Manning Eyes New Challenge: Playing Every Position as Team is Put on IR

Justin JavanCorrespondent INovember 9, 2009

As injuries mount for the Colts, this headline might not be far off. Given that Manning is going to retire with almost every significant record, and has proven he only needs 14 minutes 53 seconds to win a game, it seems like he needs a new challenge.

As Colts players keep dropping onto I.R., or the operating table, this is only half hyperbole.  In the coming weeks the Colts have four tough games in a row (I don’t want to hear about records.) From the looks of it, they’re going to have to do it without their star players.


Bob Sanders:

For his $6.1 million dollar contract this year, Bob gave Colts fans one-and-a-half games. After finally getting on the field after recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, Bob hurt his elbow in last week’s win against the 49ers and is now out for the season.

Many people on this site, and my blog, wanted to burn me at the stake, after I wrote a piece daring to suggest that the Colts trade old Bob, because he wasn’t worth the money they’re paying him. After being branded a heretic, for daring to suggest such a thing, Bob proves me right.

The sad thing is, I don’t know now if he even has much trade value. Had he played the rest of the season, and kept putting  on performances like the one in the 49’ers game, maybe the Colts could have gotten a third or fourth round pick for him. After this latest news, I don’t think he’s tradable—though I do hold out hope that the Raiders or Redskins will make an offer.

It looks like the Colts have two choices with Bob: 1) Keep him another year and pay him $4,184,166 for who knows how many games. 2) Cut him and take a salary cap hit of $2,803,332 In my mind the choice is a no-brainer. Cut Bob Sanders.

Melvin Bullitt, now a starter, has been a very capable backup for the Colts. Let’s look at the numbers real quick.

Bullitt has been with the Colts for three years, though his first year he was on special teams. During his two years as a SS (his first year he played special teams so I didn’t count those numbers), he has accrued 95 tackles or 47.5 per game, five interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Keep in mind that he started only eight games in 2008.

Bullitt is also 6’ 1’’ tall and weighs 201 lbs.

In Bob Sanders's career as a Colt he has totaled 370 tackles over six years, or 62 per game, 6 interceptions, and two forced fumbles.

 Sanders is 5’ 8” tall, weighs 206 lbs, and has never played a 16-game season.

The only argument to counter cutting Sanders is the old “Yeah, but when he’s playing….” The key word here is “when” he’s playing.


Marlin Jackson:

Marlin Jackson became the starting corner back of the Colts in 2007. He and Kelvin Hayden formed a dynamic duo that were excellent zone corners, but also big time hitters in the running game, who helped the Colts defense rank third in the league in 2007—something that had never been done before under Tony Dungy’s tenure there as head coach.

In 2008, Jackson expected to take his game to the next level, after having a full year as a starter under his belt. Instead, in late October of 2008 he tore his ACL in a freak injury in practice. He was placed on I.R. for the rest of the year, while he underwent surgery and rehab.

Things were looking good for Marlin in 2009; he was ahead of schedule in his recovery from his ACL injury, and was playing for the Colts as a nickel-back as he rebuilt strength in his knees.

That is why the news coming out of Indy this week, that Marlin tore the ACL in his left knee during practice, is so sad. Again, for the second time in 12 months Marlin, has been placed on I.R., and will have to get surgery on his knee.

I’m afraid that this might be the end of Marlin's career in the NFL, at least as a starter.

Assuming that Marlin makes a full recovery, two knee injuries in a year is not a good thing for a cornerback, or a wide receiver, who have to make lots of sharp quick cuts with their legs.

On top of that, the Colts have drafted two corners, who as rookies are making plays all over the field. Of the two, Jarroud Powers is the most impressive. Not only can he play zone coverage, but he can also line up and play man, which is a huge plus in Larry Coyer’s blitz schemes. 

Unfortunately for Marlin, assuming he recovers and if Indy keeps him, he will likely be back in the nickel role. Given that his contract is up, and it is unlikely there will be a new C.B.A, Marlin will be a restricted free agent; the best he can hope for is that he will be a backup for the Colts with a greatly reduced salary. If the Colts end up trading him, with his injury history, chances are he won’t be going to a top tier team like the Colts.

Marlin is a stand-up guy, who works hard; I sure hope he can comeback from this one.


Kelvin Hayden:

Of the two cornerbacks that replaced Jason David and Nick Harper, Kelvin has always been better than Marlin Jackson.  However, like Marlin, he too has had his injury issues.

Kelvin was so valuable to the Colts that they slapped the franchise tag on him, risking having to cut many veteran players, had they not been able to work a contract out with him.

His loss on the field can’t be underestimated.  Kelvin is a playmaker, who is always a threat to pick of the ball when he is on the field, or, at the very least knock it out of the air. He has good coverage skills, and hopefully will be back in four weeks (never believe what the Colts say about when a player is going to return from an injury.)

If Hayden does come back healthy, he and Jarroud Powers make a nice cornerback duo on the outside, especially with Powers ability to play man coverage; assuming the Colts make the playoffs, both players will be needed if Indy is going to make a serious run in the post-season.

Of all the injuries this one seems the least disturbing—unless you take into account, that like Jackson, this is the second knee injury he has suffered in the past 12 months. Hopefully the Colts didn’t just sign another big contract, with an injury prone player who’s keeping the bench warm for Manning more than he is playing.


Tyjuan Hagler:

Of all the injuries that the Colts suffered this past week, this might be the one bright spot.

The Colts need to get bigger at linebacker, especially at the SAM backer position. This gives Phillip Wheeler a great opportunity to make a name for himself.

After spending all of training camp, and the pre-season, playing as the starting SAM backer, it was surprising to see Tyjuan Hagler beat him out, and become the opening day starter.  Unfortunately, for Wheeler, my guess is that his coverage skills weren’t good enough to beat out Hagler.

In order for Indy to complete its transition to a bigger front seven, they need to get bigger at linebacker. This could be a blessing in disguise for both Wheeler, and the team.

Wheeler will now be the starter as the strongside linebacker for the rest of the season. If Wheeler is smart, he will take advantage of this opportunity to improve his pass coverage abilities, and the Colts will be a better team going into the post-season. If things work out, they will have a big, strongside  linebacker, who will improve Indy’s run defense, while still being able to play the pass, and blitz the quarterback.

For years Indy has been knocked out of the playoffs because of their inability to stop the run and get off the field on third down. This could prove to be a step in the right direction; it’s all in Wheeler’s hands; hopefully he will do something with this opportunity afforded to him.


The Big Picture:

There is no question that taken as a whole, the loss of this group of players has taken its toll on Indy’s’ defense.

Watching the Colts squeak out a win against the Texans further reinforces this uncomfortable reality. Next week they have to play the Patriots and they’re quick strike offense. The lack of a running game will make it that much easier for Belichick to shut down the Colts offense.

These young players on defense are really going to have to play the game of their short careers if the Colts are going to beat the Patriots.

At the end of the day, the team that wins next Sunday night, will be the one with the defense that creates the most opportunities for their offense. Let’s hope these guys are up to the task.

Beyond next week throw records out the window, each and every game Indy plays for the rest of the season is going to be a challenge. With injuries on the offense, and their inability to run the ball, the Colts need their defense now, more than ever, to shut down the run, and get off the field on third downs.

Right now, if you look at the stats it’s all about offense, but as the weather gets colder and you have to play in the cold, in the rain and the snow, you’re going to need a good defense, and a solid running game.

Without a running game, and now, a possible neck injury to Austin Collie, Manning is going to need as many snaps per game as possible, if the Colts are going to make it to the playoffs, and be serious Super Bowl contenders this season. Last week’s injuries just made it that much harder.


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