The Indianapolis Colts (7-3) are a good team, but it's easy to forget that just a couple of years ago, they were drafting first overall in the 2012 NFL draft. Thursday's 30-27 win over the Tennessee Titans was a big reminder of that fact.
The new regime featuring head coach Chuck Pagano, general manager Ryan Grigson and quarterback Andrew Luck has created such a stark turnaround in Indianapolis that it's important to have proper perspective that this team isn't a finished product.
The Colts are rebuilding. There is still work to do.
Colts fans are just about over the honeymoon period and have started to complain about things like offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's playcalling, offensive-line play, receiver depth, etc. All of these are legitimate gripes, but the irony is that this team has little reason to be this good this fast—at least considering the historical context of such turnarounds.
Patience, Colts fans, these things take time. You're already ahead of the curve.
Grigson has done a fantastic job, but it's worthwhile to mention that his record isn't without blemish. Linebacker Erik Walden has been a disappointment after signing a four-year, $16 million deal. The Colts also traded a first-round pick for running back Trent Richardson, who has failed to reward his new team for its investment.
Pagano, meanwhile, has been nearly without blemish as a head coach. Personally, I credit him far more than former interim coach Bruce Arians for the Colts' success last season.
Yet the Colts still hit their fair share of speed bumps. They were outclassed in every facet of the game against the St. Louis Rams last week, and they came out slow against the Titans before taking control in the second half.
This is a well-constructed and well-coached team, but it isn't a finished product.
In 2012, a lot of well-meaning analysts contrasted the Colts' close victories to those of the Houston Texans. The difference was, however, that the Colts were a team that "didn't belong" in those games and still gutted out big wins. The Texans should've been blowing teams out but weren't.
In many ways, the Colts' struggles still deserve that benefit of the doubt. This isn't the powerhouse team that is struggling to close out weaker competition. No, this is still the plucky young team that is outperforming any realistic expectations.
I'll admit that my preseason expectations weren't very realistic. I called them favorites in the AFC South and even held up Luck as an MVP candidate. While that second statement won't come true this season, the first is looking more and more likely.
The 7-3 Colts are doing this just a few years after going 2-14 and winning the rights to Luck with the NFL's worst record. That's perspective that matters. If the Colts drop games, look lost at times, or go one-and-done in the playoffs, that's what we call "progress."
In today's "What have you done for me lately?" NFL, it's almost as if we expect greatness from a team that's already great right under our noses.
So, when is the cutoff? When is it time to hold the Colts up to the standard of one of the best teams in the NFL?
Maybe it sounds arbitrary, but next season has to be the year when they stop flirting with inclusion into the "elite" class in the NFL. They need to take firm hold of the AFC South and place themselves among the conference's best.
Give them another offseason to collect talent—even though that will be difficult without that first-rounder. Maybe they find another offensive lineman or two. Maybe they strike gold on a pass-rusher or a receiver. Grigson may not bat 1.000, but he's a darn good contact hitter.
Most importantly, give this team another season to grow. Luck is still getting better. Tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen both have bright futures ahead of them. Heck, even Richardson has far more talent than he's showcased.
This Colts team is ready for prime time, but we ignore the best part of their story when we consistently wonder why this team isn't getting better faster. They're already one of the most dramatic turnarounds in recent NFL history.
This team is a work in progress—a great work in progress.
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