AFC South: What's Wrong With Peyton Manning and The Indianapolis Colts?

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AFC South: What's Wrong With Peyton Manning and The Indianapolis Colts?
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It has been a frustrating season for Peyton Manning and the Colts, but Manning refuses to make excuses.

The Colts dropped their third straight game this Sunday with a 38-35 loss at home to the Dallas Cowboys.

It was their sixth loss of the season and the fourth loss in five games. Indianapolis is on the verge of posting its worst record since 2002 (10-6).

Despite all of the struggles, the Colts are still in a position to win the AFC South. Three of their final four games are against divisional opponents (one against Jacksonville, two against Tennessee).

The warning signs have been present all year long, from the first game till now. Their Week 1 matchup against the Houston Texans revealed all of the flaws immediately. Arian Foster shredded the Colts defense for over 200 yards rushing, while the Colts completely abandoned their ground game.

You would think that Peyton Manning being on pace to break a few single season passing records, the Colts would be in good shape. Let's take a closer look.

Air Mail

Manning threw for 433 (third highest in career) yards in that game, but the most alarming stat was the career high 57 attempts. I talked about this being a problem back in Week 1, yet it continues.

Manning has gone over 40 attempts in a game nine times this year. His previous career high was seven (2008 & 2002), and we still have four games left. He's thrown over 50 times on three occasions this season, which is also a career high.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Manning is averaging over 300 yards per game for the first time in his career.

According to ESPN's projections (take it for what it's worth), Manning will shatter the all time record for passing attempts in a season (712), break the record for completions (471) and place third all time for passing yards in a season (4,945). You can click the links to see the current record for each stat.

On top of all that, Manning has thrown 11 interceptions in the past three games, the most of any three game stretch in his career. He's on pace for 20 interceptions, which would mark the third time in his career to throw 20 passes to the other team (1998, his rookie season, and 2001).

It's possible that he is declining given the fact that he's 34, but you cannot ignore how injuries are playing a role in his struggles. If he had all of his weapons, then you could almost certainly pinpoint the problem to his age.

Still, even in a down year where he lost his #1 target in Dallas Clark (which I think was the biggest blow of them all) and with all of the other injuries, his QB rating is currently at 89.4. That's after the 11 interceptions in three games.

To further signify the importance of Clark, he is 5th on the Colts with 347 yards receiving even though he has not played since Week 6.

That's just one of the problems plaguing this team. The lack of a running game has killed the offense's ability to sustain drives.

Nonexistent Running Game

The Colts running game ranks last among the 32 NFL teams at 79.1 yards per game and a measly 3.5 yards per attempt (also worst in the NFL). Most games, the Colts completely abandon the ground attack, but how can you blame them?

It's hard to run the ball when you have fourth-stringer Javarris James in the backup role behind Donald Brown. The teams' leading rusher, Joseph Addai, has been injured since Week 6.

Addai was averaging 4.4 yards per carry before the injury to his shoulder sidelined him. The Colts averaged 94.8 yards per game on the ground with Addai and 63.3 without him. The recent signing of former Colts running back Dominic Rhodes paints a pretty clear picture of how they feel about Addai's chances of returning.

Rhodes hasn't played in the NFL since 2008, but he did play seven games in the UFL with the Florida Tuskers this year. Here's an excerpt from his season (via Wikipedia):

"...he set new single-season marks for total touchdowns (10), rushing yards (547) and all-purpose yards (918). He was third in the UFL in yards from scrimmage (652) and second in kickoff return average (21.7). Rhodes scored at least one touchdown in each of the first seven games of the season."

Rhodes will serve as the third backup behind Brown and possibly more if his ankle fails to heal in time.

While the offense struggles to run the ball, the defense can't stop it.

This is nothing new for a Colts defense, but the inability to keep the opposing teams' offense off the field is magnified this season.

Since 2002, the Colts highest rank in rushing defense is 16th, which is also the year they won the Super Bowl.

The Colts are pretty fortunate to be 6-6 when you consider the only three teams that allow more rushing yards per game are a combined 8-28 (Buffalo, Arizona, Denver).

What's Ahead for the Colts?

It seems unlikely that the Colts will immediately correct all of their misfortunes with four games left, unless Addai and Clark miraculously return to health.

All four games are against teams ranked inside the top 12 in rushing offense (Tennessee - 12, Oakland - 4, Jacksonville - 2), but none of them possess a shut down defense. Three of the four games are on the road, where the Colts are just 2-4.

Interestingly enough, the Colts have a +27 point differential, while the division leading Jaguars have a -43 point differential. Tennessee sits in last place with a 5-7 record despite a +28 point differential.

How will the Colts finish out the 2010 season?

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The AFC South is without a clear favorite to win the division, with all teams still mathematically in the hunt. Indianapolis is in a good position to take the division with games remaining against Jacksonville and Tennessee. 

The Colts will have to rely on Peyton Manning to keep firing away and hope the interceptions disappear.

Colts Final Record: 9-7 (losing to Oakland)

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below. You can e-mail me suggestions or questions at jtmcadams@aol.com. Follow me on Twitter @JoeSportswriter.

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