Over the last seven seasons, the Colts have been as recognizable as any team in the NFL-same GM, same coach, and same MVP quarterback. They have made the Playoffs in all seven of those years and currently have a league-record six straight 12+ win seasons. Under Bill Polian, Indianapolis drafts well and they re-sign their stars instead playing the free agent game. Their run of sustained success has been built on team chemistry, bringing in solid character players, and riding the arm (and brain) of Peyton Manning to the top of the AFC South ladder.
The biggest change in years came after another postseason disappointment when head coach Tony Dungy decided to retire. Long-time assistant Jim Caldwell was named as the new head, and many wondered if he would make any changes to a team that had been a model of consistency. That question was answered as Caldwell quickly replaced defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and special teams coach Russ Purnell. The Colts have struggled to stop the run and have had below-average special teams for many seasons so those changes were welcome by many fans in Indianapolis.
Another philosophical change came at the Draft when the Colts selected two 300+pound defensive tackles-Fili Moala (USC) and Terrance Taylor (Michigan) - in the first four rounds. Dungy and Meeks liked undersized, quicker tackles that could get upfield quickly, but the new regime obviously thought it was time for some beef in the defensive line. Given their struggles against the run and getting off the field (the Colts had the fewest possessions in the NFL in ’08) last year, this change in defensive personnel seems long overdue.
Another area the Colts addressed in the Draft was trying to improve their running game which ranked 31st in the league a year ago. Polian surprised some by taking UConn running back Donald Brown in the first round, but he is a player that fits this team on the field as a complete back and off the field with his high character. Indy wants to get back to the duel running back attack that worked so well in their Super Bowl winning year of 2006, and Brown along with Joe Addai should be a formidable tandem.
The Colts always have a shot to win every game they play for one reason; Peyton Manning. The three-time MVP strikes fear in opposing defenses and has the ability to carry a squad that has been deficient in other areas. He won’t have the familiar Marvin Harrison this season, but many think the record-setting receiver had been in decline for a few seasons. Indy was riddled with injuries in 2008, but still managed to recover from a 3-4 start to finish with nine straight wins. With any improvement in the running game, running defense and special teams, look for the Colts to once again be at the top of the AFC food chain in 2009.