The Dime Package has been on an extended break. After the commiserations of the Colts loss in Super Bowl XIV and a subsequent extended trip overseas, I started the 2010 Colts' season like many other fans, firmly planted on my couch. What I expected was another year of title contention, a march to another 12-win season, and a steady dose of Peyton Manning and his magnificent offensive weapons.
What I got was a completely different season.
Still, I had stayed away from the keyboard and my beloved column. An 0-2 division record didn't inspire me to write. Ron Jaworski's comments on "diminishing skills" didn't make me flinch. Like many Colts fans, I was metaphorically fat and happy on the legacy of the Manning era of Colts history. I channeled my inner Monty Python and decided the early season indignities were but a flesh wound.
And then came last night.
All of a sudden the Colts problems became clear. So, in the lobby of a downtown Indianapolis hotel, surrounded by whisperings of the imminent demise of the season, I am here to discuss what really is the problem with the 2010 Colts.
Overconfidence can come in many forms. Obviously the fans' overconfidence has nothing to do with the Colts' current record. However, the hubris of one individual can have a direct effect on the talent the Colts put on the field.
Forgive me if I feel slightly nervous for typing these words in the heart of a city that bleeds Colts' football, but I am starting to see some cracks in the impressive resume of general manager Bill Polian.
Pause, and you can almost hear the gasps of loyal Colts fans.
You would think I would be more forgiving. I lived through the 1991 season, a 1-15 debacle on an epic scale. I remember countless Jeff George games where he would miraculously snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I remember the hope of the Eric Dickerson trade, the single division title, and the handful of years that followed, years that teased but never delivered.
After all, despite last night's homicide, the Colts are still tied atop the AFC South standings. Houston and Tennessee appear to be tripping over themselves as they race to the basement of the division. Only Jacksonville stands in the way of the Colts and another division title, and I'll be honest, I don't have a lot of faith in a Jack Del Rio-led team coming through down the stretch.
Chances are that the Colts will find a way to make the playoffs. I'm struggling to decide if that's a good thing or not.
Making the playoffs and losing a game to, say, the Jets in a wild card might reinforce Polian's belief that this team is close. He might reason that, in the end, the injuries simply were too much to overcome. He may even suggest that we, as fans, should be proud that a battered Colts team fought so valiantly to reach the post season in the first place.
Pride, though, has nothing to do with it. Blocking, on the other hand, has everything to do with it.
The downfall of the 2010 Colts started back in 2007. That's when Polian made the first of many mistakes in regards to the offensive line. In 2007, Polian used a 2008 first round pick to move up to take Arkansas tackle Tony Ugoh. Three years later, Ugoh's name can not be found on the roster.
The following year, Polian spent the Colts top pick (a second rounder) on Arizona State center Mike Pollak. Pollak is apparently better than Ugoh since he is still on the roster. However, he can't beat out free agent rookie Jeff Linkenbach. Troubling considering Linkenbach's impression of a bull fighter in the ugly loss to the Chargers.
A year after the Pollak pick, the offensive line suffered the greatest indignity from Polian. They became the scapegoat of the Super Bowl loss to the Saints. The ultimate scapegoat was deemed to be Ryan Lilja, who was allowed to return to his first professional team, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Now would be a good time to add the Lilja starts for the Chiefs and that the Chiefs are one of the league's best running teams.
With Lilja's departure, little was done to replace him. Low round draft picks and free agents were brought in. Nothing has helped.
The Colts can't run the ball. Sure, it doesn't help that Joseph Addai is hurt and that Donald Brown doesn't run with the same power he had early in his rookie season a year ago, but it's hard to imagine the running game improving with Addai's return. The Colts can't run the ball, and opposing defenses know it.
This has led to the Colts passing. A lot. No, not a lot. Actually, it's more of a grotesque number. Manning is on pace to break Drew Bledsoe's record for pass attempts in a season.
Incidentally, Bledsoe set that record in 1994, leading a one-dimensional Patriots team into the playoffs and an early exit.
With teams knowing Manning has to pass 40-50 times a game, teams a getting pushing to get more pressure on him. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem. Manning is consistently one of the least sacked quarterbacks in the league. However, this year the pressure is getting there. Two of Manning's interceptions against San Diego were a direct result of being hit as he was passing.
Creating pressure and turnovers brings out what I believe to be Manning's only weakness, his desire to do anything it takes to win. Pressure leads Manning to make throws he wouldn't normally attempt when he has time, or when he's fighting a large deficit.
If anything, the fact that the Colts are 6-5 should be an example of how great Peyton Manning is. Looking at the way this team blocks, runs, and even tackles, it's a miracle they are in the thick of the division race. That's clearly on Manning's shoulders.
The coaches should be commended too. Time and again, the Colts seem to find a player overlooked by other teams and get that player to produce on the field. This year, Blair White, a walk-on at Michigan State, has played well in relief of the numerous injuries the Colts have had to their receiving corps. But for ever player like White, or last year's Jacob Lacey, the Colts seem to have their fair share of Linkenbachs, Pollaks and Ugohs.
That would be fine if the busts and misses weren't all offensive lineman.
At 34, the Manning era in Indianapolis has a finite number of years left. For the Colts to remain Super Bowl contenders, and not just playoff also-rans, Polian needs to revamp the offensive line. Time may be running out on the 2010 season, but the future seasons hinge upon the decisions Polian makes in regards to guys that have Manning's back.
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