Looking ahead…

It’s that time of year again; another disappointing Super Bowl (all Super Bowls that don’t feature a Colts victory are disappointing, in my humble opinion), the Evil Empire of the East is, once again, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and the Indianapolis Colts had another 11-5 season…complete with a shocking upset over Denver in the Divisional round and an upsetting shock in the AFC Championship game…such seems to be the life of a Colts fan.

Here in Colts country, we have had a lot of confidence in Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson, but one cannot shake that feeling, despite the postseason progression we have seen over the last three years, that Indy has been here before.  The Colts, quite literally, are only going as far as Andrew Luck can take them, just like Peyton did before him…let those words sink in for a minute: just. like. Peyton.  The Colts need to add more pieces to this puzzle if they are going to cross that threshold and become a truly elite NFL team.  In the beginning of the Manning era, Colts fans were convinced that, after years of futility, we were finally going to have our day in the sun; we were going to be one of those great NFL dynasties like the Steelers, the Niners and the Cowboys.  We had the man who would surely finish his career as the Greatest of All Time at the QB position; the world was our oyster and it would soon be raining Lombardi Trophies in Indianapolis, but…it didn’t.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining…Indianapolis and its fans were richly blessed to have Peyton Manning leading our team for all of those years, he gave us confidence that, even in the most difficult of challenges, our team would prevail and when they didn’t, Colts fans could honestly look forward to next year.  The cup of Colts fans still runs over to this day; how many teams have we seen lose a legendary QB and spend the next decade or so in football purgatory trying in vain to recapture that glory?  Colts fans didn’t experience that…we bid a fond farewell to “the Sheriff” and welcomed another budding superstar with open arms, and he has given us his all.  No, I’m not complaining at all, but like the fans of any team, Colts fans are not content to have what may well be more than a quarter of a century’s worth of astonishing quarterback talent leading our team and only see a couple of Lombardi Trophies find their way to the Circle City.

Ryan Grigson has done a respectable job of picking a few shimmering gems to surround Indy’s magnificent crown jewel via the draft, while raggedly mending holes in the mantle with a patchwork of free agents.  However, there’s been some missteps, Jerry Hughes was starting to show signs that, just maybe, he was going to be the guy Bill Polian thought he was drafting in 2010; Grigson didn’t see it that way and traded him away to Buffalo for Kelvin Sheppard.  There was the Trent Richardson trade..that 2014 first round pick could have been used to trade down and pick up a couple of players that were desperately needed.  Imagine if Grigs had traded down to pick up Timmy Jernigan to bookend with Arthur Jones and Cory Redding or what if Carlos Hyde had been in the backfield.  Okay, I know that neither of these guys were world beaters their rookie seasons, but either would have contributed so much more than Richardson did.  The 2013 draft was mind boggling in how absolutely bad it was…I can’t think of anyone who thought Bjoern Werner was a good pick, especially with Xavier Rhodes and Datone Jones sitting there; hell, we could have traded down and got Darius Slay to line up across from Vontae…how much better would Indy be with Jonathon Cyprien at safety instead of Landry?  The jury is still out on the only other notable picks from that draft, Thornton and Holmes.  This is the year that Grigson needs to add that key talent around Andrew Luck to make the Colts true contenders in the AFC.  The Colts need a nose tackle that can clog up the middle and allow our linebackers to make plays, a pass rusher that makes opposing QB’s scramble for dear life instead of standing there for six or seven seconds trying to decide which receiver deserves a catch on this play, a strong safety that can range sideline to sideline, ala Earl Thomas, that allows our free safety to be an enforcer against tight ends and receivers running shallow crossing routes.  Finally, he needs to get a running back that doesn’t make Indy’s play action passing game an NFL version of “Stupid Pet Tricks” and some offensive linemen that can step in and take over if one of the starters go down without the entire protection scheme falling apart like a game of Jenga being played by a two year old.

This is the year.

Chuck Pagano has spoken of “Building the Monster” since the first day he came to Indy, but despite the intentions, the results have not been there.  The players love Chuck, for good reason…he’s the consummate players coach; Indy had good coaches during the Manning era, too.  Jim Mora was a good coach, but he wasn’t the guy that could get that team to perform at a championship level.  The Manning Colts never realized their potential until Tony Dungy took over; if this past season has proven anything, it’s that coaching matters.  New England and Seattle both had horrendous starts to the season, but Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll righted the ship and both teams went all the way to the Super Bowl.  Bruce Arians took his Arizona team to the playoffs and, for awhile, had the best record in the NFL while being stripped down to Ryan Freaking Lindley as his starting quarterback, for Heaven’s sake.  Coaching matters.  This is the year that Chuck needs to stop Building the Monster, this is the year when Chuck needs to Release the Monster.

This is the year.

As a Colts fan, I can’t help but feel terrible about the words I have written.  Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano have played a huge role in preventing this franchise from descending into the abyss, like Jacksonville, Tennessee or Oakland, but the fans of this franchise are tired of playing second banana to the likes of New England year after year.  They love seeing the progress this team has made in the playoffs these past three years but are tired of the season coming to an end with a horrendous curb stomping.  In 1995, Indy made it to the AFC Championship game, losing to Pittsburgh in heartbreaking fashion when Aaron Bailey dropped the game winning touchdown in the endzone.  The Colts played with incredible hear and reckless abandon in that game, but the one thing I remember more than anything else was, then Head Coach, Ted Marchibroda stating that “we were just happy to be here.”  There may have been some truth there, considering that the Colts were an 8-8 team going into the playoffs, but I couldn’t help but think to myself “Who in the hell is just happy to be here when they lose the AFC Championship game?”  Lately, it seems as if this front office and coaching staff has been content “just to be there”…and the fans may have felt that way in year one of the Luck era, but now the fans are thirsting for more.  The losses to New England have been humiliating and the fans of the Colts deserve much more than what they have been given.  This is the year that it all must come together…it doesn’t necessarily need to end with Andrew Luck raising the Lombardi Trophy triumphantly, but this team needs to get to the AFC Championship again…and God help the Patriots if they get in our way.  If not, then maybe it’s time to find the leaders who will make it happen.

This is the year.

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