Carson Wentz, Quenton Nelson, Xavier Rhodes, Kwity Paye, it’s a small highlight of the embarrassingly long laundry list of players Indianapolis has seen hit the shelf at some point or another through just three weeks. The Colts are now 0-3 for the first time since 2011 and have found themselves quickly in the cellar of the AFC South with no clear route to light.
Labeling the first three weeks in Indianapolis as painful would be an understatement. It’s been abysmal, inadequate, second-class, and any hope of optimism has seemingly been pushed further out the window with every snap. Over the summer, it was Wentz’s foot surgery, followed by All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard’s ankle procedure, tailed by T.Y. Hilton’s neck surgery before the start of the season. Hilton, a four-time Pro Bowler and the clear WR1 within the Colts’ offense, is eligible to come off of injured reserve this week but head coach Frank Reich has said otherwise regarding Hilton’s availability moving forward.
Along with the aforementioned growing list of injured Colts, Reich has several other new injury issues to deal with this week as Indianapolis prepares for the similarly battle-wounded Miami Dolphins. Nelson is dealing with a high-ankle sprain he suffered in Sunday’s loss and three defensive players—Paye (hamstring), strong safety Khari Willis (groin), and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (ankle)—were also injured in a Week 3 loss to the Tennessee Titans. And while injuries are a massive part of football—teams that find themselves atop the Super Bowl stage come February are rarely the group of 53 an organization begins with in September—at this point, general manager Chris Ballard is just hoping for a breath of fresh air.
When Ballard traded for Wentz, it was a move for the now. The bridge-year entertaining Philip Rivers was over and Ballard’s desire for postseason accolades became the forefront of his offseason business tactics. The selection of Paye, a pro-ready prospect who has all the makings of a big-time impact edge defender, the signing of Eric Fisher to shore up Wentz’s blindside, and keeping veteran talents Hilton and Rhodes in town offered deserved excitement as the Colts prepared to wrangle the division crown from Tennessee.
It’s all gone haywire. Where does Indianapolis go from here?
The easy answer is not far, as a quarterback on two bum ankles, the loss of an All-Pro guard, and starters in street clothes often invite early vacation plans, but it’s still just Week 4 and there’s time to work this thing out.
It starts in the backfield, where if Wentz is unable to suit up, moving forward with Brett Hundley, Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger, or a combination of the three looks ugly, but likely. However, as up in the air as the Colts’ signal-caller situation remains to be, the current usage of Jonathan Taylor has drawn a boatload of attention for all the wrong reasons. A premier breakout candidate in all of football, the 2020 second-rounder has been limited to just 171 yards on 4.1 a pop. An increased workload alongside either of the aforementioned quarterbacks should offer major relief for Reich’s offense—an uptick in touches that must come sooner rather than later if the Colts look to get back on track with no relief in sight until a late Week 14 bye.
While Nelson and Hilton both should return in the near future for the offense, a look to the opposite side of the ball presents similar issues. Gone are veteran stalwarts Justin Houston and Denico Autry at defensive end. And with Leonard at less than full strength, the second level has represented a unit to take advantage of. Julian Blackmon has done a nice job early in the year working as a safety/linebacker hybrid, totaling a career-high 11 tackles in Week 3, but the secondary has been a mess. Rhodes was irrelevant in his season debut against the Titans, playing in 92% of the defensive snaps, and his backup in T.J. Carrie hasn’t looked nearly as strong as he did last season. Add in an early departure from Ya-Sin against the Titans and who knows who the starting four will be for Indianapolis come kickoff in Miami.
While the next handful of games for the Colts present a few favorable matchups, it’s time to get right for a franchise with an overwhelming amount of questions still left to be answered.