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INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts enter their bye week at 3-5 and are still clinging to an outside chance at an AFC South run.
It’s been a bit of an odd start to Frank Reich’s first season as head coach.
The Colts have received relatively strong play in the trenches—a clear focus for Reich and Chris Ballard this offseason—yet squandered some early season opportunities to turn that play into a better record.
With the Colts now 3-5 at the midway point of the season, let’s hand out some awards after the first half of the season:
Most Valuable Player: Darius Leonard
Leonard is going to take away some hardware with these prestigious awards. Heading into Training Camp, Leonard had never participated in an NFL practice and concerns about how quickly he would assimilate to the NFL game were there (and fair). Those seem ludicrous now. Leonard has played at an All-Pro level through the first half of the season. No player in the NFL has more tackles than Leonard and he’s made so many game-changing plays. When the Colts undertook this massive defensive transition, they knew finding a playmaking WILL linebacker was a must. They’ve found that in Darius Leonard.
Others Receiving Votes: Margus Hunt, Ryan Kelly, Andrew Luck
Biggest Surprise: Offensive Line
How about the offensive line? We knew the Colts invested major resources into the line group this offseason. But no one could have expected this current combination to have performed like they have as of late. Anthony Castonzo is now healthy. Quenton Nelson has been a stud. Ryan Kelly has been healthy and huge for keeping the line on the same page pre-snap. Those first-round picks were expected to be reliable. But how about the right side combination of Mark Glowinski and Braden Smith? Even though Glowinski had 19 starts of experience coming into 2018, he was no lock to even make the team at the end of Training Camp. And Smith was thought to be more of a reserve guard in his rookie season. Given that the Colts have started 10 linemen already this season and are the NFL’s top pass protecting team, you have to give this group major credit for finally not being a reason people routinely point to as why the Colts are losing games.
Others Receiving Votes: Eric Ebron, Margus Hunt, Mark Glowinski
Biggest Disappointment: Wide Receivers
Blame for this position group taking home an unflattering distinction could be laid on Chris Ballard, plus the personnel itself. Drops were the story for this group in three straight losses to the Texans, Patriots and Jets—a trio of games the Colts found themselves in double-digit, first-half deficits, with the drops being a major culprit. Heading into 2018, there were certainly questions about if this group had enough talent to truly complement T.Y. Hilton. They don’t. Too many times in 2018, the Colts have had to rely on normal 4th, 5th or 6th wideouts to play major snaps.
Others Receiving Votes: Tarell Basham, Quincy Wilson
Breakout Player: Margus Hunt
We have to hand out some hardware to Margus Hunt. The Estonian has had an unquestioned career year at the age of 31. Remember, in 4 NFL seasons with the Bengals, Hunt had a total of 2.0 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Well, through 8 games this season (Hunt has played in 7), the versatile defensive lineman has 10.0 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks. Where (or if) Hunt fit in this 4-3 defense was a question without an obvious answer during the offseason. But he quickly took Tarell Basham’s starting job in camp and never looked back.
Others Receiving Votes: Kenny Moore
Best Rookie: Darius Leonard
Um, duh. This will be a quick acceptance speech for Darius Leonard after already taking home MVP honors earlier in the night. Leonard has been the crown jewel of a very promising 2018 rookie class. On most teams, the start of NFL careers for Quenton Nelson or Nyheim Hines would be a more than deserving choice for top rookie. But Leonard is the runaway valedictorian of this class that’s been more Ivy League-like with their ability through eight games.
Others Receiving Votes: Quenton Nelson, Nyheim Hines
Telling Stat: Losing Fourth-Quarter Leads
The Colts lost 3 of their first 4 games this season, all contests in which they held a lead in the fourth quarter or overtime. When we look back on this 2018 season, and if the Colts are indeed just on the outside of the playoff picture, we will look back on the first quarter of the season as to where this team squandered some terrific chances to stake a claim to a wide open AFC South. A Week Four overtime loss to the Texans stands out more than any other, given that Houston was 0-3 at the time, the game was at home and it was a divisional contest.
Others Receiving Votes: Pass protection success, drops, forced turnovers
Biggest Remaining Question To Be Answered: How interesting will the Colts make a run at the AFC South?
At the bye week, the Colts (3-5) currently sit two games in back of the Houston Texans (5-3) for the division lead. Thanks to the beautiful gift that is the pedestrian AFC South, the Colts enter the bye still with a reasonable chance at pushing for the division lead in the second half of the season. No obvious division favorite has emerged through eight weeks, although Houston has won 5 in a row (two more games than anyone else in the division) and has a similar, favorable schedule to the Colts down the stretch. For the Colts to truly believe they have a chance come late December, they will need to probably win 6 of their final 8 games, to finish the year at 9-7.
Others Receiving Votes: Can the offensive line keep this up? Will the defense maintain their impressive playmaking, to overcome their struggles in getting off the field?
Most Important Game Left: Week 13: at the Texans
This December 9th contest in Houston is a game the Colts almost have to have for them to be in a realistic position to win the AFC South. Right now, the Colts are two games in back of the Texans and have already lost the early tiebreaker with that Week Four overtime loss at Lucas Oil Stadium. In 2015 and 2016, this division was decided when the Colts and Texans met in critical December matchups in Indy. The Colts would love for those stakes to be on the line in an early December contest in Houston.
Others Receiving Votes: at Jacksonville (Week 12, December 2nd)
Final Record Prediction 7-9.
Before the season started, a season prediction of 7-9 was made on this very website. At the bye week, the thought was the Colts would be 3-5. Well, why change that prediction now? It should be noted though that after watching the Colts through the first eight weeks, and looking at how tame the remaining schedule is, seeing Indianapolis rattle off enough wins to reach .500 (or better than that) would not be a huge shock. You feel like the Colts have played better than a 3-5 mark. Will that eye test lead to more tangible results in the final two months of the season?