The 2011 Indianapolis Colts continued a string of close games against opponents with varied talent levels and records. In each of these games they were unable to finish out and exit victorious.
It is time for fans to begin looking at what happens on the field that indicates future success for the franchise. A glaring example of this would be the development of quarterback Curtis Painter from a nervous boy in an impossible position (keeping an undefeated season alive against a top ranked defense) into a gritty young signal caller who follows through on throws in the face of pressure, has developed timing with his receivers, is able to avoid pressure and run to keep offensive drives alive, and is even able to operate the offense aggressively without a huddle.
There is absolutely no comparing Painter to 4-time MVP Peyton Manning. He is not, and will never be, as talented as his teammate and mentor, but he does not have to be in order to earn the confidence of the Colts fan base as the team’s current and future backup quarterback.
After struggling to start the 2011 campaign, tight end Dallas Clark showed signs of returning to his former self. The early game fumble did not set the right tone but he regained control, did not drop passes, and even repeated the kind of circus one-handed catches that make him a future member of the Colts Ring of Honor.
While Pierre Garcon did not continue his streak of long runs for a touchdown, he did continue to show sure-hands. This is the most important attribute of his game that he needs to develop consistency in — particularly with routine catches — if he hopes to earn a formidable contract to remain in Indianapolis.
Sure, Garcon did make a mistake when he chose to reach forward for extra yards in the fourth quarter and put the ball in position to be knocked out of his grasp to the ground. But while his aggressiveness cost the team an offensive possession and potentially the game, his ability to catch passes thrown his way with regularity will most often earn the team victories.
Theories born out of speculation by announcers during the game that Garcon attempted to lateral the pass back to an offensive lineman are baseless until Garcon or another Colts representative says otherwise. Nothing about Garcon’s actions suggested a “lateral attempt” and anyone who has watched him play should know that he has a habit of trying to get every last yard of each one of his possessions.
Running back Donald Brown has put together a second straight game with a promising performance. As Colts fans have hoped since he joined the team in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, he has shown the ability to be very dangerous when he is given a hole or can turn the corner around the edge. Add to this a clear improvement in the pass blocking phase of his game and there is at least some reason to think a light bulb may be flickering to life.
Even the linebackers, who have really started to come into their own, show signs of legitimacy as a unit. Pat Angerer has developed into a formidable starting middle linebacker, Philip Wheeler has morphed from a tweener without a starting spot into a player who is clearly comfortable fulfilling his schematic responsibilities, Kavell Conner shows flashes of brilliance stepping up against the run, and Ernie Sims is now getting an opportunity to contribute — which will allow the team to assess interest in retaining him for the future.
While not all of the progress is positive, in that there are other players who are proving themselves to be weak in the same areas they have previously, even that knowledge and assessment should help the front office determine which positions need addressed most in future team acquisitions and in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Ryan Diem’s efforts at right tackle were inferior to Quinn Ojinaka a week ago, even though Ojinaka is new to the team. Right guard Mike Pollak continues to show that he is not suited to play guard in the NFL, though his future on the roster may already be solidified at center as Jeff Saturday’s successor. Hopefully, the coaching staff will notice these performances and make appropriate adjustments moving forward.
A proper analysis of the coaching staff has had the chance to move to the forefront. On numerous occasions the defense has failed to schematically adjust when adjustments are proper — not a positive impression for coordinator Larry Coyer. The special teams units have been even more putrid than in previous years — suggesting that Ray Rychleski’s efforts to improve this phase of the game in Indianapolis are failing. There have been continual conservative decisions made by head coach Jim Caldwell at critical times in games that do not lend themselves to winning football.
While the team’s future my still be uncertain as final decisions have not been made with regard to on-field, front office, and coaching personnel moving forward, this glimpse at a Manning-less Colts team makes weaknesses easier to identify. Victory in 2011 has been absent, but progress toward an improved future for the Indianapolis Colts has not.