Ifs and Buts

Now that the draft is done, we can begin to assess the Colts’ chances for 2009.  As always, a million unforeseen things can happen to elevate or derail the season, so instead of sweeping projections, let’s look as the key areas that need to improve on offense for this team to take it to the next level:

IF the offensive line stays healthy, they should get the practice time and continuity necessary to improve on a dismal 2008.

BUT if key members struggle with injuries, especially Saturday and Ugoh, the Colts will struggle to win double digit games.  Charlie Johnson played well at left guard last year, but his stint at left tackle was abysmal.  Mario Williams almost killed Manning in the fourth game with CJ blocking.  Ugoh comes under a lot of heat from Colts fans, but his return to the line up in the Tennessee game marked the first time in several weeks that Manning had decent protection.  The long winning streak started the next week against the Patriots. 

We said the resigning of Saturday was one of the most difficult front
office choices Polian has faced in years.  Without him, the Colts would
not make the playoffs in 2009.  However, he is a 34 year old center
with knee problems, and his health can’t be taken for granted.

IF Mike Pollack develops into a legitimate player worthy of a second round pick, the Colts run game will improve by a half yard per carry at least.

BUT if the right side of the line (including Diem) doesn’t improve, neither Brown nor Addai will be be effective. Last year, the Colts averaged 4.91 adjusted line yards per carry when they ran around the left end.  That was good for 9th in the league.  When running around the right end, they averaged 2.91 ALYPC good for 31st.  As you look at the chart, the Colts RBs averaged over 4 ALYPC when running in every direction…except to the right.  If you want to know why Addai ‘struggled’ last year, you can basically trace the entire problem to the right side of the line.  The pick of Brown ensures the Colts will have an explosive pair of runners in the backfield.  The A/B Switch (Addai/Brown, do you like it?  I’m trying it out) will be devastating deep into to games as long as they can at least threaten to run right.

IF the young TE corps learn the offense and stay healthy, the Colts should return to a highly efficient mix of the pass and run. 

BUT if Santi, Tamme, and Robinson continue to battle injuries and miss key assignments, don’t expect Indy to run an elite offense on the field.  While it sounds like 4th round pick Collie might eventually become a Stokley-esque slot man, it’s not realistic to expect more than 10-15 catches from him next year.  If the Colts are going to have a top flight offense, it’s going to mean a lot of two TE sets.  That means one of the three young TEs needs to become Ben Utech.  The second TE has to have pass catching ability (which Tamme is rumored to have), but also must be an effective run blocker as the Colts love to run all their plays out of one base formation. 

IF Christensen and Metzelaars can handle their impending promotions by providing fresh enthusiasm and insight, OR the Colts figure out how to keep Moore and Mudd, the offense will look familiar.

BUT if they are merely the latest examples of the Peter Principle, new Coach Jim Caldwell will have extra burdens on him during his first year of coaching, and the impact could be felt on the field.  The Colts are stacked with young linemen.  If Metzelaars can’t coach them up as well as Mudd did, 2009 will be at least as big a struggle as 2008.  In terms of play calling, I can buy that Manning could always just take over and do whatever he wants anyway.  But there is a lot of administrative work involved with running an offense that Christensen will have thrust upon him.  Maybe he’ll be outstanding, but there are no guarantees.  Jumping from wide out coach to O.C. without even a full offseason to prepare is lot to ask of anyone.  Fans should be prepared for consequences.

IF Jim Caldwell has the same kind of stones that Dungy had, the 2009 Colts will continue to go for key fourth downs, and sustain key drives.

BUT if Caldwell won’t leave his offense on the field when he needs too, the Colts will lose games.  Perhaps the single biggest mistake a coach can make is to punt of fourth and short.  It’s been shown in numerous places that ‘going for it’ generates more points from almost every spot on the field than punting does.  Over time, Dungy became very aggressive on fourth downs, and the Colts were difficult to stop because of it.  Caldwell must have the kind of confidence in his offense Dungy did, or the Colts will lose a lot of close games they used to win.

There are other issues (Manning’s health, Gonzo’s ability to play outside, finding a third WR) that I don’t consider worthy of discussion, primarily because they aren’t truly in question.  We all know that if 18 gets hurt, the Colts are screwed.  I have yet to see anyone argue that Anthony Gonzalez won’t be effective outside, so I’m not going to waste time defending what everyone suspects anyway.  The Colts don’t need a third WR to run their offense well.  Basically, the 2009 offense boils down to massive questions on the offensive line and coaching staff.  As a fan, we can choose to have confidence that the IFs won’t become BUTs, but everyone should keep their eye on this issues first and foremost as training camp and the preseason unfold.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the defensive IFs and BUTs.

Links:

Well, I’ll be darned.  Will you look at that.  Who’s that team leading the NL Central?  I hope it lasts.

Kuharsky puts Moala on the hotseat.  Good choice.  Fans are expecting a lot from the rookie.

He’s utterly, totally insane.  And no, I don’t mean Oehser.

Again with the Oehser.  This time on Caldwell.

Explain this logic to me:

Defense: The Reds rank next to last in National League fielding. But
the defense, particularly in the outfield, is much improved. The Reds
have seven outfield errors. Darnell McDonald and Chris Dickerson have
five between them.

Wait, if the Reds have 7 OF errors in just 30 some games, and the principle left fielders are to blame for 5 of them, in what possible way has the OF defense improved?  Stuff like this makes me sick, because it’s a swipe a Griffey and Dunn.  It’s fine to not like how Dunn played D, but at least the press in Cincinnati should be honest that the new guys have been HORRIBLE.  The Reds problems the last few years weren’t on Dunner.  That sentence I quoted doesn’t even make sense.  I welcome any one to explain it to me.

It’s official.  They retired.  I wish them all the best.  More on this to come.
 

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