The 2022 season was supposed to be the one that the Indianapolis Colts finally ended their drought of not winning the AFC South with the potential of going on a deep playoff run.
But that wasn’t the case for the franchise. It ended up being the quite opposite of the expectations that the team had heading into the season.
They not only missed the playoffs, but they also couldn’t beat the Houston Texans and finished third in the division. They fired their head coach and offensive coordinator and benched the quarterback that was brought in to get them over the hump.
There were a lot more negatives about 2022 for the Colts than positives, here are my five takeaways from the past season for the organization:
The roller coaster ride
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
The foremost tell-tale sign that this wasn’t going to be the season as expected was when the Colts tied the Texans in the season opener, 20-20, in overtime.
They came out flat in that game and had to score 17 fourth-quarter points just to even it up by the end of regulation. A Rodrigo Blankenship missed field goal secured the tie and just days later the team released him, only to sign Chase McLaughlin.
Indianapolis would follow that up with their continued woes playing in Jacksonville with an embarrassing shutout loss to the Jaguars. When all hope was lost to start the year, they brought back belief with a stunning win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The eventual No. 1 seed of the AFC.
That high was quickly worn off when a loss at home to their divisional rivals, the Tennessee Titans. Despite falling to a 1-2-1 record in the first quarter of the season, the Colts went on a two-game winning streak to get over .500 and had their second shot to knock off the Titans to get back on track for the expected season for the team.
Instead, that was the beginning of the unraveling year for Indy after getting swept by Tennessee. Matt Ryan was benched the following day for Sam Ehlinger. That move was followed up with a loss to the Washington Commanders despite having a two-score lead in the fourth quarter.
Two days later, offensive coordinator, Marcus Brady, was let go and Frank Reich took over his duties. Of course, that didn’t last that long because Indianapolis would lose to the New England Patriots that following Sunday and by Monday morning, it was somewhat surprisingly announced that the franchise was firing Reich.
Just when you didn’t think the season could get any crazier, within hours it was announced that Jeff Saturday would be taking over as the interim head coach. In the span of three weeks, the Colts benched their quarterback, fired two of their coaches, and named an ESPN analyst with only high school coaching experience as the new leader of the franchise.
Jim Irsay stated his belief in Saturday as the potential long-term answer for the head coach of his team and, for one week, he looked like the smartest man in the room. Saturday made the switch back to Ryan as the quarterback and Indy would go on to beat the Las Vegas Raiders in Saturday’s coaching debut.
Similar to the win over the Chiefs, that positive feeling for the Colts was quickly erased. They would follow it up with two blown fourth-quarter leads against the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers. They made history by giving up 33 unanswered points in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys, despite being down 21-19 when the final quarter started.
Then it was the historic second-half collapse to the Minnesota Vikings—the largest blown lead in NFL history—that broke the team.
They didn’t look competitive in their next two games against the Los Angeles Chargers and New York Giants. The final appearance for the Colts was perfectly symbolic of how the season went for them.
Against Houston, they started the game slowly, stormed back to have a fourth-quarter lead—and in true Colts fashion—couldn’t close out the game, resulting in a 32-31 loss to the Texans. In hindsight, it was beneficial for draft position.
It was a bumpy road for the franchise and this will be one for the fans of the Colts to forget.
Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo poised for a big Year 3
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
It can be pretty easy to look into what went wrong for the Colts in 2022, but let’s take a look at something positive that can carry over into the next season. That is the development of their top two selections from the 2021 NFL draft, Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingobo. The pair were brought in to elevate the pass rush of the franchise, which started to come to fruition throughout the second half of this year.
Despite missing five games due to an injury, Paye was able to outproduce what he did in his 15 games during his rookie season. He finished his second year in the league with 45 tackles (32 solo), 10 tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hits, 6.0 sacks, and a fumble recovery.
His tackles for loss and sacks were the third-most on the team even though he only was able to play in 12 games, which were really only 11 games because he only played 18 snaps in the win over the Las Vegas Raiders due to another injury he suffered early in the contest.
After basically going through a redshirt season while rehabbing his Achilles injury in 2021, Odeyingbo had a slow start to his sophomore season. He really came on during the second half of the schedule and flashed what he could be a major part of the future of the Colts’ defense. He finished the year with 31 tackles (18 solo), five tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hits, and 5.0 sacks.
The versatile defensive lineman was able to give Gus Bradley some creativity on how he wanted to use him this season. We got a glimpse of what Odeyingbo can do with Paye when they lined up on the same side of the ball in the game against the Dallas Cowboys.
We will see if the front office elects to re-sign Yannick Ngakoue in the coming weeks but the growth of Paye and Odeyingo may give them the idea of moving on from the veteran and seeing what they have in the younger pass-rush tandem next season.
Lack of toughness from the offensive line
Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
There were so many layers of what went wrong with the Colts’ offense this past season, but one of the biggest factors in the team getting off to a rough start was the play of the offensive line. They couldn’t open up rushing lanes for their running backs and whoever was at quarterback this year was under constant duress.
2021 wasn’t a perfect season for the group but they were able to help guide Jonathan Taylor to lead the league in rushing yards. That wasn’t the case in 2022. As a team, they averaged 109.8 rushing yards per game, which was the eighth-lowest in the NFL.
The backs averaged 4.3 yards per carry compared to the 5.1 yards per carry in 2021. The lack of a consistent running threat is what helped set up the third downs they failed to convert for most of the time this past season. In 2021, Indianapolis averaged 9.1 rushing first downs per game, but that number dropped to 5.4 rushing first downs per game in 2022. Which was tied for the fourth-lowest mark this past year.
Then it was the pass protection that was the ultimate killer for the Indy offense this season. The constant pressure on the quarterback led to stalled drives and turnovers, which also became a detriment to the defense, a unit that played well throughout the year. The 60 sacks given up were the second-most allowed across the NFL.
Not only did the Colts give up those 60 sacks, but they also allowed 132 quarterback hits. That’s 7.8 quarterback hits and 3.5 sacks per game. While the offensive line did slightly improve after Bernhard Raimann took over at left tackle and Will Fries at right guard, the unit still lacked the toughness of the past, which was on display in their loss to the New York Giants.
When nobody came to Nick Foles’ defense as he lay on the ground in pain next to a snow angel celebration by Kayvon Thibodeaux, it was a telling sign that this group still has a lot of work to do in the upcoming offseason. Whoever the next head coach is, this will be one of the parts of the roster he will have to get in order as he establishes what he wants to do with the team for the 2023 season.
Flashes from the 2022 draft class
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
While Chris Ballard was rightfully under fire for his roster-building decisions ahead of this season, his ability to find talent in the NFL draft was on display for the Colts. Let’s take a look at the rookies that showed some potential, starting with the first selection from Indianapolis in the past draft, Alec Pierce.
The first-year receiver finished with 41 receptions on 78 targets for 593 yards and two touchdowns. Pierce showcased his ability to be a threat down the field and his fight to win contested catch situations.
You have to wonder how his rookie year would’ve gone with better quarterback play. Then there is the potential playmaker brewing in Jelani Woods. The monster tight end ended his first year in the NFL with 25 receptions on 40 targets for 312 yards and three touchdowns. He flashed his speed in open space and the type of threat he can be in the redzone for the offense.
The growth of Bernhard Raimann over the last half of the schedule could be vital for the offensive line turning things around in 2023. The first-year left tackle faced a gauntlet of pass rushers and didn’t back down from the challenge. Ballard was happy with how he ended the season.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2022 class for Indianapolis was Rodney Thomas II. The seventh-round selection took advantage of a Julian Blackmon injury and supplanted himself as more than just a backup in his rookie season. He would go on to split snaps with Blackmon when he returned and was the full-time starter when Blackmon was moved to the nickel corner spot when Kenny Moore II was sidelined with his injury to end the season.
Thomas II ended his Year 1 with 52 tackles (24 solo), six pass deflections and led the team with his four interceptions. He had a knack for being around the ball to make a play for the defense.
Lastly, the Colts may have found their kick returner for the next couple of seasons in Dallis Flowers. The UDFA rookie averaged 31.1 yards per kick return—the highest average in the NFL—and was close to taking one to the house with his 89-yard return against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That’s four of the eight draft selections that were contributors as rookies and could all be opening-day starters in 2023. Plus, there is Nick Cross who flashed in the preseason but didn’t carry it over to the regular season. As well as Andrew Ogletree, who tore his ACL while he was also putting together a solid training camp.
It’s too early to tell but the initial indications are looking like Ballard could have another solid draft class under his belt.
Zaire Franklin is more than a special teamer
Justin Casterline/Getty Images
When it was announced that Shaquille Leonard was going to miss most of the preseason and at that time, should be back for the opener (which ended up not being true), people like myself thought it would be E.J. Speed that would take over his place until Leonard made his return. Instead, it was the captain of the special teams who stepped up and earned his place in the starting lineup with the defense.
After being a core special teamer in a backup role, Zaire Franklin took advantage of his opportunity and made a name for himself during the 2022 season. He finished the year with 167 tackles (102 solo), 12 tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, 3.0 sacks, six pass deflections, and two forced fumbles.
His 167 tackles broke the Colts franchise record that was originally set by Leonard during his rookie season. That mark was the fourth highest among all NFL players. It was his play that helped the defense hold it together despite the struggles of the offense.
Franklin makes it a lot easier for Indianapolis to see Bobby Okereke likely leave elsewhere in free agency. As well as E.J. Speed if they get outbid for his services. Assuming Leonard will be fully healthy for the 2023 season, the Colts have one of the top linebacker tandems with him and Franklin going forward.