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SPOT: What do the Colts need to Improve for Success in 2013?


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#1 ONLINE   Jake Arthur

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Posted 07 August 2013 - 08:11 PM

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As much luck as most people think led to Indianapolis’ success in 2012, there was just as much talent and heart. Dwayne Allen’s “drop” towards the end of the game in Week 8 in Tennessee was luck, but the play to end that game – Vick Ballard’s diving touchdown in overtime was heart. Andrew Luck and Reggie Wayne putting the team on their backs to come back from an 18-point deficit and win against Green Bay in Week 5 was heart. However, regardless of how well the team performed and how many breaks they caught in 2012, they have some major issues to correct heading into 2013.

Offensive Line
The Problem: Last year, the Colts had one of the worst offensive lines in football. There were injuries among most of the starters, as well as their backups. That led to little to no continuity as a group – nevermind the fact that some of the players who were forced into action were just overmatched.

The lack of cohesion as a group showed, as they allowed the 9th-most sacks in the league with 41 and the 2nd-most hits on their quarterback, Andrew Luck with 116. That is 2.5 sacks allowed per game and 7.25 QB hits per game – that is atrocious. However, the sack and hit numbers were not all the offensive line’s fault. Running backs are counted on to provide pass protection as well. Andrew Luck himself can also shoulder some of the blame for the high sack/hit numbers, as he often would not give up on a play and would hold onto the ball much too long. Luck’s “never say die” mentality coupled with former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians’ pass-first, vertical passing offense is going to result in sacks no matter the protection situation. Right, Ben Roethlisberger?

The Solution: The Colts made protecting Andrew Luck their first priority heading into this offseason. After Arians departed for Arizona, they replaced him with Luck, Coby Fleener and Griff Whalen’s Stanford offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton. Although Hamilton has said he would adopt some principles of Arians’ offense, Hamilton runs a more conservative scheme that will not put Luck in the line of fire as much. It requires bigger offensive linemen, more emphasis on the run game, as well as quicker passing plays (including the more frequent use of check-downs.)

In regards to the offensive line, the team went out and upgraded their left guard and right tackle positions with the additions of Donald Thomas and Gosder Cherilus, respectively. Along with the free agent additions, the team added center Khaled Holmes and guard Hugh Thornton through the draft. Unfortunately, Thornton and Holmes have been unable to participate in training camp thus far due to injury which will likely hamper their development and readiness for regular season action.

Overall, the front office has done a good job upgrading the offensive line. The line should be improved as long as they can avoid injury. However, the line may experience some trouble until Thornton and Holmes are ready to contribute, as regular starters Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn struggled last year.

Defensive Line
The Problem: The defensive line is another unit that suffered through injuries all last year. Starting defensive end Cory Redding only missed two games, but was dinged up pretty much the whole time. The other starting defensive end, Fili Moala only played in 8 games until a torn ACL ended his season. The starting nose tackle was converted 4-3 defensive tackle Antonio Johnson, now with the Tennessee Titans.

Further at nose tackle, 2012 draft pick Josh Chapman missed the entire 2012 season after tearing his ACL in his final season at the University of Alabama – an injury and recovery time that was likely prolonged by playing several games afterward on the injured knee. Not a lot was expected out of Chapman last year, as it was mostly a “redshirt” type of year for him.

As a group, the Colt defense ranked 29th in the league in run defense, allowing 137.5 yards per game, as well as 23rd in the league in sacks with 32. In a 3-4 defense, getting pressure on the quarterback starts with the line. They are to occupy blockers so that the linebackers can get through the lanes and get to the quarterback. An improved defensive line should be able to help improve both of these statistics.

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The Solution: Chapman had the entire 2012 season to rehab his knee and is said to be “110%” by Redding. Chapman will be competing with veteran nose tackle and free agent acquisition Aubrayo Franklin for the starting nose tackle spot. Franklin has never been a standout, but he brings a consistent, veteran presence who has experience in this type of defense. He may not be the top option, but he will at least be reliable as long as age doesn’t catch up with him. Chapman on the other hand is coming up all aces in training camp. He is your “space eater” type of nose tackle who can consistently occupy double-teams, which will allow linebackers space to get to the ball carrier and pass rushers lanes to get to the quarterback. I am not as weary about players previously suffering ACL injuries as other people are. There are examples of guys who have repeatedly torn their ACL’s, but we have just got to keep our fingers crossed that Chapman can stay healthy.

To start ahead of Moala, the team brought in veteran defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois. Francois was never a starter in San Francisco, but that can partly be attributed to the quality of players the 49ers had on their line. The fanbase is hopeful that Francois can live up to the expectations the team had for him when they signed him.

Last year’s injuries also gave playing time to young players like Ricardo Mathews, Drake Nevis, Martin Tevaseu and Lawrence Guy. These are not regular starting-caliber guys, but they will at least know what to do when they are on the field. Depth should be a big help this year if there are any serious or lingering injuries.

Defensive Backfield
The Problem: Even though this unit had injuries, as well, the biggest problems were veteran players adjusting to the new defensive scheme, and the team having to rely on non-starting players to play quite a bit. The top example of this was Cassius Vaughn replacing Jerraud Powers at the starting cornerback spot. Vaughn was not pegged to be a starting corner going into the season, but because Powers got injured and went on Injured Reserve, Vaughn was forced to start the final 12 games including the playoffs. This did not go too well, as Vaughn was a young player still learning the defense and was constantly burned as a result. Even Powers was not doing well in the time he played. The other starting cornerback Vontae Davis underperformed and missed time due to injury until the last handful of games of the season when he really turned it around. Starting strong safety Tom Zbikowski really struggled in coverage when he was healthy enough to be on the field. His replacement Joe Lefeged performed a bit better, but did not jump off the screen by any means.

The unit was consistently torched for large chunks of yardage through the air. They finished ranked 21st in the league in passing yards allowed per game. Total, they allowed an opposing receiver to gain 100 yards in twelve of their seventeen games including the playoff loss to Baltimore. This included a seven-game stretch during the middle of the season, as well as four occurrences against receivers with the last name “Johnson” (Stevie, Calvin and Andre twice!)

The Solution: Although a risky one, the team made a bold move in signing free agent Greg Toler to start opposite of Vontae Davis. The move is risky because Toler has only appeared in 38 out of a possible 64 career games due to numerous injuries. The corner even missed the entire 2011 season due to a knee injury. If Toler stays healthy then this could be a big payoff. He has much more experience in the Colts style of defense than former start Powers had. He is also bigger and has more range than Powers. It remains to be seen what Toler can give you as a starter for 14-16 games, but I am excited about the possibilities.

The team got rid of Zbikowski and replaced him with free agent pickup LaRon Landry. Although most would agree this is an upgrade from Zbikowski, those same people would consider Landry a large injury risk. I am not as worried. At the same time, fans and writers are buzzing about the prospect of a healthy safety duo of Antoine Bethea and Landry. The last time Bethea had a safety next to him of that caliber was Bob Sanders. The pair helped the team win a Super Bowl together, and Bethea had arguably his best years next to Sanders.

Lastly for the defensive backs, all of them should be playing where they are supposed to as long as there are no big injuries up top (I feel like that injury bit keeps popping up.) Darius Butler and Cassius Vaughn will be great for their nickel and dime cornerback roles, as well as Lefeged and Sergio Brown playing key special teams and spot safety roles. One negative about the safeties is that if Bethea or Landry go down, that spot will really be hurting and they would likely have to bring in a free agent off the street or someone in from the practice squad.

Injuries
The Problem: Back to the subject of injuries. Yes, everything obviously depends on injuries. The Patriots are going to be good as long as Tom Brady is healthy, as well as Aaron Rodgers with the Packers – it is an obvious statement. However, for the Colts, they are a team that has been plagued by serious injuries, and the statement rings more clearly. They have plenty of players who have had a history of being seriously hurt or dinged up, so health is a big, big factor in their success.

In 2012, the Colts had injuries to several key players including the aforementioned Chapman, Powers, Davis and Moala, but also to Dwight Freeney, Coby Fleener and Winston Justice. Whether Freeney was a good fit for the new 3-4 defensive alignment or not, it is pretty certain he would have done at least a little bit better with a relatively healthy ankle – especially with all the torque he depends on for his moves against offensive linemen. Also, even though Winston Justice was not the best right tackle in the world, he was a better option than his backup. He suffered lingering effects of concussions throughout the year and missed four games. With Fleener, he also vastly underperformed in his rookie season. He suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out for four games. The injury was not the only thing that led to his ineffectiveness, though. Surprisingly, we did not see the much-anticipated chemistry of his with long-time teammate Andrew Luck. Overall, he did not appear comfortable yet in Arians’ “Air It Out” offense.

The Solution: There is really not much teams can do to prevent injuries. With some injuries, if they are going to happen, then they are just going to happen. However, you can prepare for injuries by building quality depth and competition behind the starting players.

So far, I feel like this is what the Colts have done best during the offseason. They signed veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to back Luck up and mentor him and third-string quarterback Chandler Harnish. Not only will this help Luck’s mental development, but he should still be more than capable of stepping in and doing a serviceable job in the doomsday scenario that Luck gets hurt. Every Colts fan remembers the garbage season of 2011 when Peyton Manning was not available (although it put the team in position to obtain Luck) and Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter turned their way over to loss after loss.

Aside from quarterback, the front office also ensured that there would be quality competition amongst the defensive line, linebackers and cornerbacks. The bottom line is that the team is much deeper than last year based on the amount of playing time the young players have experienced – many of them in a starting capacity, as well as the additions the team has made through free agency and the draft. Many of the additions have come under scrutiny, so we will all have to wait and see how the quality on the field turns out.

Overall, I feel like the team did try to address each weakness they had last season. Some of them seem like no brainers, others we will have to trust the decision-makers on. This season will be very interesting, no doubt. We should begin to have some questions answered as the pre-season unfolds and the regular season gets underway. So far, Ryan Grigson has not given us any reason not to trust him, so I consider myself fully on board.

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#2 OFFLINE   darkwingj

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Posted 08 August 2013 - 02:50 AM

We'll make improvements with new OC Pep Hamliton and the new players signed and drafted into the Colts

#3 ONLINE   Jake Arthur

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Posted 08 August 2013 - 09:40 AM

We'll make improvements with new OC Pep Hamliton and the new players signed and drafted into the Colts

I like your thinking - I'm hoping the transition goes smoothly.


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#4 ONLINE   Blake Meek

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Posted 08 August 2013 - 08:49 PM

I like the Colts direction, but I'm among the people that think they take a step back this year. I'm not sure the end of the game magic will happen 2 years in a row. 7-1 in games decided by 7 points or less isn't the norm.


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#5 ONLINE   Jake Arthur

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Posted 08 August 2013 - 09:09 PM

I like the Colts direction, but I'm among the people that think they take a step back this year. I'm not sure the end of the game magic will happen 2 years in a row. 7-1 in games decided by 7 points or less isn't the norm.

I can get down with that. I'm just optimistic that those lucky situations from last year will turn into consistency this year. I think they'll be good enough to not have to rely on magic.

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#6 ONLINE   Blake Meek

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Posted 08 August 2013 - 09:14 PM

I can get down with that. I'm just optimistic that those lucky situations from last year will turn into consistency this year. I think they'll be good enough to not have to rely on magic.

I'm just not sure I see it with a lack of an offensive line and a still poor defense. Bradshaw more than likely won't stay healthy and the running game won't be great either. If picking I'd say 7-8 wins this year.


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#7 OFFLINE   jhutch

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Posted 08 August 2013 - 10:32 PM

I'm also of the opinion that Luck and the Colts take a step back this year. Luck can't get away with as many mistakes this year. I'm expecting 7-8 wins as well.

#8 OFFLINE   Kristian D'Ignazio

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Posted 08 August 2013 - 10:50 PM

I'm also of the opinion that Luck and the Colts take a step back this year. Luck can't get away with as many mistakes this year. I'm expecting 7-8 wins as well.

 

He's also going to be in a much more protected offense this year.

 

Bruce Arians is not around to chuck the guy to the wolves. At some points last season it was disgusting to watch the sheer reliance of Luck to create big play after big play. With Pep Hamilton calling the shots, there will be a new direction on offense. A type of system that will allow Andrew Luck to make more safe, consistent throws, while incorporating a steady diet of the running game.


Edited by Kristian D'Ignazio, 08 August 2013 - 10:51 PM.

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#9 ONLINE   Blake Meek

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Posted 08 August 2013 - 11:05 PM

I don't think it'll matter how safe they are. With a bad oline and bad defense I don't see them being as good this year.
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#10 OFFLINE   Kristian D'Ignazio

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Posted 08 August 2013 - 11:46 PM

I don't think it'll matter how safe they are. With a bad oline and bad defense I don't see them being as good this year.

 

 

The Colts invested a boat-load of their future in Andrew Luck, and Pep Hamilton has every intention of keeping the franchise standing upright. By including many more three-step drops in the offense, Luck will be making quicker reads, and will be letting the ball go much quicker to avoid unnecessary hits. On the other hand, last year, Bruce Arians would not hesitate in obvious passing situations to spread the field and leave minimal protection in for Luck. He would constantly live and die by the deep shot which often left Luck to be pressured, hit, or sacked. In addition, Bruce Arians would often draw up balanced game-plans to begin the game, but would often abandon the running game throughout crucial stretches. These tendencies are an absolute nightmare for a young signal caller. In fact, he's lucky to have had the absolute pleasure of coaching Manning, Roethlisberger, and Luck, because I'm not so sure that type of mindset would have fared quite well for other quarterbacks. 

 

Ryan Grigson has made improvements to the Colts offensive line. The additions of Donald Thomas, Gosder Cherilus, and Hugh Thornton/Khaled Holmes will tremendously improve the woeful protection. While these players may not be future stars down the line, they are necessary pieces that will stop-gap the need, and will allow the offense to run a more balanced attack. I'd be willing to bet we won't see Andrew Luck slinging the ball 627 times throughout the duration of next season.

 

Again, on defense, the Colts have made improvements. Last year was the transition phase to the 34 defense under Greg Manusky. After playing musical chairs on defense in order to find the correct scheme fits, the Colts have started to assemble the pieces that will allow to operate a successful 34 look on defense. In fact, the front seven has improved leaps and bounds from last year. The Colts were forced to try to play Robert Mathis in space extensively last season, as Dwight Freeney was given the reigns of rushing the passer. However, the additions of Werner/Walden will allow Mathis to slide back to a role of familiarity, and that is harassing the opposing quarterback. In the secondary, the Colts have once again only bolstered their depth this off-season. The removal of Zbikowski (good riddance Tom) and insertion of LaRon Landry adds a much needed element of toughness in the defensive backfield. Not only will Landry help immensely against the run game, he will relieve a lot of duty from Antoine Bethea, allowing him to slide back into playing more of a true free safety in center field. At corner, the addition of Greg Toler from Arizona helps the depth out extensively. Vontae Davis proved during the final regular season stretch that he can be counted on as the CB1 in charge of shutting down the best opposing wide-out. The problem last year was solely depth. With Toler at CB2, Darius Butler is able to step in at his most natural position being the nickel corner. With Vaughn and Gordy rounding out the final positions at corner, there really shouldn't be a sense of worry for this secondary. 

 

While most teams went out throwing their cash at the marquee free agents trying to achieve paper championships, Ryan Grigson stuck to his guns all along. He focused on bringing in players who fit the scheme and will be able to suit roles that have been proven to be weak points for this team. At this point, making vague claims like a "bad defense" will be an issue for this team is hard to accept. Especially when on defense last year the Colts finished 15th in points allowed per game in the NFL. A spot that places them above the likes of the Bengals, 49ers, and Seahawks. No, I am not saying the Colts have near the talent on defense compared to those teams. However, don't be so quick to throw that defense into the abyss. They are definitely making positive strides, and will continue to emerge into the realm of being a solid defense in the NFL. 

 

Don't get me wrong, I don't think the Colts are going to be contending for the Super Bowl next season, but they are not going to be the slouch you are making them out to be, at all.


Edited by Kristian D'Ignazio, 08 August 2013 - 11:51 PM.

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#11 ONLINE   Jake Arthur

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Posted 09 August 2013 - 10:24 AM

I'm just not sure I see it with a lack of an offensive line and a still poor defense. Bradshaw more than likely won't stay healthy and the running game won't be great either. If picking I'd say 7-8 wins this year.

Our offensive line draft picks, Khaled Holmes and Hugh Thornton being hurt right now is definitely a big blow to them being ready to play as rookies.  They'll be back, but they're missing valuable time.  Both of them had been projected to take over starting roles by the time the season was over.

 

I think because of scheme, the running game will be improved over last year.  Hamilton wants to run more, and so they will.  We have brought in linemen who are better at run blocking.  Even if Bradshaw isn't healthy the whole year, I think Ballard is better than people give him credit for.  A lot of it comes down to coaching and scheme.  Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak have made 1,000 yard runners out of a ton of running backs because of their scheme and because they want to establish the run.

 

There will be a few teams we face this year that will be tough to run against, like Houston (x2), San Fran and San Francisco, but I don't think 1,000 for one of the two with Ballard or Bradshaw is out of the question.  Just hitting 1,000 isn't what it used to be nowadays, anyways.


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#12 ONLINE   Jake Arthur

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Posted 09 August 2013 - 10:26 AM

I'm also of the opinion that Luck and the Colts take a step back this year. Luck can't get away with as many mistakes this year. I'm expecting 7-8 wins as well.

My thing is that I don't think there will be as many mistakes made, and that will be the difference between the team regressing or progressing.  We rely a ton on young players, and a majority of them have a full 16 games, plus a playoff game under their belts.  They played like veterans half the time last year, so I'm hopeful they wouldn't all regress.

 

The beautiful thing about this team is the depth they've created through free agency, the draft and how many young uys had to play and start last year because of significant injuries.


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#13 ONLINE   Jake Arthur

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Posted 09 August 2013 - 10:31 AM

The Colts invested a boat-load of their future in Andrew Luck, and Pep Hamilton has every intention of keeping the franchise standing upright. By including many more three-step drops in the offense, Luck will be making quicker reads, and will be letting the ball go much quicker to avoid unnecessary hits. On the other hand, last year, Bruce Arians would not hesitate in obvious passing situations to spread the field and leave minimal protection in for Luck. He would constantly live and die by the deep shot which often left Luck to be pressured, hit, or sacked. In addition, Bruce Arians would often draw up balanced game-plans to begin the game, but would often abandon the running game throughout crucial stretches. These tendencies are an absolute nightmare for a young signal caller. In fact, he's lucky to have had the absolute pleasure of coaching Manning, Roethlisberger, and Luck, because I'm not so sure that type of mindset would have fared quite well for other quarterbacks. 

 

Ryan Grigson has made improvements to the Colts offensive line. The additions of Donald Thomas, Gosder Cherilus, and Hugh Thornton/Khaled Holmes will tremendously improve the woeful protection. While these players may not be future stars down the line, they are necessary pieces that will stop-gap the need, and will allow the offense to run a more balanced attack. I'd be willing to bet we won't see Andrew Luck slinging the ball 627 times throughout the duration of next season.

 

Again, on defense, the Colts have made improvements. Last year was the transition phase to the 34 defense under Greg Manusky. After playing musical chairs on defense in order to find the correct scheme fits, the Colts have started to assemble the pieces that will allow to operate a successful 34 look on defense. In fact, the front seven has improved leaps and bounds from last year. The Colts were forced to try to play Robert Mathis in space extensively last season, as Dwight Freeney was given the reigns of rushing the passer. However, the additions of Werner/Walden will allow Mathis to slide back to a role of familiarity, and that is harassing the opposing quarterback. In the secondary, the Colts have once again only bolstered their depth this off-season. The removal of Zbikowski (good riddance Tom) and insertion of LaRon Landry adds a much needed element of toughness in the defensive backfield. Not only will Landry help immensely against the run game, he will relieve a lot of duty from Antoine Bethea, allowing him to slide back into playing more of a true free safety in center field. At corner, the addition of Greg Toler from Arizona helps the depth out extensively. Vontae Davis proved during the final regular season stretch that he can be counted on as the CB1 in charge of shutting down the best opposing wide-out. The problem last year was solely depth. With Toler at CB2, Darius Butler is able to step in at his most natural position being the nickel corner. With Vaughn and Gordy rounding out the final positions at corner, there really shouldn't be a sense of worry for this secondary. 

 

While most teams went out throwing their cash at the marquee free agents trying to achieve paper championships, Ryan Grigson stuck to his guns all along. He focused on bringing in players who fit the scheme and will be able to suit roles that have been proven to be weak points for this team. At this point, making vague claims like a "bad defense" will be an issue for this team is hard to accept. Especially when on defense last year the Colts finished 15th in points allowed per game in the NFL. A spot that places them above the likes of the Bengals, 49ers, and Seahawks. No, I am not saying the Colts have near the talent on defense compared to those teams. However, don't be so quick to throw that defense into the abyss. They are definitely making positive strides, and will continue to emerge into the realm of being a solid defense in the NFL. 

 

Don't get me wrong, I don't think the Colts are going to be contending for the Super Bowl next season, but they are not going to be the slouch you are making them out to be, at all.

Yes, yes, yes.  What I'm finding is that people don't seem to think the team has made any changes from last year, or any that they have have been regressive steps.  I see the moves they've made as depth-building and scheme-fitting (a couple may just be replacing an apple with an apple).  Pagano wasn't going to have every piece of his defense in place in year #1, but now in year #2 they are much closer to what he wants.


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#14 ONLINE   Blake Meek

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Posted 09 August 2013 - 08:50 PM

I just don't see how they have improved enough to stay at the record they had last year. Lucky trends normalize themselves. Wayne is another year older. I just don't see it.
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#15 ONLINE   Jake Arthur

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Posted 10 August 2013 - 01:29 AM

I just don't see how they have improved enough to stay at the record they had last year. Lucky trends normalize themselves. Wayne is another year older. I just don't see it.

The D-Line will be better. RJF an upgrade over the 2nd and 3rd stringers we have now (they had to start due to Moala tearing ACL last year) and Chapman should be a major upgrade

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#16 ONLINE   Jake Arthur

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Posted 10 August 2013 - 01:37 AM

The D-Line will be better. RJF an upgrade over the 2nd and 3rd stringers we have now (they had to start due to Moala tearing ACL last year) and Chapman should be a major upgrade

Chapman a major upgrade over Antonio Johnson.
The linebackers remain to be seen, but LaRon Landry is also an upgrade over Tom Zbikowski. That didn't go as planned. I just think they did a good job upgrading their weaknesses on D. Everyone here is really optimistic about Werner, too.

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#17 OFFLINE   Kristian D'Ignazio

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Posted 10 August 2013 - 02:13 AM

I just don't see how they have improved enough to stay at the record they had last year. Lucky trends normalize themselves. Wayne is another year older. I just don't see it.

 

I just told you why/how they improved.

 

No, I'm not a Colts fan championing they are going to compete for the Super Bowl. However, they definitely will be battling for the postseason yet again.

 

There is no reason why they can't be seen as a Wild Card team if they stay healthy.


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#18 OFFLINE   William Watts

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Posted 10 August 2013 - 01:18 PM

Excellent work Jake


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#19 ONLINE   Jake Arthur

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Posted 10 August 2013 - 02:48 PM

Excellent work Jake

Thanks, W2.  That's your new nickname I just created for you, by the way in case you've never had it before haha.


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#20 OFFLINE   William Watts

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Posted 10 August 2013 - 02:53 PM

My initials are actually WWII, since I'm the second.

 

You can call me whatever you want if you keep writing stuff like that, well done.


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