The Indianapolis Colts did some retooling this offseason after failing to make the playoffs in 2022.
They brought in a new quarterback, added a couple of known defensive players and selected a new crop of rookies as they look to get back into the postseason.
But not everything is flowers and butterflies, the team still has some work to do as they gear up for the opening game.
We are almost three months away from the regular season kickoff and here are the biggest questions that Indianapolis is facing:
What does the offense look like with Matt Ryan?
The Colts are starting the fifth straight season with a different quarterback to lead the team. Matt Ryan will be looking to bring his leadership and accuracy as a quarterback to this team so they can hit the ground running to start the year.
Ryan brings a different playing style than what Carson Wentz presented so I do expect that Frank Reich will take what was positive for the offense last year and mix more of the passing attack he did with Philip Rivers in 2020.
The veteran quarterback has the smarts to understand when to get the ball out of his hands and can help the younger players develop. Of course, the offense will still run through Jonathan Taylor but the passing attack does have a chance to be more dynamic with Ryan.
It will be interesting to see how Frank Reich tools the offense around Matt Ryan.
How quickly does the defense adjust to Gus Bradley’s scheme?
Indianapolis will have a different defensive coordinator this season after Matt Eberflus left to be the head coach of the Chicago Bears. Gus Bradley takes over his spot on the coaching staff and will be looking to bring his success as a defensive coordinator with him to the team.
This year defense is unique because they do have a strong nucleus of players in the unit but there are acquisitions that will be in the starting lineup. Darius Leonard, DeForest Buckner, and Kenny Moore II among others will be looking to see if they can carry over how they played under Ebertflus to Bradley’s system.
Their experience should help but there may be some old habits that need to change for Bradley. Bradley does have some familiar faces in Yannick Ngakoue and Brandon Facyson that can help players get acclimated to the play calls.
There could be a learning curve but the defense will need to adapt sooner than later so they do not get off to a slow start.
Will the young receivers deliver for the offense?
If you ask most people outside of the Indianapolis organization what their biggest concern for the Colts would be, they would likely say the unproven talent in the receiving corps.
Despite the outside worry, the front office and coaching staff have remained unison about their belief in the younger players in the room. While Matt Ryan should make this offense look different this season, the odds of it finding success will be dependent on the passing attack.
Michael Pittman Jr. gives the veteran quarterback a trusty target but he will need more than him when the team needs to open up things through the air. Alec Pierce was selected to hopefully be that guy but the rookie will have to pick up Frank Reich’s offense quickly to have a larger role. Is this year Parris Campbell stays healthy and makes an impact? Reich hopes so.
Ashton Dulin, Mike Strachan, and Dezmon Patmon all offer some intriguing talent but the offense will need one of them to take their game to the next level. Chris Ballard has a decision to make between now and the season starts, will this group impress enough that he does not have to go into the market, or will it lead to a veteran joining the season before the opening game?
Who gets a new deal?
Chris Ballard isn’t just worried about setting up the team for success for this season but he also has to consider the future of his roster at the same time.
He has worked out deals in the summer in the past as he did with Darius Leonard and Braden Smith last year and has played it right up to the start of the season with Nyheim Hines. There are a number of players that he will have to consider giving an extension to over the next few months.
Quenton Nelson is heading into the final year of his rookie contract and is a vital leader to the team. His contract talks definitely have an impact on the current contract dispute that Kenny Moore II has. The cornerback should get a bump in pay but he does have remaining years on his contract and Ballard will want to get Nelson’s done before he addresses others.
Bobby Okereke is also entering the final year of his rookie contract but with a lot of money already invested into Darius Leonard, he might not be able to get something worked out this summer. Yannick Ngakoue is currently a one-year rental unless Ballard decides he should lock him into a long-term deal after making a deal for him.
Khari Willis is the only other starter that will be a free agent in 2023 but the selection of Nick Cross does put his future with the team in doubt. The use of the franchise tag could play into Ballard’s strategy but I would imagine at least two of the players get something worked out by the end of the summer.
Can the Colts finally win the AFC South?
The Colts won the AFC South nine times in the first 13 years of the division’s existence. They haven’t won it since 2014 and this is a monkey on the back of the Chris Ballard / Frank Reich regime.
The team can talk all they want about wanting to make the playoffs but with how crowded the AFC is, the chances of it happening will skyrocket if they can take care of their divisional opponents. The Tennessee Titans are the reigning champs and have won the last three matchups against Indianapolis. Getting swept last year played a factor in falling out of their playoff spot.
The biggest thorn in this drought has been the problems that they have down in Duval County. The Colts not only haven’t won the AFC South since 2014, but that exact season was also the last time they beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville. They will get an opportunity to end that streak in Week 2 and if they get the job done then that will be the first step in the right direction.
It should be noted that divisional opponents can be a tough win and the Houston Texans will not be a layover like last year. Nobody should be overlooked. Of course, winning the Super Bowl is goal number one, but the most important goal should be winning the division and locking in at least one home playoff game for a deep run.
Who emerges at left tackle?
One of the biggest position battles comes at the blindside spot on the offensive line. Protecting Matt Ryan is a major key to success for the Colts in 2022, and they will want to figure out who the left tackle is sooner rather than later.
The main competition will involve veteran Matt Pryor and rookie third-round pick Bernhard Raimann. Pryor does not have much experience as a starter but showed some flashes during the home stretch of the 2021 season. His game against the Raiders is largely why the Colts felt comfortable re-signing him to a one-year deal over Eric Fisher.
Raimann is still learning the position after moving over from tight end roughly two years ago. His movement skills and ability to pick up the nuances of the position give him a chance in this competition.
Regardless of who is the starter, the Colts will need consistent play at that spot if they want success in 2022.
Can the pass rush make a difference?
While volatility at the quarterback position was a major reason why the Colts missed the playoffs in 2021, it would be negligent to not mention the lack of consistent pass rush.
The unit went almost nonexistent during the fourth quarter of games in 2021, and it led to several collapses in games that should have been won. But now, the addition of Yannick Ngakoue should help boost the group with consistency in Gus Bradley’s scheme.
It will also be interesting to see what Kwity Paye and Dayo Odyeingbo look like going into Year 2. Paye had some flashes during his rookie season while Odeyingbo gets a full offseason of training for the first time since entering the league.
A more consistent pass rush would make a huge difference for the Colts, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if fans wanted to see it before they believed it.
Can they avoid the slow start?
Getting off to a hot start hasn’t been the MO for the Colts over the last few seasons. Whether it has been due to new pieces working together for the first time or simply some bad luck with injuries, the Colts simply had not had the fortune of starting hot in most seasons.
In 2021, the Colts started 1-4 and had to claw their way back into the playoff picture during the second half of the season. They were able to do so, but it would make everything easier if they got off to a faster start than normal.
They have a gauntlet of seven consecutive AFC matchups to open the season, and five of them are against divisional opponents. That whole stretch will have a major say in how the playoff picture looks during the second half.