2023 Indianapolis Colts Offseason Preview
Desperate for his first playoff win since 2018, Colts GM Chris Ballard, likely with some influence from owner Jim Irsay, acquired Matt Ryan from the Falcons for a third-round pick. Like Carson Wentz and Phillip Rivers before him, Ryan was supposed to be the key to getting the Colts’ roster over the hump. Instead, Ryan went down in flames and was sent to the bench after a Week 7 loss to the Titans. He would re-emerge as the starter later in the year, only to be benched again, this time by interim head coach Jeff Saturday. Between Ryan’s two benchings, Frank Reich was relieved of his duties as the team’s boss. Indianapolis ended the season on a seven-game losing streak. The year was as embarrassing for the Colts as it was unsuccessful. Now the team is back at the crossroads of building for the future or attempting another shortcut to near-term success.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 17 (30th)
- EPA per play: -0.15 (31st)
- Dropback EPA per play: -0.14 (31st)
- Passing yards per game: 201.9 (23rd)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.18 (30th)
- Rush yards per game: 109.8 (23rd)
The Colts were a trainwreck of epic proportions no matter who they trotted out as their quarterback. Ryan was a statue behind a banged-up offensive line. He finished top-10 in sacks and interceptions despite playing just 12 games. Sam Ehlinger and Nick Foles didn’t fair any better. Unlike in 2021, the Colts didn’t have an elite ground game to fall back on with their quarterback situation coming apart at the seams. Jonathan Taylor missed six games and averaged 86 yards per week before going down with a season-ending ankle injury. Last year, Taylor averaged 107 yards per game and the Colts ranked first in the NFL in EPA per play on runs. A year after cracking 1,000 receiving yards, Michael Pittman came up 75 yards short of four digits and scored two fewer times.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 25.1 (28th)
- EPA per play: -0.02 (13th)
- Dropback EPA per play: 0.05 (18th)
- Passing yards per game: 209.9 (11th)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.1 (10th)
- Rush yards per game: 124.1 (21st)
By most metrics, the Colts were no worse than slightly below average on defense. The only stat that they failed in was points allowed, the most important one. The most obvious explanation for this discrepancy is the offense’s propensity to put them in terrible spots. No team turned the ball over more than the Colts and it wasn’t a close race. The Colts’ defense faced the seventh-worst starting field position. Though the defense didn’t get a fair shake, a number of veteran additions prevented them from reaching last in points allowed. Stephon Gilmore allowed a passer rating of 82.6 when targeted and was credited with 11 passes defended. Yannick Ngakoue, whom the team traded for in the offseason, tallied 9.5 sacks. Rodney McLeod, now 32 years old, joined the team on a one-year deal and excelled, earning 96 tackles while finding two interceptions.
4th, 36th, 80th, 107th, and 141st
Notable Free Agents
The Colts can save a lot of money through cuts, though none of their decisions are easy. Ryan’s contract carries an $18 million dead money hit, but the team has already made that decision by benching him twice. Buckner is coming off a solid year but is one of the highest-paid defenders in the NFL.
This will be addressed in some fashion in the offseason. The most obvious path to a new starter is trading up with the Bears for the No. 1 overall pick. The Colts have made a habit of trading for quarterbacks in recent years, but this move, although expensive, would give them a long-term answer at the position instead of an aging veteran.
Free safety Julian Blackmon has one year left on his contract and has generally been a liability in coverage. McLeod is a free agent. Indianapolis could re-sign him and think about replacements for both players in the later draft rounds.
Parris Campbell and Ashton Dulin are free agents, putting some stress on the Colts’ depth at receiver. Rookie wideout Alec Pierce ranked 68th in yards per route run and 109th in ESPN’s open metric. Indy should look for a receiver who can create separation and generate easy completions.
The Colts went through three rounds of interviews to find their next head coach. There were moments when Saturday appeared to have an edge, but Irsay and Ballard ultimately settled on Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen as their man. Before joining Philly, Steichen worked his way up in the Chargers’ organization. He served as Justin Herbert‘s offensive coordinator in his final season in Los Angles. Then, in Philly, Jalen Hurts made progress in his second season before blossoming into an MVP candidate in his third. With the Colts cycling through quarterbacks for half a decade, a coach who can develop a young gun into a franchise savior is the perfect hire. The Colts have not named coordinators for their staff yet.
Unlike most teams who will take the podium early on draft night, the Colts have plenty of bright spots on their roster. The team’s fatal flaw was at quarterback, sinking their offense to unprecedented lows. If they are able to address that position early in the draft, Indianapolis will once again be a contender in a middling AFC South division. Their goal has to be to solve that problem without a short-term solution. Having tried that approach with Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan in previous years, there’s no need to go down the veteran quarterback road once more. After getting a passer at the controls, the Colts have some freedom to add weapons on offense or bolster the strength that is their defense.