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NFL - US Sports: Why the Colts must deliver for Reich

After their embarrassing Week 18 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars that cost a playoff berth, owner Jim Irsay said the Indianapolis Colts would be "all chips in".

The AFC South team's offseason moves have reflected that bold statement, but more trouble could lie around the corner with defensive leader Darius Leonard doubtful for preseason training camp.

The pressure is already ramping up on the Colts and head coach Frank Reich in particular, so why does it feel as though Indy needs to make this season count more than any other since Peyton Manning left in 2012?

Colts' calamitous conclusion

The Colts, -160 to make the Playoffs, collapsed so unexpectedly in 2021 and no one seemed to see it coming.

Reich's team had rebounded from a sticky start at 0-3 and 1-4 to become one of the NFL's hottest teams, beating their rivals through a combination of smothering defense and the irrepressible running of workhorse back Jonathan Taylor.

Approaching the final two games of the season, and needing just one win to confirm a postseason place, the Colts had just had seven players named to the Pro Bowl.

Then came the surprising home loss to the playoff-bound Las Vegas Raiders - one in which the Colts won the turnover battle and got another 100-yard rushing game out of Taylor.

But the Raiders, who came from behind to win 23-20 in the fourth quarter, were able to convert six of 14 times in third down and twice on fourth down to keep drives alive that they really shouldn't have.

Quarterback Carson Wentz struggled too, generating just 148 yards of passing offense - making the Colts seem too one-dimensional for their own good.

Worse was to come a week later when a 26-11 loss to the Jaguars, coupled with the Pittsburgh Steelers overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens, saw Indy's season come to a calamitous conclusion.

Big offseason changes

The hapless Jags were 2-14 ahead of that game and had nothing but pride to play for - hence the shockwaves that reverberated around the team's front office resulted in some drastic measures.

Wentz was on shaky ground and Reich reportedly apologized to Irsay for pushing the team to trade for the quarterback he knew well from their time together in Philadelphia. The ex-Eagles triggerman's play was spotty and his leadership found wanting when the going got tough.

When the Jaguars had stacked their defensive line to limit Taylor, the NFL's leading rusher, to 77 yards - the game was all in Wentz's hands and all he could come up with was 17-of-29 passing for 185 yards with two turnovers.

Wentz was shipped out at the first opportunity and the search for a fourth starting QB in four seasons began.

The Colts caught a break when the Atlanta Falcons left things far too open with their franchise star Matt Ryan and the four-time Pro Bowler's leadership qualities have already started to make a difference behind the scenes.

A clever trade for Raiders pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue also filled a need as, despite the presence of Darius Leonard, DeForest Buckner, and Kenny Moore II on defense, the Colts came in the bottom half of the league with only 33 sacks last season.

The acquisition of 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore reaffirmed Indianapolis' ambition to win now and added another veteran with Super Bowl experience.

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Too many changes?

There were other changes too as the Chicago Bears, impressed by Matt Eberflus' work in transforming the Colts' D into a top-10 unit that recorded the second-most takeaways in 2021, hired him as their head coach.

Reich rapidly replaced him by hiring Gus Bradley, who was the DC in Seattle when the Seahawks had the 'Legion of Boom', but other coaches followed Eberflus to Chicago.

Those were changes that the Colts probably didn't want to make - another one coming in the shape of starting safety Khari Willis's surprise retirement.

The team's biggest offseason challenge may be yet to come following the news that Leonard underwent back surgery this month.

He totalled 537 tackles, 16 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, 11 interceptions, and 15 sacks through his first four seasons in the league, so the whole team will have to step up until he's fit enough to return.

Pressure on Reich

Reich, +2000 to be Coach of the Year, will also have to do better after admitting he and his staff got outcoached by the Raiders in that fateful Week 17 loss. 

The 60-year-old has a 38-30 record overall and that's been enough to give him a shot at redemption this season.

But anything other than a deep playoff run might see his time in Indy come to an end.

Stability at QB will help and Ryan can certainly provide that in the short-term, but he's 37 and well into the twilight of his career.

Reich may need to deliver a Super Bowl run before the team moves into a rebuilding phase.

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