Skip to main content

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2023 Opponent Preview: Indianapolis Colts, Week 12

The Colts stumbled in the second half of 2022 but could be on the rise again this year with hyper-talented rookie QB Anthony Richardson and a healthy Shaquille Leonard in the middle of their defense


As the NFL enters its fallow period between the end the teams' offseason programs and the start of training camp, we are taking a closer look at each of the opponents the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face during the 2023 regular season. From how those teams fared last year to what they've done with the roster since to some as-yet-unanswered questions, we want to get a better feel for what the Buccaneers will be up against this fall. Today we look at a Colts team that has finally invested in a young quarterback and is expecting to get a big boost from the return of an All-Pro linebacker.

2022 Results

The Colts opened and closed their season against division-rival Houston, a pair of games which we've already examined from the Texans' perspective. In Indianapolis, those two games – a 20-20 in Week One against a team over which they were favored by a touchdown, and a 32-31 loss in Week 18 that required an almost impossible comeback by Houston – represented the type of frustrations that colored their 4-12-1 campaign.

After that season-opening tie, in which the Colts rallied for 17 points in the fourth quarter but missed a potential 42-yard game-winning field goal in overtime and squandered a 517-yard outing by the offense, things got worse in Jacksonville in Week Two. This time, veteran quarterback Matt Ryan was intercepted three times, the offense only managed 218 yards and the Colts were shut out, 20-0. Indianapolis did rebound to win three of its next four, including a 20-17 shocker over Kansas City in which Ryan threw two touchdown passes to rookie tight end Jelani Woods. The Colts also avenged their Week Two loss with a 34-27 shootout win over Jacksonville, marking one of just four times all season Indy scored more than 20 points.

However, after a subsequent three-game losing streak dropped the Colts to 3-5-1, the team fired Head Coach Frank Reich and surprised the rest of the league by pulling Jeff Saturday, their former star offensive lineman, out of the ESPN studios to take over. Indianapolis promptly won its next game over the Raiders, 25-20, with running back Jonathan Taylor having one of his best games in an injury-marred season, as he ran for 147 yards and a score.

The new-coach magic didn't last long, however. Saturday's Colts would lose their final seven games, including 54-19 and 38-10 drubbings from the Giants and Cowboys, respectively. While the season-capping loss to Houston was painful, featuring fourth-and-12 and fourth-and-20 conversions plus a two-point conversion on the game-winning drive, the toughest pill to swallow was a 39-36 overtime loss to Minnesota in Week 15. Indianapolis rushed out to a 33-0 halftime lead, then allowed Minnesota to mount the biggest comeback win in NFL history. Minnesota had 82 yards and three first downs at the half and then exploded for 436 yards and 29 first downs after the break.

Ryan, who arrived from Atlanta in a trade for a third-round pick in March, did not retain his starting job for the entirety of his lone season in Indianapolis. He suffered a shoulder injury in a Week Seven loss to Tennessee but Reich indicated that the team, at 3-3-1, had already decided to give second-year passer Sam Ehlinger a look. The Colts lost their next two games, after which Saturday replaced Reich and chose to go back to the veteran. Ryan got five more starts before the team turned next to another veteran, Nick Foles. Foles suffered a ribs injury in his second start, paving the way for Ehlinger to get one more shot in the season finale. Ryan ended up throwing for 3,057 yards in 12 games but had just 14 touchdown passes against 13 interceptions.

After an enormous sophomore effort in which he rushed for 1,811 yards and was a first-team All-Pro, Taylor was bothered by ankle injuries in 2022 and topped out at 861 yards, though the still averaged 4.5 per carry. Second-year wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. had 99 catches but averaged just 9.3 yards per grab. As a team, the Colts only averaged 9.7 yards per reception and 6.4 yards per pass. The Colts' offensive line, long one of the league's best, struggled mightily, allowing a total of 60 sacks.

On defense, the Colts only got 74 snaps from their defensive leader, four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Shaquille Leonard, and ended up allowing the fourth-most points in the league. Linebacker Zaire Franklin finished third in the NFL with 166 tackles and linebacker Bobby Okereke was ninth with 149. Well-traveled edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue led the team with 9.5 sacks and interior rusher DeForest Buckner added 8.0. Rookie safety Rodney Thomas, a seventh-round draft pick out of Yale, made an instant impact with a team-leading four interceptions.

2023 Arrivals

The Colts chose not to extend the Jeff Saturday experience, instead hiring former Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen as their new head coach. Steichen had a hand in the development of both the Chargers' Justin Herbert and the Eagles' Jalen Hurts, and he'll have another promising young passer to work with in Indianapolis.

Ehlinger, a former sixth-round pick, gathered some experience in three starts last year and could start the 2023 season under center, but he'll have plenty of competition. After years of cycling through imported veteran quarterbacks, the Colts used the fourth-overall pick in April's draft on hyper-athletic Florida passer Anthony Richardson. The team also brought in former Eagles backup Gardner Minshew on a one-year deal, reuniting him with Steichen.

The Colts have also had a bit of a revolving door at placekicker in recent seasons but made a move to stabilize that spot by giving a four-year deal to former Buccaneer and Ram Matt Gay. Gay was the NFC's Pro Bowl kicker in 2021 and he has made 93.8% of his field goals over the last two years. The Colts brought in another former Buc in wide receiver Breshad Perriman; he and former Bill Isaiah McKenzie plus third-round draft pick Josh Downs give a thin Colts receiving corps more potential options. Downs (5-9, 171) lacks size but is a very shifty route runner who could excel in the slot and also might return punts.

On defense, the Colts gathered some depth for their defensive line, most notably signing former 49er Samson Ebukam, who has had at least 4.5 sacks in each of the last four seasons. Ebukam got a three-year deal and the team also gave one-year contracts to defensive tackle Taven Bryan (Cleveland) and edge rusher Genard Avery (Tampa Bay).

In between the Richardson and Downs picks the Colts spent a second-round pick on Kansas State cornerback Julius Brents, who could start right away as a long-limbed defender who thrives in man coverage and had four picks last year. Northwestern defensive tackle Adetomiwa Adebawore, who has inside-outside flexibility and was widely considered a fringe first-rounder, could prove to be a steal in the fourth round.

2023 Departures

The Colts shed a combined 26 seasons worth of experience from their quarterback room in the offseason, releasing Ryan in March and then letting Foles go in early May after drafting Richardson. Neither Ryan nor Foles has since signed with another team. Ngakoue and tackle Dennis Kelly, who made three starts last year, became unrestricted free agents and also have not been signed as of late June.

The cuts traded an experienced cornerback, too, sending Stephon Gilmore to Dallas in exchange for a fifth-round pick in this year's draft. Their biggest loss in free agency came on defense, as the Giants gave Okereke a four-year deal. The Giants also picked up free agent wide receiver Parris Campbell, a former Colts second-round pick who finally had a healthy year after playing just 15 games over his first three seasons. Campbell responded with a career-best 63 receptions.

Cornerback Brandon Facyson, who started four games in his one year in Indianapolis and broke up six passes, went back to Las Vegas on a one-year deal. Safety Rodney McLeod also spent just one year in Indy after six in Philadelphia and four with the Rams, starting 15 games and intercepting two passes last season. He signed with the Browns. The Colts didn't need to re-sign Chase McLaughlin after signing Gay, so the kicker inked with the Buccaneers instead. Offensive lineman Matt Pryor, who made nine starts last year, moved on to the 49ers.

On Thursday, the Colts also released defensive end Rashod Berry and cornerback Isaiah Rodgers after both were suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating the league's gambling policy. Berry signed with the Colts in January and has played a total of eight NFL games with the Patriots and Lions. Rodgers started nine games for Indianapolis last season and also returned 18 kickoffs.

Other Noteworthy Developments

Steichen made several hires to his new coaching staff that should help the team with the process of developing a young QB talent like Richardson. Jim Bob Cooter, who was most recently the passing game coordinator for the Jaguars in 2022, came on as the offensive coordinator and Cam Turner came over from the Cardinals as the quarterbacks coach. Cooter was a big part of Jaguars rising star Trevor Lawrence starting to unlock his immense talents in 2022, and Turner has previously worked with such mobile quarterbacks as Cam Newton and Kyler Murray.

On defense, Steichen retained almost the entire coaching staff, including coordinator Gus Bradley, though Senior Defensive Assistant John Fox did move on to the Lions' staff.

Rookie safety Daniel Scott, a fifth-round pick out of California, suffered a torn ACL at the very end of the Colts' OTA practices and was placed on injured reserve. He will miss the entire season. On a more positive note, Shaquille Leonard is optimistic about his return to action after losing most of last season to back, concussion and nerve issues. Leonard made the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons before last year's struggles. There is, however, still no timetable for when Leonard will be back in action on the football field.

Though the Colts lost Okereke in free agency they were able to re-sign several solid contributors, including linebacker E.J. Speed, defensive end Tyquan Lewis and wide receiver Ashton Dulin. Speed had 55 tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles in 2022; Lewis has struggled with injuries the last two years but had 4.0 sacks in his last full season in 2020; Dulin contributed 15 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown.

Pressing Questions

How soon will the Colts turn to Anthony Richardson?

This one is obvious, but is indeed the question that will be most discussed for the Colts this year until Richardson is under center. Quarterbacks drafted very early in the first round rarely sit for long in today's NFL, but Richardson comes in with a relative lack of experience, having started only 13 games at Florida. He is not as raw of a talent as that background might suggest, but he did have a completion rate of just 54.7% for the Gators and he threw 15 interceptions against 24 touchdown passes.

Richardson's skillset is off the charts, as he has prototypical size, elite arm strength and the speed and quickness to immediately rank as one of the best running quarterbacks in the league. Shane Steichen is fresh off working with Jalen Hurts, who made an immediate impact with his legs and subsequently improved significantly in the passing game, to the point where he was second in MVP voting last season. The Colts could get their mobile rookie on the field right, assuming he can use his legs to make big plays as Justin Fields has done in Chicago even if his passing is still a work in progress.

Would the full return of Shaquille Leonard be enough to get the Colts' defense into the top 10 of the league's rankings?

There's no doubt that the Colts missed Leonard's contributions last season after he averaged 135 tackles, 2.5 interceptions, 7.5 passes defensed and over four forced fumbles during his first four seasons, three of which earned him first-team All-Pro honors. He is not only their best defensive player but also one of the very best off-ball linebackers in the NFL.

As noted above, the Colts allowed the fourth most points in the league last year, but some of their underlying numbers weren't as bad. They were 15th in yards allowed, 11th against the pass, eighth in sacks per pass play, and 10th in third down success rate. The league's worst red zone numbers contributed to the middle-of-the-pack yardage totals turning into bad point outcomes.

The defense will also have continuity after Steichen, as noted, retained Gus Bradley and his assistants. They also still have DeForest Buckner anchoring the middle of their defensive front. The Colts won't have Ngakoue back but will ask newcomer Samson Ebukam to fill that role, and rookie corner Julius Brents may have to step right into the fire after the Gilmore trade. The Colts ranked 10th in points allowed in both 2020 and 2021 and there is still plenty of talent at all three levels of the defense, so a rise up the rankings could be in the making if Leonard is back to full speed.

Latest Headlines