In 2011, we witnessed one of the best teams over the past decade completely fall apart. The Indianapolis Colts went through the perfect storm of injuries and salary cap woes in route to the first pick of the 2012 NFL draft. The Colts have put themselves in an unique situation, and they're just beginning to dig their way out.
For years the Indianapolis Colts baffled me as they continued to win divisional titles despite what I thought was a growing concern over their salary situation. In short, they were paying players past their prime far too much money, yet for years, they didn't show any signs of slowing down.
That all changed in 2010. That year, the Colts experienced key injuries throughout the season, but once again they were able to overcome a huge amount of adversity to claim the divisional title in the closing weeks of the season, beating the Jacksonville Jaguars in winner-take-all week 15 matchup. For all intents-and-purposes, it appeared as if the Colts were back on track following an abnormal amount of injuries.
Then 2011 rolled around. Due in no small part to last year's lockout, we didn't learn of the extent of Peyton Manning's injury until just weeks before the beginning of the season. Many, myself included, thought Manning would be ready for the opening week of the season, but that date came and went without Manning trotting onto the field to take command of the Colts offense. Without him, the Colts were lost, and it showed on the field.
When it became apparent that Manning would not be playing at all in 2011, the Colts began planning of the future. Jim Caldwell's stoic personality didn't serve him well as public sentiment turned heavily against him in the latter half of the season. What could have been seen as calm diligence was seen by many as incompetency. Caldwell simply isn't a fiery guy, and Colts fans wanted to see some fire, any fire from a team that once won games with incredible ease.
The Colts' failure in 2011 can be attributed largely to their inability to plan for the unlikely scenario that Manning wouldn't be able to play. The Colts signed Kerry Collins prior to the beginning of the season, but he was quickly dispatched by opposing defenses. Curtis Painter followed with a level of incompetency rarely seen in the NFL. Ironically enough, Dan Orlovsky saved the Colts from a perfectly imperfect season by winning consecutive games against the Titans and the Texans in weeks 15 and 16. As you may recall, Orlovsky was the starter of the Lions' season finale in 2008 when they secured the NFL's first ever 0-16 record.
The Colts have a lot of work to do following their 2011 implosion. Andrew Luck is entering one of the worst situations in recent memory for a rookie quarterback, and he'll need to be physically and mentally tough to survive his first few years in the league. The Colts will be his team, but they have a ton of work to do before they're even competitive. It all starts this season, where the foundation of the Colts will be put in place.
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