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Despite a really critical loss last week to the Jac
ksonville Jaguars Jacoby Brissett Jersey , the hit to the confidence of Colts fans in our weekly FanPulse survey was minimal. What I believe this shows is that our most informed fans understand that this season was never only about the results in the win-loss column. A lot of our confidence has been determined by the progress we have observed.This season the Colts have shown promise in all the ways we hoped they would. They have a key piece in Darius Leonard who can anchor the defense for years to come. Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turay might not be the answers to all the defensive line’s problems, but they have shown promise. Free agent additions like Denico Autry and Eric Ebron have had strong showings and have looked great over stretches.On offense, they seem to have truly “fixed” the offensive line with the incredible performances of their two rookies Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith. Mark Glowinski has been another pleasant surprise, and when healthy this line is one of the better lines in the league. Their tight end group has a lot of talent, though they’ve struggled when Jack Doyle is out, which he has been for much of this season. As a team, they are greatly improved in terms of talent and upside.There are plenty of questions that remain though. The wide receiver group is one of the worst in football. Behind T.Y. Hilton is a vast echoing abyss of nothingness with only the sound of a football being dropped reverberating across its space. The cornerbacks are equally rough, unable to play with consistency from one week to the next. They have made some truly middling quarterbacks look very talented.The defensive line will likely need to be upgraded as well, as guys like Al Woods get older and they continue to look for disruptive pass rushers who can make an impact. The talent they have drafted and signed have no doubt improved the group, and their rookies could continue to develop, but until they can land a true difference making pass rusher, they won’t be able to really take the next step as a defense.They are still a roster with a great deal of need, but with a quarterback playing at a top 5 level and a head coach who has transformed their offense into a much more dynamic and modern attacking group, they have been able to place themselves in a position to compete this season. Because of this, it would be easy to be frustrated if this team doesn’t achieve a playoff berth.We don’t watch teams to see them improve, we want them to win. However, Chris Ballard was pretty straightforward in saying that this process would take time, and a look at the scarce talent hanging around from Ryan Grigson’s drafts (Luck, Hilton, Geathers, Kelly, Clark, Haeg) is all you need to see to know how tall the task was to rehab this roster. It was never going to happen overnight, but it is happening perhaps faster than was fair to expect.Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesThe 2018 draft went perhaps better than any in recent memory, and while it is too early to know for sure how good this class is Reggie Wayne Color Rush Jersey , they have certainly jump started the “rebuild” of this roster. While some like Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson are bona fide stars, there are many that have contributed a great deal and could improve with time.In addition to the impact of the picks made this year, the trade last year with the Jets is the gift that keeps on giving. While the Colts were able to use their picks from the Jets to take Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith, that last 2nd round pick is now starting to look like a pretty nice cherry on top as well. If the season were to end today, it would be the 36th pick in the draft. This year’s 36th pick? Darius Leonard. In other words, there are very good players available at that spot.As it currently stands, the Colts have the opportunity to add 3 picks in the top 50 of the coming draft. If Chris Ballard has a comparable draft to the one he had in 2018 I don’t think it is a reach to say this team has the potential to be a real contender in 2019. On top of their draft, there is the Colts’ cap space for 2019. They’ll have $123.65M available according to Spotrac when the new league year begins. While I don’t expect Ballard to dramatically alter his strategy, I do expect him to spend. He’ll probably re-sign some players, work extensions with a few, and bring in a fair number of free agents if there are solid options are available.Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesThose expecting him to break the bank for players have a) not been paying attention and b) will likely be very disappointed. Overpaying for a player isn’t a good strategy, even if you have the money to do it. In the long run, it hurts the team, and that is not how Ballard operates.He will need to spend, and given how well the Colts did, I expect them to be looking for pieces that might have been considered less likely for them to pursue last season. However, the big name flashy guys are rarely going to be fits for what Chris Ballard is looking for. He has been crystal clear about his philosophy, and that is that you build the primary part of your team’s talent from the draft. However, I do expect him to spend, as well as to reward the play of those in the building who have earned it. On top of the additions to the roster, there is the inherent improvement of a team that is both very young and playing for the first time in a scheme on both offense and defense. The Colts have had more snaps given to 1st and 2nd year players of any team in the NFL this season. Player growth and improvement alone will account for team wide improvement as these players hone their craft.Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck will enter his second season with the same offense. He has only had two other times in his career where his offensive coordinator has remained the same two years in a row. Those years? 2014 and 2016. If you’ll recall, he had pretty good seasons during both those years. If his second year working with Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni yields the same kinds of improvements in terms of his own play, we could easily be looking at an MVP type year for Luck. In other words, the Colts look like a team that has outperformed expectations this season despite having a lot of known holes on their roster. They have all the pieces in place to take the next step forward, and Chris Ballard has shown himself to be level headed https://www.coltsfanshop.com/Rigoberto-Sanchez-Jersey , intentional, and adept at selecting pieces that fit well in the Colts’ system and improve the roster. It has been perplexing to many when we have posted the fan base’s FanPulse results, why Colts fans have remained so optimistic despite some truly disappointing losses and a very rough start to the season. This is the reason. While there have been some bumps this season, over all, it has been a success. We can see the makings of a very good team. What’s more, that reality is not far off. In a back stretch full of games that were virtually “must win” for the Colts, this week that sentiment is even more relevant. The Colts travel to Houston Sunday, and this time it really is a must win game. A loss to the Texans all but assures that the Colts will be staying home in January. With such an impactful game ahead, let’s take a look at the matchups that will define this game.Colts Offensive Line vs Texans Defensive LineThe offensive line of the Colts will look dramatically different when they take the field Sunday from the unit that faced the Texans in their first contest. How different? Well, if C Ryan Kelly is unable to play, which seems likely, the only lineman who played against the Texans in week 4 who will play Sunday is G Quenton Nelson. Although they haven’t been quite as sharp without Ryan Kelly, this is a wildly different unit than the one that allowed 4 sacks and 10 QB hits. Since that game, the team has given up just 5 more sacks. The return of Anthony Castonzo and the emergence of Mark Glowinski at right guard and Braden Smith at right tackle have solidified one of the better lines in football, and Evan Boehm has stepped up to fill in for Ryan Kelly admirably. With that said, that line will face a tough competition on Sunday. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are having great years and will look to be disruptive on the edge and get into the backfield like they did in the first matchup. I don’t expect the Colts’ offensive line to be perfect here, but they’ve faced a lot of very good defensive lines, and I’d be willing to bet that Quenton Nelson is a greatly improved player from the guy who got put on his butt by Clowney in week 4. This will be an important matchup to determine if the offense can get going after two rough weeks, because keeping Andrew Luck upright will be critical.Marlon Mack vs Texans linebackersPhoto by Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesMarlon Mack has had a couple very good games, but hasn’t been a huge impact over the last few weeks. That needs to change if this team plans to make it to see the playoffs. When the Colts have effectively run the ball, it has meant a better balance, less predictability in terms of play calls, and an overall more potent offense. If they can get Marlon Mack going early, it will help establish some rhythm to the offense and set them up for shorter 2nd and 3rd down situations which are much harder to defend.I anticipate that the offensive line will be able to open some holes for Mack. It will then fall to him to take advantage at the second level. His ability to break off chunk plays hasn’t been on display this season as much as it was last year, and they need to see it resurface as this season comes to a close. They’ll need him at his best for this stretch of games Marlon Mack Jersey , and hopefully Frank Reich has a plan to involve him more heavily than last week.T.Y. Hilton vs Texans secondaryPhoto by Tim Warner/Getty ImagesPart of the reason that the Colts need to get Marlon Mack going early is that it will enable them to open up their most significant weapon against the Texans, T.Y. Hilton. If they are able to get the play action game working to Hilton early on, this game could swing in the Colts’ favor quickly. In games where Hilton is doing his thing, the Colts tend to get into a groove, and Hilton has put up stupid numbers against the Texans over the years. If ever they needed him to do so, now is the time. First, however, they need him to make it to a practice and get healthy for the game, which is no guarantee at this point.Anthony Walker vs Lamar MillerPhoto by Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesLamar Miller has had a pretty solid couple of weeks for the Texans. Since week 11 he has topped 100 yards from scrimmage, and his 97-yard run against the Titans is something that defensive players lose sleep over. Anthony Walker will likely be the guy primarily tasked with limiting Miller’s effectiveness in the passing game and as an explosive runner. Walker has gotten better and better as the season has gone on, and I think this is a matchup he is equipped to handle. Darius Leonard of course will play a role in this as well, but ultimately it will come down to Walker playing at his best and making sure the defense is on the same page and doing what they need to in order to limit Miller’s impact. The Colts have played relatively well against the run, but they can sometimes let those big plays get by them, and they cannot afford to do that Sunday. Stopping that means staying disciplined and making sound open field tackles. Those are things the Colts have done very well at times and very poorly at others. Deshaun Watson vs Colts secondaryPhoto by Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesThe Colts secondary has been a bit of a conundrum. At times they have played pretty well. At other times they’ve left us wanting to pull our hair out. We need a good performance this week against Deshaun Watson and a Texans team that has gotten hot. There isn’t anything unbeatable about Watson. Don’t get me wrong, he is not without ability. His athleticism makes it possible to extend plays with his legs, and he uses that when necessary. He is a good quarterback who plays smart football and has the fortune to be throwing the ball to a ridiculous receiver in the form of DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans are undoubtedly lucky to have him. If the Colts want a prayer of impacting this game, it will mean disrupting the rhythm of the receivers getting off the line of scrimmage, being quick and aggressive to react to the ball in the air, and limiting yards after the catch by making good open field tackles on receivers. These are areas they’ve struggled, and Keke Coutee was able to go over 100 yards in their first matchup because of it.The Colts will need to have a plan to minimize the impact Hopkins can have, because with Coutee nursing a hamstring issue, they don’t have a lot of other truly dangerous receivers to deal with. If they let Watson sit comfortably in the pocket and throw to the seam to Hopkins, it is going to be a very long day.
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