Keys to the Indianapolis Colts' Second Half

The Indianapolis Colts are midway through their 2013 season, and everyone in the Hoosier State and otherwise can easily agree that this group has vastly exceeded all expectations for Andrew Luck’s second season thus far. After a week 7 bye and heading into a road matchup against the underwhelming Texans, Indy is 5-2 on the season with quality wins over three teams sure to be playing in January. Luck is arguably a top-5 quarterback conducting a balanced offensive attack, and the defense, led by NFL sacks leader Robert Mathis, is striking fear in the hearts of opposing quarterbacks. Plain and simple, the Colts have lived up to their mantra “WIN NOW”, doing so on a consistent basis a few years ahead of schedule. With their sights set on a deep playoff run, here are some of the things the Colts have to do to keep a stranglehold on the weak AFC South and maintain a formidable presence near the top of the conference, to the tune of the Manning years.

Keep grinding out quality W’s

Indianapolis’ 5-2 record could easily be overlooked…that is, if it didn’t have triumphs over Seattle, San Francisco, and Denver accounting for more than half of their wins. In the third week of the season, the Colts went on the road and made a statement by playing old-school football and virtually beating the 49ers at their own game. Later wins over the resilient Russel Wilson and future Hall of Famer/football deity Peyton Manning would prove it was no fluke; Indianapolis has completed Phase I, the rebuilding portion of Jim Irsay’s grand plan. They are well underway with Phase II: Contending. Big blue has more opportunities in the second half to not only put distance between them and the rest of the division in a hurry, but to finish off the AFC South completely, with three of its next five games against struggling divisional opponents Tennessee and Houston. However, with the Colts’ two losses to date against the 4-3 Chargers and sub-.500 Dolphins, Chuck Pagano must stress to his team not to fall prey to a trap game and give a divisional opponent the chance to play spoiler. I mean, that’s about all the Texans, Titans, and Jaguars could hope to be at this point…right?

One game the football world should be marking on their calendar is Indianapolis at Kansas City for a Week 16 matchup. Who would have thought at the beginning of the season that Colts-Chiefs would be such an enticing matchup so late in the season? I see you with your hand up….put it down. The Chiefs went 8-0 in the first half; Alex Smith has guided an effective offense countered with the league’s best defense, and is certainly going to be in the mix for a No. 1 seed in the final weeks. The Colts have a legitimate shot to be 11-3, or even 12-2, going to KC. This could be the game of the year, folks. A chance for Indy to improve on its playoff seeding and to announce to the world its readiness to play dominant football come early 2014.

Luck, spelled M-V-P

Okay, so anyone winning the league MVP award over that one Denver quarterback with the way he is playing thus far would cause an outcry in Colorado as well as elsewhere. But Luck has put an end to any discussion over which second-year quarterback will completely reject going through a sophomore slump. Simply put, Luck has done the most with the least over the past two and a half seasons. The Stanford alum is playing smart football and passing almost every test that comes his way with flying colors.

His next exam comes in the form of an injury-plagued roster. With a multitude of offensive starters out for the year, including the experienced Ahmad Bradshaw and star wide receiver Reggie Wayne, Luck will have to adapt quickly to relying on young contributors. GM Ryan Grigson chose not to make a trade for an experienced receiver by Tuesday’s deadline, and so Darrius Heyward-Bey, Coby Fleener, and TY Hilton will be expected to play at a higher level to compensate for the veteran Wayne’s absence. The combined age of those players? 74. But boy have they exhibited their athleticism. Synergy between Luck and his young receivers will be vital to the Colts sustaining the level of offensive capability they have displayed through their first 7 games of the season. The pressure will be on Luck to make a few more third-down conversions, throw for a bit more yardage, and give his young team more redzone opportunities in the coming weeks. However, Luck isn’t one to succumb to pressure all too easily. Just ask anyone who has witnessed one of his countless Manning-esque fourth-quarter comebacks.

4.0 indeed, Andrew.

And the beat goes on

Indianapolis could very easily be 7-0 at this point in the season, if not for a resilient Dolphins team early in the year and a trap game in San Diego the week before taking on the Broncos. Much of their success can be attributed to consistency in nearly all facets on both sides of the ball. The Colts are top-10 in both points scored and points allowed, and they have done so with the fewest turnovers in the league, at 6 giveaways. Giving their opponents less opportunities to turn a game around quickly has been a huge factor in the Colts’ success, particularly in big games against teams like the 49ers and Denver. The running game, although dealing with an abundance of injuries and Trent Richardson not yet living up to his trade, has played a bigger role than usual for the Colts; they have rushed for a century of yards in 6 of their first 7 games, good for a ground attack that is also top-10. Indianapolis running backs haven’t been this productive since Edgerrin James was taking the handoff from a younger Peyton. The Colts’ ability to continue bringing their game at the top level each week, despite a slew of injured contributors, will be huge in determining their playoff seeding. If Luck and Mathis continue to lead the way they have been on their respective sides of the ball, it will open up a Pandora’s Box of possibilities not only in January but in coming years.

Believe that their time is now

The biggest thing Indianapolis’ young core can do to attain prolonged success in the next eight weeks is to instill themselves with the belief that they are fully capable of going for the whole enchilada in February. Irsay believes they can and, frankly, with the way the man tweets, that should almost be enough. They have exhibited athleticism that other teams would love to have, and are driven by a spirit which yearns to make a statement to the perennial elites in both conferences. Led by a quarterback who reminds the football world of Brady and Roethlisberger in their early years when they experienced a wealth of playoff success, the Colts have all the tools necessary to help the city forget about its first-round exit at the hands of Baltimore last year.

Denver, Kansas City, New England…you have been warned.

Back to the Indianapolis Colts Newsfeed