Strength in Numbers: The Colts Weren't Prepared for So Many Injuries This Year

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Strength in Numbers: The Colts Weren't Prepared for So Many Injuries This Year
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Bill Polian: the mastermind behind the Colts' success this year, but maybe his strategy has cost his team this year

Injuries happen, and when they do, there are a few reactions. As fans, if that’s your guy lying on the field, you generally feel a mixture of shock and horror.

If it’s another team, no matter how hated the rival could be, you feel sympathy, even if it is masking a bit of joy that the other team’s best player could be out for a game, a few plays or a season.

But most fans don’t understand the impact that even the smallest injury can have on a team’s season or game plan.

Injuries happen, and though fans may lament them or worry when their guy gets carted off the field, we have no idea what general managers, coaches or players have to deal with when a guy, whether he is key or not, goes down.

Take the example of Dallas Clark. Simply put (and with all due respect), this guy is Peyton Manning’s binky. Everyone applauds him as the best pass-catching tight end in the league right now. But his 6’3” 250-pound body also makes him an excellent run-blocker.

With such an important player going down, much of what makes the Colts a great team does not exist any more. The classic Peyton Manning stretch hand-off doesn’t work as well without Dallas Clark sealing the edge.

The great seam routes that Clark runs, right up the middle of the defense, doesn’t work as well with Jacob Tamme. And most importantly, Peyton Manning reads defenses differently without Dallas Clark.

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Suddenly, a receiver who was his first or second option on most plays becomes the fourth or fifth. Obviously, defenses can now shift coverages to Manning’s other targets, which makes him have to stand in the pocket even longer and makes him more at risk for getting hit or forcing a throw to where he shouldn’t be.

Frankly, with the Indianapolis Colts, some of the classic plays that Peyton Manning has used for much of his career aren’t as effective when they lose a player like Dallas Clark.

Unfortunately for the Colts, that’s exactly what happened this year. Even worse, it has happened many times, with many different players. While many people have speculated why the team has struggled, mostly pointing to Peyton Manning as being most at fault for the last three losses, not many people are pointing to a reason that I think is quite obvious.

They just don’t have the guys.

The Colts have had so many injuries this season. More importantly, they have had many injuries to key guys, and injuries that they have never had to deal with before. Please, before anyone starts ripping me, I am NOT saying that the Colts have never suffered injuries. I am NOT saying that they have never suffered major injuries.

Just last year, Dwight Freeney was battling through a torn ankle ligament all the way on the road to the Super Bowl.

But nobody can deny that they have never had to suffer through injuries like they have had this year. In my count, they have five important players on injured reserve (Dallas Clark, Anthony Gonzalez, Melvin Bullit, Jerraud Powers and Bob Sanders), not even mentioning the constant injuries to players like Gary Bracket, Joseph Addai (six games missed in previous four seasons, six games missed this season), Clark (eight games in last six seasons, will miss 10 this season), Justin Tryon (three games in last two seasons, five games this season). Even Donald Brown and Mike Hart have missed a combined eight games this season.

What is most incredible about these injuries is that the Colts have never had to deal with them at this level. As a few examples, Peyton Manning has had 204 consecutive regular season starts.

In his Colts’ tenure, Reggie Wayne has not missed a game since his rookie year in 2001. While with the Colts, Marvin Harrison only missed two games between 1999 and 2006. It is a team that has had success over the last decade in large part because they were able to maintain offensive continuity.

The Colts front office strategy, led by GM Bill Polian, has been mostly to keep the guys that they feel are important. Much of the time, this means that they handed out big contracts to guys like Manning, Clark, Wayne, Addai, Freeney, Sanders and even center Jeff Saturday.

However, this strategy leaves little room for obtaining effective bench players. Forgive me for mentioning my Patriots, but Bill Belichick has traded down in the draft and stockpiled picks over the past few years for exactly this reason.

He values having a deep team over having a top heavy team. The Colts seem to prefer having a few A+ players, and the rest are C’s and D’s, while the Patriots seem to prefer having many A and B players. The Colts’ strategy works as long as the A+ players don’t get hurt. But this year, that’s exactly what happened, and it’s costing them.

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