Not that Indianapolis Colts fans should fear the worst, but the beginning of each NFL season includes worrying about what could go wrong.
While the Colts have been touted as Super Bowl contenders and boast one of the stronger offenses in the league, here are three concerns every fan should have about what could go wrong for this team.
1. Andrew Luck’s health — Protecting the franchise quarterback is the No. 1 priority for any season. The three-time Pro Bowl passer is coming off his best season with a league-high 40 touchdown passes. But he’s also taken his share of hits, which are reason to cringe every time he goes down.
That Luck has been sacked 100 times in three years is troublesome. Granted, he’s a tough guy who can take a hit, but the idea is to minimize those from happening. The Colts have struggled to keep him clean at times, and that was evident again in Saturday night’s 23-11 home preseason loss to the Chicago Bears.
While the Colts have an insurance policy in backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who once led Seattle to a Super Bowl appearance, Luck is the guy who makes this offense go. Lose him and, with all due respect to Hasselbeck, this team won’t be the same.
2. Run defense — Anybody paying attention to the Colts in the past two postseasons knows that stopping the run has been a problem in playoff losses at New England. The Colts do a decent job against most teams, but how they stuff opposing running backs on elite teams is the question.
Defensive end Kendall Langford and inside linebacker Nate Irving were signed in free agency to help bolster the run defense. But the Colts are still trying to decide who will line up at nose tackle. Starter Josh Chapman has been giving up many of his snaps in the first two preseason games to rookie David Parry. Critics continue to question whether the Colts have done enough to strengthen an obvious weakness.
If the Colts are going to have any realistic chance of accomplishing their goals this season, they have to figure out the right combination in stopping the run. The Patriots employed an extra offensive lineman in regular-season and playoff routs of the Colts last season. This team has to be physical enough at the point of attack to prevent history from repeating itself.
3. Return of Robert Mathis — The franchise’s all-time sack leader hasn’t played since 2013, when he led the NFL in sacks. It’s not that anyone expects the 34-year-old star to be that player right away in his eventual return from an Achilles tendon tear. But if Mathis can be a solid pass rusher and team leader, the defense will be better.
Problem is, Mathis is getting up there in years and this is the first serious injury of his 13-year career. While he wanted to be ready for the season opener on Sept. 13, Colts owner Jim Irsay has suggested the team will be more cautious, that Mathis might not be ready to play again until late September or early October.
It’s not when Mathis plays but how he performs when he’s on the field. A healthy Mathis can make all the difference for this team come the postseason. Without him, the Colts can generate a pass rush against most teams, but it becomes a problem against elite competition.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.