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A Speculative look at the AFC South: The Indianapolis Colts

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A Speculative look at the 2007 Colts, inspired bySunday Morning Quarterback

The least you should know about the Colts...
2006 Record
12-4 (3-3 AFC South, )
Past Five Years
60-20 (23-7 AFC South)
Key Additions
Anthony Gonzales, WR
Best Player
Joseph Addai should have been the Super Bowl MVP. In fact, he's such a good player, I think he's the most talented on the team. While many are sniping Addai because of Rhodes' absence, I think it will allow him to prosper. You can't complain about 1081 yds, 7 TD's and 4.8 ypc by a rookie, especially with another 325 receiving yards. Call me crazy, but this kid is special.

Now I'd like to see him carry a game when Peyton is completely shut down, see if he can take the game into his hands (or legs) and keep it up for a full season, but given his situation with the Colts, he's simply a very dangerous player. I don't expect him to dissapear like some other second year running backs (Caddy Williams, Ronnie Brown)

Piped In Sound
There is a funny rumor that the Colt's "pipe in" crowd noise to increase their home field advantage. No, this isn't some crazy thing said by bitter Jags fans, even the stable Rooney family think it's true. Of course, it's all irrelevent now that the League scrapped the ten yard penalty for crowd noise, but it's something I find very amusing. The RCA Dome is supposed to be a pretty rough place to play from what I've heard and that the overwhelming wall of crowd noise is a big factor. What I'm curious about is how the crowd can be so loud on TV but the visual shots show a quiet audience? I can't prove it here, but watch a Colt's game. Look at the crowd when the "noise" is at it's loudest? I guess it's the "true" fans up out of the sightline of cameras that make all the racket. Given the quality of Club Seat fans around the league, this wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.
What's Changed: Peyton Manning is no longer a playoff flop, Tony Dungy finally won the big one, and somehow the worst run defense since 1961 stepped up in the playoffs and the AFC South is crushed with the media hype that is the Super Bowl champs.   Because of the machine that is the NFL, there is no way a team remains the same from year to year.  The Colts were no exception, they've changed since they annihilated the Bears in Miami.

Tony Dungy, back when he Played the Cover 2, rather than "invented" the Cover 2

The Cover two: Most of the missing players appear in the secondary.  Or, rather, will be appearing in the secondary of other teams.  The Colts lost CB Nick Harper to the Titans and CB Jason David to the Saints.  Notably, the Colts gave little effort to keep or resign either player.  I know what you're thinking; "damn, they just lost their Starting Cornerbacks, how will they defend the pass"?  I know the feeling, I said the same thing.  But, as you should know, Tony Dungy uses a very specific defense, the "Tampa 2", or "Cover 2".  In fact, Dungy was part of the Cover 2 when it was invented by the Steelers in the 70's.  So his namesake scheme is a bit older than most of us know.  In this defense, the Corners need only attack the WR at the line of scrimmage, then drop into short area coverage and run-support as the two deep safeties play wide and cover the deep play.  The whole thing is a zone coverage, so as long as your CB's are smart enough to understand the scheme, you don't need the "shut down" corners.

The Cover 2 does have some weaknesses though; first off, it is inherently a seven man in the box run defense, which relies heavily on the d-line.  If the DT's can't contain a lot of ground, it can be exposed as the SAM and MIKE LB's are often out of position because of their pass coverage role.  Draw plays and play-action can be lethal.  This guide is useful in understanding the cover 2.

Anyhow, the point of this is that the CB's lost by Indy don't reflect a huge potential loss on the part of the Colts, but it does mean that they'll have younger and less experienced players in a role that requires discipline and rehearsal to master.  So there could be a bit of a learning curve that can be exploited.  I think the most important loss in the secondary is the leaving of DB Coach Leslie Frazier to the Vikes, he's another unheralded asst coach that deserves a bigger opportunity.  In fact, it might be Frazier that lets the Colts get away with such weak corners to begin with.

Other defensive losses: Include; DT Montae Reagor, LB Cato June, LB Gilbert Gardner, S Mike Doss.  It is these losses on defense that concern me.  Yeah, Cato June can't tackle his way out of a wet paper bag, and Gilbert Garner is not much better, but I see a lot of experience cast aside for unproven backups.  I could be wrong, but I think MLB Gary Brackett is the only starting linebacker that remains with the team, and that's a dangerous situation.  Let's not forget that with Reagor lost at DT, only Booger McFarland is the only bright spot, given that nobody knows what the hell is going on with Corey Simon.  

Let's not forget that the big show on the defense, Dwight Freeney is still under the Franchise tag, and despite that tag, is only mildly participating in OTA's.  He's gotta get locked up here pretty soon, lest the Colt's have a very unhappy player on their hands.  This is where things get interesting.  The Colts had the highest salary last year of any team, and they're in the process of negotiating with a guy who wants to be the highest paid defensive player ever.  Which I think is absurd, as his crazy spin moves only allow patient RB's to run through massive holes, rather than scare quarterbacks.  But I digress.  The Colt's have to pay a cap penalty someday for the big contracts given to Wayne, Manning, and I guess Freeney.  How the front office locks him up without devastating the rest of the team will be interesting.  

All in all, that's a whole lot of change on a Super Bowl winning defense.

What's the Same: Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne,  Marvin Harrison, and the Offensive Line that keeps Manning alive.  Again, very little change. Sure WR Brandon Stokley is gone, but he was consistently hurt and out of the loop with the rise of more two TE sets by the Colts. Besides, the Colts got the greatest Hyperbar ic Chamber using Wide Receiver  out of College with Anthony Gonzalez.  Seriously, he sleeps in an altitude tent to restore red blood cells after practice.  He's either crazy or awesome, but what's important is that Ohio State turned to Gonzalez more often in big game situations than Ted Ginn, therefore he'll probably do pretty well in the Colt's offense.

 RB Dominic Rhodes left to the Raiders as well, but with his recent suspension, I'd say good riddance  One of the benefits of being Peyton Manning is the un-real stability in the offense.  The same coaching staff, the same receivers, the same offensive line, all of which make Manning a more confident receiver.  While Byron Leftwich has learned four different offenses with three different coordinators, Manning has only worked with one.  You can't tell me that dosen't make a difference in the development of a quarterback.  Also, Joseph Addai (see insert) is going to be on his second year and should continue his growth and development.

I wish I could point out a bunch of weaknesses on their offense, but about the only legitimate concern is the inevitable aging of Marvin Harrison.  He's got to act his age at some point, but perhaps his aversion to contact is keeping him around.  

Manning versus Brady: Both of these quaterbacks should end up in the Hall of Fame. But, given the boringness of the dead zone, everyone and their brother want's to figure out which is the "better quaterback". I reccomend going to Pats Pulpit and Stampede Blue for more convincing arguements. For now, here's a comparison of their 2006 exchanges.

Height Age Att. Comp. Comp. %
Manning 6-5 31 557 362 65.0
Brady 6-4 29 516 319 61.8
Yds. Yds. Per Att. TD INT INT %
Manning 4,397 7.9 31 9 0.02
Brady 3529 7.9 24 12 0.03

What do I infer from these numbers? A: Manning had wide receivers of note. Brady did not. B: I wish either one were leading the Jaguars offense. C: I'd rather have Brady, only because he seems to get more done with less talent. D: All debate about which one is "better" is stupid, a waste of time, and absoultely irrelelevent to any discussion of their respective teams fortunes.

Of course, I don't mean to slight Manning in the slightest bit. I've seen him pick apart plenty of teams who don't give him the resepct he deserves. Last year I think we saw a sligthly different Colts QB than we're used to. First off, the guy ran in four TD's, something that he's not known for. We especially saw one in the first matchup against the Jags, in a game when we otherwise had Manning stunted (219 yards, 14 completions)

I'm not great at reading the numbers, but just a light look at Peyton's numbers from the last two seasons indicate some sort of change. I'm not sure if it's playcalling, game situation, or what, but there's something.:

PASSING

Att. Comp. Comp. % Yds. Yds. Per Att. TD INT
2006 557 362 65.0 4,397 7.9 31 9
2005 453 305 67.3 3,747 8.3 28 10

TEAM RUSHING

Att. Yds YPA TD NFL Rank
2006 439 1762 4.01 17 6th
2005 465 1703 3.66 18 7th

Remember this? Nothing hurts like when Peyton runs one in...


The difference? Amazingly enough, with the departure of Edgerrin James, the running game improved by a third of a yard per carry. While that extra foot seems slight, think about how many drives are stopped at 3rd and short based off a few inches. The Colt's offensive line seems to have stepped up a bit, beacuse the YPC is higher, and on the passing side, Manning was sacked a near career low of 14 times. In 2005 he ate the turf a mere 17 times, also nearly a career low (13, 2004). Since we're looking at Manning stats, did you know his total rushing yards are 701 and rushing TD's are 13? Me either. The point of all this is pretty unclear as far as I know, Manning is an effective quarterback that just seemed different in 2006. Maybe his gyrations at the line of scrimmage were just a little less spastic, or he's taken comfort that he's not Eli. I think Manning entered the 2006 season knowing that the Colts are not completely on his shoulders. As illustrated in the terrible loss to the Steelers in 2005 (where I nearly lost my voice cheering for the Black and Gold), Manning knows that he can't win every game for the Colts. With this burden off his back, somehow he got even more effeciant and finally won the Super Bowl. Go figure.

Super Bowl Hang Over:
As a complete tangent, if you google Super Bowl Hangover, you get this fascinating article about the loss to employers after the big game.  Useless Trivia Time!  Did you know that the economic loss after the Super Bowl due to the "distraction" is over 1 billion dollars?  If you want to get politically involved in avoiding this sort of economic meltdown, I recommend you sign up at Super Bowl Monday

In all seriousness, some teams fall from grace after winning the big game.  The Steelers, for example, suffered a pretty catastrophic meltdown between getting the one for the thumb and starting their next season.  Admittedly, the Colt's haven't gone through nearly the turmoil that the Steelers suffered.  The Colt's did suffer their fair share of losses in free agency, but given that the team made little effort to re-sign any of them, it begs the question of how important were they to the team?  In addition, let's not forget the treatment of the Colt's as "also runs" by the media after the Patriots free agency spending spree.  Where some teams rest on their laurels, there is no way Tony Dungy let's his team accept that they're at the top and can sit idly by as the AFC strengthens.  If nothing else, Peyton could use the shot to prove he's the equal to Brady (no matter how stupid that sounds) by winning another one.  

Anyhow, my point here is simple; there are plenty of reasons why the Colt's won't repeat their Super Bowl win, but a "hangover" from the last one is not one of them.  So when ESPN get's all whacky about curses and hangovers, remember the facts.

Best-Case:The Colt's somehow keep it together on defense, Manning keeps his head in the game, and Marvin refuses to age. Should all that occur, a best case for the Colts would be 4 and 2 in the AFC South, sorry you are not beating the Jags this year. The Colts win a close one against the Saints, beat Denver and Carolina, a probable loss to the Pats and Chargers, beat the Chiefes, Falcons, Ravens, and Raiders. That makes another 12-4 season (Lose to Jax twice, New England, San Diego) and go to the Playoffs for one hell of a divisional round against the Jags.

Worst-Case: Worst case depends on the two games against the Titans, as well as the Ravens and Panthers. Imagine a split series against the Titans, two losses to the Jags, lose to the Panthers, Chargers, Patriots, and Saints or Ravens. All of a sudden the Colts are looking at a 9 and 7 season and missing the playoffs. Suddenly the last game against the Titans decides the fate of the season. (9-7)

Homertacular Forecast: Indy goes 11-5, losing to Jax twice, New England, San Diego, and the Saints. Indy does make the playoffs and gets to meet Jacksonville again in the Divisional round of the playoffs.

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