INDIANAPOLIS – Mercifully, it’s over.
The 2022 Colts season came to a close on Sunday afternoon, with Jeff Saturday’s team serving up another slice of embarrassment, with the Texans converting a 4th-and-12, 4th-and-20 and a two-point conversion in the final minutes for the win.
Here is what was learned from the Colts (4-12-1) losing a 7th straight game to end the season:
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Top-5 Pick Clinched: Let’s start with what pretty much the most important thing from Sunday—the Colts lost, so they will hold a top-5 draft pick heading into April. And in typical Colts fashion under Jeff Saturday, the loss came in embarrassing fashion. As if getting down by double-digits in the first six minutes of the game to the team with the worst record in the NFL wasn’t bad enough, the Colts then came back to take the lead before giving up a 4th-and-12, a 4th-and-20 and a two-point conversion in the final minutes to seal their 7th straight loss. The Colts later found out on Sunday they will draft No. 4 overall. Again, the Colts won’t have their 3rd round pick this year (via the trade up for Nick Cross last April), but will get Washington’s (Carson Wentz trade). Given how desperate of a need the Colts face at quarterback, this top-5 pick is a must-have resource in (finally) trying to address the long-term problem at the most important position in sports. If the Colts end up drafting in the top-5, it’ll be the first time the franchise has done that since 2012, and for only the second time since the turn of the century. And just a reminder for what QB means going forward in the AFC, these are the playoff teams in this conference with their quarterback selection: Round 1-10 (Patrick Mahomes), Round 1-7 (Josh Allen), Round 1-1 (Joe Burrow), Round 1-1 (Trevor Lawrence, Round 1-32 (Lamar Jackson), Round 1-6 (Justin Herbert) and Round 1-5 (Tua Tagovailoa).
2. Some Good And Bad From Sam Ehlinger: Sam Ehlinger’s third NFL start was another sign of he’s not a starter in this league, but probably could be a backup. Every time you watch Ehlinger, especially in a year in which Matt Ryan and Nick Foles were the other two Colts quarterbacks, you notice what some mobility at QB can do for the entire offense. Ehlinger showed that again on Sunday, whether it was outright scrambling, getting out of the pocket to extend plays or just subtle movements in the pocket. Of course, with Ehlinger’s ability to keep some things alive, that also had him playing hero ball on a pair of interceptions over the middle, both coming on plays where he needed to just take the sack or throw the ball away. Technically, Matt Ryan and Nick Foles are also under contract for 2023, along with Ehlinger. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Ehlinger is the only QB that returns out of that trio for next season. For me, I’ve seen enough out of Ehlinger to have him as the backup/potential bridge QB starter to pair with the first-round selection at quarterback. But the Colts might opt for a veteran on top of those two. As we conclude our sad evaluation of three different starting quarterbacks this season, it just further cements the “Colts must draft a QB in Round 1 of the 2023 Draft idea.
3. Was This Jeff Saturday’s Final Game As Head Coach? Following Jeff Saturday’s 7th straight loss as Colts interim head coach, he did not want to address anything about a full-time purist of the HC job. Typically, an interim head coach has to really have a strong record to merit consideration for keeping that role. Saturday didn’t come close to that, but make no mistake, he has a very real shot to get this gig permanently. Honestly, Saturday’s interim run of 1-7, with a negative point differential of negative 80 off a 7-game losing streak to end the season, marks one of the worst interim resumes you’ll ever see. Even with such a pathetic performance by the Colts under Saturday, Irsay is a believer he could do this full-time. Will that still be the case after Irsay conducts a full head coaching search? Also on the coaching front, it’ll be interesting to see if the next head coach wants to/tries to retain Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator. If not, that’ll mark 3 straight years of different defensive coordinators in Indy and could lead to some personnel shakeup on that side of the ball.
4. What Happens To Chris Ballard? We know the Colts will be conducting a head coaching search. But what about general manager? Jim Irsay has publicly and staunchly backed Ballard, on a couple of occasions, in recent weeks/months. Ballard, like Frank Reich, has four years remaining on his contract. His voice though has been muted to a degree over the last year. Irsay has said before he doesn’t believe the Colts issues this season are as much personnel based as they were coaching/culture. But has the further, weekly, embarrassment from the Colts led to Irsay changing his tone at all in terms of Ballard? One thing to keep in mind with Ballad, he might have some say in his own future, too. If Irsay is going to grant a new head coach more and more say on the personnel front, is that going to change Ballard’s mind at his job moving forward? Ballard is under contract through 2026, so no announcement is needed from Irsay on the GM’s future. But it’s something to keep an eye on as January unfolds with the coaching search.
5. Free Agents To Ponder: Anytime a season concludes, part of the end of year synopsis revolves around the pending free agents. For the Colts, here are some of the notable free agent names for the 2023 offseason: WR-Parris Campbell (25), OL-Matt Pryor (27), OT-Dennis Kelly (32), DE-Yannick Ngakoue (27), DE-Ben Banogu (26), DL-Tyquan Lewis (27), LB-Bobby Okereke (26), LB-E.J. Speed (27), CB-Brandon Facyson (28), S-Rodney McLeod (32), K-Chase McLaughlin (26). Guys like Campbell, Okereke and McLaughlin did very well for themselves in a contract year. As the Colts move forward, if the defensive system remains with Gus Bradley wouldn’t a return of Ngakoue make sense? This list though doesn’t have a lot of marquee names though, which is probably a good thing because the Colts need to dip into the outside free agent market for some help.
-Injury Report: The following Colts were INACTIVE on Sunday: TE-Kylen Granson (ankle), QB-Nick Cross (ribs), CB-Stephon Gilmore (wrist), S-Nick Cross, DE-Rashod Berry, DT-Chris Williams, OL-Wesley French. These Colts got hurt on Sunday and did not return: RT-Braden Smith (ankle).
–Key Stat: In getting down 10-0 to the Texans on Sunday, the Colts ended this season trailing by double-digits in all 6 divisional games. They were 1-4-1 in the AFC South this season.
–What’s Next: Offseason questions are now abundant, with a head coaching search coming, plus numerous other answers that are needed at so many critical spots.
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