2013 NFL Preview: Indianapolis Colts

Are 2013 Colts Ready to Win AFC South?

The Colts have their eyes set on the AFC South division title.

The Colts have their eyes set on the AFC South division title. (Credit OgreBot)

If there is one negative that fans of the Indianapolis Colts have to deal with entering the 2013 NFL season, it’s this: it’s statistically impossible for the Colts to improve more from 2012 to 2013 than they did from 2011 to 2012. Everyone assumed #1 overall pick Andrew Luck and the new coaching staff would help make Indy respectable again. No one assumed they’d take the franchise from 2-14 to 11-5 and an AFC playoff appearance in one year.

Obviously, another 9-win improvement is impossible. But to the Colts, taking the next step and winning the AFC South this season would certainly suffice.  In order to do so, they must overtake the team which surpassed them for AFC South supremacy two season ago: the Houston Texans.

So, the rebuilding process that was expected after Peyton Manning’s departure didn’t take as long as most imagined. But with an accelerated growth pattern will come an acceleration of fan expectations; surely, the Colts faithful are not prepared to accept a step back in 2013. The 2-14 season in 2011 aside, Indy has only suffered one other season since 1999 in which the franchise did not win at least 10 games.

A winning tradition is a hard habit to break. With Chuck Pagano back on the sidelines at Lucas Oil Stadium, will the ChuckSTRONG movement continue to spread throughout the city of Indianapolis? Or will Andrew Luck experience a sophomore slump that takes the franchise back a step?

Indianapolis Colts: 2012 team stats

Team record: 11-5 (2nd in AFC South, AFC Wild Card)

Total offensive rank: 10th (7th pass, 22nd rush)

Total defensive rank: 26th (21st pass, 29th rush)

2013 Indianapolis Colts: offensive preview

All the press will be focused on Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, as the Colts passing game is fast, effective and revitalized. But the secret to success for the Indianapolis offense in 2013 will be achieving balance. Ahmad Bradshaw joins the team; the former NY Giants will be asked to lead the run game – and more importantly, to stay healthy. When he’s at full strength, Bradshaw is lightning quick and shows an ability to break tackles beyond most players his size. But durability is an issue. If Bradshaw falters, 3 backs will compete for the #2 job: Vick Ballard, Delone Carter, and Donald Brown.

The tandem of offensive tackles are talented. Gosder Cherilus joins the team in free agency from Detroit to play right tackle, and LT Anthony Castonzo returns for his 4th season out of Boston College. 3rd round draft pick Hugh Thornton will push RG Mike McGlynn for a starting job alongside Donald Thomas and the awesomely-named Samson Satele on the interior of the offensive line. The unit will try to improve on the 41.0 sacks they allowed in 2012.

The ageless Reggie Wayne returns to Indianapolis, trying to attain his 9th 1,000 yard campaign in the last 10 seasons. The relatively unheralded T.Y. Hilton had a strong rookie campaign, totaling 861 yards and 7 TDs. The pair will try to become the first Colts WR tandem to each have 1,000 yards receiving since Wayne and Dallas Clark did so in 2009. Darrius Heyward-Bey looks for a change of scenery as a 3rd WR as he leaves the Oakland Raiders and joins the Colts. Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen are the top tight ends exiting camp, and 2013 “Mr. Irrelevant” Justice Cunningham will fight for a roster spot.

2013 Indianapolis Colts: defensive preview

The Indianapolis base 3-4 defense must improve on its performance from a season ago. The Colts were outscored by 30 points on the season, and were -12 in turnover ratio. It’s a defense that looks somewhat different, as longtime Colt Dwight Freeney has moved out of town. In his place, the Colts hope to develop a strong edge rusher in Florida State’s Bjoern Werner, the 24th overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Safety appears to be a strength for this Colts team, with Antoine Bethea and LaRon Landry occupying the starting roles. They are flanked by starting corners Greg Toler and Vontae Davis, who are backed up by Cassius Vaughn and Darius Butler (who could contend for a starting position).

Ricky Jean-Francois joins the defensive line from the San Francisco 49ers in free agency, playing alongside DT Aubrayo Franklin and DE Cory Redding on the 3-4 front. While Bjoern Werner played DE in college, he will likely be asked to transition to OLB in the Colts’ scheme. On a whole, Indy must become a more disciplined defensive team; the Colts ranked dead last in defensive penalties in 2012, with a whopping 128 for a league-worst 1,208 yards.

2013 Indianapolis Colts: schedule includes AFC West & NFC West teams

If the Colts are going to make back-to-back trips to the NFL playoffs, they’ll have to navigate a schedule that includes the full AFC West and NFC West divisions. The silver lining in that set of 8 games is that Indy avoids tough trips to Denver and Seattle, playing the Broncos and Seahawks at home. (The Broncos game, where Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis, is slated for the Week 7 Sunday Night Football slot on NBC.)

Indianapolis faces five teams with losing records in 2012 at home, and 5 such teams on the road as well. The potential for victory is tangible, but if the Colts are to win the AFC South, they must take care of the two games that arguably matter most on their schedule: Week 9 at Houston, and Week 15 vs. Houston. Beat the Texans once, the Colts can dream of that AFC South championship. Beat them twice, it’s almost certainly theirs.

Here’s the chronological home and away schedule for the 2013 Indianapolis Colts:

Home: Oakland, Miami, Seattle, Denver, St. Louis, Tennessee, Houston, Jacksonville

Away: San Francisco, Jacksonville, San Diego, Houston, Tennessee, Arizona, Cincinnati, Kansas City

 

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