This is a huge year for the Chris Ballard and Frank Reich era. The pair have kept the Indianapolis Colts afloat following the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck, but with that being further in the past, they can’t use that as an excuse anymore.
The Colts have only made it to the playoffs once since Luck’s retirement before the 2019 season. Last year’s season-ending loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths and a postseason appearance will be the only way to fix it.
The Colts haven’t been to the AFC Championship game since 2014, which was also the last time they won the AFC South. Fans are itching for a deep playoff run this season and they are ready for the organization to finally take advantage of the talent on the roster.
Indianapolis has gained some positive momentum from the offseason and they have an opportunity to carry that into the playoffs this season.
If the Colts wind up making the playoffs, it’s likely going to be because of a combination of these reasons.
Matt Ryan’s arrival sparks the offense
AP Photo/Darron Cummings
When the Colts made the trade for Matt Ryan, it showed that Chris Ballard understood that this roster is ready to win now and they need the right guy at quarterback to get the job done.
The 37-year-old isn’t getting any younger and is looking to add a Super Bowl win to his resume before he hangs up the cleats. It’s fair to say that Carson Wentz not only played his part in the loss to the Jaguars that knocked the Colts out of the playoff picture, but he also cost the team other games throughout the 2021 season.
Ryan’s different style of play will help keep the ball with the offense and not put the defense in a bad position. Players on the roster have been talking up Ryan’s leadership and presence in the locker room throughout the summer. The belief in their new quarterback will galvanize the team during the preseason to help avoid the typical slow starts to the season of the past.
The addition of Matt Ryan should result in two-to-three extra wins.
The defense steps up with new additions
Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
The NFL continues to be more of an offensive-friendly league, but the teams that have a defense that can disrupt the flow of a great offense tend to find themselves in the postseason.
This year’s unit will be coached for the first time by Gus Bradley. The longtime defensive coordinator has proof of success during his time with the Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Chargers, and Las Vegas Raiders.
The Colts’ defensive coaching staff also added the quiet addition of John Fox, who will be the senior defensive assistant. The amount of experience that Bradley and Fox have in the NFL should help when they put together their game plan.
It should help that Bradley has playmakers on all three levels of the ball. The addition of Yannick Ngakoue gives the Indianapolis defense a proven pass rusher. If Kwity Paye can break out in Year 2, which is expected by several pundits, then they could form a deadly pass rush tandem. DeForest Buckner will make it easy for them by giving them one-on-one opportunities.
The Colts’ defense will be looking to continue creating turnovers under Bradley as they did last season. It helps when you have Darius Leonard and Kenny Moore II on the unit. Stephon Gilmore gives Bradley a lockdown cornerback that he can trust. The biggest key to success for the unit will be Julian Blackmon staying healthy and if Isaiah Rodgers has taken the next step in his development.
The defense has a lot of potential in Indianapolis, and it can help the team win some games if they stay healthy and there are no bumps when they are learning the new system early in the season.
A softer division
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Winning the division is any team’s easiest path to the postseason. Outside of winning the Super Bowl, winning the AFC South has been the most elusive goal for the Colts since 2014.
That drought needs to come to an end in order for Indianapolis to crack into the playoffs. It does help that the division is considered one of the worst in the NFL. The Tennessee Titans have run the AFC South for the last few years, so they stand right in front of the Colts’ chances of making the playoffs.
The departure of AJ Brown will have an impact on their offense. Teams can gear up to slow down Derrick Henry without the worry of Brown winning his matchups. Most analysts think that Tennessee is set to take a step back in 2022, so this is the opening that Indianapolis has to take advantage of. But Mike Vrabel does get the best out of his roster so the Titans won’t give up their crown that easily.
Outside of Tennessee, the path looks a lot easier for Indianapolis. The Jacksonville Jaguars have been a thorn in the side for the Colts, but rarely are they in a position to win the division at the end of the season. They should be much better under Doug Pederson and with Trevor Lawrence entering his second season. Their still a young team so there will be growing pains and the experience that Indianapolis has should give them the edge.
The Houston Texans still have a lot of work to do with their roster and if last season was any indication, the Colts have control in that rivalry for the time being.
This season will be the first one in quite some time that Indianapolis is favored to win the AFC South.
The difference-making Jonathan Taylor
Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
The Colts almost got into the playoffs last season on the back of their bonafide stud that they have in the backfield. Jonathan Taylor is considered one of the best running backs in the NFL and he is only entering his third season.
His ability to wear down a defense and hit a home run at any point of the game will make life easier on Matt Ryan. The quarterback-running back tandem will be a vital key to Indianapolis making the playoffs this season. Taylor showed that he can close out games for his team last year and he will be a reason why the Colts will win matchups throughout the 2022 season as well.
A fun fact about Taylor heading into the season is that he is currently on the longest active streak of 24 games in a row with at least 50 rushing yards. Priest Holmes owns the record with 38 games so Taylor can break it this season.
Frank Reich enters the next tier
Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Frank Reich is entering his fifth season as the Colts’ head coach and he is in a back-against-the-wall type of situation. Jim Irsay is ready for results with the current roster and Reich understands he has to deliver for the owner.
He’s shown that there shouldn’t be a reason to believe he will fail in this situation. Reich’s confidence in going for it in fourth-down situations and being successful in doing so. Not wavering following Andrew Luck’s retirement and keeping his team competitive that season. He’s been to the playoffs in two of his first four seasons with the team and the last time he did that was with Philip Rivers.
Matt Ryan finds himself in the same situation as Rivers. Joining a new organization after spending over a decade with the same team. Reich was able to retool his offense to suit Rivers and it helped get the team into the playoffs. Reich’s ability to connect with his quarterback and to fit the system around him is outstanding.
Even though it didn’t result in a playoff appearance, he did help Carson Wentz look like a competent quarterback in the 2021 season and it cut down the interceptions for him. It should also be noted how he was able to adjust the offense to Jacoby Brissett in a short time after finding out Luck was walking away.
Frank Reich hasn’t backed down from a challenge and with the importance of going on a postseason run, I expect that he will get the job done. He’s set to take his team to the next level as a head coach.