The Dime Package: Colts Keep Things Interesting During Winning Streak
The Colts reached their 10th win in 10 tries this year with a tough 17-15 win over the Ravens. I've never known a 10-win team to be labeled with so many questions, which kind of helps this week's column write itself.
10. Simply put, what is up with the offense?
For the fourth straight game, the Colts had a mediocre offensive performance. Peyton Manning threw two picks that, unlike the ones in the Patriots' game, were forced throws into coverage. The running game, save for one 21-yard Joseph Addai run, was lackluster at best.
It's hard to say the league's best passing attack is struggling, but they haven't looked great since their blow out win at St. Louis. Still, it's hard to complain about a team that's averaging more than 300 yards passing a game. Such are the dilemmas of a 10-0 team.
9. So how did they win?
This team is like no other Colts team that I can remember. It's almost as if they have a sixth sense about making plays in pressure situations.
The offense comes alive when it knows it needs a score. Sure, a lone field goal in the fourth quarter doesn't sound like an epic comeback, but it was enough for the win. This was the Colts' fourth straight fourth quarter comeback.
Four straight! What team does that?
Of all the incredible starts the Colts have had with Manning at the helm, this may be the most memorable. Several times I've seen this team get to the breaking point in a game. A loss seemed inevitable. Instead, they find that little bit extra and get the job done.
Both the offense and defense found a little extra yesterday. The fourth-quarter offense looked little like the one we had seen against New England. The first two possessions of the final 15 minutes resulted in an interception and a punt. Still, the offense, led entirely by Manning passes, put together a drive that led to Matt Stover's game-winning field goal.
Prior to that, the defense that looked as if it would finally give up a Raven touchdown held firm after the Ravens reached a first down on the one-yard line. It was an impressive stand for a defense late in a game that had been so physical.
8. Play of the game?
Gary Brackett's interception was a magnificent play. After the Colts took a 17-15 lead, it looked as if the Ravens would respond with at least a field goal of their own. The Ravens had already converted one 3rd-and-long when they faced another at the Colts' 14-yard line.
Brackett played a short zone, watching Joe Flacco's eyes and waiting for the dump off pass to Ray Rice. Brackett made the break and came up with the game-deciding interception.
Brackett has been a very under appreciated member of the defense. It's hard to forget about him since the Colts' linebacking corps goes mostly unnoticed, but Brackett has been a consistent playmaker this year.
A lack of name recognition will likely keep him forever out of the Pro Bowl, but Brackett is one of the Colts' best defenders.
7. Is there something special about this streak?
Yes, it's called karma. I've wondered if it exists, but think about the past three wins.
First, there's the Texans driving down to tie the game. Their kicker, Kris Brown had already nailed a 56-yarder earlier. He misses a 42-yard field goal at the end that would have tied the game.
Next, there's the infamous Bill Belichick gamble at the end of the game. The Colts had no business winning that game, but they did.
And then there's yesterday's game. The intimidating Ray Lewis gets faked out of his shoes by Addai on the touchdown run. Does that happen to Lewis? Ever?
Then there's the personal foul on Haloti Ngata on the drive that produced the game's final points.
Some might call it luck, but there's no denying the Colts have this tendency to hang around until someone else makes a mistake. Once is luck. Three straight weeks is something more.
6. Dare I ask, would a loss be a good thing for the Colts?
I've been debating this all day.
On one hand, a loss would force this team to really look at why the offense has been inconsistent at times and why the defense occasionally lets the big play happen (like it did yesterday on Flacco's bomb to Derrick Mason).
It's one thing to talk about the areas you need to improve on after a win. It's just not the same mentally as reviewing your mistakes after a loss. I can see, in some sense, how a loss would be very beneficial.
But then why mess with a streak while it's happening? The team is winning, so there must be a lot of good things happening.
This team does have a lot to work on, but I'm confident the coaching staff knows what to do whether they win or lose. Let the streak continue.
5. Is it time to ask, about 16-0?
Not yet. There's still one more massive test coming up next week at Houston. I thought the Colts had a legitimate chance of hitting 16-0 if they could make it out of the stretch of games bookmarked by the Texans undefeated. Three down and one to go.
The Houston game will be a tough one. The last game is still fresh in the Texans' minds. They know they could have won that game and will be fired up. If the Texans want to make the playoffs, they really need a win. There will be a lot on the line for them, and it could make for a dangerous game.
If they win next week, then I think you'll start to hear some serious talk about it. The rest of the schedule suddenly looks very good.
The Jags are a one trick pony team. The Titans are coming along, but the Colts play well against mobile quarterbacks like Vince Young. The Jets and Broncos are falling apart, and the Bills are just awful.
Those are five winnable games.
Of course, with the Bengals' loss, the Colts now have a three-game lead in the race for home field in the AFC. If they clinch home field by Week 15 or 16, that will lead to the obvious question...
4. Do the Colts rest their starters if everything is locked up?
No. It would be a bad move for the Colts to rest their starters.
The 2007 Patriots played their starters till the end, and you could argue that gave the Giants the confidence that they could beat the Patriots. Then again, there's the 2005 Colts that clinched early, rested everybody, and came out flat in the opening playoff loss to the Steelers.
There's question marks both ways, but I think it's clear that the Colts need to play every game with the starters for one reason.
The Colts aren't a veteran team. Their offense isn't a fine-tuned engine of Manning to Marvin Harrison. Their defense isn't led by lots of eight- and nine-year vets.
Most of Manning's offensive playmakers are young. The more reps guys like Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon get with Manning, the better they'll be.
The same is true for the defense. The young secondary could use the practice they'll get from finishing out the season. The teams they play will still be playing to win games, so the Colts should too.
Maybe you rest guys more, you rotate guys in and out, but you have to keep playing. This team relies a lot on getting in a rhythm to win. You can't do that if they end up taking three weeks off.
3. Back to the Texans' game, what will be the key to the game for Houston?
Again, I think it comes down what Texans' coach Gary Kubiak decides to do with Steve Slaton.
In the first matchup, I thought Slaton would play a big role in the passing game considering they had just lost pass-catching tight end Owen Daniels for the year.
Instead, Kubiak benched Slaton to make a point about Slaton's fumbling problems. He replaced him with Ryan Moats, a career backup who happened to have more than 130 yards against lowly Buffalo.
Against the Colts, he had 38.
Moats is not the answer. If you are talking consistent running, Slaton probably isn't either. The Texans are like the Colts in the sense they need the pass to be their short running game, and they only run to keep the defenses honest.
If Slaton is used in the passing game, it'll give the Colts a lot to think about with stud receiver Andre Johnson lurking about.
The defense will have to contain Johnson much like they did in game one. He did have 10 catches in the first game, but barely averaged 10 yards a catch which is commendable considering his talent level.
If the Colts can keep the Texans' passing game contained, then they have an excellent shot at a victory.
2. What can the Colts do to win?
They need to do exactly what they did in game one. The Colts came out firing in game one. The trouble was they didn't finish a lot of drives. That let Houston hang around to get back in the game.
The Colts need to score early and often. Houston is pretty one-dimensional anyway, but forcing Schaub to go all out will put a lot of pressure on their offense to get back in the game.
Indianapolis should come out guns blazing and finish drives in the end zone. Sounds simple, but it won't be for an offense that's been anything but consistent.
I've rewritten this section twice.
I first said Texans 27, Colts 20. I had my reasons.
The lack of consistency from the Colts' offense.
The fact that this may be a needed win for Houston to make the playoffs, so Houston will have added motivation.
The confidence that just a few short weeks ago, they had the Colts on the ropes and let them go.
Great reasons. Then I remembered one thing. The Colts have only lost to Houston once since the Texans. Ever. In a late game-winning drive, do I want Manning or Schaub? Do I want the pass rushing over Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis or Mario Williams and somebody else?
I may not like how things are going, but hey, the Colts are 10-0 for a reason. They find ways to win.
They'll find a way again next Sunday too.
Colts 27, Texans 24.
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