I hate to say it, but I’m afraid we’ve seen this before.
As the Indianapolis Colts’ injured reserve additions mount, I’m reminded of the 2010 season — one that also began 5-2, but had injuries decimate any chance of postseason success.
The Colts are easily the most-injured team in the NFL over the past half-decade, and despite this squad’s ability to adapt under physical and mental duress, guts can’t always make up for lost talent.
It didn’t take long this season for the injury bug to bite. The offense took a major hit when Dwayne Allen’s busted hip in Week 1 moved Coby Fleener into a more prominent role, and the results have been mostly nauseating. Running back Vick Ballard was lost that same game, and a week later, left guard Donald Thomas tore a quad. Ahmad Bradshaw was gone after a great performance in San Francisco, and most damaging of all, future Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne was lost in last Sunday’s epic win over Denver.
The magnitude of Wayne’s loss can’t be overstated. Next to Peyton Manning in 2011, from a leadership and performance standpoint, it’s the worst injury suffered by the organization in the 30 seasons since it moved from Baltimore. Like any team worth a damn, the Colts have long adhered to the “Next Man Up” philosophy, where one player’s misfortune is another’s opportunity, but there’s no one who can come close to replacing Wayne.
The good news is that if any team can regroup, evolve and succeed under such circumstances, it’s this one. Last season proved it has heart far beyond the norm, and there’s a lot of improvement that’s still possible.
One simple decision can make the offense more dangerous — eliminating tight sets altogether. Donald Brown currently averages 5.9 yards per carry, mostly running out three-wideout formations. Trent Richardson is nearly two yards less per run, while getting smothered by front-sevens who know it’s a run because of closed-in sets. Spread it out consistently, keep defenses guessing, and the results will be favorable.
The Colts also have Andrew Luck, whose star status was on display when he outshined Manning on the season’s biggest stage so far. Luck’s ability to thread needles with the football or take off with it if necessary is the team’s greatest weapon. If anything, he’ll have to use his legs more to make up for understandable uncertainty in the pocket in Wayne’s absence.
So far, cataclysmic injuries have been limited to offense, as defensive ailments have mostly been quick-healing. As it sits, the unit is already one of the organization’s all-time best (and sorry, NFL, but I only count Indianapolis history, not Baltimore). In the most important stat of all — points yielded per game — the Colts are sixth at 18.7. If that continues, with Luck at the helm, it’s more than enough to be a title contender.
What’s critical now is that the rash of injuries must subside. If the overall health of this team deteriorates further, like it did in that lost 2010 season (Manning’s last), it’s big trouble. As the Colts can attest, many seasons are killed by injuries each year. The team has Luck on its side, but now, it also needs plenty of good fortune too.
— Brent Glasgow is a sports writer for the Westside Flyer. He may be reached by e-mailing to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 272-5800 ext. 190. You can follow him on Twitter at @BGlasgow37 and @TheHCFlyer.