Wilson's Word: Not too soon to look ahead

The Colts' upcoming six-game stretch shapes up as the season's most challenging part of the schedule. How this team succeeds or fails will go a long way to determining its future.

The Indianapolis Colts have a 24-hour rule about games, which means regardless of the regular-season outcome, everybody moves on after one day.

How about 24 minutes?

That’s about how long it took to catch an elevator and walk to the Lucas Oil Stadium locker room where the Colts were chatting with reporters after Sunday’s 44-17 blowout of the Tennessee Titans. Yeah, it took longer than usual because the elevator was needed for an emergency on one of the other levels.

Before speaking to a single player, the thought was pretty clear about what has transpired these past two weeks against outmanned AFC South Division foes: “The Colts did what they were supposed to do. And that’s it.”

Nobody wants to read any nit-picking negatives after the Colts enjoyed another confident-boost performance. So while asking questions and listening to responses, especially in regards to quarterback Andrew Luck’s halftime apology, I kept a gut feeling to myself.

As soon as Pacers Media Day ended early Monday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, I drove home with one priority in mind — to crank out this blog on looking ahead with the Colts. The Pacers’ insights will be filed on PacersPress.com in the next few days, but for now, I’m already thinking about the Colts’ Sunday game against the Baltimore Ravens.

It’s an intriguing matchup on many levels, but the only one that is of real significance to me is that the Ravens at 3-1 are a quality opponent. And so far the Colts are 0-2 in games against quality opponents.

The next game won’t make or break the Colts. But it will go a long way to showing if the confidence earned in back-to-back cakewalks means anything.

As usual, there are more questions than answers after four games. I expect a few of those questions to be answered against the Ravens. But another issue surfaced late Monday with the news that starting safety LaRon Landry has been suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

What a time to lose a key defensive player. Ouch.

Can a blitzing defense without Landry watching the cornerback's backs get enough pressure on Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco? This guy will test the Colts’ “D.” We’ve seen him throw those high-arching deep balls before, where the receivers snag those passes for huge gains.

Can the Colts contend with 35-year-old wide receiver Steve Smith, Sr.? He’s playing lights out and was extremely motivated Sunday to show his old team, Carolina, how it made a mistake in not keeping him around.

Can the Colts’ offense move the ball consistently against a tougher defense? The Ravens won’t have any problem stuffing the run if the Colts intend to force feed running back Trent Richardson as it did against the Titans.

Can the Colts get off to a decent start and make it mean something by how they play throughout the game, especially after mistakes happen, which they always do?

It’s fair to say an even more important game awaits this team on a short week the next Thursday, when the Colts travel to AFC South foe Houston (3-1). And if you look down the schedule, it’s also easy to suggest this next stretch will be the toughest of the regular season. To be honest, it will define this Colts’ season.

The Colts are back home after that against Cincinnati (3-0). Nobody is playing better than the Bengals so far. Then it’s on to Pittsburgh (2-2), and who knows which Steelers team will show up?

Keep scanning the schedule. A trip to New Jersey to play the New York Giants (2-2) on Monday Night Football is no longer a gimme, the way the Giants are suddenly rolling. Then after a bye week, the rival New England Patriots (2-1) come to Indy.

Because the remainder of the schedule looks so much easier — with four out of six games against losing teams — it’s these next six that jump off the page. Starting with Baltimore, the Colts must contend with five quarterbacks who can humble you in a hurry: Flacco, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Tom Brady.

We’ll find out so much more about the Colts in this next stretch. And if this team can’t at least get a split in these six games, most of us will fear the worst down the stretch.

The good news is Luck is playing at an extraordinarily high level, better than ever before in his three seasons. But isn’t it interesting how quickly that perception changed? I heard sports talk radio hosts bash the guy after two games. The local newspaper referred to his two-game start as “pedestrian.” Fans took to Twitter to ask if something was wrong with No. 12. Now that’s all turned dramatically. Those talking heads are gushing about Luck. Fans are ecstatic and tweeting about how glad the Colts have Luck on their side. One national writer asked me after Sunday, “So, Andrew Luck for MVP? What do you think?”

Anybody who has been around me for any length of time knows I’m a big believer in Luck. Always have been, and it was going to take a lot more than losses at Denver and against Philadelphia to change my perception that his greatness is on an inevitable rise, that he’s destined to become one of the greatest to ever play this game. He will make mistakes, sure, because as Matt Hasselbeck reminded Sunday, Luck is still a young guy. He’s still learning each and every week, and nobody needs to say a word to him when he fails to meet the public’s expectations because he holds himself to a higher standard than any of us.

But as most of us realize, it’s going to take more than Luck to win these big games. It’s going to take a smarter approach to running the ball, not being so predictable in slamming the ball up the gut on first down so often “just to keep a defense honest.” As stated before, this offense is about passing to set up the run. Nothing will change my mind on that.

A defense without Robert Mathis must resort to blitzing to get the pocket pressure to make the 3-4 scheme work. Without it, these quarterbacks coming up will pick the Colts apart. No doubt in my mind. So as much as everyone feels good about things for the moment, I moved on many hours before the 24-hour rule.

The Colts players won’t be talking or thinking about anything but the Ravens this week. That’s the process, and it makes sense. Baltimore is enough to worry about. But win or lose, moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the Colts handle what happens, be it success or failure, from one week to the next, in this six-game stretch.

That, I promise you, will be more telling than anything we’ve seen so far.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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