Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

BarrettJT16.jpg

» SDA: Rivalry Showdowns

Rivalry week has significant conference and Playoff ramifications. Should Alabama, Mississippi State, Oregon, or Florida State be worried about getting upset by their rivals?

10 Oct 2006

Any Given Sunday: Colts Survive Titans

by Ned Macey

In the early days of the AFC South, the Tennessee Titans were the Colts' nemesis. Those days seemed long gone when the Colts ran off six consecutive victories between 2003 and 2005. In those six losses, the Colts always scored at least 29 points. On Sunday, the worst team in the Titans' brief history went into Indianapolis and fell 14-13 in a closely contested game. The loss highlighted some bright spots for the Titans -- and told us more about a Colts team that will struggle to remain among the elite.

What makes this result so striking is the fact that the Titans are a very bad team. Even after Sunday's game, they still rank as the worst team in football according to DVOA. Against their two other playoff-caliber opponents, they lost by a combined 85-21. They are equally inept on both sides of the ball, ranking 31st on offense and defense.

The Super Bowl-hopeful Colts fell behind this supposed patsy, finally took a lead during the fourth quarter, and then held on for dear life after the Titans had the ball across midfield in the final five minutes. This game, the most recent in a series of close wins against inferior competition, requires the Colts to do some serious soul-searching if they want to contend in the playoffs.

The primary area of concern is the Colts run defense. Always a worry for the slight, undersized Colts defense, it has reached new level of ineffectiveness. The Titans took the ball 88 yards on their first possession without ever calling a pass play. The Colts run defense ranks 30th in the league, even worse than the Titans (who are 28th). Tony Dungy is not your typical defensive-minded coach. He has always prioritized pass defense at the expense of the run. A year ago, the Colts ranked fourth in pass defense and 17th against the run.

In response to this imbalance, Dungy did what any reasonable man would do. He made starting defensive end Raheem Brock a starting defensive tackle and made pass-rushing specialist Robert Mathis the starting defensive end. He also planned to bench safety Mike Doss in favor of Antoine Bethea, who is better in coverage. Defensive tackle Larry Triplett and linebacker David Thornton were allowed to leave. Linebacker Gary Brackett, who excels in coverage, got an extension.

Dungy took over a defense that ranked 30th in DVOA before he arrived and had improved it to 8th a season ago, so he gets some latitude on personnel deployment. Also, run-stuffing safety Bob Sanders has yet to play this season, and Dungy did not know Corey Simon would be physically unable to play. The unmistakable fact, however, is that the Colts defense is as bad as at any point in the Dungy era.

The Titans took advantage with Travis Henry and also rookie LenDale White. Henry is a known quantity. He is a tough runner who is not particularly good and will be 30 by the time the Titans may be competitive. White may be the future. The Titans are giving him only a handful of carries each week, but for the second week in a row he was impressive. The most encouraging play for White and Titans fans was a simple four-yard run in the fourth quarter where the bulky White turned on the afterburners to get the outside corner. White was being chased by a bevy of speedy Indianapolis defenders, but he turned an apparent loss into a respectable gain. Few doubted his ability to run between the tackles, and if he flashes that sort of speed, he could develop into a quality back.

White's most impressive play may have been in the fourth quarter, but most of the damage on the ground was done in the first quarter. The Colts run defense has been especially bad in the first quarter, perhaps as an overreaction to what killed the Colts a season ago. Last year, they struggled mightily against the pass early in games when Sanders played close to the line of scrimmage. Brock was often at defensive end on first and second down, limiting the pass rush.

This year, the Colts have been reluctant to bring a safety anywhere near the box, and Mathis and Dwight Freeney consistently rush upfield. As a result, the Colts are getting killed by draw plays, a tactic frequently employed by the Titans on Sunday. Freeney and Mathis are probably just doing what they are told to do. On two plays during the Titans' first-possession touchdown drive, Freeney was replaced at defensive end by Bo Schobel, who promptly rushed upfield and let the draw come in behind him for big gains.

When Sanders returns, the Colts may return to aggressively deploying him inside the box where he excels. With Freeney and Mathis on the field, the Colts may then be able to hold their own against the pass with only one safety deep. Still, it is difficult to imagine one player, even one as talented as Sanders, making that big a difference on a team being so consistently gouged.

With all the kvetching about the defense, it goes unnoticed that the juggernaut Colts offense scored only 14 points. They punted six times, turned the ball over twice, and scored only two touchdowns. The Colts offense has struggled on multiple occasions this year, and while still among the league's best, it is no longer dominant.

The Titans' defensive game plan could not have been simpler. They played a base 4-3 defense with both safeties extremely deep. When three receivers came in, they went to a nickel defense and had only six men in the box. They almost never blitzed. The defense forced the Colts to work underneath and with the run game.

The Colts' running attack has been mediocre without Edgerrin James. Both Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai sport below average DVOAs. With seven and sometimes only six men in the box, the Colts often went to run plays. They ran the ball effectively, but eventually the Titans would make a big play or the Colts would self-destruct. Kyle Vanden Bosch short circuited two drives with stops in the backfield. Another drive stalled after a holding penalty.

Despite little pressure from the Titans, the Colts rarely threw the ball down the field. This was largely attributable to the Titans' conservative defense, leaving Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne often double-covered. In particular, Manning stayed away from favorite target Harrison because of the quality play of Pac-Man Jones.

Insisting as a rookie that your name is a video game character sets you up to get noticed. When you proceed to holdout, get into trouble with the law, and play unevenly in your first several starts, you develop a negative reputation fairly quickly. If your team continues to struggle and no national media watch your games, you only make the highlights when you make a mistake. If this description fit you, you might start trying to make a name for yourself through your game rather than through the tabloids. Pac-Man finally seems to be following this advice.

Unfortunately, the nation has largely missed the development of one of the top young cornerbacks in the league. A first-round pick a year ago, Jones struggled early before becoming a dominant force later in the year. This season, teams rarely throw in his direction. For the whole game, the Colts only attempted two downfield throws to Harrison with Jones in coverage. On one, Jones knocked the pass away. On the other, Harrison got the best of him for a 13-yard gain.

Even more telling may be that on the one play where Jones had to come out of the game with an injury, the Colts immediately went to Harrison for their first touchdown. For most of the game, Manning's first read was to the left, Wayne's side, but on that play he went right to Harrison. The rest of the game with Jones in coverage, Harrison caught two balls for 16 yards.

The problem for the Titans has been Reynaldo Hill on the other side. Also a second-year player, seventh-rounder Hill is not developing. The Colts tried to attack him early. In the first quarter, they just missed on a would-be touchdown to Wayne and had a completion for a first down called back for a holding penalty. The Titans responded by rolling coverage to Wayne, leaving the middle of the field open for Brandon Stokley to snag five balls in the afternoon. Good coverage by the Titans linebackers held four of those receptions short of first down distance.

Football Outsiders' game-charting project tracks the defender in coverage on various passes. Through the first three and a half weeks of the season (Week4's second half is not yet charted) opponents targeted Hill 23 times and Jones only 15 times, despite Jones covering the opposition's top receiver more often than Hill. The passes to Hill's man averaged over 10 yards per completion. Passes in Jones' direction averaged only seven. After his performance on Sunday, that total will likely drop. Last year, he allowed 6.6 yards per pass attempt, which ranked among the top 20 cornerbacks in the league.

Jones has a bright future, but the most important player for the future of the Titans is Vince Young. In his second start, Young made some nice throws and added a nifty touchdown run. On the whole, however, he struggled. He completed only three passes to wide receivers. The conservative game plan contained numerous screens and dumpoffs. The Titans finally freed him up to make a big play on their final meaningful drive, and he threw a strike to Colts safety Mike Doss. (Fortunately, Bethea made his best play of the season to break up the would-be interception.)

Evaluating Young at this point may be impossible. The first-year struggles of Eli Manning and Alex Smith make any snap judgments of Young a dangerous proposition. As Aaron Schatz points out in this week's Quick Reads, he has been much more successful in the shotgun than on traditional plays, a surprise to nobody considering he played in the shotgun almost exclusively in college. The most encouraging play of the day was actually an incompletion, a precise deep ball that went through the hands of Bobby Wade.

I think Vince Young will be a good quarterback, but nothing in Sunday's game or any game this season is going to tell us whether I am right. He is still too raw and too sheltered by his offense (to say nothing of hampered by injuries to his receiving corps). Young should not be playing this year. Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers are just two examples in the endless parade of high first-round picks who have enjoyed success after sitting out their rookie season. If a quarterback is ready to play right away, he should play. If he needs to learn how to read the field while dropping back, he should learn it in practice rather than developing bad habits trying to survive in games.

That the Titans were unable to work out a new contract with Steve McNair or find a better caddy for Young than Kerry Collins is the biggest indictment of a franchise flailing in the wind. Sunday's result highlighted some of the talent the team has, but it remains a franchise in disarray looking at a long season.

The Colts were hoping for a long season that featured a deep playoff run. Despite their 5-0 record, they have real work to do. The Colts last lost a meaningful regular season game in Week 8 of 2004 against Kansas City. That streak will come to an end sometime in the first three weeks after the bye. They face Washington, Denver, and New England, three of the best ground attacks in football.

Of their 26 wins the past two seasons, only three were by fewer than seven points. They already have three such wins this year in five games. What separates great teams is not winning the close ones; it is destroying inferior competition. Right now the Colts are decidedly not great. A weak division will likely get them back into the playoffs for the fifth straight year, but absent a defensive turnaround, their stay there will be only as long as a year ago.

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the most surprising result of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these surprises as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 10 Oct 2006

71 comments, Last at 12 Oct 2006, 8:58pm by Scott P.

Comments

1
by irishfan (Ireland not ND) (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 12:41pm

Why didnt Dungy dare Young to beat them? Terrible coaching in my opinion. Put 11 men in the box if thats what it takes. Just make the rookie throw the ball

2
by Kalyan (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 12:53pm

Great article (as usual). I feel that the Colts RB are pretty ineffective facing good defenses - Pats, Broncos, Steelers. However, with their schedule having the likes of Titans and Texans twice a year, they are free to run up their yardage.

I think their real test will come on the trip to NE. BB will be on cloud 9 come the week before 11/5.

3
by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 12:59pm

Very interesting analysis. But is it really Edge's absence that has decreased the Colts' offense's efficacy? Can't Addai and/or Rhodes run an effective stretch play? Wasn't that Edge's biggest contribution (other than blocking)?

I'm just curious -- I haven't seen a single Colts game this year and don't know -- but there has to be something more to it than "No Edgerrin James", right?

Or wrong?

4
by Adam, VA (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:00pm

Where was Dallas Clark this game?

5
by James C (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:03pm

What is most damning about the Titans QB situation is that they must have known that they might need another player for most of the offseason yet waited so long to bring anyone in that they defeated the point of doing so. Very few quarterbacks would have fared much better than Kerry Collins under the circumstances he was put into.

Considering the way Fisher handled McNair (ie. sat him down to learn behind O'Donnell), I am placing the blame entirely on Reese.

6
by johnt (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:20pm

When is Bob Sanders due back?

7
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:20pm

Colts fan here:

3: I think there's a moderate dropoff in the run game's quality, simply on account of losing Edge. It would be no big deal if the defense had improved this year. But it's safe to say that the defense, at the moment, is much worse.

Click on my name for a post about 5-0 teams over at the Pro Football Reference blog. The subject is the Bears, and how they have the second largest victory margin of any 5-0 team ever, behind the 1999 Rams. If you look near the bottom of the list of 5-0 teams, you can see that the Colts this year have one of the smallest margins ever.

The Colts should roll into the playoffs again as AFC South Champions, possibly even with home field throughout. But they aren't nearly as good as their record, and it will catch up to them at some point.

8
by Joseph (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:22pm

I don't think the loss of Sanders & Simon is responsible for the entire "demise" of the Colts D this season. I think somebody in the front office better wake up and draft/sign in FA a big run stopping tackle and a big MLB during the coming offseason, or the Colts will stay a team with a big play offense often stymied by a tough D in the playoffs (think Pittsburgh last year).

9
by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:29pm

As a Colts fan, I find the offensive struggles the most maddening. Last week against the Jets, the defense was like stone wall for the first 3 possessions, resulting in a fumble and two punts. Our offense would normally have taken that 7-0 lead and extended to at least 17-0. From there, I expect it would have gone ill for the Jets, as up three scores is about the only game situation where our defense is tenable. Unfortunately, the offense did nothing, and only some late game heroics saved the game.

This game had a lot of the same characteristics offensively. In both games, the Colts had an early drive that was run heavy, but failed after a few first downs. I don't know what the problem is. Manning is second in DPAR and DVOA, so it seems the problem is not necessarily with him (though if he hit Wayne in the first quarter we might not have been having this conversation). I guess the problem is really with our two headed monster of running backs.

Maybe we should have mortgaged the future for a few more years with Edge. I am now officially depressed.

10
by jebmak (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:33pm

I thought that there was an article on here or in PFP that talked about how there was no correlation between QB performance and starting or sitting the first year.

11
by Ben (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:38pm

I think the 'Tampa 2' defense has proven elsewhere that you don't need a big run stopping DT. However, to run the defense well, you need a DT who can penetrate and get into the backfield, and none of the Colts DTs are doing that. The Colts DTs just disappear, and with the DEs rushing up the field, the defense is getting shreaded by draw plays.

12
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:39pm

Nit: Hill was a 7th round pick, not a UDFA.

Pacman really has been a pleasant surprise. I think about half of those 15 passes came against the Jets in Week 1. San Diego didn't throw in his direction at all, Miami only did once, Dallas 3 or 4, where he didn't let Owens complete a pass but Glenn beat him for a TD when he was playing out by making a head-fake out and going in. Then the game detailed above, though I thought Harrison's other completion came when he ran a short cross and Pacman released inside to the LBs (and Bulluck is listed as making the tackle on the play).

Just for the record, Bobby Wade had a pass go through his hands in the end zone that would have made it 17-7. Instead, the Titans kicked a FG to go up 13-7. Maybe, maybe, maybe. On Wade, it seemed like the Titans found the best way to use him early in the year, throwing him short passes and giving him room to run. Lately, they've seemed use him more like an actual WR, with predictably mediocre results.

13
by David (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:44pm

This seems to be as good a place to ask as any. Why is Adam Jones referred to as "Pacman" by the NFL? It's a fun nickname, sure, but I wasn't aware of any XFL-style rule allowing players to substitute nicknames for given names on rosters and jerseys.

14
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:45pm

Re #6
Listening to the postgame show, it sounds like Sanders is supposed to be back for the Colts' next game, in 2 weeks after the bye.

15
by ammek (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:45pm

10: That's exactly what Ned's saying. It depends on the QB; is he ready or not? Not all QBs come out of college at the same stage of readiness. Only the coaching staff can tell. To throw a Dan Marino in after two games isn't the same as chucking in a Ryan Leaf or a Daunte Culpepper.

16
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:50pm

Re #13
He's officially listed as 32-A.Jones in the box scores. I presume the Titans website calls him Pacman because he wants to be called Pacman. AFAIK, he hasn't yet gone to court to change his name like Mark Duper did.

17
by David (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:52pm

Ah. NFL.com (and ESPN, but they're not run by the NFL) lists him as "Pacman" in the roster, which is where I got confused.

18
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:57pm

Anybody know offhand how much of the Colts' cap space is consumed by Manning, and how that compares to other upper-echelon qbs? Or how much is devoted to the qb and the receivers, and how that compares? I wish cap percentages devoted to position figures, and time remaining on contracts, were more easily accessed, because it would give a lot of insight as to why rosters are constructed the way they are.

19
by admin :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 1:59pm

And I will insist until the day this site closes down that it is Pac-Man. Pac-Man with a f*%^ing HYPHEN, dammit. (P.S. Sorry I missed the Hill draft mistake in the editing.)

20
by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 2:22pm

As a Colt fan, I can see the Colts current struggles (in as much as a 5-0 team can "struggle") from two possible angles:

1) They're winning without playing their A-game. This is encouraging, because once they start to click, they'll kick serious ass.

2) This is their A-game, or at least closer to it than I would have thought. They're screwed once they get to the harder portion of the schedule.

I'd like to think that scenario 1 is more accurate. But I suspect scenario 2 may also have some validity.

21
by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 2:24pm

Re 13, 16

I'm pretty sure it says "P. Jones" on his jersey. Not quite "He Hate Me", but that is a little XFL-ish.

22
by Bryan (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 2:47pm

I wouldn't bury the Colts until they start losing some games. It just doesn't make any sense how they struggle all game on offense then make it seem effortless when they have to make the plays. e.g. the two TDs against the Jets in the last 4-5 mins. Either they're that inconsistent and not a dominant offense or they're holding back and doing just enough to win. Based on their track record and their superior play against the better teams, I would say they're doing just enough to win now saving something for the playoff, similiar to how New England was winning those ugly games during their Super Bowl runs. I would make the same arguement for the defensive but they don't have the track record to support that claim and they've looked really awful in every game. I don't give Dungy much credit as a good game day coach who can make effective adjustments on the fly, so that's my only explanation for the deviation in their play within games. It makes sense as a scouting advantage, and why not just take a different approach given the playoff failures of the last few years.

23
by Jake (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 2:51pm

Brandon Stokely.

That's all I'm saying.

24
by Paul (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 2:56pm

The Colts have the, often infuriating, habit of playing just hard enough to win. That seems to be a reflection on Tony Dungy's coaching style. If they played a high school JV team, they'd win by a score of 38-24.
It makes no logical sense to try for a perfect season and risk hurting your starters, but there is an emotional quotient to it that is beneficial to your team, and I don't think Dungy appreciates that part of the game.
I sometimes think that the best thing for Dungy would be to lose the Super Bowl. Then he might understand that one can't treat all games as "just another game".

25
by black (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:03pm

The colts are winning like this to spite me. As a jaguars fan they know i'm watching every game hoping they slip up so they play it close to the vest to get my hopes up.

Why would you ever pass against the colts? Draw,draw,draw,draw,draw,draw,draw,draw.

26
by Todd S. (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:04pm

#24 Are you just talking about this year's Colts, or Dungy's teams in general? Recent history (this year aside) suggests that the Colts have no trouble stomping the Detroit Lions a high school JV team. And hasn't Dungy lost enough big playoff games by now to learn the "just another game" lesson?

Does Bethea get a pass defensed on that play where he broke up the interception? Seriously, that was sweet ball-hawking...

27
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:23pm

Re: 21

You're correct. Click my name.

28
by Bryan (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:24pm

Forgot to mention the other ways the Colts are emulating the Patriots, in addition to keeping games close against inferior opponents. They brought Vinatieri for the clutch kicks (resting him for now) and their injury report is excessively long which makes it useless to review. Next, they're going to rant about not getting any respect. The disrespect has already started. The Colts are finally prepared for the playoffs with a winning formula.

29
by Ben (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:26pm

#26 reminds me. Wasn't it Harper and not Doss who was sitting there for the pick that Bethea screwed up?

30
by doktarr (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:26pm

RE: #8

You're right that it's not just Sanders and Simon. As the article mentions, Larry Triplett and David Thornton left. They did bring Simon in as a free agent last year, which was their first major free agent defensive signing in a while.

31
by doktarr (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:27pm

RE: Offensive troubles

What has mystified me is why the Colts seem to have gradually moved away from their 2004 offense in the last two years. The stretch play, which practically defined the offense in 2004, seems relatively rare now. They seem much more interested in running the ball in a conventional way, using power packages at the goal line, and so on. I can think of a few reasons why they might do this:

1) They think the league "figured out" the misdirection-based 2004 offense, and they need to use more conventional tactics as a result.

2) The offensive personnel they have now (i.e. no Edge... not many other changes) is less suited to this offense.

3) They think that the 2004 offense is more suited to killing bad teams, and they need a more conventional offense to win the big games.

Personally, I don't buy any of these arguments, which is why the gradual change confuses me.

32
by Devin (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:28pm

Re: 20

I think you are right, considering that the Colts won their first few games last season also in tight, low scoring contests against the Jags and others.

Dungy may not have a great playoff record, but he knows what his team needs to improve upon, and I think the Colts can be counted on to improve over the next few weeks.

33
by doktarr (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:32pm

One last thing - the last time the Colts lost a meaningful regular season game (i.e. a game that theoretically impacted their playoff position) was October 31, 2004! That was when they lost the shootout to the Chiefs, 45-35. Since then, the Colts:

- won 8 games in a row in 2004, losing a meaningless final game to the Broncos.

- won their first 13 games of 2005 before losing two of three meaningless end-of-season games.

- won their first 5 games of 2006.

That makes TWENTY-SIX meaningful regular season wins in a row. Seriously, is that a record? Even given the playoff struggles in that time, this is a remarkable stat.

34
by brian williamson (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:36pm

Nobody should be worried about the colts right now. Addai is more than caqpable of replacing edge if only dungy will let him. Im a season ticket holder so Im a little biased. But Sanders is a huge factor. IMAGINE THE STEELERS WITHOUT POLAMALU. Colts have been killed with injuries all year and are beating teams without going full strength. Once Sanders and Freeney get healthy it will be a completely different ball game. Watch the Redskins game, a different defense will be out there.

35
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:42pm

#33: Unless the Colts figured we so don't care about the postseason, we're going to have Peyton Manning be sacked relentlessly, then the San Diego loss is real. It didn't have playoff implications, but they were trying to win.

You can't just throw out the San Diego loss. They were trying to win that game.

36
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:43pm

30: In addition to the losses, temporary or permanent, of Sanders, Tripplett, Simon, and Thornton, the Colts also slid Raheem Brock from DE to DT, so Robert Mathis could play full-time.

Brock wasn't entirely a liability against the run as a DE, but he's way too small to be a DT. Mathis is totally a liability against the run.

So there are five notable personnel changes on defense from last year, all of which hurt the run defense, which wasn't even that good last year.

37
by zip (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:46pm

Wow, everyone should watch the video linked in #27. I think it shows about what would happen if most of us tried to hit Reuben Droughns.

38
by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:47pm

Wow. You Colts fans are really rough on your team. You guys are sitting 5-0 in one of the worst divisions in football, and as I look at the schedule, are unlikely to lose more than 3 games (and even those are winnable) all year, and you're already writing an epilogue to the season. Maybe a little adversity early is just what you need to get over the hump? I was just asking about Edge's missed contributions, I don't think the team is in any kind of trouble. Just get hot for the playoffs, baby. Three games.

39
by Mitch Cumstein (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 3:56pm

To follow up on Todd's comment, the Colts are 17-1 over the last two years against teams that finished that season 8-8 or worse, and 1 of those victories was by 3 points or less. 9 of them were by 18 or more.

And in regard to #22, I wasn't aware teams held themselves back in early October, to save themselves for January. "Men, go out there and get run all over this week, because I want you to have your energy for January."

40
by doktarr (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 4:16pm

Pat #35:

They were trying to win that game, sure, although anybody who had even slight injuries (including Mathis and at least one other key player) sat the game out. I would bet that Mathis plays that game if they were still fighting for the first round bye.

That said, the game did not have any theoretical playoff seeding implications for the Colts. I defined my criteria clearly, and by that criteria, the game is not included. I'm not attempting to imply the Colts have won 26 consecutive regular season games that they were trying to win. I'm stating that they've won 26 consecutive games that had theoretical playoff seeding implications for the Colts.

41
by Bryan (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 4:17pm

RE #39
You're missing the point. I'm not saying they're not putting forth the effort to win, they're just keeping their playbook relatively vanilla until they need to open things up. Why kill a fly with an elephant gun? And it's not stated as fact but rather a hypothesis on why their offense struggles then turns around and scores effortlessly. I'm only applying this to the offense, I also mention that their defense is just plain terrible at this time.

42
by Todd S. (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 4:28pm

#29 I was also thinking it was Harper. But I already questioned Mr. Macey earlier this year, and I was wrong. So I'm not going to question him again (until next time).

43
by Frick (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 4:41pm

As a bitter Colts fan still in shock with the memories of the last several play-off loses. If this was the Patriots or Steelers would I hear comments about how winners find a way to just win baby?

44
by nocal (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 4:43pm

Re #38:

We have to counter Pats fans, thats all. Instead of saying we don't get respect, we have to disrespect our own team.

As for "opening it up," could be, but why take a chance at losing a couple early-season games, instead of just locking things up early? But then, why do they only seem to click during the last half of the fourth quarter? The plot thickens.

45
by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 4:50pm

all of us Colts fans are panicking because we know that, as a dome team, we need HFA to have a shot in the playoffs. We cannot expect to go on the road, in cold weather, more than once and win the AFC championship. 12-4 probably won't do it. And, the way we are playing right now, yes, we'll probably win the division, but 12-4 is probably our maximum. 11-5 is more likely. And that means another winter of listening to people blather about how our players (and one in particular) were born without some particular gland that makes them a "winner." So, yes, we are panicking, and, I think, for good reason.

46
by Phil (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 5:06pm

After this article, can we all agree that there is clearly a bias toward the Patriots and east coast teams in general on this website?

Ned, you talked almost exclusively about the Patriots, Belichick and Brady. You're clearly a Patriots Homer.

You Poop mouth!

47
by stan (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 5:31pm

I think people need to get some historical perspective. I remember Edge averaging well below 4 yards a carry for the first half to 2/3 of the 2003 season. Rhodes had a much better average at that point. I remember because I had an argument with someone who was trying to say that McNair had no help and should be the frontrunner for MVP. Other than pointing out that McNair had the best pass pro in the league and also had a Pro Bowl receiver, I remember pointing out that Edge's numbers weren't very good and not much of an advantage over Eddie George.

The Colts have relied almost exclusively on the stretch and the draw for their running game for years. Both are heavily dependent on Manning to be successful. The O-line has never gotten any push. They ain't been real good running this year, but they weren't that good even when they had Edge. There have always been good defenses that could shut down Edge. And others who decided to let him have some running room in order to stop pass. But a lot of defenses were able to stop the Colts from running when they had to.

Defenses have begun using some of the tactics employed by NE, SD and Pitt to slow down the offense. It starts by realizing that the O-line is really soft and can only generate a running game when the defense plays pass first, second and third. By inviting the Colts to run, they try to keep Manning from getting into any kind of rhythm early. Anyone watching this year will note that it has taken well into the 2d half in most games for him to get on a roll. They also extend their LOS hard points to foil the stretch and make the Colts run back inside.

I think that the Colts may need to think about going with the pass more, even when the defense is focusing on pass. At least often enough early for Peyton to get some rhythm. The Colts have shown the ability to convert 3d and very long. If they can throw effectively then, they can throw even more effectively on first and second down even when the defense is set up to stop pass.

48
by Purds (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 5:41pm

Yes, the Colts are in trouble. In my optimistic moments, I hope:

1) The Colts are working offensively on what hasn't worked in the playoffs, the running game. I watched the Jets game, and it looked like the Colts simply wanted to make sure they figure out the run game with the new featured backs. They're trying plays perhaps more suited to Addai and Rhodes. Or, to put it another way, if they didn't do anything during the regular season except beat bad teams by 21 points using 70% pass plays, then when they inevitably lost in the playoffs because thye couldn't run the ball, we'd be all over them -- how come you don't have a run game?
2) A big, run-stopping DT will fall from the sky before the trade deadline.

As I said, these thoughts are in my most hopeful moments.

49
by Shylo (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 5:48pm

42 posts and no one noticed that McNair sat behind Crystal Chandelier and not O'Donnell?

50
by Kevin Pelton (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 6:12pm

On Pacman (or, for Aaron, Pac-Man) - it doesn't seem strange or "XFLish" to me, but maybe that's my NBA background.

After all, nobody ever called Blue Edwards "Theodore," Sleepy Floyd "Eric," or Muggsy Bogues "Tyrone."

51
by doktarr (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 6:27pm

They also extend their LOS hard points to foil the stretch and make the Colts run back inside.

Could you explain what you mean by this stan? As I state in comment #31, I can't figure out why the Colts dont't run the stretch play (and, equally importantly, the play action pass off of the stretch play) as often as they did in 2004.

52
by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 6:58pm

Re 50

The XFL-ish part is not that he has a nickname. Lots of players have nicknames. It's that he actually got it (partially) referenced on his uniform, in a league known to be psycho about its uniform rules.

53
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 7:11pm

Re #31
I think your #3 is precisely what the Colts are trying to do. I think it was in the Audibles thread where I commented that it seemed like the Colts used to find a team's weakness and hammer on it and keep hammering on it until it was no longer a weakness, with Reggie Wayne's demolition of Roc Alexander in the playoffs a prime example of this. But in the playoffs, against good teams, this sort of strategy won't work nearly as well, which is why the Colts struggled. Thus, you need to try to get the whole offensive gameplan going, even against lesser teams in the regular season, so that it's there when you need it.

Note this is an argument, and I'm not sure I completely buy it. Watching Peyton, and I know this is totally subjective, I don't think he's as comfortable or happy as he seemed in 2004, and this has showed up in his reads and timing. Having had the sort of success in 2004, the culmination of an impressive career trajectory, he doesn't seem like he's accepted or maybe comfortable with not being able to reach 2004-like levels every year.

54
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 7:17pm

when did manning become the qb on the overachieving team that does just enough to win? i'm experiencing serious cognitive dissonance.

55
by Nathan (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 7:44pm

Why don't they run the stretch play as much?

It's being royally stopped and entirely ineffective. I wish we would have moved to this conclusion quicker, and brought in a fullback.

Am I wrong?.. entirely possible. A fullback could make the situation worse because we need the cut backs because our o-line doesn't get a push, but is agile.

Okay.. Then why not 4 wide? Standelford or Clark at 4. Why not run against all DB's since our TEs can't block, and we don't get push.

I think 4 wide is the answer personally, but I've seem to forgotten the question.

56
by Nathan (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 7:45pm

Which is weird, because if we did go 4 wide, I'd say we should go back to mostly the stretch play.

So.. I disagree with myself...

57
by Travis (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 7:59pm

Terry "Tank" Johnson of the Bears also has his nickname on the back of his uniform, because Todd Johnson is also on the roster.

58
by Bobman (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 8:35pm

I love seeing the differences between Colts fans and fans of other teams (you know whom I mean). The past five playoff years have innoculated us, even against last year's 13 game streak. "Yeah, it's nice and all, but talk to me in January."

I haven't seen enough to analyze them yet. I still see 11 wins at a minimum and maybe 13. But as I said, let's talk in January.

59
by James C (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 9:44pm

#49

Dammit I knew it wasn't O'Donnell, I just couldn't remember who it was. Anyhoo he still sat him down to learn, and learn him he did.

60
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Tue, 10/10/2006 - 10:18pm

I'm as pessimistic as anyone given our 5-0 start, but the people who are calling 11-5 and lower are pretty silly.

Can anyone remember the last regular-season stretch where the Colts went 6-5?

Indy will lock up one of the top two seeds on account of an easy schedule. Even the bad 5-0 teams end up 12-4 or 13-3 in the end.

61
by Bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 2:31am

Folks, Nathan is officially channeling Dr. Z. Nathan, say hi to the flaming redhead for me.

I don't know if any of the above is right, but it is reassuring. Despite the "one game at a time" mantra, they DO seem to be working a bit with the postseason more in mind than ever: i.e. pound a run game to make sure it's working, two sets of RB legs are fresher for January games. Oh, and when you need to win a game "today," you can always fall back on the tried and true (Manning's rating is 125 in the 4th quarter scoring drives the past two weeks). Assuming this makes sense and by late December they have all features of the O functioning... they still need a D that can limit the other guys to about 150 yards on the ground. While that sounds pretty high by NFL standards, I think Indy can win with that number. (They've been winning with worse so far!) Is Bob Sanders the answer? Can he stay in one piece? Anybody got Larry Triplett on speed dial?

It's one thing to talk about them winning without bringing their A-game... but I wonder if they have an A-game to bring defensively.

Will Allen, I did not see anyone better informed than I am answer you, so I believe Manning is about $10.2M this year in cap consumption, so call it 10% of the total in round numbers. Next year (maybe 2008?), I think he gets one of those freaky bonuses that causes the number to jump a lot, like anywhere between 50% and 100%. Sort of a guaranteed "let's restructure" moment, not quite like the one that delivered McNair to Baltimore.

62
by Bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 2:36am

Rob Morris question: I know Brackett is the man in the middle, but when Morris was drafted he had a rep as a run-stopper in college. IIRC, he was phased out because he was a liability in coverage. If these two items are correct--and we've seen how fierce he can be on special teams this year--why not have him be the 1st down MLB, or the "less than five yards to go" MLB, and bring in Brackett the rest of the time?

Why the hell do I think I know more about this than Dungy and Meeks? Wait a minute, maybe I do: they're the ones who let Thornton and Triplett go....

63
by turbohappy (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 4:05am

Morris has shown some serious fire on special teams since being sort of demoted. I wouldn't mind seeing him out there on defense sometimes either, if just to spell Brackett.

I liked Triplett and it's too bad that Simon is out forever. Moving Brock inside full time is a mistake - Mathis should be out there on 3rd down and to spell Freeney only. But oddly I think the biggest thing they are missing in their run defense is Sanders.

64
by Chad (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 6:09am

I am a Colts fan, and I am very afraid.

1. Their tackling SUCKS. I could tackle better than that.

2. Addai has improved significantly, but he and Rhodes still do not have the Edge's talent for picking up the tough yards by keeping the legs churning, identifying gaps quickly and shooting for them, and lowering the shoulders in anticipation of contact. They are getting better at this though, so the coaching staff must be working with them on it.

3. Freeney takes himself out of every play by shooting upfield so quickly that he gets behind the QB and is not much of a threat. Nobody falls for his spin move anymore so he needs to find a new way to get to the QB. And he's got to be better at stopping the run--when the opposition calls a running play they know they are basically playing against only 10 guys.

4. Teams are figuring out how to stop the home run ball from Peyton to Harrison or the other receivers. They need to develop more of a medium range passing game, to keep the chains moving with high percentage plays.

5. Dallas Clark should be used more as a fullback. Technically, he IS a fullback--this is why he wears number 44. But all they've been doing is lining him up at TE and throwing passes to him. He is an effective weapon in that role. But he is also a good lead blocker, and our running game definitely needs him in that capacity as well. And what's to stop them from throwing to him even if he lines up as a FB?

6. Division titles are insufficient. After all these years of great regular seasons, it's the Super Bowl or bust.

65
by Charlie (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 7:39am

Here's what I (still) don't get about the Colts' personnel moves: just why did they think that moving Brock inside and starting Mathis was a good idea? Brock weighs like 270, Mathis barely scrapes past 240, and whilst I know that the Colts' system emphasizes speed over size, but surely there is a limit to that? I mean, don't you need some sort of minimum physical presence, and it would seem that both players are about 10-20 pounds too light - even for penetrating linemen. I'm not quite sure how any coach could arrange a starting d-line in that way and not realise linemen that small and one-dimensional would be a liability in running situations. (Or is it just a case of the Colts not being able to afford to recruit more effective linemen?)

As for the offensive woes, they just seem like a logical consequence of the Colts' style and limitations: there was only ever going to be a limited amount of time for Manning to freely dissect vulnerable corners, without a truly effective running game, before teams caught on, dropped their safeties deep and took their chances with the Colts running it at seven (or less) in the box. Luckily for the Colts though, the sheer talent of their quarterback and two top receivers will still see them through fairly often, even against such conservative game-planning. And thats just as well, because with the Colts roster the way it is at the moment - the lack of a really powerful set of linemen, undersized players at tight-end etc - I don't think they really have the option to just start emphasizing a strong running game, simply because they can't really block for it.

(As an aside, bearing in mind how opposing defences set-up to stop Manning from running wild, does anyone else think that perhaps the Colts should move towards a more traditional style of offensive playcalling, with Moore in the booth upstairs calling plays? Just a thought.)

66
by Michael David Smith :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 11:01am

Re the clip in 27: I've always been a big Reuben Droughns fan (I still hate the fact that Matt Millen got rid of him), but he totally aligator-armed the ball there. If he had been willing to lay out for it, he could have gotten it. What's he doing flexing his muscles afterward?

67
by Scott (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 1:14pm

Another Colt fan chiming in.

As far as the offense, Not alot of concerns at this point in time from me, They are still learning what they can and can't do with Rhodes/Addai, It will evolve. More importantly, They have really missed Brandon Stokely, The very limited amount of time he has been on the field he has been a difference maker, The Colts need a healthy Stokely, He is very good in the slot, Can get the much needed Y.A.C. and is a real matchup problem for defenses.
As far as the defense, Making tackles at first contact would help, That said, The Colt defense has year in and year out been the same, Give up yards between the 20's and try to stiffen in the redzone. The philosophy has always seemed that they are almost willing to concede field goals by the opponent because they plan on their offense scoring multiple T.D.'s. So far the rush defense has been the culprit this year, However it still is the same trait of allowing yards between the 20's and being very cautious in regard to giving up chances for big plays. The Colt defense has never been good at getting 3 and outs.
As a glass half full type of guy I see a team with some significant flaws, Some can be corrected, Some can't because of limited personnel, I do think the team on both offense and defense can improve throughout the year, 5-0 and having flaws that still need work beats having a couple of losses and still needing to correct flaws, Because in this day and age virtually every team has flaws. If you truly believe the Colts have played as well as they can play this year, Then yes there could be some very tough sledding ahead, I truly don't think they have played near as well as they can and I think they will still be a pretty good team at the end of the year.

68
by Nathan (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 3:06pm

I like the Cover 2, changing it would be a bad move.

However you still need Big Guys in the middle to slow the running game. Add the lack of that with Freeny's rush, and the FS and SS not hitting hard and often, and it doesn't look too bright.

69
by SOW (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 4:02pm

What did Billy Volek do to piss Jeff Fisher off?

70
by Zack (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 8:24pm

I think all this, Vince should sit his first year stuff, is ridiculous. Given the Titans situation, he has to play. I predicted the day after McNair left that Vince would play by week 4. I was off by 1 week.

Now I am reading stuff about how much people like the TB qb and that he may pull out a win this week. All good stuff about him. Why shouldn't he sit as a rookie?

Most thought Leinart should start this year. Why shouldn't he sit as a rookie?

I heard on sunday that Rivers doesn't think sitting would have helped him and he wishes he would have played right away.

I just think the analysts who do this for a living should find something better to say about Vince, other than he isn't ready.

Other than that, great article.

71
by Scott P. (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 8:58pm

Correction to the article-- Mr. Macey states that Bob Sanders has yet to play this season. In fact, Sanders played the first two games before injuring his knee.

As a Colts fan, I have not been pleased with their performance on the field either. However, I find it funny that the Colts were criticized in past years for running up the score against inferior opponents while not winning the close games. Now they are winning the close games (aka winning ugly) but the same people are criticizing them for not blowing teams out. Maybe these types of games will better prepare them to win the playoff nailbiters.