Dime Package: Colts Keep Perfect Start Going

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Dime Package: Colts Keep Perfect Start Going
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After a tough win over a better-than-their-record 49ers team and with the improving Texans looming, there's a lot of Colts football to discuss.

10. A Wednesday recap? Seems the Colts aren't the only ones struggling.

The flu season has officially hit our household. For only the third time in Manning's career, I missed a home game. I'm blaming my strep on a curse placed upon me by angry Favre fans. Hey, I love the guy! Maybe that will buy me a few healthy weeks.

9. Why did the Colts struggle to an 18-14 win over San Francisco?

It came down to a lackluster offensive performance, especially in two areas.

A lot has been said about how a 3-4 defense gives Peyton Manning fits. While Manning went without a passing touchdown, it's hard to say he struggled when he put up 347 yards.

No, the 3-4 really poses problems for the offensive line. The Colts really struggle in setting up their pass protection in a 3-4. Part of that, though, is an excellent game plan by 49er coach Mike Singletary. Often, the 49ers were standing up as Manning was making his last-minute adjustments. It was hard to tell where the pressure was coming from. The result was three sacks. That represented 60 percent of the sacks against Manning all season.

This other issue was the game plan of the Colts' offense. In the first half, the Colts seemed content to run stretch plays and throw the ball deep. Very few intermediate routes were run. Without Donald Brown, it became pretty predictable that the Colts would only run outside with Joseph Addai. This time, the result was a bland offense that generated only six points.

8. So what led to the offensive turnaround?

First, Josh Morgan gifted the Colts the field goal at the end of the half. Morgan should be reprimanded severely by Singletary for his silly unsportsmanlike foul. It gave the Colts a short field and a chance to score. It gave an offense that had struggled for 29 minutes a needed shot of confidence.

In the second half, the Colts made some adjustments. They let the short passing game become the running game and started finding players in the zone between the linebackers and defensive backs. The Colts moved the ball better, even if it only resulted in 12 points.

7. It's hard to win an NFL game by scoring just 18 points, isn't it?

Very, which is why most of the credit for the win should go to the defense. They really only had two moments of suspect play.

The first was on Frank Gore's 64-yard touchdown run. On the play, safety Antoine Bethea got caught up in traffic and was a little out of position. Without a secondary to slow him down, Gore broke it for a long gain.

The second was on the 49ers' touchdown with less than a minute left in the half. The Colts couldn't get a rush and the defensive backs were playing softer than normal. Alex Smith looked sharp, but that's easier to do when you have time and your receivers are free to release.

However, by the second half the Colts put the clamps down on San Francisco. Gore managed just 27 yards on his other 12 carries, phenomenal for a back of his quality. Smith ended the game with very pedestrian numbers, 19-for-32 198 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. The Colts registered four sacks, with the defensive end tandem of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis both recording one each in the second half.

Defenses win championships. Maybe even in Indianapolis.

6. Final thoughts on the game?

For the 49ers, I hope they give Singletary time. He was one of the most respected linebackers in his playing days and it's obvious he's got the team believing they can win any game. They have now taken both Indianapolis and Minnesota to the wire. They need more offensive talent, but this team can win by next year.

As for the Colts, they need to play in these types of games sometimes. We've seen it before when teams win a lot of easy games. Some complacency can set in and some teams can panic under fire. I know this team has a reputation of not panicking, but it's nice to see it demonstrated nonetheless.

5. A couple of Colts related news items during the week so far. The first, linebacker Tyjuan Hagler is out for the year. Big impact?

I feel bad for Hagler. He had been playing the best football of his young career.

From the Colts' standpoint, it's a loss they can handle. Philip Wheeler will step up. Wheeler played well in the 49er game, registering a sack. He's fast and can make plays. He's very similar in style to Clint Session, who has been playing very well. I'd like to see a little more discipline in Wheeler on his pursuit angles, but otherwise he's the next man up.

4. Edgerrin James was released by the Seahawks. With Brown being hurt, any chance in the Colts signing him?

There's a better chance of me being invited to a Viking tailgate party.

Seriously, the only way the Colts sign the Edge is to one of those ceremonial one-day contracts when James decides to hang it up.

That said, I don't think James is ready to. Nor should he. Maybe it was the emotion of the moment, but in spot duty, I thought James looked to have some gas left in the game against the Colts.

Remember, Seattle's line is in shambles right now. Adrian Peterson would struggle with that line. A playoff team in need of quality back to carry the ball 10-15 times would do a lot worse than James.

And as much as I'd hate to admit it, he'd be a good fit for Pittsburgh right now.

3. On to the Texans, who are suddenly 5-3 and looking good. Are they contenders in the AFC South?

Possibly. I can't see the Colts dropping four or more games and the Texans winning out.

In the next four weeks, the Texans and Colts match up twice. I believe the first game, this Sunday in Indianapolis, is for the division. The second, on Nov. 29 in Reliant Stadium, will be for the Texans' playoff chances.

If the Colts win this Sunday, it puts them four games up in the division with the initial tie-breaker against Houston. The division may be essentially over by Sunday night.

If the Colts also win the Nov. 29 game, the Texans suddenly have five losses in a very competitive AFC.

If the Titans can split, then their schedule is suddenly very favorable. They could conceivably be 10-4 going into their last two games (at Miami, home against New England).

2. How do the Colts matchup with the Texans?

Very well. I've jokingly referred to the Texans before as Indy Lite. They rely on a talented passing game and their running game is built to be efficient, not dominating. Defensively, they are anchored by a pass rushing defensive end and focus on team speed to make plays.

Sounds a little like Indianapolis, doesn't it?

Offensively, the Colts are better in nearly every area. Manning is more consistent than Matt Schaub. Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson are premier receivers flanked by underrated contributors, the Texan's Kevin Walter and the Colts' Austin Collie.

The key to both passing attacks, though, is tight end. Both Dallas Clark and Owen Daniels are quality tight ends capable of making plays and opening up space for the wide receivers.

Because of that, the season-ending injury to Daniels could be the deciding factor of the game. Daniels is second on the team in receptions and leads the team in touchdowns. His productivity will be missed. Walter and Johnson will have to step up for Schaub to continue is record-setting yardage pace.

Steve Slaton, who torched the Colts last year, seems to be in coach Gary Kubiak's doghouse, which is probably good news for Indianapolis.

Defensively, I do like the Texans' linebacking corps. DeMeco Ryans is one of the league's best MLBs and Brian Cushing is one of the leading candidates for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Still, they don't generate a lot of pass rush, they have 11 sacks on the year (Freeney and Mathis have a combined 14). They allow 4.7 yards per rush. Despite their talent, this is a defense that can  give up some yardage.

1. Your Prediction?

The 18-14 score of last week may be passed by halftime. Expect an aerial show by Manning and Schaub, with the quality of Manning come through in the end.

Colts 35, Texans 27.

 

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