Cowboys Opponent Preview: Colts Down Stretch

Over the next two weeks, we’ll start to get a much clearer picture of exactly who the 2014 Cowboys are. In the meantime, let’s focus on the opponents that will help Dallas define itself over 17 regular season weeks. Next up is the Week 16 opponent, the Indianapolis Colts.

Head-to-Head History

Series History:
Dallas leads 9-6
Current Streak:
Dallas has won last two in series, is 4-3 since team relocated to Indianapolis
Last Matchup:
2010 Week 13, Dallas wins 38-35 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The “Let’s Pick Peyton” Game.
The “Pick Sixes” Game.
The “OMG We Got Sean Freakin’ Lee” Game.
This Year’s Matchups:
Week 16 in Arlington

2013 Season Review

Andrew Luck is carrying the burden for the Colts.

For the second consecutive season, the Indianapolis Colts made a playoff appearance under their new franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck. Luck captained the Colts to another 11-5 campaign, this time finishing first in the AFC South and managing to pull off one of the best playoff comebacks of all time. Down 38-10 early in the third quarter and 41-24 late in stanza, Andrew Luck would seal the comeback with just over 4 minutes to go on a 64-yard touchdown to T.Y. Hilton. It was Luck’s 11th game-winning drive of his short career.

They would lose in the divisional round to Tom Brady’s Patriots, but moved a step further than they did the previous year and look to be the dominant team in their division for the foreseeable future. Again.

The Colts had the league’s tenth best net point differential, +55, on the year. Their net yards per attempt (NY/A) differential, a key indicator of overall team strength, was -0.3. Their offensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), measuring how much better the offense performs than league average in the same down/distance/game situation against the specific defense, ranked 13th last year. Their defensive VOA was 16th. Their offensive EPA, Expected Points Added and how well they improved their chances of scoring on a play-by-play basis, ranked 12th while their defense ranked 24th.

On offense, their best players according to Pro Football Focus’ cumulative game grades were QB Andrew Luck (+14.3, 1st in league), RT Godser Cherilus (+7.1, 18th) and LT Anthony Castonzo (+6.6, 7th). The team obviously missed Reggie Wayne, who was lost for the season when he tore his ACL trying to catch a low pass from Luck in Week 7.

How much will a clean Robert Mathis be able to contribute? (Getty Images)

On defense, the team was led by OLB Robert Mathis (+31.5, 2nd), DB Vontae Davis (+16.0, 4th) and DE Cory Redding (+9.8, 11th).

Despite going 11-5, the Colts suffered some of the most lopsided defeats in the league last year. They lost to two different teams, Arizona and St. Louis, that wouldn’t make the playoffs, by a combined 59 points. They also were throttled by New England in the playoffs by three touchdowns. On the flipside, they had four victories by 20 points or more.

2014 Offseason Headlines

Colts Owner, Jim Irsay

The biggest offseason headline for this team centered around an owner that loves to be in the public spotlight. Sound familiar? Well, Jim Irsay told Jerry Jones, “I’ll see your out-front salesman schtick and raise you a DUI and misdemeanor drug possession charges.” The Colts head man was arrested after driving erratically, and the incident report includes Irsay having pills and almost $40,000 in cash in his vehicle at the time of the stop. His trial has been postponed, but one of the biggest offseason discussions has been the NFL’s slow pace in punishing one of their own. Of course owners own, and players play and all that… but often times players are disciplined because their indescretions sully the shield. Welp.

As far as players go, the Colts will start the season without Robert Mathis, their defensive leader and pass rushing terror. Mathis was popped for performancing enhancing drugs and suspended four games.

FA WR Hakeem Nicks

In free agency, the Colts brought in WR Hakeem Nicks to try and bolster their receiving corps. Through three preseason games he’s caught 8 of his 9 targets. The real question is whether Nicks has it in him to remain healthy for the bulk of the season; something he hadn’t been able to do during his last few years in New York. The team also resigned CB Vontae Davis and brought in DL Arthur Jones from Baltimore and LB D’Qwell Jackson from Cleveland. Former Cowboys C Phil Costa signed for a short time, then decided to retire from Pro Football.

The team lost RB Donald Brown and WR Darius Heyward-Bey in free agency, and also long-time safety Antoine Bethea.

The Colts were without a first round draft pick, sending that to Cleveland midseason for running back Trent Richardson. Apparently, the Colts front office didn’t get the memo; must have been a TPS cover sheet issue. In the second round, they selected OT Jack Mewhort out of Ohio State, then followed that up with intriguing WR Donte Moncrief out of Ole Miss.

2014 Outlook

The Colts are often questioned because they haven’t done much to improve the supporting cast around blossoming superstar Andrew Luck. It’s not for lack of trying, but their running back situation is one of the worst in the league. The offensive line is not very good, however the guys added to the pass catcher meetings should have the team looking to continue their post-season run.

Nicks, along with the return of Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen should allow Luck to improve on his career 57% completion percentage. Will the minor moves the team made on the defensive side of the ball allow them to take the next step?

The Colts defense was in fact the most inconsistent team in the league last year, ranking 32nd in performance variance according to Football Outsiders. The offense wasn’t much more consistent, ranking 29th. Opponents never seem to know what they will get out of any aspect of the Colts team; head coach Chuck Pagano must not know either.

Their schedule includes two playoff teams, @ Denver and vs Philly, in the first month without Mathis, as well as two division contests. It’s the division that have most people penning in Indy for the AFC playoff bracket. Jacksonville is improving, but isn’t thought to be there yet, and Tennessee is in a turnover too. Houston was one of the biggest disappointments from 2013 and has questions at quarterback. Indianapolis is the running favorite to repeat atop the division.

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