There is an old saying that goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same. ” That adage seems to apply to the Colts, and more namely the AFC South. Since the AFC South was formed in 2002 the Colts have been the dominant factor in the division, winning eight division titles, going to two Super Bowls, one of those they won. The Titans and the Texans have both won two division titles, and the Jaguars have shown flashes at times of being one of the those teams you don’t want to play. However, all things changed in 2011 when the Colts finished 2-14, and the Texans seized the opportunity and won their first of what many thought would be an extended run similar to that what the Colts did. But, it didn’t quite work out like that. They did win two back to back division titles but in a similar manner the Texans fell apart and finished 2-14 similarly to the Colts. The Texans now have to decide how they want to move going forward with the first overall pick in the draft.
Also contributing to change is that there are two new coaches on the sidelines next season. Houston decided to go with QB guru and former Penn State Coach, Bill O’Brien, while Tennessee decided to go with former Arizona head coach, Ken Wisenhunt. Add in second year coach, Gus Bradley in Jacksonville and Coach Pagano entering his third season, the AFC is rapidly changing with new coaches in a division that has been fairly reluctant to make changes and has favored a reluctant to make changes approach. The Colts decided to be the first to make wholesale changes now the rest of the division is taking a similar approach. 2014 will include more change by teams that have to address the direction they will move forward in the South.
As bad as the season went for Houston, there is really a chance for them to turn around as quickly as the Colts did after their disastrous season. Houston is really just a quarterback away from challenging the Colts for the division crown. Tennessee and Jacksonville are probably a little further back, but both teams will be improved from last year and given time and some luck on their side, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for either to sneak up and stick a dagger in the back of the perceived favorites. Jacksonville has improved their team by drafting well last year and going in a similar manner scheme-wise as the defending Super Bowl champions, Seattle Seahawks. Tennessee was not that far off last season other than not having a good quarterback and missing some offensive personnel, but with Wisenhunt’s background on the offensive side, I would expect this to be fixed sooner than later.
What does all this mean for the Colts? In my estimation it is one of those make or break years for them. The Colts have clearly swung on the pendulum again as the leader of the pack, but that pendulum can easily swing back the other direction if they don’t take care of business. Last year Luck and the gang accomplished a lot by taking back the division and also winning a game in the playoffs. Yet, when they faced arch rival New England, the Colts were shown again what they have to do punch the bully in the mouth. The Colts learned that they must be able to stop the run consistently; and equally as important, protect Luck. Defensively the Colts seemed to address this issue this offseason, but the protecting Luck part still seems to be a work in progress. The interior of the line last year was brutal due to injuries and personnel who just didn’t play that well. Grigson seems very confident with what they have so as they say, time will tell. The biggest need on defense comes in replacing safety Antoine Bethea (who now is a 49er). His shoes will be hard shoes to fill but someone either via the draft or who is currently on the team will have to step up and try.
The Colts will have the draft to help fill out the rest of the roster, and Grigson will look in all the places he looks to find talent the others often overlook. The Colts will need all of this to help fend off the Texans, as well as Tennessee and Jacksonville in order to stay one step ahead. I suspect that division will be much tougher than last year, so the Colts’ margin for error is reducing and their need to ascend to next tier is also inching closer. The Colts last year showed that they could play with the elite teams, yet often struggled with the teams that were considered inferior. This type of play will not work for them this year if they want to hold the Lombardi trophy up. They must win their division and then advance further than last year. That saying, “The more things change the more they stay the same” is as true as it ever was. The Colts must continue to worry about themselves, but also look for that dagger coming, because it is coming. Sooner or later, that dagger is coming!