Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

05 Oct 2010

Bullitt Loss Could Be a Colts' Back-Breaker

OK, Indianapolis fans. I do believe we have now reached the point where you may panic.

Colts safety Melvin Bullitt is out for the season with a broken shoulder bone. Bullitt is the main reason that the Colts were able to play reasonable defense without Bob Sanders in 2009. Sanders himself is out until "at least mid-November" with torn biceps. The third-string safety, Jamie Silva, was also lost to injury in the preseason. The Colts are down to Kansas City reject DaJuan Morgan and converted undrafted rookie cornerback Brandon King. Oy. Play all your running backs against the Colts for the rest of the year.

It isn't like the Colts are suddenly going to finish 8-8 here. I still think they will win their division. (In Peyton We Trust.) But there isn't going to be a first-round bye, and the chances of this defense getting it together for a 2006-like run in the postseason is minimal.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 05 Oct 2010

43 comments, Last at 07 Oct 2010, 1:56am by BigCheese


by Micranot (not verified) :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 11:21am


by Keith (1) (not verified) :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 11:23am


I cannot keep that up. I am sure Peyton will somehow use his magical football voodoo to strike fear in the offenses of other teams to keep his defense from completely screwing up. At least, it is not outside the realm of possibility...

by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 9:24pm

I would say that magic is outside the realm of possibility

by Theo :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 11:24am

Can they trade for one?
Last safety drafted by the colts: round 6, 2006. Antoine Bethea.

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 11:40am

Maybe the Lions could be persuaded to entertain offers for C.C. Brown . . .

by unverified (not verified) :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 12:10pm

For free. Take him please

by >implying implications (not verified) :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 12:24pm

Eagles can send Marlin Jackson back...

by JIPanick :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 11:24am

I'll believe the Colts aren't contenders the day Peyton retires or gets hurt, and not a minute before.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 11:35am

Depends on what you mean by contenders. Sure, they're still contenders to make the playoffs, and even to win the division. But, even being a complete Colts homer, I can't honestly say I think they have any real chance of winning the Super Bowl.

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 11:39am

I'm just not sure at this point, with terrible safety play seemingly pretty much guaranteed for the rest of the year, that the Colts will be able to win many, if any games within the division. Which of Johnson, Jones-Drew and Foster are they going to be able to stop? Remember that stretch towards the end of 2006 where they lost to a fairly poor Titans team 20-17 with Young and Travis Henry running all over them, got shredded by MJD the next week in a 44-17 loss, bounced back a bit against the Bengals (Rudi Johnson got a lot of carries that season, but wasn't very effective any more) and then lost 27-24 against the Texans of David Carr and Ron Dayne, allowing the latter to rack up 153 yards rushing? Their division is tougher this year than it was then, and they're already 0-2 within it (albeit with both losses on the road). Every team is going to come at them with the same formula: run until they prove they can stop it, keep Peyton off the field as much as possible, pound Freeney and Mathis back again and again so that even if you do have to pass in the fourth quarter they'll be banged up and exhausted. And at least some of the time, it will work.

by Key19 :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 9:14pm

Don't even tell me about this. I face MJD in fantasy this week. Already chalking up a tally in the loss column... :(

by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 9:27pm

Remember the Dolphins game last year, IIRC, where they ridiculously dominated the time of possession and still lost? You still have to stop Manning to beat the Colts.

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 9:50pm

Sure, which is why the Colts aren't going to suddenly go 3-13 (absent an injury to Manning). But some teams will stop him, enough of the time to win. More teams than usual, because enough of the time to win is now less of the time than usual. And two of the teams in his division already have, which is not good news for the Colts, who now appear to be just one of four decent but not great teams in a highly competitive but not brilliant division.

by Schuyler (not verified) :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 11:43am

Don't the playoffs happen after mid-november? Could not Bob Sanders make another triumphant playoff return if the Colts do in fact win the division?

by Theo :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 12:49pm

The playoffs could be 4 games. That's a lot for Bob Sanders.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 12:54pm

Wow, that's a sad thought -- the Colts season may well hinge on the ability of Bob Sanders to get healthy. Anyone want to bet on that happening? I sure don't.

by Yaguar :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 11:48am

Peyton is on pace for about 5500 yards, 44 TDs, and 4 INTs. My guess is that he still misses the playoffs.

by Bobman :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 12:33pm


I know this will sound like the bratty tantrum of a spoiled Colts fan, but right now it looks like an 8-8 season and the sky is absolutely falling. Even 10-6 feels like colossal failure, despite Manning gunning for 5,000/45 and a 5th MVP. (a nice conso prize, but who cares, really?)

I know fans of some teams won't sympathize and can't quite understand, but the prospect of them being an average team is... beyond me at the moment. It's not like there's one massive injury that causes the team to tank (allowing me to say "okay, we get him back next year and we're off to the races"), but a chronically weak OL (and consequently run game), injuries to two current or recent WR starters, two of their three safeties out... all on top of some uneven play to start the season. They are a pretty week team at the moment. A porous D will make them more like the 2000-2004 Colts (who actually did okay, so maybe my gnashing of teeth and rending of garments is premature....)

What's next, Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark injured in a massive scrum to grab the last Oreo in the locker room...?

If the Colts do tank, I will be more in awe than ever of the 2003 Pats who started one game with four paper-doll cutouts playing in the secondary.

by Marcumzilla :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 12:02pm

On top all that, it's not like they're currently in a position to even try shifting a WR over to the secondary as a stop-gap.

It may be a loooong season if they can't wave their magic UDFA wand to warp in more safeties from parallel dimensions.

by jimbohead :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 12:05pm

Michael Lewis was just cut from the 49ers. He can't be worse than the jokers they're looking at starting.....

by Bobman :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 12:34pm

He'd be a good addition, but if the Colts faced the Ravens in the playoffs, he'd spend all his time interviewing Michael Oher for a follow-up book. And playing Liar's Poker in the locker room with the rookies.

by Karma Coma :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 3:05pm

The Indy D would in no way resemble a doomsday machine.

by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 12:08pm

I'd worry about this if Melvin Bullitt was better than your average street free agent. Safeties who can't tackle? The Colts are 2-2, one game out of the division lead with a home game against Houston coming up.

Sure, their defense is horrible but it was 2006 when their run defense was the laughingstock of the league.

by Bobman :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 12:43pm

If Bullitt is that bad, then Antione Bethea is utterly awesome (he's very good, but I'd say that's a stretch). We're only two years removed from them holding opponents to an NFL record few TD passes (while only allowing three rushing TDs above average). The safety play is a big part of that.

In 2006 I only felt despair after one game--the late-season Jax mauling. Every other game I was on the Dungy "it's fixable" bandwagon. This year... maybe it says more about me than the team, but I am not feeling so optimistic. In fact, Sunday I repeated things I only said once in my life, during that 06 Jags game: things like "why do they even put a D unit on the field? Just concede a TD, run 5 minutes off the clock, and give us the ball back."

Part of the current despair is the knowledge that the O is held together by one man. In 06 the OL was much more solid and there was a productive RB tandem to balance things out. I love Addai, but he can't do much in the passing game when he has to block all the time (okay, maybe they don't even NEED a RB to catch anymore), and it's hard to run when you're hit at the LOS every time. Even when he has a 2 YPC game, he's probably leading the league in yards after contact.

by Alternator :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 1:00pm

Which was a year when the offensive line wasn't looking like Martz was calling plays, and the wide receivers were healthy and productive.

If I was a Colts fan, I wouldn't be panicking quite yet, but there is certainly cause for concern and the possibility that the defense falls apart.

by Joseph :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 1:08pm

Just a random thought:
Couldn't the Colts play 4 LB's on "run downs", and a nickel CB instead of a SS on "passing downs"? I mean, I know that good QB's would examine the personnel, and audible to the opposite (pass/run) of what was originally called, but if on 3rd and 1, the offense has 1 WR, 2 TE, 1 FB, and 1 RB, can't you just play a 5-3-3 or 4-4-3?

by Theo :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 7:17pm

\Sure. but most offenses still deploy a 2 WR or 3 WR set (or 2 WR + TE). The colts play a zone with their safeties deep, I don't know why any corner shouldn't be able to play that, it's pretty easy, but it takes some time to get the hangs of it.
I'd not be worried when I was the colts, only at my own turf when deep zones get shorter and man to man gets more sexy.

by DeltaWhiskey :: Wed, 10/06/2010 - 10:49am

Man to man is never sexy

by MJK :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 1:22pm

Colts fans can take some solace by looking at...New England history.

The Patriots once made the playoffs, defeated Peyton Manning in a good year, and won the Superbowl with the likes of Hank Poteat, Troy Brown, and Earthwind Moreland starting at CB.

Of course, it's harder to replace holes at safety in the Tampa 2, but crazier things have happened.

by jebmak :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 2:03pm

"Earthwind Moreland heed my call!"

Thought that everytime I heard his name.

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 7:37pm

The issue in Indy's the run defense, though. The Patriots Superbowl teams had incredibly strong front sevens, which not only helped mask the secondary's deficiencies by getting good pressure - Freeney and Mathis can do that - but made running on New England almost a non-starter. Running on the Colts, on the other hand, appears to be not only a starter but a finisher.

by Basilicus :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 1:25pm

I said it at the beginning of the season; I'll say it again:

The Colts won't win the division. They won 9 games last year by one score or less. That can't persist.

They're in the second year of a new coach, in which many teams take a step back.

The rest of the division has caught up. The Colts beat the Jaguars by 2 and 4 points and the Texans by 3 and 8 points last year. Both opposing teams are substantially better this year. The Titans showed a huge upswing last year and are a flawed but challenging team.

I think the Colts stand a good shot at a wild card as a 9-7 or 10-6 team, but I'd have a really hard time seeing them win this division even with everyone healthy.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 4:24pm

I agree that the Colts have a 10-6ish look about them right now. But personally, I don't see a 12-4, 13-3 type of team in that division right now. The Colts, Titans and Texans all are all looking "good but not great", and Jacksonville, I still think goes about 6-10. Maybe I'm wrong and Houston is really there, but I'm of the opinion that 10 or 11 wins might be a enough to take the AFC South this year.

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 7:42pm

Texans fan here: Houston is not "really there". They are exactly what they look like - a very strong balanced offense, a generally good run defense (albeit one which struggles against draws and delays), a decent enough pass-rush, and a secondary which can't cover anyone. If Troy Nolan is a substantial upgrade over Eugene Wilson and takes his place (possible) and the kids at CB improve as the season goes on (possible - they had something like 17 NFL starts spread among the entire group on opening day, and two total years pro experience between the top three) the pass defense will get a little better. Cushing will help too - he's vastly better in coverage than Adibi, though it's still not a real strength of his. I still can't see them going better than 11-5, and 10-6 or 9-7 is more likely. The core of a potential superbowl contender is present, but the team as of right now is in no way a superbowl contender.

The trouble is, the Colts look like having a pretty rotten divisional record. That's not going to help them make the playoffs at 10-6 or 9-7.

by Basilicus :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 11:36pm

Exactly, and in a division in which it's entirely possible for every team to finish 8-8 or better, I just don't see Manning outplaying his competition as being a big enough factor to make up for the rest of that Colts team.

by RickD :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 1:55pm

I'm having trouble picturing this Colts D standing up to the Jets, Steelers, and Ravens. Perhaps they'll get lucky and only have to face one of them? Maybe the Patriots or Chargers will help them out.

With luck, the Chiefs will go 13-3. By which I mean, luck for the rest of the AFC, since the Chiefs are hopeless in the playoffs when they have 13 wins.

by nuk :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 3:30pm

And two of those 13-3 Chiefs losses were to the Colts. '95 and '03.

by Barfolomew (not verified) :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 4:26pm

You didn't have to bring that up. I'm still recovering from the "no punt" playoff game in '03. That was an offensive masterpiece on both sides, and a defensive nightmare. Curse you, Greg Robinson!

by BigCheese :: Thu, 10/07/2010 - 1:56am

Because the Colts just LOOOOOVE to face the Chargers in the play-offs...

- Alvaro

by slipknottin :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 5:05pm

Go Chiefs.

by ChicagoRaider :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 5:10pm

Hmm. Maybe Sabby Piscitelli will be available soon?

by Theo :: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 7:18pm

He'd not be half bad in a cover 2 scheme to be honest....

by Ajit (not verified) :: Wed, 10/06/2010 - 1:16am

I have broken down all the colts games so far for another site. Here's the problem as i see it.

On d-the horrific play by the colts platoon of d-tackles has led to a very mediocre pass rush and has forced all their linebackers to play the run(which they aren't good at in the first place). To preserve their scheme of stopping the big play, the colts receivers are playing way off...conceding the short and underneath routes that are absolutely destroying the colts. Even when the other team does pass medium, the colts pass rush has been totally anemic because of their poor run defense that the secondary is being toasted( as greg cosell would say...playing deep zone concepts with no pass rush is a recipe for disaster). This has led to teams sustaining long drives and eating up the number of possessions the colts offense gets.

The problems on the offense are very simple- the offensive line is very very bad. Manning has been forced into playing the short throw game which the opposing defense is happy to concede since it forces the colts offense to execute for the entire length of the field. This hasn't affected the colts offense up to this pt, but keep in mind the defenses they have faced so far...(horrible texans secondary, denver secondary starting a rookie cb, and the notoriously porous jags secondary). I shudder to think what will happen when they run into a team that can actually cover and rush the passer simultaneously.

I hate to start with the doom and gloom but the colts really have become like last years charger team. They may be able to pass well, but with their defense and special teams being so atrocious, it may not matter

The absolute shame of it all is that manning is going to be 34 by the end of this year. I know hes still playing at an otherworldly level, but you have to wonder how many more years of this can be reasonably sustained. Eventually his skills will start to diminish. While a 10 percent drop in his skills still puts him in the upper echelon, it is frightening to think about the effects this drop off could have on the rest of the team.

The colts lousiness is surprising, but it should absolutely fall on Polian who seems to have ridden the manning wave for so long that people should be waking up to a sobering reality.