NFL 2019: Here are three moves the Colts should make to boost their chances of reaching Super Bowl LIV
The Colts were close in 2018. These moves would help to increase their Super Bowl chances this season.
After a 1-5 start in 2018, everything started to click for the Frank Reich-led Indianapolis Colts.
Andrew Luck and Co. went 9-1 down the stretch, and GM Chris Ballard was justifiably lauded for drafting two rookies who were First-Team All-Pros, first-round guard Quenton Nelson and second-round linebacker Darius Leonard.
Reich's presence was a godsend for Luck who posted career highs in completion percentage, passer rating, and QBR. Most importantly, he had the lowest sack rate of his career, and his 2.7% figure in that stat category was the lowest among all qualifying passers in football. During the 2016 season, the last time Luck was on the field for Indianapolis, his sack rate was 7.0%.
But Indianapolis was overwhelmed offensively and defensively by the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium in the second round of the playoffs after a convincing victory over the divisional rival Houston Texans in the first round. The lethargic performance against Kansas City on the cusp of an AFC title game birth made it clear the Colts were not yet a true Super Bowl contending team.
Here are the three moves the Colts should make between now and the start of the regular season to boost their chances to reach Super Bowl LIV.
1. Sign Eric Berry
Berry, the heart and soul of the Chiefs defense for nearly a decade, remains unsigned. At his age -- now 30 -- there's no major rush for him to join a team. Even if he's added close to the start of the regular season, it'd be a monstrous addition for a Colts team that needs a reliable safety who can cover tight ends and make impact tackles near the line of scrimmage.
Malik Hooker has an immense amount of talent as a rangy center fielder. Clayton Geathers has flashed in a strong safety role but has mostly been underwhelming early in his career. Indianapolis doubled up on safeties in the fourth (Khari Willis) and fifth (Marvell Tell) rounds of the 2019 Draft, both of whom would greatly benefit from Berry's presence on the roster, especially Tell, a super athlete with inconsistent film in coverage and as a tackler. And he's starting his pro career at cornerback. Sure, those two -- especially Willis -- represent the future at what's becoming an important position, essentially replacing the third linebacker complete, but to compete for a Super Bowl this season, Berry would be critical, particularly in the playoffs.
Ballard was in Kansas City with Berry from 2013 to 2017, when the safety was a First-Team All-Pro three times. Lastly, money is not a concern whatsoever. Per OverTheCap, Indy still has $58M in cap space this year.
2. Blitz more this season
The Colts want to rush four and sit in zone behind the defensive line. Last year, that philosophy just didn't work well enough. As of December 19 in 2018, Indianapolis had blitzed the opponent just 15.2% of the time, per NFL Matchup, which, at that date was the second-lowest figure in the NFL.
The Colts' defensive pressure rate for the entire regular season was just 31.4%, the 23rd-best rate in the NFL. Justin Houston was signed in free agency, a relatively major splash at a clear need position. He was one of the league's best pass rushers on the outside in 2018 and has been a high-end rusher his entire career.
At 30 years old, Houston should have a few productive seasons left, but the Colts probably shouldn't solely depend on him to transform the team's pass rush. To me, with a relatively young and unproven secondary, the lack of consistent pressure on the quarterback was the main reason Indianapolis finished 20th in Football Outsiders' pass defense DVOA, the worst ranking among all AFC playoff teams.
To make a serious run at a Super Bowl, the Colts have to be better stopping the pass than they were last season. Plain and simple. Secondary benefits from a stellar pass rush. As of March 2018, per PFF, the average QB rating while under pressure has been 73.3 and 98.5 while not under pressure over the past decade.
The Colts improved their pass rush personnel-wise this offseason with the addition of Houston. And if second-round selection, freak athlete Ben Banogu, is going to help on the outside as a rookie, he needs to be used on stunts and blitzes, because he's pretty raw with pass-rushing moves despite impressive production in college. No, Indianapolis doesn't need to become Baltimore, the club that had the highest blitz rate (36.4%) last season. But moving over, say, the 20% mark should be a priority this season for defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
3. Sign Ndamukong Suh
As the best free agent available -- at any position -- Suh would make sense as a late signing for a variety of contenders. Count the Colts in that group.
Indianapolis got the most out of Margus Hunt, Denico Autry, and Al Woods on the inside in 2018. Woods is now on the Seahawks. Hunt and Autry are solid but unspectacular interior defensive linemen. The Colts made 10 picks this year ... none of which were at the defensive tackle spot. Maybe that means Ballard is happy with his group at that position. Maybe the front office never saw the correct value for a defensive tackle prospect when the team was on the clock.
Suh wasn't in-his-prime Suh in 2018. He was still one of the most disruptive interior penetrators in the NFL as a 31 year old. At 6-4 and 315-ish pounds, Suh would provide much-needed positional versatility for the Colts. He could man Woods' nose tackle spot on first down and stay there and generate pressure from a spot on the defensive line that doesn't usually create it. Then at times, he could play the three-technique spot and get upfield to push the pocket against guards.
Like Berry, Suh is likely waiting to sign as big of a deal as possible with a legitimate contender. The Colts certainly enter the season with contender status and have gobs of money to sign him to the lucrative deal he presumably wants.
Pick Six Newsletter
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
The former first-round pick still wants to start for a team one day, but is using a long-term...
Is there reason for NFL players to be jealous of NBA deals? Let's take a look
The Bears desperately need a kicker, and Gould doesn't appear to want to play for the 49ers...
With 100-to-1 odds of winning the award, these QBs headline some decent long-shot bets
There is no shortage of qualified and capable coaches of color, and many came together to share...
Danny Kanell and Raja Bell explore both sides of Washington's 2019 quarterback conundrum