Hopeful Fodder – What if We’re Wrong?

Reader jado825 wrote an excellent piece breaking down the 2011 schedule and game outcomes if Indianapolis had a solid quarterback in each respective game. While there is no way to predict forward or backward what would have actually happened with a new signal caller, and while jado825 admits that there are legitimate reasons to believe the Colts will struggle in 2012, his insights are thought provoking and worthy of discussion. We’ve moved it to the front page.

It seems to be common consensus that the Colts won’t be contenders this year. Many assert that Andrew Luck is going to need a season to settle down, the defense has lots of problems, and that a team doesn’t just go from 2-14 to 10-6 in one year while fielding a rookie-filled team.

But what if we’re wrong? What if the Colts do, in fact, have what it takes to contend?

Let me be the first to say that, while I don’t expect it, I won’t be surprised if the Colts make a sharp turnaround. I don’t claim to be able to wield advanced football metrics to support this theory, but here are a few observations worth considering.

First, Luck isn’t going to need a year to settle down. Yes, Peyton Manning is the greatest QB of all time, and yes, even he wasn’t great his first year. However, this is an entirely different league than the one Peyton entered in ’98. This is a league where not one, but TWO passers broke Dan Marino’s yardage record last year. This is a league where Cam Newton, notable for his running abilities, was able to shatter Peyton’s rookie passing yardage mark while playing for an abysmal Panthers team. This is a league where touching a receiver is practically illegal, either before or after he catches the ball. In short, this is a league designed to make quarterbacks look great, and one in which Luck will thrive from early on. Who says he needs a year to figure out the offense? If Chris Brown, editor of Smart Football, is to be trusted, Luck only needs to know 15 or so plays to run a Manning-esque attack. Are you telling me that a QB who spent the last 3 years under a Harbaugh-developed offense needs an entire year to get up to speed?

Not only does Luck have the skills to be great, he also has the players. While Reggie Wayne’s skill has indeed waned, he still provides sure hands and veteran leadership. Austin Collie is a solid wide receiver with good hands. Avery, Fleener and Allen all have a tremendous upside. Donald Brown brings speed and big-play ability. No, it’s not a pro-bowl receiving corps, but it’s not a weak one, either.

On the defensive side of the ball, it seems to be a forgone conclusion that 2012 will be dreadful. I have to ask, why?

Let me begin by pointing out that Nate Dunlevy said at the beginning of the 2011 campaign that he was quite impressed with the defense. Now, the way I see it, the defense hasn’t lost ANYBODY who started last year. Bullit and Brackett were both on IR at the end of the season, and other than that, the defense is the same. In fact, with free agent additions and players returning from injury, I would venture to say that the defense has MORE talent than it had last year. From whence comes this logic that says the D will be worse next year? Will the scheme be different? Yes. Will it be problematic for the current players? I don’t think anyone really knows. After all, Pagano has talked about a *transition* to a 3-4. For a moment, let’s trust that Irsay and Grigson knew what they were doing when they chose Pagano as coach. What’s to say that the transition defense won’t maximize the potential of the current players? We need look no further than Wade Philips and the Texans to see that this is entirely possible. A forgone conclusion? No. Feasible? Definitely.

Finally, the point that lends most to the “Colts will suck in 2012” argument is last year’s 2-14 record. However, I have always contended that the Colts were much better than their record. Let’s do a quick run through each game, this time pretending we had a *decent* quarterback, and guess at what the results might have been.

1. L 7-34 @ Texans I think we lose this game either way. Adjusted Record: 0-1

2. L 19-27 v. Browns We had the ball with a chance to take the lead more than once in this game, and more than once in the 4th. It was Kerry Collins’ second game, and he played like it. I think we could have even won this with Collins if he had 3 more weeks of practice. A decent QB and it’s a definite W. Adjusted Record: 1-1

3. L 20-23 v. Steelers The score speaks for itself. If Painter doesn’t fumble on his first posession, we win the game. Adjusted Record: 2-1

4. L 17-24 @ Bucs Again, the Score speaks for itself. Painter had a chance to lead a game-tying drive, and he couldn’t do it. Adjusted Record: 3-1.

5. L 24-28 v. KC If we score 1 touchdown in the second half, we win the game. Adjusted Record: 4-1

6. L 17-27 @ Bengals Again, Painter had a chancge to lead a game-winning drive, and he threw a pick. Adjusted Record: 5-1

7. L 7-62 @ New Orleans This was bad. Adjusted Record: 5-2.

8. L 10-27 @ Titans Though this is 17 Point game, it’s a game the Colts could have won (blocked punt??), but not close enough to “give it” to them for the sake of argument. Adjusted Record: 5-3.

9. L 7-31 v. Falcons This could have been much worse. Adjusted Record: 5-4.

10. L 3-17 v. Jags Absolute offensive ineptitude here. A better QB could have definitely changed the course of this game, as evidenced by week 17. Adjusted Record: 6-4.

12. L 19-27 v Carolina Painter throws TWO interceptions in the end zone at the end of this one. Carolina was bad. Definitely a winnable game. 7-4.

13. L 24-31 @Patriots On the one hand, this was not as close as it looked, but on the other hand, the Patriots have a habit of giving up games to the Colts in the 4th quarter. (2009, almost in 2010, and almost here) For the sake of argument, though, we’ll mark it up as a L.  7-5.

14. L 10-24 @Ravens This wasn’t close. 7-6.

15. W 27-13 v. Titans A win is a win. Adjusted Record: 8-6.

16. W 19-16 v. Texans Ditto. Adjusted Record: 9-6.

17. L 13-19 @ Jaguars Orlovsky had the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win. This is a totally winnable game. Adjusted Record: 10-6.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this is a quite favorable representation of the schedule. However, the point I’m making is quite valid. The Colts weren’t blown out in all of these games, in fact, most of them were winnable. What’s to say that, with a better QB, we don’t put a couple more in the bag? While it seems ludicrous to arbitrarily assert that “the Colts would have won 8 games more with a better QB”, a closer examination of the schedule proves otherwise.

Given each of these points, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Colts made a sharp turnaround this year. While I don’t expect it (never get your hopes too high), I think it’s a quite plausible outcome to the 2012 campaign. At the very least, it’s worth asking ourselves the question: what if we are wrong?