July 14, 2024

The Indianapolis Colts enter the 2024 season expecting to take the next step in Year 2 under head coach Shane Steichen.

While there is the notion that Indy has the tools to push for a playoff spot, there are doubters who have concerns that they will get it done.Start time set for Indianapolis Colts' regular season finale against the  Houston Texans | Fox 59

Here are five things the Colts must prove to skeptics:

5 things the Colts must prove to skeptics in 2024

1. Keeping Anthony Richardson healthy 

Richardson appeared in just four games during his rookie season but flashed enough to give people a reason to believe he could be that dual-threat quarterback that analysts viewed him as entering the NFL. In contrast, with AR only being able to finish one of those four games gives people a concern that he will be healthy for the entire 17-game schedule.

MORE: Colts GM provides update on Anthony Richardson’s shoulder injury

Shane Steichen told SI’s Albert Breer that he wants Richardson to play smart during his sophomore season.

“I mean, it’s just being smart on when to get down,” Steichen said. “It’s a happy medium. There’s a time and a place where it’s fourth down and you gotta have it and the game’s on the line, where you gotta go get it. But if it’s first-and-10 and you scramble and you can make it second-and-4 and take a big hit or make it second-and-6 and get down, Hey, let’s make it second-and-6.”

Health is the main talking point for AR but his development is also an X-factor for the Colts. But to develop as a quarterback, he will need those reps on the field he missed out on last year. Which is why the Colts have to keep him upright in 2024.

2. Betting on a young secondary 

Outside of Richardson’s health, the potential Achilles heel for Indianapolis in 2024 is if the young pieces in the secondary don’t take the next step. The staples of the group are Kenny Moore II and Julian Blackmon. This leaves no questions about who will be the nickel corner and strong safety.

The rest of the starting positions are up for grabs in training camp. JuJu Brents and Jaylon Jones will be looking to make a jump in Year 2 as they are competing with Dallis Flowers for the two starting boundary cornerback spots. Not only do the Colts need the trio to take a step in their development but stay healthy.

The big question mark in the secondary is free safety. Nick Cross and Rodney Thomas II are set to battle for the starting gig. Cross is looking to prove that he can deliver on the potential that he has shown at times while Thomas II is looking to rebound after having a letdown in Year 2.

Chris Ballard still has time to potentially sign a veteran safety or cornerback ahead of the preseason but if he doesn’t then he needs these young pieces to hit otherwise the noise will be loud on his approach to the secondary this offseason.

3. Not signing a veteran option to backup Jonathan Taylor

Ideally, the Colts will have Jonathan Taylor in the lineup for all 17 games but 2023 was an example of the benefit of having a quality backup when Zack Moss filled in while Taylor dealt with his injuries. If Taylor does have to miss time this year, it will be Evan Hull, Trey Sermon, and Tyler Goodson who Shane Steichen will have to lean on.

MORE: Colts backup running back was a surprise standout at minicamp

Sermon and Goodson were factors in a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last year when Moss got hurt early in the game, which may have played a part in helping Chris Ballard feel comfortable not bringing in a veteran this offseason.

There is the concern that not having a proven option as the backup could backfire on the Colts. But the good news is Shane Steichen has shown he can work with whoever is in the backfield.

4. Receiving corps delivers on potential

For the Indy offense to evolve in Shane Steichen’s second season the passing attack will have to be more explosive than it was in 2023. It will help having Anthony Richardson back in the lineup but that also means the receivers will have to do their part.

We know what they have in Michael Pittman Jr. as a reliable option as the possession receiver. Alec Pierce is the deep threat who should see more explosive plays with Richardson throwing him the ball.

Adonai Mitchell can also bring a different element with his route running ability and is a threat in the red zone.  Josh Downs fills the slot role who can make plays after the catch but can slip past a secondary for a chunk play.

The combination of what each receiver can bring to the offense gives you a lot to like and what the passing attack will look like in 2024. They just need to deliver on their potential to become a strong unit on the roster.

5. Winning the AFC South

The Houston Texans enter the season with Super Bowl hype after winning the AFC South last year and having an aggressive offseason adding notable pieces like Stefon Diggs and Danielle Hunter. The end of the 2023 season was a letdown for the Jacksonville Jaguars but they are still expected to compete for the divisional title and bounce back in the third season under Doug Pederson.

There isn’t an expectation that the Tennessee Titans to win the AFC South but they were also aggressive, adding L’Jarius Sneed and Calvin Ridley to make a push in Brian Callahan’s first season as their head coach.

So what does that mean for the Colts?

While there are analysts who like the potential of Indianapolis being a playoff-caliber team, it’s safe to assume that when the season predictions come out at the end of the summer the majority will pick the Texans to win the division.

The Colts haven’t won the AFC South since 2014. They have an opportunity to make a statement against Houston in Week 1. Plus Indy eventually has to get over their losing streak in Jacksonville—a place they haven’t won in since 2014 as well.

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