The Raiders kickoff the 2013 season against the Colts in Indianapolis. To gain some insight on the Colts, I tossed my five good questions to Matt Greco over at Colts blog, Stampede Blue. Here is what he had to say:
Q: How's our boy Darrius Heyward-Bey looking over there?
A: In the little bit I've seen of him, it seems as though he's doing fine. I like the structure of his deal (one year), as if he plays really well he can go get paid (and it benefits the Colts), or if he doesn't work out the Colts aren't stuck with him for multiple years. He's going to be the #3 guy behind Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, but he'll get plenty of opportunities to catch passes. A guy with that much speed is always good to help stretch the field, and the Colts could do it on both sides if they wanted. Should be a good situation for him.
Last season the Colts had an impressive resurgence from worst to first. Do they look poised to build upon that, perform about the same, or take a step back?
Despite the lofty record, the Colts really didn't play all that well last year, so I expect them to play better than they did last year, even if they lose a couple more games than they did last year. Andrew Luck will hopefully be cutting back on his interceptions (and his near interceptions), and there hopefully will be a small improvement in the running game, something both Chuck Pagano and OC Pep Hamilton have stressed for six months now. On Defense I'm not sure they can take a step back, so at a minimum they'll perform the same. They'll look better, but they easily could fall back to an 8-8 record rather than 11-5 like a year ago.
Chuck Pagano recently talked about how difficult a match-up Terrelle Pryor will be. But that's what coaches always say. What's the feeling you get as far as the threat Pryor poses? How have the Colts defense stood up to mobile quarterbacks lately?
This iteration of the Colts Defense really hasn't had much experience with mobile QBs. The only one they faced last season was Jake Locker, and he scrambled 4 times for 51 yards, including a 32 yarder. As I mentioned before I'm not sold on the Colts Front 7, so I expect the Colts to try and keep Pryor in the pocket and force him to throw against the secondary. My guess is someone will have the sole responsibility of spying Pryor, and it'll probably be Jerrell Freeman, a very underrated ILB. Because Pryor is still an unknown, and the Colts really don't have a ton of experience playing against a guy as athletic as Pryor, it's tough to give any absolutes. Mobile QBs have been quite successful as of late in the NFL. I don't see any reason why Pryor couldn't be the next guy in line to do the same.
The Colts are the example Raiders fans like to use as a team who supposedly "tanked" the season, got their franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck and rebounded quickly. Do you think it was really Andrew Luck who made all the difference or were there a lot more factors in play?
While Luck was a big part of it, I think there are four things that all fell into place that made last season as good as it was. Luck was the first one, especially late in games, where he was pretty much perfect. The Colts were 9-1 in games decided by 7 points or less, and the 1 was an 80 yard pass given up to Cecil Shorts after Luck had taken the Colts down the field to take the lead. GM Ryan Grigson did in outstanding job in the draft, as well as some very cheap Free Agents (like Freeman mentioned above), as the Colts had virtually no cap space thanks to a ton of dead money via Peyton Manning, and paying Dwight Freeney $20 Million. The third part was playing for Chuck Pagano. I think the emotional part of football is mostly muted in the NFL, but there were too many instances last year that just didn't make sense that were solely based on Pagano and everything he went through. Lastly, the Colts had an extremely easy schedule last season. I mean really easy. They played 9 games against teams that drafted in the top 10, and were 7-2 in those games.
As far as "tanking" goes, while nobody involved with the Colts will ever admit to it, there's little doubt the Front Office knew what it was doing after they found out that Manning was hurt and done for the year. Signing a clearly over-matched Kerry Collins out of retirement, then depending on Curtis Painter to try and win games is no way to try and win. To some degree it also showed how many warts Manning covered up. In today's NFL though, it's way better to be 2-14 than it is to be 7-9 or 8-8.
The Colts were one of the worst teams last season in defense. What was done to try and improve upon that?
The pass rush for the Colts is still a huge concern, even with Robert Mathis being a bit more comfortable in his new role as an OLB. They drafted Bjoern Warner from Florida St to play OLB, a position he did not play in college, and signed Erik Walden, a pretty good run-stopper, but he's a black hole in pass coverage/rushing the passer. The D-Line, while getting some more depth, still isn't anything to write home about. Most people are excited about 2012 4th round pick Josh Chapman from Alabama, who didn't play at all last season recovering from an ACL injury, but until we see him in a real game, I can't get too excited. The secondary is now the strength of the Defense with the addition of Greg Toler and LaRon Landry, but they can't cover guys forever if the QB has all day to throw. Until the Defense can prove they can play at even an average level, it's still going to be the Colts Achilles heel.