Unlike the first two teams report cards in the AFC South, the next two teams had quite different seasons. From go almost everyone had the Houston Texans pegged to repeat as division winners. But what not even the biggest optimist in Indianapolis predicted was that the Colts would end up finishing only one game behind Houston in the final standings.
In a season that was all about change in making the transition from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck, the year got off to a bumpy start when it was learned that new head coach Chuck Pagano would have to take a leave of absence due to cancer treatment. What happened next was the kind of sports story you only see in the movies. Let’s take a look at the grades for the 2012 Colts now.
When you have a guy like Peyton Manning under center for thirteen years, the sight of anyone new in that spot is simply foreign. But when it is the highest rated quarterback prospect since John Elway, it’s a little easier to digest.
What Andrew Luck was able to do as a rookie with simply Reggie Wayne and a bunch of guys is incredible. I realize that Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III got all the highlights and recognition, but everyone seemed to miss that Luck broke the rookie passing record with much less talent on the roster than those other two did.
With Luck throwing for nearly 4,400 yards and 23 touchdowns, there wasn’t much the running attack duo of Vick Ballard and Donald Brown had to accomplish other than keep the pass rush honest. However, they did combine for over 1,200 yards in 2012. But the big story, Andrew Luck aside, was the big year from Reggie Wayne.
Most people thought Wayne, at his age, wouldn’t be interested in sticking around Indy for the rebuild. Yet he took probably less money than he could have gotten elsewhere to stay home and not go ring chasing. He was the security blanket Luck needed and responded with one of his best seasons as a pro with 1,355 yards on 106 receptions. Not bad for a guy most said was getting too old to play at a high level anymore.
Here is where this year’s team improved the most over the 2011 team. For starters, they looked like they actually wanted to be there. Whereas last season, they appeared to be just going through the motions until they could get to the golf course. This, of course, all began with the pass rush duo of Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney.
Both guys struggled with injuries at times in 2012, but when they were on the field, it was impossible not to account for them at all times. Combining for thirteen sacks, this allowed guys like Jerry Hughes and Jerrell Freeman to make more plays. And the addition of Vontae Davis paid huge dividends.
When Chuck Pagano was hired, there were questions about if this team had the kind of personnel for the scheme he liked to run. And then when they had a really offense heavy draft, most didn’t expect much from this unit. But it just goes to show that a different mentality in coaching can make a big difference.
With tons of cap space coming up, the Colts should get better in 2013. Sure, their schedule will be tougher than in 2012, but not by too much in a weakened AFC. If they have a good draft and make some hits in free agency, this team could threaten Houston for the division crown next season.
A huge portion of the credit for the success in 2012 needs to go to Bruce Arians, who stepped up in a dire situation and led this club to believe in themselves and grow up quick. Losing him to the Cardinals will certainly hurt next year, but his imprint won’t leave the team just like that. He helped lay a foundation that Chuck Pagano can build off of. I hate the term, but this club is definitely on the right track.
Tagged with: AFC, AFC South, AFC South Report Cards, Andrew Luck, Arizona Cardinals, Bruce Arians, Chuck Pagano, Donald Brown, Dwight Freeney, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jerrell Freeman, Jerry Hughes, Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Report Card, Robert Mathis, Vick Ballard, Vontae Davis