Dime Package: Indianapolis Colts and AFC South Have Questions at Quarter Mark
Colts' General Manager Bill Polian likes to comment how you break a season into quarters. Polian, then, must surely be pleased at the perfect first quarter his team has put together. So, with a fourth of the games done, let's look at 10 questions concerning the Colts and the NFL.
10. What the heck is wrong with the Tennessee Titans?
Sitting at yesterday's Colts game, I heard more gasps for the Titans' score than I ever heard for the Patriots' score. That says a lot about how shocked the Lucas Oil crowd was at how badly the Jaguars were beating the Titans.
The Titans have lots of issues. They are giving up 27 points a game. Their defense just let David Garrard torch them for 323 passing yards. Garrard actually became the third quarterback this year to pass for over 300 yards against the Titans. That's nowhere near the defensive production they got in 2008.
Frankly, this isn't a team that's built to win shootouts. While opposing quarterbacks are having career days, their own gunner, Kerry Collins, is struggling with a passer rating under 70. Their rushing game is still strong, but Collins has thrown six interceptions already. He threw seven all of last year.
9. So, easy win for a 4-0 Colts team facing the 0-4 Titans, right?
Not by a long shot.
Sunday night's game is a season-saving game for the Titans. Lose it, and the Titans might as well book family vacations for January. However, the Colts will be in for a struggle. The Titans will be at home, on Sunday night, with pride and the season on the line. That's a dangerous situation for any visiting team.
The Titans are calling for a "code blue" for the game, asking their fans to wear Titan blue for the divisional showdown. It would be more appropriate, considering the team's record, to call for a code red.
8. Which divisional foe is in the best shape to challenge the Colts right now?
Win or lose Sunday night, the Titans have a long climb ahead of them. The nod right now would have to go to Jacksonville, if only because they've beaten both Tennessee and Houston. I'm still not sold on this Jacksonville team, and think their wins in the division speak more about the issues the Texans and Titans have than how good the Jaguars are. Still, with a 2-1 division record, the Jags are in the best shape of the three.
7. How are the Colts so successful with so much youth on offense?
It's a lot of different things. Part of it is obviously Peyton Manning. Manning makes players better because he demands so much of the guys around him. There's no denying Manning's leadership presence on this team.
But don't think for a minute that these guys don't have talent.
Pierre Garcon is becoming a very legitimate deep threat. He runs good routes and has reliable hands. However, he's also an amazingly good downfield blocker. He reminds me of Hines Ward in that way.
Austin Collie just seems to have a football mind. Did you realize his first five catches went for first downs? And his touchdown against Seattle was just a perfect play.
Donald Brown is a hard-nosed runner who's a perfect compliment to Joseph Addai. I like how the tandem looks now, and can't wait to see how it looks in December.
And don't forget Polian drafted all these guys. It's funny that all the changes that were spelling doom for the Colts may have actually made them better.
6. Addai still making you pay in fantasy?
I know, it's what I get for being a non-believer. I cut Addai, pick up Hightower, and he stinks. So, did I pick Addai back up? Of course not. The Colts defense couldn't do that again, so I picked up Julius Jones. Even Jones laughed at that. Meanwhile, Addai gets picked up by someone else and I'll probably overpay to get him back. Such is the humiliation I deserve.
I did pick up Garcon, so the fantasy gods can get off my case now. Please?
5. Speaking of the defense, why are they so much better?
I honestly don't see a difference with defensive coordinator Larry Coyer's blitzing style. They blitz, but that hasn't been the difference this year. What's been the difference is the aggressiveness.
Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney have been defensive forces so far. They've combined for 10 sacks already. It helps that they know they have a defensive backfield behind them that is fast and gets to the ball to make plays quickly.
How often can you play two rookie corners and a backup at safety, yet have a top 10-rated pass defense? I was so happy to see Melvin Bullit with a captain's patch, because he's played exactly like the guy he's replaced—Bob Sanders—with his ability to make plays at the line and back in the passing game.
Even the linebackers have been playing well, which means they've been tackling well.
Coyer has obviously preacher the fundamentals and had them step up their pressure. It shows.
And this is all without Sanders, Kelvin Hayden, and Gary Brackett. Suddenly, this is a very deep defense.
4. Are the Colts the best team in the league right now?
I'm not sure they are the best team, but they are definitely in the discussion.
Peyton Manning is playing better than I've ever seen him play, even better than 2004. He may not be setting records, but he's bringing along a fairly young offense with superb passing.
Donald Brown and Joseph Addai seem to be finding their groove in the running game.
And the defense. Wow. Two straight games where the defense made a statement in shutting down the offense. If they keep this up, I could see three or four defenders making the Pro Bowl this year. Wouldn't that be a pleasant switch?
This team is definitely playing on all cylinders right now.
3. What's a top five list of teams look like right now?
The Giants just seem like a complete team. Eli Manning has looked great working with all new receivers. They have a powerful running games, and their defense is extremely deep. I'd give them the nod over the Colts based on their defense right now, but it's close.
The Patriots will keep getting better as Brady's knee gets stronger. The Saints and Vikings appear to be the cream of the NFC crop.
2. After four games, does the quality of the Colts' schedule look any different?
First of all, the Colts got a weird schedule quirk this year. They had one home game in September. Yesterday's win over Seattle was their lone game at Lucas Oil until November. However, starting with the Nov. 1 game against the 49ers, the Colts finish the year with six of 10 at home. That's a good way to end the year, and it makes the strong start even more important.
Also, of their remaining road games, only the Baltimore one looks to be real tough. Sure, the home schedule got tougher. The 49ers and Jets look significantly better than forecasted, as do the Broncos. The Patriots game is always tough. Having all those at home really helps.
1. Any final comments on yesterday's game?
Loved the pink accents to the uniforms. Great cause, and it was cool to see so many players take part. The best one? Ed Johnson. Just something about a 300-pound defensive tackle in pink shoes that just puts a smile on your face.
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