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We're all familiar with disappointment, are Indy fans setting themselves up for some in the future?
The 2011 Titans were a fun, enigmatic team that came within a victory over a couple of bottom feeders from a playoff spot. That probably should have been a red flag. The 2012 Titans are a not-so-fun, enigmatic team that has beaten a few good teams and lost to everyone else, usually in either miserably hard to watch massacres or tantalizingly close games that mutate into nightmares. Not a whole lot has changed in terms of overall roster construction from one year to another. Granted, the offensive line is shuffled up a bit, Jake Locker has officially taken over, Damian Williams doesn't get the ball much, and Kendall Wright is here, but we have much of the same on both sides of the ball.
I had high, but reserved hopes for this year's team. Nine wins were nine wins, it wasn't anything to just shrug off. I think where I went wrong was over-valuing the correlation of young + successful = can only improve. Youth does not always get better, and sometimes it gets worse, with age. I'm honestly not sure where I would start revamping this roster, I think it would be easier to list positions that I wouldn't be so high on targeting in the draft. I think a coaching overhaul is necessary. The team is oft-penalized and they look downright confused out there at times. I think Mike Munchak would really love to push the "Be a pro, do your job" mantra that had us all drooling over what he was going to turn this team into but is now realizing that maybe it isn't that easy when you're getting pounded every single game. This was a staff that had to be on notice after Chris Palmer got the axe, they needed to show everyone that they could get it done in a big divisional game and they came out and laid an egg. The offense dominated early on, but it fizzled out pretty fast once they adjusted for whatever reason. This is my "clean house" rant shoehorned into a post it has no business being in. In any case, I love this team, but there's no dearth of relative incompetence in this organization right now. Obviously I don't know much about the Colts, internally at least, but let's just look at some of the numbers and see what we can come up with.
First off, strength of schedule. It's never a good idea to throw all of your eggs in one basket with this one. Take, for example, the Titans showing up on someone's schedule at the beginning of 2012. They had a winning record and that contributed to the difficulty in the strength of schedule for whatever team they were playing that week. Tell me honestly that anyone here thinks that the Titans showing up on anyone's schedule should make it objectively harder because they won nine games last year. There isn't a team in the NFL right now who wouldn't love to unload on us right now, but because of how well we played last year, they're playing tougher opponents than a team that plays the Colts (obviously more teams want to play us than Indy right now, regardless of if you think they're for real or not) based purely on strength of schedule.
For whatever it's worth, the Titans had a easier schedule than all but seven teams. They weren't going out and playing a brutal gauntlet, they were picking on cupcakes, and when the Titans, a cupcake the season before, upgrade marginally with an improved run game and competent quarterback, of course they're going to rip the cupcakes who didn't have the luxury of a veteran QB playing at an MVP level for the first four or five weeks to shreds. Overall, they picked up three of their nine wins over teams who went on to finish .500 that year, the Ravens, the Broncos, and the withered husk of the Texans and their backups. This should've also been a giant red flag: the Titans did not beat good teams, or even bad teams, like a good, improving young team should. The Colts played a schedule smack dab in the middle of the difficulty scale. Their opponents mustered up a .500 win % last year, not too far off from the .488 win % the Titans faced in 2011 based on 2010 records. However, the Titans' schedule turned out to be an even bigger cakewalk than it was projected to be and the winning % of teams on the schedule dropped from .488 from the year before to .461. That would have been good for the third easiest schedule in football. Thus far, the win % of teams the Colts have played comes out to .420. However, teams they still have to face (Houston twice and KC) have a win % of .652 on the year. Even so, it'd be hard to imagine the Colts dropping one to KC or beating Houston, so basically they'll win one more game than the Titans with about the same, if maybe slightly easier, schedule. Much like the Titans did in 2011, the Colts are making mincemeat of bad teams (us twice, Jacksonville twice, Miami, Cleveland, and Detroit) while sprinkling in a quality win over Green Bay to make people think that this just might be real.
Because Hasselbeck started out so hot, wavered a bit, but ultimately held the line at the end there and Jake Locker played awesome football in relief, the Titans finished their season ranked the 12th most efficient passing offense in football. This is an area that the Titans were actually not succeeding in spite of. Their passing attack was very efficient last year. This year, they're 28th. Guys, if this doesn't tell you that Jake Locker isn't playing good football right now then I don't know what to tell you, he's not a "stick him in there immediately and wait for results" kind of guy, I thought we all agreed on that before the season started? In any case, the Colts this year have the 20th rated passing game, so despite the praises left and right for Andrew Luck, he hasn't really shown he's ready to guide an awesome aerial attack just quite yet. That's fine, because he's a rookie, and a highly touted one at that. Honestly, I expect him to get a lot better really, really fast. There's definitely a reason he went before RGIII in this year's draft, there's not a whole lot to not like about the guy. I think the Colts are going to be even better through the air next year and I don't think my reasoning is too out of line, so cross this one off. I'm not going into rush offense too much because, quite frankly, it won't mean much.
Last year's Titan defense was pretty average. According to Football Outsiders, it was a top ten unit against the run and bad, but not terribad, against the pass (21st ranked unit in football) giving them an overall rating of 17th. Not too shabby. When you consider that most of the defensive talent was (still is I guess) relatively young, there was reason to expect improvement because of that whole "young players always get better as they get older until they don't anymore" thing. This year, they're 22nd against the run, 25th against the pass, and quite frankly I'm shocked they're not lower. I know they've been getting a little better, but the eye test tells me that this is one unit in serious need of a talent influx or a scheme change. Overall, they're 26th. Hard to believe there are six units out there that are worse at stopping other teams from moving the ball, but there are, and two of them actually reside in our division. Jacksonville is bad, Indianapolis is god-awful. Indy is second worst at stopping the run and fourth worst at stopping the pass. This is where we start to see legitimate reasons as to why they're probably going to regress unless Luck gets a lot better or they hit a few home runs in the draft or free agency.
Right now, Indy is thriving despite a horrendous defense and league-average average offense because of timely scores from their rookie quarterback. That's the best I've got. If Andrew Luck really is just the god of clutch, they may be able to ride this thing into the playoffs. If not, I think we'll see some of their holes exposed by a devastatingly good Houston team that has been dominant this year on both sides of the ball and an overall regression as they take on a much tougher second place schedule next year.