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NFL: What next for the Indianapolis Colts?

The Indianapolis Colts took the unprecedented step of appointing an interim head coach with no previous experience above high school level last week and made it work.

Colts owner Jim Irsay knew the critical barbs and brickbats would rain down on him and his organization as soon as he announced Jeff Saturday was taking over for the rest of the season with plenty still on the line.

Indy, who are +700 to make the playoffs, were 3-5-1 and only two wins off AFC South leaders Tennessee.

But still, the Colts were viewed as potential postseason contenders at the start of the year and many teams have parlayed strong finishes into deep playoff runs, so it seemed very odd to give up in this manner.

Owner's comments suggest Saturday is there to stay

Except Irsay's comments at the press conference more than underlined his belief that the Colts weren't giving up and would become a force under Saturday - if not this season then in ones to come.

By talking up the former Colts center's potential to be another Don Shula - the legendary ex-Baltimore Colts coach who was the youngest coach in the league when the team gave him his break in 1963 - Irsay effectively told everyone Saturday was being lined up for the permanent role.

As far as first-game auditions go, the ex-ESPN analyst delivered on his promise on Sunday. 

Quarterback call was the right one

Saturday made two major decisions ahead of kick-off that enabled the Colts to stun the Las Vegas Raiders into submission in a 25-20 win.

He recalled Matt Ryan as the team's starting QB just a couple of weeks after the veteran's benching following an indifferent run. 

Whatever he said to the 37-year-old during a meeting early in the week seemed to work wonders as Ryan came out and played a blinder, completing 21-of-28 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing four times for 38 yards and a score.

The other was easy: to put the ball in the hands of the NFL's best running back, Jonathan Taylor - who rampaged for 147 yards and a score on 22 carries on his return from injury and later credited Saturday for instilling some "passion" back into the team.

Can Saturday sustain his early success?

It's only one week and one win - against a Vegas team now languishing at 2-7 - and greater challenges are to come. Saturday's leadership qualities were never really in question, but can he sustain success and build something for the long-term?

Reports claim Saturday was hired against the advice of Colts general manager Chris Ballard and that makes for an interesting dynamic going forward.

Will the GM be listened to if he goes to the ownership with a list of permanent coaching candidates in the next couple of months and could he walk out of the door if he feels his voice is being ignored?

Losing Ballard, who has been in the role since 2017, could be a blow for a franchise that desperately needs to find stability around the quarterback position ahead of a potentially QB-rich draft class emerging in 2023.

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Colts must solve quarterback conundrum

There are two ways to solve the issue - draft well or clear the decks and entice a star QB from another team in a move that will need to provide instant dividends.

The Colts have enough talent on the roster to suggest trying to lure Lamar Jackson from the Baltimore Ravens could work, but if they strike out with him the rest of the available veteran QB talent pool looks too risky to take the plunge.

Drafting presents its own unique set of problems with up-and-coming studs CJ Stroud and Bryce Young almost certain to go in the top five - more than likely as the first two players taken.

Indianapolis are currently slated to pick at No.15 and, although that could change by five to ten spots before the order is finalized, they will probably have to trade up to gain access to an elite college QB prospect.

Kentucky's Will Levis is projected to go a little lower in round one and is at a level where Indy could get their quarterback of the future without selling the entire farm.

It all starts at the top

They also have to work out what to do with backup QB Sam Ehlinger - the sixth-round project they took on last year who did not convince during his two starts earlier this season.

Maybe Ryan's reawakening lasts long enough for the Colts to kick the can down the road and put all the other building blocks in place to ensure any rookie they do draft has half a chance of being successful.

That has to start at the top, though, with all the key decision-makers getting on the same page and fleshing out the roadmap to where they intend to go - reaching the sharp end of the playoffs for the first time since Andrew Luck was their star under center.

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