Dime Package: Colts Win, but Struggle Against Texans
There's something somewhat comforting about reaching the midway point at 8-0. It means that even a 4-4 meltdown to end the season would mean the Colts would reach that historic 12-win mark. Still, there's plenty of questions for a team that's yet to taste defeat in 2009.
10. So much for the offensive fireworks, huh?
There should have been plenty of fireworks to start the game. The first four Colts offensive positions got inside the Texans' 35 yard line. Four deep drives netted just 13 points. The Colts could have killed the Texans early. Instead, they let them hang around and a lot of blood pressure levels went up in Colts nation.
9. Why the offensive struggle?
There were some strange play calls. There was the doomed play action on fourth down on the opening drive, and the odd screen play where Austin Collie got a pass interference call, but the play didn't result in a first down anyway. They moved the ball effectively, but as Coach Jim Caldwell put it after the game, they simply didn't "finish" early.
8. And things went from bad to worse, right?
A lot of people will point to the surreal Ryan Moat's fumble that tight-roped the sideline and rolled to the end zone line. It stopped what looked to be a sure Texans touchdown. Key play? Sure. Turning point? Hardly. The Colts offense hit rock bottom after this play. Peyton Manning's interception after the fumble hit the Texans' Bernard Pollard in stride. The first two possessions resulted in a quick punt and a horrible looking interception by Reggie Wayne on a failed reserve option. Needless to say, Wayne is no Joseph Addai.
7. So what finally won the game?
Three things. First, the defense, again, kept the Colts in it. You aren't going to shut an offense as talented as the Texans' down for the entire game. The Texans got some good drives in the second half, but the defense did a remarkable job holding them to two points.
The second is Manning. Somewhere inside of him there has to be another level that automatically turns on in a one possession game in the fourth quarter. Manning calmly led the drive midway through the fourth that resulted in the winning points. He got help from Addai, who gained 23 yards on his four carries in the drive, including breaking two tackles to score the game-winning touchdown.
The third was Defensive Coordinator Larry Coyer's blitz call on the Texans' next to last drive. Gary Brackett came in on a slightly delayed blitz. Unblocked, he hit Matt Schaub's arm and Clint Session came up with the interception. The Texans were nearly in field goal range, and Kris Brown might have been successful on an attempt that wasn't rushed.
6. Is that the end of the ultra hurry-up?
No, not necessarily. It did work. The Colts had their best package on the field (Clark, Wayne, Collie, Addai, Garcon) and the Texans couldn't substitute or make a lot of adjustments. The Colts were simply moving too fast, and despite what you would think, they had good time of possession in this style of offense. Basically, the offense did what it had to do. It got into scoring position, but two field goals and one lone touchdown in four trips won't cut it if you have dreams of playing in February.
5. Why is Manning passing the ball 50 times?
Without Donald Brown, the Colts really only have one legitimate running back in Addai. No offense to Chad Simpson, but he's nothing more than a special teams player. Since Addai can't handle 20 carries a game, the Colts need to use the short passing game as their running game. The Colts obviously have the weapons in the passing game to make this work.
You still need a running game that can be consistent. I can't share Bill Polian's enthusiasm about Addai's performance. Addai was great in the game winning drive, and on paper 63 yards on 14 carries is a strong average, but 38 yards came on his last six carries. Until the fourth quarter, Addai was ineffective at best. At least he saved his best for last. But this team needs the one-two punch of Addai and Brown to be consistent.
3. Much was said about the Colts' defensive losses in the week leading up to the game. Any sign the replacements won't be able to handle the pressure?
None whatsoever. I haven't been this excited about a defense since the 1995 squad that made the miracle run to the AFC Championship game (which was as much about a solid defense as it was about Captain Comeback).
Sure, Andre Johnson, one of the league's premier receivers, caught 10 passes, but barely averaged 10 yards per catch. All his routes were underneath routes and I'm sure the Colts were happy to give up those types of plays.
Even today I heard a comment about how Tom Brady has to be salivating at the thought of the Colts starting two rookie cornerbacks. That tells me that whoever makes that comment hasn't watched Jacob Lacey or Jerraud Powers play. They are simply playing great defense. Rush ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have never played better in tandem than they are now. This is a very good defense that could be great come playoff time.
Now, just don't get me started on Tim Jennings and the zip code he calls a cushion in pass coverage.
2. What did the win mean for the Colts?
It pretty much all but wraps up the division. The Colts take games one at a time, and rightfully so, but the Texans are four out with eight to go. The Colts aren't liable to let such a division lead slip away.
Also, it's a good start to the toughest four game stretch of the year. The Colts entertain New England next weekend then travel to Baltimore and Houston. Realistically, 3-1 would be fantastic in this stretch; 4-0 may be the springboard to something special.
1. Last question, what about the matchup with the Patriots?
That's for another day. There's a reason this game was saved for the sweeps month. Like so many other years, this one is liable to be a classic. We'll dissect the game in a special Dime Package on Thursday.
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