With Peyton Manning winning his record-setting fourth MVP in a season where it seemed like he or the Colts set a record in every game they played, it’s becoming harder and harder to argue that Manning isn't one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
The arguments against Manning’s greatness are coming down to, “Well, he threw 16 interceptions this season.”
That’s not a joke; it’s a comment I received from one of my readers this week.
Manning’s play in the ’09 season covered up a lot of the Colts' weaknesses. Granted, the problems with the Colts haven’t been because of a lack of talent or bad coaching.
They boiled down to two issues: injuries, and figuring out the right guys to play on the offensive line.
With Charlie Johnson firmly ensconced at left tackle and Kyle Devan replacing Mike Pollack at right guard (who, much like Tony Ugoh, turned out to be a bust), problem No. 2 has been resolved to a great extent.
As the team heads into the playoffs, issue No. 1 is much more troubling—a lot of the struggles the Colts faced in 2009 all stemmed from the myriad injuries that plagued the team.
It showed up in the games, and it showed up in their poor statistical rankings. It’s why the Colts weren’t able to dominate any team, and those same injuries are a large contributor to why Manning won his fourth MVP title.
The question is: Will the consequences that come from having a banged-up football team cause the Colts’ amazing year to end all too soon in the postseason?
The Colts do have a lot of good things going for them. They were smart enough to pull their players and rest them instead of going for the perfect season.
I know the team and the fans wanted to go for 16-0, but Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell wisely knew that they couldn’t afford any more injuries. To give everyone an indication of how bad the injury situation was, in the last two games they had to pull guys off of the practice squad to field a full team.
16-0, be damned.
It’s the playoffs that count, not some silly record that the Colts would only be matching, not breaking.
If you’re still not convinced, look no further than Wes Welker: That’s what 16-0 might have gotten the Colts.
By next week, the players will have had time to—if not completely—at least heal enough to be able to play effectively in the playoffs.
Here are the things the Colts are going to need if they are going to go all the way: They are going to need a healthy-enough defense to keep opponents' running games to 100 yards or less and to play better in the passing game.
Yes, a lot of the success in the playoffs is going to depend on the Colts' defense slowing teams down and getting them off the field on third down.
All the Colts’ consummate four-time MVP needs is more snaps every game. Manning can’t be sitting on the bench for 20 minutes between plays.
Here are the areas the Colts need to worry about:
- Running the ball.
- Timing and rhythm in the passing game.
- Slowing down the run.
- Playing better in pass defense—this means not giving up the big play.
The Colts are going to need a healthy Jerraud Powers, Kelvin Hayden, Jacob Lacey, and Phillip Wheeler to give Manning what he needs on offense.
The Colts’ defense showed in the last two regular-season games they can’t do it without those guys.
With those four healthy though, the Colts will be fielding a defense that is underrated. Don’t be fooled, this group is scary good:
- The interior of the line is big, athletic, and fast.
- Clint Session is a beast at the linebacker position. Not only can he stop the run when play flow goes weak side, but also he can cover in the passing game, stop the run from behind when it goes the other way, and blitz the passer when called upon.
- Gary Brackett makes up what he lacks in size with great speed and tackling ability in the running game, and is highly underrated as a defender in the passing game.
- Antoine Bethea is one of the best free safeties in the game today, and Melvin Bullitt has shown that the Colts don’t need Bob Sanders.
- The last key is Larry Coyer: With those four key guys healthy and his lack of timidity to blitz from all directions (something his predecessor was scared or incapable of doing), the defense will give teams a harder time than most pundits think.
The offensive issues, with Manning running the practices, will be solved come game day. The Colts already showed by the end of the season that they can run the ball when they feel like it or when they need too.
That’s something they couldn’t do last year going into the playoffs. But this year, don’t worry about the Colts running game ranking 32nd in the league.
The Colts backfield is loaded with running backs for different situations who can all get it done, including much-maligned (unfairly in my opinion) Joseph Addai, who has a nose for the end zone, and explosive runs and catches when the Colts need it.
The passing game has looked off a little this season. Guys have dropped balls, run the wrong routes, and mishandled the ball when it did hit them. Most of Mannings’ 16 interceptions were due to those problems.
But with Manning having four weeks to work with the two rookie receivers and the two veterans, trust me when I say this will not be a problem come playoff time.
Those guys will be ready to play, and the timing issues will be resolved. Manning will see to that.
That leaves us with the one unknown: Peyton Manning.
How will he fare in the postseason? We all know that he has struggled at times in the playoffs, and the way Manning has gone, so has the team. When Manning played poorly, the team lost.
This year is different: For one, Manning finally has a defense and a defensive coordinator who knows how to combine a Tampa 2 scheme with a zone-blitz/man blitz scheme.
Second, Manning has a fire in his belly this year that I haven't seen in all the years he has played. He exudes the “no quit” attitude, which spreads to every player on the team. Manning has the will to win, and so does the team.
That’s not something the pundits or laymen can quantify in their predictions. It’s also something that every team that faces them should worry about, because it can’t be game-planned around.
That’s why, even with their so called “deficiencies,” the Colts are the scariest team in the playoffs.
I’m not sure any team can stop Manning from reaching his goal of another Super Bowl championship this year!