During the offseason most people generally agreed that the Colts were due for a setback given the significant changes that took place in our historically stable franchise. On most lists the Colts barely cracked the top 10 in the early season rankings and most pundits pointed squarely at the coaching change when justifying why the Colts were no longer a top five team in the NFL.
Through five weeks the Colts have shaken off any doubts and behind the arm of Peyton Manning and his MVP caliber play, the Colts are back atop most peoples rankings and appear to have very few speed bumps ahead of them when glancing at the remainder of their schedule.
That early success has led people to do an about face and now just about everyone is saying that the Colts head coaching change has gone about as smoothly as a coaching change can go, and that Caldwell is really just Tony Dungy Jr. on the sidelines.
Thanks largely to the fact the Colts have played almost their entire schedule in Prime Time this season, I have seen just about every play run by the Colts and I notice that this team is very different from the Colts teams of the last seven years.
While coach Caldwell certainly displays many of Tony Dungy's good habits when it comes to relationships with players, the media and allowing the offense to do its thing, there are very significant differences between Jim Caldwell and Tony Dungy and I believe we shouldn't overlook those differences as a big reason why this Colts team has been so successful this season, even while everyone else was predicting doom and gloom.
Right at the top of my list is what I call the killer instinct. In the NFL no lead is safe and there is a fine line between not playing to humiliate your opponent, while not leaving the door open for them to make a laughter into a nail biter.
Under Tony Dungy, the Colts let their foot off the accelerator anytime they approached that line of humiliating the opponent on the other side of the field.
I think back to 2004, and there is no way that Peyton Manning doesn't throw for about 55 TDs that season if the Colts don't let up. Twice Manning took a knee at the end of the season in a close game rather than push for the TD. Three times Peyton came out of the game in the third or fourth quarter when the outcome no longer seemed in doubt (I include the last game of the season which he only played one series).
In 2007, the Patriots fueled by their "Us Against the World Mentality" after the Spygate claims had that killer instinct. They kept their foot on the throttle from kickoff to final whistle and went 16-0 while setting all kinds of records. With a minute left in games and the outcome no longer in doubt they were still throwing for TDs with their starting QB in the game.
While some might argue that karma and the fickle NFL gods have been screwing with the Patriots franchise ever since, the point still stands that 2007 team is the epitome of killer instinct in the modern NFL.
Flash forward to this season and Peyton's streak of 300-yard games. With Tony Dungy that streak would have ended last week as there is no way that the Colts come out throwing to kill the clock, and its highly unlikely in a three score game that Peyton is even out on the field.
Earlier this season I mentioned that Peyton might be playing this season with a chip on his shoulder, like he has something to prove. I was excited that Caldwell might actually loosen the reins and allow Peyton to work some magic.
So far I have not been disappointed and suspect that by the end of the season we will be talking about whether Peyton should play the entire game the last two weeks to take a shot at the Single season passing yards record, or get rest because the games are meaningless.
I can't wait for that debate.
The other big difference that has Caldwell's stamp all over it is with the Defense. The Colts defense has become hard to play against for anyone, except Miami, because they have thrown out the bend but dont break philosophy. The Colts blitz linebackers, play man coverage in the secondary and Freeney and Mathis actually play the run from time to time.
I am certain without the coaching change we would still have Ron Meeks as our Defensive Coordinator and we would be rehashing the same old arguments about stopping the run, and getting off the field on third down. Kudos to Larry Coyer and his new defense, that he has done this without many of the regular starters is an even bigger testament to success of their new system.
While I think the world of Tony Dungy, it's clear that the subtle changes that Caldwell has brought to the table were needed in Indy, are paying off early.
Will it be enough to get this team back to the Superbowl? Time will tell.