Last night, the Indianapolis Colts were in Landover, Maryland to face Mike Shanahan's Washington Redskins.
The Skins sat at 3-2 and were tied atop the NFC East going into the week. They needed a win to keep pace with the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, who had both won their respective games earlier yesterday. They have surprised some people this year, playing fairly well with a bunch of new faces in the starting lineups and were coming off a big overtime victory over the Green Bay Packers last week.
For Peyton Manning and the Colts, this was a must-win game as well. They were 3-2 going into this one and needed a win to keep a tie for the division lead with the rival Houston Texans, whom they already lost to Week 1 of this season.
The Colts are a great team—at home—but when you take away their home field advantage, they have been very pedestrian so far this season and do not seem to have the same firepower on either side of the ball that got them to the Super Bowl in 2009.
The game was not one of the prettiest things Peyton has ever constructed, but in the end the Colts came out victorious, beating the Skins 27-24 and avoiding a late comeback chance by Donovan McNabb and company to improved to 4-2.
The Redskins fell to 3-3, but considering they played a pretty good game and were some dropped interceptions away from stealing this one, they shouldn't be too concerned with the loss.
Here are five things we learned from watching this Sunday Night matchup.
Now before I say anything, let me tell you this.
I know Peyton Manning is great, but he is human and he can and does make mistakes. He is still the best quarterback and best leader in football and that goes unquestioned.
But last night on more than one occasion, Peyton should have had critical errors, but was bailed out by the Redskins defense's inability to catch the football.
The first errant throw was actually caught by cornerback Carlos Rogers, but he couldn't hold on as he went to the ground and the ball popped out for an incomplete pass. The interception would have put the Redskins in great field position and could have lead to at least a field goal attempt.
The second pass was one in which Peyton tried to fit the ball to Austin Collie in between Rogers and safety Kareem Moore. The ball sailed on Manning, but luckily Moore was so focused on hitting Collie that he paid little attention to the ball which hit him in the chest and the hands before falling to the turf. Moore almost made the catch, but Peyton caught another break and this time it led to points for the Colts.
The third pass was late in the game and it involved a dear friend Kareem Moore again, who had a decent game reducing Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne's impact, but could have been a game changer if it wasn't for this second gaffe.
Late in the fourth quarter on a drive that resulted in the Colts game-winning field goal, Peyton underthrew a ball to the end zone that floated a little bit. Moore was breaking back in coverage and when he went to make a play on the football, he slipped and the ball skipped right in front of him incomplete. If he didn't lose his footing, it could have been Redskins ball down seven with about eight minutes or so to go.
There are three separate occasions when the Redskins could have made the play that changed the result of this game, but instead, they gave Peyton second chances and normally as a defense facing the Colts, you don't get any chances to take the ball away, so if you do, you HAVE to take advantage of them.
Peyton got a little lucky, but this game requires a little luck sometimes, even for the league's best players.
I know this is part of Mike Shanahan's style of offense.
You lull the defense with a persistent run attack and then you take shots down the field to stretch the defense out and open up the middle of the field for Chris Cooley and Fred Davis. But when you don't have many good receivers, it's hard to expect it to work more than a small percentage of the time.
Santana Moss, Anthony Armstrong, Joey Galloway and Brandon Banks are all speed guys at the wide receiver position. They can all be sent deep to chase after a vintage McNabb bomb where he throws it as far as he can and has his receiver run under it.
It worked last week when Armstrong caught a deep touchdown against Green Bay, but so far this season, I have only seen the deep ball work for the Redskins twice—both to Armstrong—and they throw it at least four of five times a game, and in questionable spots too.
On a third down and three towards the end of the first half, McNabb threw a bomb to Galloway in the end zone that was incomplete instead of finding man open for the first down to keep the drive alive. The Skins were forced to attempt a deep field goal that Graham Gano proceeded to shank.
On the second to last drive of the game, McNabb went long again for Armstrong on fourth and 10.
Now you tell me, why would you throw it into double coverage on fourth and 10 when all you need is a field goal to tie it up. It was a dumb decision by Donovan to throw that ball. During the game they showed that Fred Davis was wide open with some room to run if McNabb had just checked it down instead of forcing it.
I am all for taking deep shots, but pick the proper situations and check it down if it isn't there, especially when the game is on the line.
When Ryan Torain and Mike Shanahan were reunited in Washington, I had a feeling that he would find his way onto the field.
After Clinton Portis went down with an injury, Torain was thrusted into the starter's role and he hasn't disappointed since getting the call. Yesterday, Ryan had his best game as a professional, rushing for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries while catching a pass for nine yards as well.
He is a big back at 6'1" 218lbs. and he is a very hard man to bring down. He makes good cuts in the whole and has pretty nimble feet for a downhill runner.
Torain has averaged 4.2 yards a carry this year and has kept the Redskins rushing attack consistent in Portis' absence. But when Clinton comes back, should he really get the starting job back?
I say no.
I think that Torain should be the featured back, but I don't think Portis should be forgotten. He still have some life in those legs and he does make plays for this team. If I was Mike Shanahan, I would probably give Torain 15-20 carries per game while giving Portis about 10-12 carries.
They are two different types of backs who can complement each other well, so they should share the workload somewhat.
Look for Torain to be a big part of the offense going forward as he is a key to their success and can really wear down a defense with his bruising running style.
When you think about the Colts defense, you picture the great defensive end combination of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. You think of Bob Sanders (although he never plays), Gary Brackett and Antoine Bethea.
But one man that has really made a name for himself is corner Jerraud Powers.
Powers was drafted in the third round (92nd overall) out of Auburn in 2008 and has seen a lot of action because of injuries and the Colts being thin at his position. He had a decent year last season, recording 66 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
But after the Colts lost Marlin Jackson to free agency, Powers got the starting job and hasn't looked back since.
Jerraud had his best game as a pro last night with 11 tackles (eight solo) and his second interception of the season. He was blanketing the Redskins receivers and didn't let any of the speedsters behind him in coverage. Powers has also been a pretty sure tackler, not letting anyone break his tackle for a big gain.
He has great speed to stay with the fastest players in this league and he makes good plays on the ball. He has very good instincts and seems to be in the right spot all the time.
With Bob Sanders out like usual, it is up to Powers, Antoine Bethea and Kelvin Hayden to pick up this secondary and help win the Colts some games.
Washington is a good team.
They have some talent and are a well disciplined team, but they just aren't quite good enough to make a playoff impact this season. With the Giants and Eagles both at 4-2, the Redskins are going to have to win at least 11 games to win this division, and probably at least 10 games to earn a wild card. The Cowboys are too talented to keep losing, and could make a run for the division as well.
Mike Shanahan's team needs to improve their talent at some positions in order to be considered a threat to go deep into the playoffs.
First, the Redskins wide outs consist of two veterans who have lost some burst and two young, fast guys who lack experience to take over games. Cooley and Fred Davis are both great pass catchers, but McNabb needs wide receivers to stretch the field and work the sidelines to open up the middle for those two guys.
Santana Moss has been solid this year, but he isn't the player he used to be and Joey Galloway just hasn't made an impact at all yet. Brandon Banks is a great special teams player—not a good receiver though.
Anthony Armstrong does have promise, but he was an undrafted free agent out of a small football league in Texas called the "Tex League", and he isn't a well-rounded receiver yet.
Second, Ryan Torain and Portis are both solid backs, but neither of them are dominant forces who can take over games single-handedly.
Last, the Redskins defense is very experienced and disciplined, but they are aging and a little above average at best.
The Skins are full of good players, but not enough great players. They have a lot of veterans who are heading towards the end of their careers, and I would be surprised if they are contending for the NFC East crown by seasons end, especially with how the Giants and Eagles have turned it up a notch the past month.
Phil Lombardo is a Bleacher Report writing intern and a senior journalism/mass communications major at St. Bonaventure University.
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