Now that the NFL referee labor dispute has been resolved, the Colts go on a much needed bye to sort out their own problems. At 1-2 the Colts are tied with Jacksonville, Tennessee, and are two games behind the Texans with tough games against Green Bay, Houston, and New England coming up this season. Who couldn’t use a to-do list? Here are some of the Colts top priorities that need immediate attention.
1. Kickstart the running game. The Colts running game is in dire straits. Without an effective running back, Andrew Luck found himself in third and long situations repeatedly in the 22-17 loss to the Jaguars Sunday. In three shorts weeks, Andrew Luck has amassed 122 pass attempts for 846 yards and 80 yards rushing. Luck desperately needs running game that does not include him. Even Peyton Manning had Edgerrin James in the early years but right now the running back committee of Donald Brown and company is not working. The dinged up offensive line may be contributing to the problem (more on that later), but it seems that the running backs cannot seem to make the big plays to complement the passing game.
2. Stop the run. It is quite astonishing that the Colts are perennially bad against the run. They face the Jaguars and Maurice Jones-Drew every year twice a year and it is as predictable as the sunrise and sunset that MJD will have some sort of record-breaking performance against the Colts. This past Sunday he rushed for 177 yards, 1 touchdown, and now averages over 100 yards per game against the Colts. How is that possible when the Jaguars have no other weapons on offense to protect against?
3. Plug up the gaping holes in the offensive line. The Colts released Trai Essex this week but continue to have injuries on the offensive line. Essex was just signed this month to beef up an already thin offensive line with three starters out. The offensive line has been collapsing around Luck forcing him to scramble or hurry and the loss of Essex is worrisome. Center Samson Satele and offensive guard Joe Reitz may be returning on October 7th, but Essex added some much needed veteran depth to the line.
4. Deal with cornerback woes/injuries. Both Justin Long (groin) and Vontae Davis (ankle) were hurt in Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars. The Colts expect them to be back after the bye week. If that is the case, why did the Colts drop Essex in order to sign cornerback Darius Butler? Butler was cut by Carolina during training camp but does have extensive experience on special teams. Is this a foreboding of how serious the cornerback injuries may be or worse, that that the Colts have diminishing confidence in Davis and /or Long?
5. Incorporate the tight ends more into the offensive scheme. Where is Coby Fleener? Andrew Luck’s favorite target at Stanford who was the second-round draft pick, has yet to make an impact since Week 1. In the Jaguars game, Fleener did not have a single catch. It may be rookie growing pains, but counterpart Dwayne Allen, drafted in the third round, was the favorite tight end with 5 catches for 35 yards. The Colts spent their second and third round picks on tight ends this year, and they need to start making an impact on offense and play with more consistency.
The good news is that several players out with injuries are scheduled to return after the bye to play in the October 7th game against Green Bay: outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, inside linebacker Pat Angerer, offensive guard Joe Reitz, and center Samson Satele who returned for the Jacksonville game but lasted only the first half due to recurring knee issues. The bye week may be early this year but it is much needed for the Colts to recover and regroup.