INDIANAPOLIS – The NFL is a bottom-line business.
But this 2023 season for the Colts was always going to be a unique one for a franchise that once dominated the AFC South.
Prior to the start of the season, we laid out 6 questions for the Colts 2023 season, not pertaining to the wins and losses for the now 4-5 team.
How are the answers coming along as we’ve reached the mid-way point of the year?.
1. Growing Hope For Anthony RichardsonSource:Getty
Growing Hope For Anthony Richardson
Anthony Richardson certainly showed hope when he was on the field this season.
There’s little doubt to that.
It’s the ‘on the field’ part which gives some pause in fully committing to that hope.
Richardson played 173 offensive snaps for the Colts this season.
To put that into perspective, the Colts had 39 players play more than 173 snaps last season.
Nothing written below is/was as important as this box being checked going into 2024.
Remember, this franchise hasn’t had the same Week 1 starting quarterback to begin consecutive seasons since 2015-16. That better end next September.
No. 5 will/should end that, but there are certainly some questions about his playing style + long-term health moving forward.
2. Pillar Trench PositionsSource:Getty
Pillar Trench Positions
In a “normal” offseason, it would be pretty big news for a team having a young player at defensive end and left tackle trying to cement themselves as the future at those premium positions.
And that’s the case for the Colts in 2023 with Kwity Paye going into his third year at defensive end and Bernhard Raimann going into his second year at left tackle.
How would you view their futures at the mid-way point of the season?
Raimann looks well on his way to being a quality left tackle of the present, and future, despite a couple of hiccups against some elite pass rushers last month.
That’s massive for Anthony Richardson, and for the roster building that will need to continue going forward.
Paye is not yet a slam dunk.
It was a nice start to Paye’s season with a sack in each of the first 3 games. Since then though it’s been very quiet for Paye. He’s had just 2 quarterback hits, 1 tackle for loss and a half sack in his last 5 games (240 defensive snaps).
Paye is actually in a pseudo contract year. Following this third season for Paye, the Colts have a decision to make whether or not they pick up the 5th year team option (for the 2025 season) for their 2021 first-round pick. Is Paye ready to blossom into a double-digit sack guy, as the Colts have routinely struck out on edge draft picks under Chris Ballard?
If the Colts can get positive answers on Paye and/or Raimann down the stretch it would greatly lessen the need to commit important resources at these two very premium positions in upcoming drafts.
That would be huge for a team needing to bolster other spots.
Right now, crossing off the left tackle need appears to be a wise bet, but not pass rusher.
3. Pro Bowl Defenders Still ThereSource:Getty
Pro Bowl Defenders Still There
This one boiled down to Kenny Moore needing to bounce back from an admittedly disappointing 2022 campaign, and Shaquille Leonard trying to return to his normal, elite, form.
Moore, 28, is in a contract year this season, after his public desire for a deal change last offseason didn’t work out. It’s been a really nice bounce back season from Moore, and it’s been much-needed with all the youth, injuries and volatile play around him at cornerback. Moore has been a stalwart in coverage, dazzling with some big-time turnovers last week and he’s offered some nice playmaking behind the line of scrimmage, with an eye-popping 7 tackles for loss.
Leonard, 28, has had to accept a smaller role than his usual every-snap presence from years past. It was a slow start to the year for Leonard, but he’s been around the ball more in the last few weeks. Still though, Leonard is in a career-long turnover drought with 9 straight games without an interception, forced fumble or fumble recovery. Even taking it a step further, Leonard doesn’t have a pass broken up and just 2 tackles for loss in his last 9 games. Again, Leonard is under contract through 2026, but the Colts could get out of that deal after this season without too much of a financial hit.
These two have been defensive mainstays in the Chris Ballard era.
Will that continue for both past 2023?
4. Shane Steichen’s PlateSource:Getty
Shane Steichen’s Plate
Shane Steichen wants it all on his plate.
He wants the head coaching duties, the play calling responsibility, and has his eyes focused on Anthony Richardson during positional drills at virtually every practice.
Offensively, Steichen has been very good. Despite starting two different quarterbacks, not having Jonathan Taylor for a month and having to make a couple of offensive line changes due to injury, Steichen has led a Colts offense to consistent scoring.
Game management wise, we’ve seen some recent questions arise here. Steichen had questionable clock management at the end of first half against the Browns. And the following week against the Saints, Steichen mishandled the playing time for Jonathan Taylor and sticking with Tony Brown, as he routinely got roasted.
Remember, Nick Sirianni went to Philadelphia in 2021 thinking he could work the balance of head coach + play caller. Mid-way through Sirianni’s first season with the Eagles though he passed that play-calling role onto Steichen.
Steichen has made it past that date for when Sirianni gave up the play-calling duties.
5. Contract Answer For Michael Pittman Jr.Source:Getty
Contract Answer For Michael Pittman Jr.
Yeah, this one is definitely up in the air.
And it’s coming with Michael Pittman Jr. having a career-year and speaking out a tad more about his role, and how Jonathan Taylor handled his own contract situation.
Pittman Jr. a second-round pick in 2020, had been taking a much quieter public approach this offseason to wanting a new deal. Of course, he plays a position that’s much more valued than running back, and also doesn’t have the same resume that Taylor has amassed through three years.
Through 9 games, Pittman is well on his way to a career-year (he’s on pace for 109 catches, for 1,120 yards and 5-6 touchdowns).
How this one plays out is going to be fascinating to watch.
Chris Ballard is a big, big fan of Pittman Jr.
Is the GM ready to pay Pittman Jr. eye-popping money without a Pro Bowl season or is this a franchise tag move, something the Colts haven’t used since 2013?
6. Jonathan Taylor’s FutureSource:Getty
Jonathan Taylor’s Future
Hallelujah, we got an answer to the Jonathan Taylor drama!
Just a day before he was scheduled to make his Colts debut (would Taylor have without a contract extension?), the Colts running back put pen to paper on a 3-year extension for $42 million.
This settles quite the Taylor/Colts saga from the offseason.
And it means Anthony Richardson will have a bonafide running back next to him through for at least the next couple of seasons.
In his 5th game back, Taylor took the lead back role from Zack Moss this past Sunday, accounting for 23 touches.