeper at the receiver spot, parting ways with Reggie Wayne and bringing aboard veteran Texans legend Andre Johnson (pictured) as well as first-rounder and TY Hilton clone Phillip Dorsett out of the University of Miami.
At running back, instead of spending another year trying to make their trade for Trent Richardson seem worthwhile, they signed former Niners Pro Bowler Frank Gore. Gore's 32 years old, but he still ran for 1,106 yards on an average of 4.3 yards per carry last year.
Now did Colts general manager Ryan Grigson need to make those types of moves? Not exactly. Luck threw for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2014, and the team ranked sixth in the league points per game at 28.6.
The Colts may have been better served by adding to their offensive line, which allowed Luck to be pressured on more than one third of his throws last season (36 percent, per Pro Football Focus), or by bolstering their defense (we'll get to that in a second).
Regardless, with elite quarterback play, speed on the outside and savvy in the backfield, slowing Indy's offense will be a bear for opposing defenses in 2015.
DEFENSIVE STORY LINE TO WATCH
Can the Colts stop the run?
The Colts were in the bottom half of the league last season in terms of stymieing opposing running backs as they allowed 113.4 yards per game (18th in the NFL) and 4.3 yards per carry (23rd), yet it seems as though they made no concerted effort to improve that area of their game with new personnel.
They added 33-year-old linebacker Trent Cole in free agency, but he's more of a pass-rusher than someone who is going to clog running lanes. Former Broncos linebacker Nate Irving was also brought into the fold, but he's coming off of a season that he finished on injured reserve.
One of the more questionable moves by the Colts this offseason -- one that worked out in New England's favor -- was passing on Texas defensive lineman Malcom Brown in the draft in order to add another undersized, water-bug wideout in Dorsett.
Having defensive lineman Arthur Jones back and healthy in 2015 after he dealt with an ankle injury for most of last season should help Indy's run defense. but after allowing Jonas Gray to run for 200 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season, then letting LeGarrette Blount rumble for 148 yards in the AFC title game, how much more evidence did the Colts need to realize a little added bulk might help?
THREAT LEVEL: SEVERE
The Colts may be hoping for a little luck on the defensive side of the ball in order to get to where they want to be. Veterans Robert Mathis, Mike Adams and Cole will all have to have productive seasons and remain healthy in order to lend some support to one of the top corners in the game, Vontae Davis, and make a legitimate run at the Super Bowl.
Their offense, however, appears as though it will be a force. It won't be long before Luck is considered the top quarterback in the game, and with the weaponry around him this season, that recognition could some sooner rather than later.
The Patriots and Colts will meet in Week 6 in Indianapolis in what could be a high-scoring affair. Luck's group will find itself on the winning side of its share of explosive offensive contests this season, but we'll give the edge in that regular-season meeting to the Patriots right now because of their ground game. Plus, it can't be discounted that New England might be playing with a little extra motivation thanks to Indy's involvement in Deflategate