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16 Jan 2007

Any Given Sunday: Colts over Ravens

by Ned Macey

The Indianapolis Colts are in the AFC Championship game for the second time in four years. The previous time, they rode into New England following two amazing offensive performances. This time, their much-maligned defense has held opponents to 14 points in two games. That defense slowed the Ravens' running game, forced turnovers, and won another game in which the vaunted Indy offense was only mediocre.

The Baltimore Ravens imported Steve McNair to give a long-suffering offense a spark. The regular season results were exceptional: a 13-3 record, the best offense of the Billick era, and Baltimore's first-ever playoff bye. Unfortunately, on Sunday McNair chose a bad day to have a terrible game.

The national media has understandably moved their focus to the impending Manning-Brady encounter, but the Ravens deserve a brief comment before becoming a historical footnote.

The Ravens are coached by a man who has won a Super Bowl, and their quarterback has played valiantly in making a Super Bowl. Therefore, the easy morality story -- that the team just can't win in the playoffs -- is not available. The next easy answer is that the Ravens were not a very good team. But that could not be farther from the truth.

The Ravens were an excellent team who played poorly on one given day and lost to a very good team. They recovered none of the numerous fumbles in the game and saw an Indianapolis field goal bounce in off the crossbar.

In Brian Billick's first seven seasons, not once did the Ravens sport an above-average offensive DVOA. The signing of McNair and development of some young offensive weapons broke that string. The Ravens offense was above average for the season and was a very solid unit once Billick took over play-calling duties.

The offense was successful almost exclusively through the air. They ranked 11th in passing offense DVOA and 24th in running offense DVOA. McNair took some time to adjust to a new offense, but as the season progressed, he was highly effective with a short-range passing attack. The developing Mark Clayton combined with the already established Todd Heap and Derrick Mason to give the Ravens three solid receiving weapons.

On the ground, however, the offense struggled. Jamal Lewis, once an elite back, had another subpar season. Lewis faced a heavy workload in carrying the offense for the Ravens early in his career. Those carries have come home to roost, and he lacks the explosiveness he had through 2004. Nonetheless, Billick rode with his known quantity. Back-ups Mike Anderson and Musa Smith got only 39 and 36 carries respectively. Anderson, signed as a free agent off an impressive season in Denver, was oddly ignored by the offense.

Facing a reconfigured Colts defense, the lack of a running attack posed a serious problem. Lewis gained 53 yards on 13 carries, a 4.1 average well above his season average of 3.6. 18 yards came on one impressive run. The other 12 runs averaged less than three yards per carry. An inability to dominate led Billick to abandon the run. In the second half, Lewis only had four carries.

Failure to convert third downs was the common theme for Baltimore and the primary reason a slightly improved Colts defense appeared to be world-beaters. On most scoring drives, a team needs to convert at least one third down.

During the regular season, Indianapolis ranked 30th in third-down defense according to DVOA. Through two games, Colts opponents are 4-for-24 on third and fourth down. That level of defensive success is unsustainable. The Colts defense has forced some long-yardage situations, but they have not dominated the early downs. They have faced a third or fourth down of six yards or less 14 times and allowed only two conversions.

The Ravens consistently threw the ball in mid-range third down situations. Too often their throws netted yardage short of the first down. Baltimore's first three failed third-down conversions featured completed passes. The Colts defense was not afraid of the Ravens' ability to complete the deep ball. As a result, the secondary could play more aggressively and cut off the underneath routes.

The Colts third-down pass defense was far from dominant in the regular season, but it was substantially better than their run defense. The run defense gave up a higher percentage of conversions facing third downs of 1-3, 4-6, and 7-9 yards. In the playoffs, the Colts have faced only three runs on third down. Two of those converted.

The difference between three and five yards on third down is a big deal and a sign of a possible real reason for the Colts' improvement. The Colts were as likely to face a third down of 1-3 yards as 4-6 yards during the regular season. In the playoffs, they are holding opponents to slightly fewer yards on the ground, creating more mid-range third downs. As a result, they are able to get off the field.

The improvement in defense is part scheme and part personnel. The changes in personnel are easier to explain. The two biggest changes are the return to health of safety Bob Sanders and the insertion of Rob Morris. Sanders, the Colts' best run stuffer, played only four regular season games. Morris, the former middle linebacker, is the Colts' best run defender at linebacker. He provides size and sure tackling to a unit lacking in both. Less noticeable is the insertion of Marlin Jackson at cornerback for Jason David in likely run downs.

Schematically, the Colts are not doing anything revolutionary. A Tony Dungy team is unlikely to abandon the Tampa-2. Still, there have been noticeable changes. The defensive ends, notorious for scarcely playing the run on the way to the quarterback, are now playing much more conservatively. The defensive tackles also are focusing more on pinching the middle rather than attacking to the backfield.

Meanwhile, not only are the Colts often putting eight in the box, but they are also putting a premium on playing the run first. The linebackers, in particular Morris, are attacking the line of scrimmage first rather than reacting to hand-offs. Of course, none of this is possible without sure tackling that was lacking in the regular season.

The run defense has not exactly been tested at length. They have faced about 30 meaningful runs by running backs in two games. The Ravens, in fact, started to run successfully in the second quarter. After an Ed Reed interception, Baltimore had the ball on their own 45-yard line. Four runs and one pass later, they had first-and-goal at the 7-yard line.

Three plays later, McNair made the pivotal mistake in the game. He saw Heap clear Cato June, but he missed Antoine Bethea on the other side. The safety cut in front of Heap for the interception. A field goal would have tied the game. The mistake was one of many for McNair on what was far from his finest day. The aging quarterback remains above average, if past his prime. One bad game, even a pivotal one, should not undo what was a solid season. McNair did not play markedly worse this weekend than the two quarterbacks who will play in the AFC Championship.

McNair's struggles followed an abysmal game by Trent Green the week before. For all the attention paid to the improved run defense, the Indianapolis pass defense has been equally improved. Against Kansas City, the pass rush harried Green. The Colts rush rarely got to McNair, but the secondary played well. The Ravens feared the pass rush and threw quickly underneath.

The Ravens tried to take a few shots down the field, but they were covered well. The Colts' defense is not prone to giving up the deep pass but is susceptible to the 15-20 yard deep ins and deep posts. Those plays take time to develop, and Billick and McNair appeared to not trust their offensive line.

The Baltimore defense played well but not exceptionally. The two pivotal drives were the drive following the Bethea interception and the Colts' final drive. The only positive of the interception was that the Colts were pinned at their own 1-yard line. The Colts put together a 13-play drive that ended when Adam Vinatieri hit a 51-yard field goal. On the drive, Manning hit Marvin Harrison for three completions, all netting first downs. Had the Ravens forced a three-and-out, the Ravens would have recouped the ball in Indianapolis territory.

The game-clinching drive was a more shocking display. The Colts received the ball with 7:36 left in the game up by six points. They proceeded to run Dominic Rhodes on 10 of 11 plays, marching 47 yards, taking 7:16 off the clock, and setting up a Vinatieri's last field goal. The Ravens defense prides itself on physicality, but the Colts ran right at them with a power drive.

The success of Rhodes is an interesting subplot for Indianapolis. Joseph Addai was a far better player during the regular season, but Rhodes was clearly superior on Sunday. One major reason is that Rhodes is the better runner between the tackles. The Colts' preferred stretch play struggles against a quality 3-4 defense. As a result, Addai had little success on the outside runs where he usually excels.

The Colts may be mildly concerned about Peyton Manning. He now has five interceptions in two games. The Colts offense avoided the sacks that sank them a year ago against Pittsburgh. To deal with the constant blitzes, the Colts left in tight end Ben Utecht and a running back to block. The result was few options for Manning underneath if his star receivers were taken away. The Colts' solution to keeping Manning standing needs to be coupled with a way to complete passes if he is standing. Odds still favor a stronger performance from Manning than the resurgent defense.

Baltimore has a long off-season to consider what might have been. The Colts have a week to figure out how to defeat their long-time nemesis. The big question is whether or not this new and improved playoff defense is for real. The answer appears to be "somewhat." They are not the second-coming of the 2000 Ravens, but they are an average unit.

New England will likely learn from the Colts' success and attack the revamped defense in a different fashion. Both Kansas City and Baltimore favored heavy packages to overpower the undersized Indianapolis defenders. The Patriots will probably go to multiple wide receivers, which will get Morris off the field. Spreading out the Colts will require their run defense to make more plays in space. Draws to Kevin Faulk are a likely part of the arsenal. If the Patriots go two tight ends, they should try and throw at Morris, who struggles in coverage. Regardless, they are likely to convert more third downs than Baltimore and sustain drives.

A loss on Sunday will doubtless lead to condemnation of Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy. Last weekend's impressive effort against Baltimore will be inaccurately considered a win over an inferior opponent. Beating New England will go a long way to cementing the legacies of both men. Rarely has an individual game been so important for a player, a coach, or a franchise. The Colts are the Patriots' equals and capable of repeating their regular season victory. They are equally capable of falling, a loss that will lead to an off-season of doubt about the direction of the franchise.

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 16 Jan 2007

99 comments, Last at 25 Jan 2007, 4:38pm by Debbie

Comments

1
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 2:49pm

Great article. Dominic Rhodes, playoff hero. Who would've thunk?

Can we please avoid the typical Ned Macey is a Raven homer comment?

2
by stan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 2:53pm

The most noticeable thing about the Balt game was how tightly covered the Indy receivers were after the first quarter.

3
by Question (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 2:56pm

Can NE bring the kind of pash rush Bal could? ie, will the Colts be required to keep a TE and RB back to defend the rush as often this week?

4
by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 2:58pm

I was amazed at the Colts offensive line's dominance of the Ravens front seven on the final drive. That was the story of the game to me. If they can do that to the Patriots, it's hard to see them losing.

On that note, and I'm a Patriots fan, I still can't help but feel a little sorry for Manning and Dungy heading into this game. Has any duo ever had more pressure on them heading into a championship game? Everyone will have conveniently forgotten that the Colts were not heavily favored at home against the Chiefs, and were specifically the underdog against the Ravens, and what they've already done is very impressive. No one will talk about how they turned around what looked like a sinking season at the end there with two impressive playoff wins. No one is saying that Manning just wins games, and came up with the big throws when he needed to. All any of us will read if the Patriots win is how Belichick's in Manning's head and Brady is the better big game quarterback and the Colts can't get past their nemesis. Maybe the Pats win and maybe they don't, but either way, both teams have had much better seasons and playoff runs than they were expected to by most pundits. But no doubt about it, the Colts are under enormous pressure this time.

5
by Goathead (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:03pm

I think McNabb & Reid had more pressure going into the NFC championship once, and its the time they finally broke through (in order to fail in impressive fashion in the superbowl).

6
by James (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:04pm

Ben Utecht is the Colts TE who typically remains in to block. Ben Hartsock was released earlier this year.

Great article.

7
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:05pm

McNair on passes labelled "deep" in the play-by-play: 5/6, 130 yards, 1 INT. If you take away the 'illegal contact, INT, lateral' play, it's 4/5, 82 yards, 1 INT.

McNair on remaining passes: 14/24, 91 yards, 1 INT.

Man. Are they sure that Indy was covering well deep on the other plays? Because from the times when they did take the shot deep, it sure as heck worked.

8
by Andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:05pm

Come on guys! AGS isn't Pats over Chargers? You cowards! ;-)

9
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:05pm

Addai has played 18 games this year. 4 of those were against teams I consider to be 3-4 (nyj, ne, dal, bal). Those teams averaged -6.525 DVOA against the run. The 14 games against teams in a 4-3 came against teams with an average DVOA against the run of -1.4.

In those 4 games, Addai rushed 69 times for 216 yards, a 3.1 average.
In the other 14 games, he rushed 200 times for 1026 yards, a 5.1 average.

10
by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:06pm

5:

Interesting.

The Eagles' final NFC Championship game? Maybe. But they had lost in different fashions to different teams before, right? They hadn't been touted as the superbowl favorites only to lose twice to the same team that went on to win the Superbowl? And there wasn't this obvious QB and coach comparison where one duo has three rings and the best playoff record ever, and the others have zero and not a very good one?

Still, it's a good point.

11
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:09pm

(#7 should've said "illegal contact, fumble, lateral". The reason why I mentioned it is that it was a completed deep pass.)

12
by centrifuge (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:11pm

You forgot the most important factor -- Tom Brady is so clutch, he can make Steve McNair have a bad game from across the country, allowing him to match up against Peyton Manning again.

13
by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:25pm

As I said on another thread, I think the apparent improvement in the Colts' D is due to the lousy play of the two QBs they just faced (and, yes, if Brady mimics them…as he did in Novemeber, the Pats are dead). Green and McNair were like Dino and Sinatra on a goodbye tour in their 70s. Martin opens the show by dribbling his drink down his pants; Sinatra closes by forgetting the words to “My Way.� And everyone comes away talking about how polite the audience was. The audience was the Colts' D. And I'd say this passage pretty much supports that:

“The Ravens consistently threw the ball in mid-range third down situations. Too often their throws netted yardage short of the first down. Baltimore’s first three failed third-down conversions featured completed passes. The Colts defense was not afraid of the Ravens’ ability to complete the deep ball. As a result, the secondary could play more aggressively and cut off the underneath routes.�

Geeze, if they don't fear the long ball and the short passes are falling too short, who's to blame for that?

Take it away, Trent & Steve:
“Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way."

14
by Ned Macey :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:27pm

6-I will go to my grave confusing those two. Both TEs named Ben about the same age from Big Ten schools. Not fair.

7-By deep, I meant like 40 yard passes. The 15-20 yard zone is "deep" under Stats Inc. but sort of intermediate in my own vocabulary. The big play on the fumble that didn't count was a completion of about that length with some YAC.

15
by fungus (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:31pm

I was impressed by how closely the outcome of the game fell in line with FO's prognostications.

The Baltimore-Indy writeup said the game would hinge on McNair's performance, and that's pretty much what happened. The Raven's D held Manning without a touchdown, two scores would have been enough to win it, but McNair kept coming up craps on third down (all those passes to guys short of the first-down marker, ouch).

Good job on the forecast.

16
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:34pm

15

I agree. Mcnair/playcalling on the baltimore side was what lost the game. Did anyone else feel that McNair looked a lot like Rex in that game? Pretty good passing deep, but absolutely no touch/accuracy on the short ball?

17
by PatsFan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:35pm

Come on, #12 -- save that for a thread where it belongs. Which isn't this one.

18
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:39pm

Another comment:

Marvin Harrison is a girly man. I've never seen a reciever just let defensive backs beat him to the ball like that. Every week I see him play makes me think more that hes a product of the system, and a product of Peyton, than a great WR.

19
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:44pm

I'm no Pats hater, but I'll be pulling hard for the Colts. It would be fun to see a team which has never been in the SB in their current city, and a matchup with the Saints in particular would be a lot of fun. Finally, I've been tracking Dungy's football career since he was a qb at Minnesota, and I've talked to guys who've either played with him or have been coached by him. This is a terrific guy (as is Tom Moore, who was Dungy's offensive coordinator at Minnesota) and it would be EXTREMELY enjoyable to see them get to the Super Bowl. Go Colts!

20
by Eddo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:47pm

13: Yes, but how much of the bad play by opposing quarterbacks can be attributed to the improved play of the Colts' defense.
You know if Trent Green had played at the same level against the Ravens, all you would hear is how the Baltimore defense shut him down.

21
by Ch V Kalyan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:52pm

18: Rich - That is a description for TO and not Marvin harrison.

Proof: Go back to the Pats game and he catches a absolute dude of a underthrown ball from Manning in the end zone and keeps both feet inbound when the CB was zeroing on him

Also, it is tough for someone to get 110 TD catches as a system player.

oh! by the way - Pats fan here and looking forward to the game (it is being telecast in India!)

22
by Ch V Kalyan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:53pm

Ned: A quick question -

Why did you select this over the Pats/Chargers game?

23
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:54pm

#14: Ned - I think it's pretty interesting to note, though, how short those passes were. On the short passes, that's an average of 6.5 yards per pass for McNair. Manning had 12 for 103 on non-deep passes - that's 8.6 yards per pass. I think you're dead on that Indy was overcovering the short portion of the field. It'll be interesting to see what happens next week when they can't do that.

24
by PatsFan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 3:58pm

Re: #22

To avoid another 360-post flaming thread?

25
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 4:00pm

re:21

I'm not questioning his ability to make a good catch. He certainly has great hands. I'm questioning his ability to keep a defender from picking off a ball that isnt thrown perfectly. I've seen way too many defenders rip the ball out of his hands, and way too many times where a defender had a little better position on the ball, and he basically just gives up.

26
by Bobman (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 4:03pm

13 Dan Riley, I don't necessarily agree but still laughing my ass off.

17 PatsFan, hear hear!

18 Rich, that's more appropriate for the Marvin Harrison-Troy Brown irrational thread. Harrison played with a flexible mini-cast on broken bones in his wrist the second half of last year and was still a top WR. For nine years he has dominated the NFL--regardless of how he does it, he is clearly one of the best.

Would NFL players really vote a pansy to the Pro Bowl 8 straight times or whatever? ESPN (I think, maybe SI) had a series of players rating players a year or two ago and CBs mentioned Marvin's name the most. That tells me that the guys who really know think he's the best.

He is not a physical monster, but did you see his TD-saving tackle vs KC? He blocks okay--memorably de-cleating a Denver safety in the playoffs a few years ago.

So we know he can tackle, but can he play DB...? Why not!

27
by b-man (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 4:04pm

18: Tell that to Rodney Harrison, who had to have his scapula replaced after trying to take down Marvin by his facemask earlier this year.
21: That catch is burned into my brain. It was truly amazing as almost 95% of his body was out-of-bounds, just the tips of his toes were in.

28
by MDZ (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 4:07pm

#20
I'm in agreement with you. In the plays and replays that I saw it wasn't like Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton were open all the time. The Colts gave a 7-8 yard cushion on those mid-range 3rd downs and played the cover 2 to take away the 10+ yard patterns and force underneath throws. It's what the Cover 2 is built for. The only playcalling fault I have for the Ravens is that they didn't run any draws with Mike Anderson on those third down plays, so the safeties could drop into their zone and take away the deep ball. Also, the Ravens D played exceptionally well. They had enough pass rush to make Peyton keep in a TE and RB, and still hurry him a bit while covering the receivers. That obviously had a big impact on the Colts playcalling. Ed Reed is a monster, he played a great centerfielder with the assignment of reading Manning and taking away the deep ball. It was a great tactic because the other 10 defenders were able to hold up their assignments, and it's much easier to cover 3 receivers than 5.

29
by MDZ (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 4:18pm

Marvin Harrison is one of the best receivers in the league at getting open. His double moves are great, and he runs a great out route. He's not a physical receiver, and clearly you'd much rather have a Chad Johnson, TO, Steve Smith etc. to catch a ball over the middle in traffic, Marvin still gets wide open often. Bobman, I remember the same SI story and I believe one of the CBs said that Marvin was the best WR because he is the hardest to cover one on one, he'll just beat the coverage to get open instead of catching the ball in tight coverage.

30
by Ch V Kalyan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 4:33pm

25: Now you got me thinking. I admit there have been very few games of the colts i have watched and i think i cant remember a good instance of refuting your point

that is the long way of saying you are right ;)

31
by Ben (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 4:44pm

re:28 You're right. This defense played exactly the way the Tampa 2 is supposed to be played. That just hasn't really been seen since Dungy was in Tampa. On third and long, you cover deep and get a good pass rush, forcing the QB to dump the ball underneath, then come up and make the tackle. In the past two games, the Colts have seen more third and longs, and there tackling has been much better, which leads to the huge improvement on third downs. It certainly is unsustainable for a season, I'm just hoping it's sustainable for two more games...

There is one other point that Ned made that I think will be the key next Sunday though. Baltimore and KC tried to go with jumbo packages, multi-TEs, etc and bang straight into the Colts defense. The Colts showed that if you want to bash your head into a wall, they can do a fairly decent impression of one. However, I would be shocked if the Pats don't come out in a three wide package to force the Colts into their Nickel package, and then run a ton of draw plays and misdirection. That's what the Colts had real trouble stopping all year, and I doubt that fact will be lost on the Pats like it was on KC and the Ravens.

32
by MRH (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 5:04pm

Re choice of games: FO (Aaron, anyhow) picked CHI, NO, SD, and BAL. Chargers were a slight favorite based on HFA and the bye week. Ravens were moving on unless McNair choked. I can see why the pick here was the IND win - it was a bigger upset.

I enjoyed the article, but I would have liked to see more discussion along the lines of:
1. Indy plays Tampa-2.
2. One of the weaknesses of the Tampa-2 is the seam between the safeties, behind the MLB.
3. One way to attack that seam is the TE.
4. "Todd Heap is a great TE". -- 2nd rd preview on FO
5. Todd Heap was the least valuable WR or TE this weekend.

What happened? Maybe that's more of an EPC topic.

BTW, Heap this year was 7th in DPAR but only 18th in DVOA. Is he over-rated (this year)?

33
by Purds (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 5:07pm

Re: #31:

I agree that the Pats will go 3 and 4 wideouts, spread the field, and use some misdirection. Not only is it more likely to work against Indy's D than the jumbo packages we've seen (where you pretty much let the D know what you plan to do), but it's also what NE does very well, if not best. They screen well. Brady throws that quick hit to the WR well. It seems a natural fit for NE's O and Indy's D.

34
by Purds (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 5:13pm

As a Colts fan, I would want two things to happen this weekend:

1) Bob Sanders steals and takes some of Rodney Harrison's "disrespect pills" and then

2) Sanders reads this thread.

Almost no belief in the Colts D here. Well, perhaps Dungy's vocabulary lesson to the defense after KC was right: once is an aberration, twice is a coincidence; you need to do something 4 to 5 times before it's a tread.

We just have a coincidence, I guess.

(And, trying to be more analytical about this D recently: I think it's better than it looked in the regular season, but not as good as this. In the season, they played quite a bit with the 4th, 5th and 6th safeties after Doss, Sanders and Bethea were injured. Now, Sanders is not as good as it seems, but when you take out the #6 and replace him with Sanders, well...Sanders looks like an immortal.

And, while other teams have survived defensive injuries, the Colts are clearly thinner on defensive depth than other teams. But, they did keep on winning enough.)

35
by chris clark (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 5:32pm

:24

Or, perhaps because this game was more instructive than the NE/SD game. Great article. I love what I learn here.

36
by stan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 5:36pm

18, 25

Rich,

Perfect example -- Colts-Steelers in last year's playoffs. Marvin runs a deep in and has Troy long-hair beat inside. Peyton throws it to the spot. Troy just muscles through to the ball and Marvin actually shies away from the ball and lets him have the INT.

It is no secret that every game where Manning is supposed to have choked in the playoffs, Harrison has basically been a no show. Look at the last 2 losses to NE in the playoffs. As I recall, 2 of the INTs that Law got were directed at Marvin. On the 2d one (the 4th and long where Marvin has Law underneath and a safety over the top on a flag route, Marvin just gives up and makes no effort at all to go to the ball. Didn't make much effort to get to the first one either.

Marvin is gifted with speed, moves and hands. But, he isn't physical. In the 2003 playoff game vs. NE, he fumbled after a hard hit and was worthless the rest of the game.

On Sat, Dallas Clark had several plays where you could see him looking for the contact from a DB rather than going to the ball. That's the big weakness in the Colt receiving corps. They have never had a receiver who would go take the ball that is up for grabs.

This weekend, the Colts will likely have to go to more max protect schemes like they used in Balt. In 2003, they couldn't stop a 3 man rush with 6 blockers. If the refs let the NE defense get physical with Wayne, Harrison and Clark, the Pats will shut down the Colts.

37
by Bionicman (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 5:44pm

#18, 21:
Both Rich Conley and Ch V Kalyan are partially correct and partially wrong. Kalyan (21) is right in saying that Harrison is more than a system player, but on the catch he's talking about, the CB wasn't 'zeroing in' on anything-he was standing nearby and watching. Rich (18) is right in that you'd have an easier time finding a receiver more willing to take hits than Marvin than one who is less willing; he isn't exactly toughness personified.

38
by stan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 5:56pm

4,

Manning had far more pressure on him vs. Denver in the first round of 2003 playoffs. All the national media was calling him a choker who had never, ever won a big game in his entire life (the absurdity of the claim is beside the point). There were ESPN talking heads saying that the Colts couldn't win a playoff game with him at QB.

Although Denver had dominated the Colts only a few weeks before and had a top 10 defense, Manning put up a perfect passer rating and 5 TD passes despite the Broncos getting some heat in his face. I think it ranks as the 2d best game ever played by a QB in the playoffs. His mom and dad were interviewed afterward and the relief of not having to put up with the "never won a playoff game" crap anymore was blatantly obvious.

I just don't see the pressure being quite as bad. It's obviously there and will be until the Colts win it all, but I think he's better prepared for it. He has actually played pretty well in the first 2 games with only a handful of bad throws out of almost 70 passes (2 of the picks and couple of others). The Colts have added some new wrinkles to the run game which has clearly helped.

And he knows they can beat the Pats, since they've won the last two and both were in NE.

NE has the better team. Much better coaching, better defense in all areas, better offensive line, better TEs, better RBs (slight), better special teams. The Colts have an edge at WR (although nowhere near what Pat fans say), with Vinatieri (although their rook has been solid) and with Peyton over Brady.

I expect the Pats to win. They should. Manning's game against NE in the regular season was the best game by QB this year. Brady was awful. And the Colts had to hang on to win. I don't expect Manning to be that good again or Brady to be that bad. So unless the Colts special teams and defense continue their superman impressions, you have to think that NE should win.

39
by OMO (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 6:18pm

Rich, I have to hand it to you...you are the Sir Edmund Hillary of sycophantic fandom.

You've explored new worlds this week that others have only dreamed about.

Nicely done.

40
by Sandman (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 6:34pm

"A loss on Sunday will doubtless lead to condemnation of Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy."

Perhaps (ahem) this is a stupid question, and I have no doubt that it will invite some serious flames, but I'm genuinely wondering: shouldn't Dungy's job be in jeopardy at some point here?

The case, as I see it, is pretty simple: he was more or less brought in on the basis of his reputation as a defensive genius, designed to build a winning D to support the offense, which already had its major cogs in place. The Offensive Coordinator, so I understand, runs the (spectactularly performing) offense basically as his own fiefdom. The defense has been below average for most of Dungy's tenure.

To bring in a parallel from another sport, isn't it reasonable to conclude at this point that Dungy can get them from point A to B but not to point C, like Doug Collins and the Bulls? Shouldn't the Colts be looking for their Phil Jackson?

41
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 6:40pm

Re: 33

The other thing NE does exceptionally well is throwing out of their jumbo packages. That'll happen when you have 3 very competent receiving TEs. Which could be even more difficult for Indy to handle.

42
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 6:47pm

Sandman, it may be worthwhile to look at the breakdown between the Colts' offense and Colts' defense in terms of cap space consumed. I may be wrong, but my gut instinct is that the Colts are among the least balanced teams, cap wise, between offense and defense. Personnel trumps all. I would also suggest, similar to the situation now playing out in San Diego, that people entirely underestimate how difficult it is to even finish above average on a consistent basis in the NFL. Coaches who are superior to Dungy are not easily hired.

43
by Sandman (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 7:11pm

Will Allen (#42),

I swear I am not trying to be obtuse or obstreperous with this, but what is the real evidence of Dungy's excellence? I know the record of his teams has been very good, and normally I'm willing to accept that as pretty strong evidence in a coach's favor (despite the correlation / causation risks), but he's been at Indy for a long time now, and the defense still sucks. I don't have the cap figures handy either, so you may be right on that front. I'm not comparing this to San Diego, myself -- I firmly believe that personnel are partly a product of the system, and that the reason players like Merriman and Phillips have turned out so well is at least in part due to a system designed to accent their strengths.

I guess what I'm getting at is that I don't see that Dungy has done anything to either a) substantially improve the defensive roster or b) tune the scheme to optimize the personnel that he has.

Given that he was hired to fix the defense, I think you have to consider the possibility that he's not up to the job and look for someone else. Ron Rivera, perhaps? Bill Cowher, when he's ready to return to coaching? Maybe you hire another ace defensive coordinator, and promote Moore?

44
by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 7:20pm

42 makes the point. Perhaps Dungy does deserve some blame, but who's available AND better? The window of opportunity with this core group won't be open much longer, and that's not the time to be speculating with some new coach.

Dungy's teams have had a losing record only once, his first season with Tampa. His playoff record isn't great, but 7-8 is quite a bit better than 5-13. With Indy, he's had double-digit wins every year, and his playoff record is now actually over .500 (5-4).

45
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 7:21pm

#43: Indy spends more of its cap on offense than any other team in the league.

Anyway, in some sense, you're somewhat presuming that all Dungy does is defense. I doubt that's true.

46
by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 7:28pm

Re 43

If you'd like numbers in support of Dungy, these are the DVOA rankings for the Colts D over the years:

1998: 29
1999: 29
2000: 23
2001: 30
2002: 23 (The year Dungy was hired)
2003: 15
2004: 19
2005: 8
2006: 27

So prior to this year, it looks like he had them on a positive trend. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk up the regression this year to injuries at DT and DB.

47
by Ben (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 7:28pm

45: I know that's the common impression, but is there any hard data to back that up?

48
by Sandman (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 7:34pm

46:

Looks less like a "trend" than a one-time improvement followed by random fluctuation around a "true level" mean somewhere in the middle of the NFL pack.

49
by Ryan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 7:47pm

Would the Colts be willing to trade 2 first round picks to the Bucs for Jon Gruden if it meant winning the SB the very next year but sucking for the 4-5 years that follow?

50
by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 7:51pm

30-23-15-19-8 isn't a positive trend? I guess we have to disagree on that. But even if they're hovering around a "true level" in the middle of the pack, they were back of the pack before he arrived. From crap to average is not a small thing, especially considering the answer to 47's question...

I didn't find hard data for 2006, but I did for 2005 (link). By my quick addition (feel free to double check and correct it) the Colts cap numbers were 48,247,027 for offensive players and 26,498,183 for defensive players. That counts the Ks as offense and the P and LS as defense. That looks like a significant gap to me.

Of course, it may be different this year, but I don't know by how much. The biggest difference is that Edgerrin is gone.

51
by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 7:54pm

I posted this once before, but it didn't go throught, so let's try again...

Re 48:
30-23-15-19-8 isn't a positive trend? I guess we have to disagree on that. But even if they're hovering around a "true level" in the middle of the pack, they were back of the pack before he arrived. From crap to average is not a small thing, especially considering the answer to 47's question...

I didn't find hard data for 2006, but I did for 2005.

http://asp.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/salaries/teamdetail.aspx?tea...

By my quick addition (feel free to double check and correct it) the Colts cap numbers were 48,247,027 for offensive players and 26,498,183 for defensive players. That counts the Ks as offense and the P and LS as defense. That looks like a significant gap to me.

Of course, it may be different this year, but I don't know by how much. The biggest difference is that Edgerrin is gone.

52
by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 7:56pm

Re #36 All us Pats fans have our hands full defending the honor of our guys, so I really don't have time to step up for the Colts, but I don't know about this:

"On Sat, Dallas Clark had several plays where you could see him looking for the contact from a DB rather than going to the ball."

I saw Clark take the most hellacious hit of the entire weekend going over the middle. He not only held on to the ball but bounced up with one of those, "is that the best you got?" looks. If he was a little gunshy after that, it's understandable, but on that play he was very, very stout.

53
by Not saying (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 7:58pm

Re: 47

Try looking here. It has Excel spreadsheets for all the teams.

54
by Not saying (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 8:02pm

The Colts are at $52m on Offense, $38m on Defense, and $3.3m on special teams.

Also of interest is that Peyton Manning is cheaper than Tom Brady this year and next, although he shoots way up after that ($20m in 2008).

55
by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 8:03pm

Re 52

Sweet. And it supports the position I took, which makes it double sweet.

56
by Ben (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 8:07pm

re:50 Yeah, I had just come across the USA Today salary pages. I did a quick addition (with punters, kickers, and long snappers all on offense) and the Colts were at 66% offense. For comparison, the Pats were at 49% and the Bengals (as another 'offensive-based team') were at 57%. I didn't dig through anyone else, but the Falcons might be another one to look at.

re 52/53: thanks for that site, I hadn't found that. I'll take a look at those sheets as well. It looks like he's using the USA Today info anyway.

57
by Don Booza (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 8:19pm

RE 51 - I was thinking about the same Dallas Clark catch you did. He jumped right up with a huge smile on his face after taking Ed Reed's best shot. Awesome!

RE - Marvin Harrison's manhood. He is obviously a great receiver, but I have also question his "fight" at times this season. I can only wonder if his wrist is hurt worse than has been announced.

He has been wearing a cast on it for the past 2 months, and can often be seen grimacing and stretching the wrist in-between plays. I would not be surprised to hear about him needing surgery in the off season.

58
by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 8:19pm

Bill Polian (again) complaining about the refs in this game (see today's PFT), made me wonder:

Is there a rule describing just what the corners can do in the first five yards to the receivers? Can Samari Rolle level Reggie Wayne and just take him out? Does this not happen because if the corner is that agressive, the WR just side steps him and loses him that quickly? What kind of "bump" in press coverage within the first five yards is okay? I imagine that tackling the guy is not legal because that's holding, but what about what would be a block move if the corner were on offense? Is that legal?

59
by Kulko (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 8:23pm

Re Dungy: He has shown that he can sustain a team which is fighting for a playoff bye every year. From there on is mostly luck, so even a bad coach should win it sooner or later. And I don't think Dungy is really a bad one, alhough he has his shortcomings.

As far as the Colts D is concerned, I am very wary of the assumptions of flukiness and bad opponents which one hears so often. They did it twice now, and both against seasoned veterans. At least that is much more sustainable then the way the Pats choose on Sunday.

60
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 8:41pm

It is nice when your gut instincts are correct, because it so often doesn't work out that way. My next gut instinct is that the number of teams which have turned in top-notch defensive performances while spending 66% of their cap space on offense is pretty darn small. By definition, such events nearly have to be the result of tremendous drafting in the lower rounds; if players are good and cheap, they usually are in their first contract, and they weren't drafted terrifically high.

61
by Sandman (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 9:19pm

Re 50:

30-23-15-19-8 *would* be a trend, but those aren't the right numbers. The right numbers are 23(maybe)-15-19-8-27 vs. 29-29-23-30-23(maybe). Which, as I said, looks to me more like a step function improvement from the bottom of the league (does anyone know what kind of defense they were running B.D.? Bobman?) to the middle, followed by no real improvement thereafter, just some random noise in the data. You *can* see a trend if you choose to ignore the inconvenient 2006 ranking, but 15-19-8-27 doesn't look like any kind of meaningful trend to me -- just a stable, high-variance statistic.

Of course, none of this takes into account opponent effects, which could show a trend (in *either* direction, for all I know).

Separately, the salary cap data looks interesting -- anyone know what the league-wide average is? I see that last year's champs spend an even higher pct on offense than the Colts, which is really surprising given Will Allen's gut feeling (which seems sensible to me), but that most of the other playoff contenders are much closer to 50/50. Should we conclude that any coach is this situation would be pretty much permanently hamstrung by his expensive offensive core, which occupies his cap and keeps the draft picks low?

62
by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 9:19pm

re: 57
I think the DB can do anything to the reciever as long as there is no grabbing or hitting of the head. The Ravens occasionally put Adalius Thomas on Chad Johnson just to rough him up at the LOS.

63
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 9:57pm

Re 58
I don't think Jamal Lewis is so much 'seasoned' as 'toasted'

64
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 10:11pm

Sandman, unless one wishes to make the assertion that there is little correlation between the amount of money spent on talent, and the quality of talent, especially in a market in which there is a cap placed on how much total money can be spent, it is pretty hard to NOT conclude that only spending about one third of the cap on the defensive unit makes it hard to have defensive personnel as good as most top notch defensive units. To make an assertion to the opposite effect should require some pretty strong evidence.

I have another hunch that Dungy was hired with this in mind; that the Colts were going to short the budget for defensive talent for the forseeable future,and try to get by with coaching which would produce "just good enough" defensive performance, coupled with offensive performance consistent with what was budgeted to that side of the ball.

65
by Sandman (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 10:17pm

Will -- I was concurring with your assumption ("which seems sensible"). That's why the Steelers' cap ratio surprised me, given that theirs has generally been a good defense.

66
by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 10:38pm

Re 60

I don't see why the 23 in 2002 wouldn't count. That was Dungy's first year with the Colts. He ought to get credit for it, no?

I can see a debate about whether the 30 should count. I counted it as the starting point, because that's what he inherited. That's Dungy's "year 0".

As for the 27 in 2006, of course that would count, but I believe my statement was "prior to this year, it looks like he had them on a positive trend."

The defense they used to run was a crappy Vic Fangio scheme that consisted of bending, and then breaking. I'm not exactly sure how the system was supposed to work, because by all accounts, the players never executed it properly. Fangio was fired because Polian thought the system was too hard for the players to learn.

67
by DaveO (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 10:48pm

Regarding Addai on Saturday; FWIW, according to Dungy, one of the reasons that Rhodes was in at the end of the game was that Addai was playing with a hurt shoulder (and he missed some practice earlier this week with some sort of chest injury). The story was that he was OK to go if he had to, but Dom and the O-Line seemed to be taking care of business, so he was held out as a precaution.

68
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 10:56pm

Yeah, Sandman, it surprises me as well. Roethlisberger still being in his rookie, albeit first round, contract, and Burress being gone, would have led me to think that the Steelers were not lopsided towards the offense. Perhaps I'm misremembering their qb contract situation, and they had given Roethlisberger a large bonus completely budgeted for last year alone, in return for more years on the back end. Cap analysis gets petty complex, and it can be useful to employ running averages over a few years to get a more accurate assessment of what a team's roster construction strategy is.

69
by Purds (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 11:06pm

Re: Harrison's toughness

Am I the only one in the room aware of Harrison's size?

Harrison: 6-0, 185
T. Owens: 6-3, 224
R. Wayne: 6-0, 198
R. Caldwell: 6-0, 210
J Gaffney: 6-1, 205
Troy Brown! 5-10, 196

Even Troy Brown has 10 pounds (on a smaller frame).

Seems to me that Harrison catches plenty of balls across the middle. Sure, I wish he had T.O.'s size, but he doesn't. And, if he played like he were 6-3, 225, then he'd be on IR by now.

How has Sanders when he was on IR helped the Colts? How did Rodney Harrison help the Pats against the Chargers Sunday?

You need to be realistic. I would guess that more than half of the FO readers are bigger than Marvin.

70
by Trevor (not verified) :: Tue, 01/16/2007 - 11:59pm

#63, john clayton pratically said that when doing his best team under the cap thing a while ago. the cover 2 is supposed to be easier to swap rookies into (on their cheap contracts), and places less of a premium on CB (a glamor hence expensive defensive position).

71
by The Ninjalectual (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 1:22am

I haven't read the thread, so someone may have mentioned this by now.

Did Tony Dungy tell his run defense to tank it at the end of the season? Was letting Ron Dayne destroy them a clever ploy to trick opposing coaches come the playoffs? If my conspiracy theory is true, it got them to the AFC Championship game.

72
by oldnumberseven (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 1:43am

What got me about that game, was that it was one of the most exciting games I have seen without a touchdown.

73
by hwc (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 2:55am

and it can be useful to employ running averages over a few years to get a more accurate assessment of what a team’s roster construction strategy is.

Yep. I think you have to look at three year running averages. Otherwise, you can get really thrown off by the artifically low cap numbers in the first years of a big signing bonus contract. For example, both Manning and Harrison's cap numbers right now are significantly below their real long-term average cap costs. The cap number in any given year is largely determined by which vets the team signed or released. There is too much year to year variation to take a short term snapshot.

74
by hwc (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:03am

Did Tony Dungy tell his run defense to tank it at the end of the season?

No. I think that the Colts made some desperation changes in their defense to shore up the run stopping and that the Chiefs and Ravens were too inept to identify and react appropropriately to those changes.

NFL defense is a zero sum game. Everything you shift to stopping the run WILL leave you vulnerable to something else, IF the offense is able to understand what you are doing and exploit it.

Both the Ravens and the Chiefs apparently saw what the Colts were doing (to some degree) because they both stopped trying to run the ball in the second half. However, both suffered such horrible QB play that they couldn't have exploited the Weak Sister's of the Poor JV team. Adding to the problem, neither of those teams seems to have the kind of misdirection offense that can gash and overpursuing, run-stopping defense.

75
by Bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:14am

Purds, You may recall I have been defending what might be called "sissydom" for a few years now. Marvin runs OB rather than take a shot for 1 yard (unless it's a TD or 1st down). Edge almost never took a square shot and went OB at the end of runs too, once he had accomplished his task (highest FO success rate for a few years). How many games has Marvin missed in 10 seasons? About 6 or 7. Whether it's monstrous toughness or just smarts, I don't care. He is there day in and day out and performs better than anybody else in the long run. Who cares about the size of his gonads?

I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment--every player is a compromise and what Marvin gives up in size and ass-kickitiveness (new word) he makes up for in most every other way. Consistency, production, hands, routes, etc., one of the all-time greatest and if a guy his size banged heads over the middle, he'd have had a very nice 7 year career and maybe a spot in the Indy ring of honor when all was said and done.

Regarding Dallas Clark, I am not sure what to say. He has astonishing ball skills but seems very inconsistent regarding the head-on-a-swivel thing. I saw it in a couple plays last Saturday (it surprised me) but of course also saw his "take that you douchebag" catch down the middle and fling the ball about 20 yards in the air because he was so pumped up. Not sure what to make of it.

Three years ago I was worried because he had a concussion late in the season (vs Den) and just came back for the Den playoff game. I was worried about him being gunshy, about Kenoy Kennedy (he still playing?) being the dirty scumbag that he naturally is, etc. And Clark just mangled the Denver 4th ranked D with his biggest game ever (to that point). Super soft hands, catches all over the field. Tough and graceful, just superb.

Haven't seen quite enough of that from him since, but that may be a matter of other options available to PM and the D schemes they face. When he's good, he's very good. When he's nervous, he makes me nervous.

And Reche Caldwell must be a fat pig for that ht/wt to be right, or a body builder of a WR. No idea which one--he looked scrawny to me in the interview I saw--like junkie scrawny. (Remember, this is a WR scale I am grading on here.)

And folks, as pansy-like as it is to play the injury card, Indy's 2006 27 defensive ranking is attributable to missing their top 3 DTs from the prev year (42 of 48 reg season missed games by Raegor, Simon, and Triplett),losing a top LB to FA (perhaps an unwise move letting Thornton go), and having their top 2 safeties miss 12 games each (and playing safeties #5 and #6 for about four games at the end, which roughly coincided with their big skid). They did add Booger, thank God, to make up for losing Simon.

The Pats overcame similar secondary devastation a couple years ago and it was miraculous. Hey, Indy still has won 14 games so far, so it's not like they nose-dived as a team, but their D ranking did go down. Don't compare them to the miracle, compare them to the average. On average, when you lose 4 starters and two key backups to injury for 75%+ of the year, your team will perform well below expectations.

Assuming typical NFL health next year (1 starter and 1 top backup on IR plus the usual missed games scattered among all positions, not in one group), this same squad would probably rank in the high teens. Above-average health (no starters on IR but the usual missed games for lesser injuries) might put them in the low teens. Which is fine by me given their O's potential and the cap space they have.

My advice to GMs (because I am sure they're wondering what Bob is thinking out there in Seattle...): Keep Dungy and keep Schotty. As Will Allen points out, who do you replace them with to perform better?

And NO,I most definitely do not trade away picks for Gruden to guarantee one SB win followed by 4 years of suckitude. No-how, no-way.

76
by turbohappy (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:33am

Re: 68

Bravo. I applaud Marvin's going down or going out of bounds regularly. Hell, I'd much rather him "give up" and allow an interception than be injured for the rest of the season. I'm pretty sure he's already significantly injured as it is, which has affected his normally glue-like hands. However, at this point there's not much to be saving yourself for and I'd expect we'll see him give it all he has (like he did on the Law tackle a couple weeks ago).

77
by turbohappy (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:39am

Re: 74

Triplett isn't on the Colts anymore, he left as a free agent. It's still a loss, but not an injury-driven one.

One thing I haven't seen mentioned anywhere is the improvement of the Colts' special teams in the playoffs, specifically the coverage teams. They inserted Mathis and Morris back into ST and it seems to have made a significant difference, so far at least.

78
by Bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:58am

turbohappy, you are absolutely right on Triplett (Buffalo, right?). Sorry if I misrepresented. I also noted Thornton but specified that they let him go. My mistake.

I included Thornton and Triplett because when they were discussing trends above, well, inadequately replacing a stud and a decent role player will kill the improvement trend. They THOUGHT they had the answer this year and were probably wrong (though who knows with the recent improvement?). If management does nothing to fix that NEXT year, then shame on them.

Mathis and Morris are a big boost to ST. I think they miss Gerome Sapp (went back to Balt?) on ST too--basically lost their 2 biggest tacklers from the year before, which has an effect. At 245 lbs, Mathis cannot possibly stand up to a full season of starting DE and ST standout, but hopefully it's sustainable for a few more weeks....

79
by Scott P. (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 5:28am

Marvin won't even let the Colts medical look at this wrist/arm. I'm guessing he has something fractured or torn but he hasn't even missed a play because of it. Guys like TO want everyone to know that they are playing in pain...guys like Marvin Harrison just go out & play.

NE's offense will definitely challenge the Colts more than KC or Balt. They do a great mixing it up-- show a run formation, but pass; show a pass formation, but run. And they won't be afraid to air it out deep early even if it only serves to loosen up the Colts DB's.
***
The final paragraph of Ned Macey's article was very eloquent & right on the money. Manning & Dungy are still fighting to prove that they can win "the big game"-- therefor, the Colts MUST beat the Patriots.

Even though many predicted a loss to the Chiefs & most predicted a loss to the Ravens, those games will be viewed more as failures by KC & Balt instead of as victories by the Colts. I'm definitely not saying that it's right, but public perception is everything & immediately after those games, Edwards/Green & Billick/McNair were roundly criticized.

If the Colts lose to the Patriots, the critics will chalk it up to another "big game choke-job" by Peyton & Tony no matter how the game goes.

80
by Kami (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 7:42am

I'd like to remind those suggesting it might soon be time to make a call for Dungy's head that in his 5 years coaching the Colts they've made the playoffs 5 times, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champions in his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years.
I'd bet a lot that this year, the Colts will either lose to the eventual champs once again or finally just win it all anyway.

Only one team can be the champions any given year. With the recent dominance of the AFC, it's really not all that bad that the Colts haven't even made the Super Bowl in Dungy's time.

81
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 11:07am

#79: Well, considering that the AFC is a 7-point favorite over the NFC for the Super Bowl, and next week is the conference championship, I don't think many people would give you very good odds against that bet. :)

82
by Ilanin (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 11:17am

re: 68 - I think you have something there. Two WRs known for "toughness" you missed off would be Hines Ward (6-0, 205) and Anquan Boldin (6-1, 223) who both have significant weight on Harrison.

re: the strange lack of balance in Pittsburgh's salary cap.

I think it may something of an artifact of the Steelers' drafting and to some extent of the way the D is built. Pittsburgh don't have expensive cornerbacks (this might explain the #30 ranking against #1 and #2 WRs) and the 3-4 doesn't place a premium on expensive pass-rushing DEs. The linebacker corps doesn't cost nearly as much as a similarly stacked line would (it might cost slightly more if it wasn't creaking), and the star member of the secondary is a) a safety and b) still in his rookie contract, which makes it cheaper to maintain.

The offense, meanwhile, has to eat a fair-sized cap hit for Ward, three of the five linemen, and the team's three most recent first-round picks (Roethlisberger, Miller, Holmes).

83
by dryheat (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 12:39pm

I'm not sure throwing those short passes on third down wasn't part of Baltimore's game plan. With the Colts tackling problems well documented, a high percentage throw and hope that the receiver can shake one poor tackler isn't the worst strategy. Of course, after a few failures, it wouldn't hurt to make adjustments.

I also expect the Patriots to spread out the Colts defense (Note: I've been wrong almost 100% of the time when trying to guess what the Patriots will do offensively). Not only to open up a hole between Freeney and the DT on that side for Faulk and Maroney to exploit, but the Colts seem to have been coached in the past to get their hands up and obfuscate Brady's throwing lanes. It was very effective in their game earlier this season. By spreading them out, hopefully Brady can have clear lanes to throw the ball, especially to the tight ends over the middle.

84
by Digit (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 2:42pm

re: 79

I’d bet a lot that this year, the Colts will either lose to the eventual champs once again or finally just win it all anyway.

That pretty much covers all the possible outcomes this late in the season anyway, talk about a sure bet. :D

85
by DrewTS (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 2:57pm

Re 83

Well technically, the Colts could lose to the Patriots, followed by the Patriots losing the Super Bowl. But otherwise, yes, it's a pretty sure bet.

86
by Ryan (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 2:59pm

Re:#83

Not so. If the Pats beat the Colts, and the Saints/Bears beat the Pats, the Colts will not have lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion. It's anything but a sure bet.

87
by Waverly (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:14pm

I'm curious what people think will happen to the Ravens next year, both on offense and on defense.

88
by hwc (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 4:02pm

I’m curious what people think will happen to the Ravens next year, both on offense and on defense.

I don't know their cap and free agency situation. I do know that the Ravens defense will be heavily targeted in free agency. They have some outstanding players.

On offense. It seems to me that this had to be the year. The last hurrah for Steve "The Warrior" McNair. You have to figure they are right back where they started: they don't have a QB who can take them to the SuperBowl. I think the Colts game pretty much tells the story, doesn't it? Hold Manning out of the endzone for four quarters and lose the game because your offense is pathetic? The AFC has too many good defenses for that to work.

89
by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 4:14pm

The three main concerns seem to be:

1) Adalius Thomas. Unless Ryan has someone sashed somewhere that we have not heard about, the Ravens simply don't have anyone near-capable of replacing him.

2) The OT's. Ogden is talking about retiring -- which may seem odd after 10 years, but Ogden has never been the stereotypical tackle, who would play 20 years if you'd let him. I can certainly believe he would walk away, but replacing him will not be easy.
I never thought I would write what follows: They need to keep Tony Pashos. The guy may be the most-improved player in the league this year, and now his contract is up. Right now, any losses on the line (especially if they're without Ogden) makes Cincinnati the favorite.

3) As johnny and SMFB have also mentioned, a running back is mandatory. The committee of Lewis, Anderson and Smith (why didn't Anderson show up more? I don't know) is not capable of competing at the top levels. With what looks to be the 29th pick, at least RB can be addressed in the draft.

90
by Bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 5:42pm

I'd hold off for three weeks before making any prediction on the Ravens. Why? It's silly sounding, but if Pitt goes from "clearly the best" and top seed in 2004, then loses in the playoffs only win the SB the next year as an underdog, and Indy manages the same thing for 2005/2006, then I'd reevaluate the Ravens and SD 2007 seasons.

Ravens were tops here, SD tops in record and top seed.....

Maybe the way things are working nowdays, guys need to have that prize hanging out there almost within grasp, then taken away, before they really buckle down the next year and struggle through adversity to take it all. Sounds like silly psycho-babble, but if Indy pulls it off... as Dungy said last week (about his D): "Once is an aberration. Twice is a coincidence. Three times may be a trend...."

91
by hwc (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 6:01pm

San Diego is the more interesting question.

How many of their guys were juiced going into this year. I have my doubts that Merriman was a lone wolf. What impact will no juice have on their production next year?

Based on their behavior in the week leading up to, and in the aftermath of, Sunday's game, this team has some serious mental toughness and discipline issues. Their QB was acting like a lunatic after the game.

Can Tomlinson keep carrying the load?

92
by Gus (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 6:08pm

Re 88

I agree with what you're saying, but wouldn't it also be a priority to bring in someone to replace Samari Rolle (or at least ease him out of the line-up)?

I guess that makes my next question kind of obvious, but who do the Ravens have at CB? They'll want to keep McAlister, but is anyone behind him a candidate to replace Rolle?

93
by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 1:09pm

The question is who is available as a corner in FA that would be an improvement over Rolle (who acquitted himself better against Indy than I dared hope).

I don't think the Ravens have the cap room to pay Asante Samuel money, so we may be looking at the 2nd or thrid round in the draft to develop Rolle's replacement.

94
by TomG (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 2:25pm

88 Your comments about the Ravens are spot on, except I expect Ogden to come back (althought he has said he is contemplating retirement) The back up is young and played well the last 2 regular season games when JO was out, so at least there is an alternative if he goes. But nobody replaces JO

The Ravens have almost all of their players tied up for next year. The key free agents are:

1 Adalius Thomas - He will get a big payday. Billick has said they will not franchise him. He is 29, so age becomes an issue if you are looking at a long contract. In his first free agency, before he emerged as a force this year, he gave the Ravens a home team discount. Don't look for it again this year. I don't think any other team will use Thomas as effectively as the Ravens did this year, so if he leaves I don't expect him to be as good (A consistent theme for defensive players who leave the Ravens) I think the Ravens want to keep him, but will not grossly overpay. This one could go either way.

2. Tony Pashos - He really emerged this year to turn a trouble spot on the line (right tackle)into a solid position. I don't think he'll command much money, so I expect him back.

3. Ovie Mugheli - fullback. He emerged late in the year as a target for McNair's dump-off passes, and got good reviews as an emerging blocker. Again I don't think he'll command much money, so I expect him back.

The bottom line is that the Ravens have some (but not a huge amount) of cap room. They are an attractive team to play for because they are coming off a 13-3 season, and Billick has a reputation of taking care of his players.

As a division winner, the Ravens have a tough schedule next year, but I expect them to be strong again next year.

95
by dryheat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 5:12pm

don’t think any other team will use Thomas as effectively as the Ravens did this year, so if he leaves I don’t expect him to be as good (A consistent theme for defensive players who leave the Ravens)

I think Adalius Thomas is a Belichickian wet dream. If he gets to free agency, he'll be a Patriot.

96
by Gus (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 6:10pm

RE 94

I'd like to have Adalius Thomas on the Pats, but I'd rather we spend the money to keep Samuel if we can't have both. That said, I'm somewhat skeptical of the Pioli/Belichick team actually wanting to spend top dollar on a linebacker.

97
by dryheat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 6:55pm

I present Exhibit A, Rosey Colvin.

Belichick and Pioli will spend money on the right players. And a linebacker that big and that fast that can play inside, outside, or with his hand down and can cover WRs is perfect for Belichick's scheming mad scientist mind.

I also think that elite defensive players secretly want to play for Belichick, but I have no proof of that other than Colvin, Seau, and Harrison's press conferences after they signed.

98
by Gus (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 8:11pm

How much is Colvin being paid? What about Seau?

As someone else already mentioned, Thomas is not a young player, and is coming off his best season at age 29 where he played with very good players all around him. Let the buyer beware. Maybe I'm just pessimistic, but I think Thomas is just a nice addition, not really someone you count on to be a key defensive player.

99
by Debbie (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 4:38pm

Woohoo! Go Ned!