How do you solve a problem like Peyton Manning? Or lack thereof?
The Indianapolis Colts have never faced a problem at quarterback in over 10 years, when Peyton Manning was first drafted as the Colts' QB. Since then, Manning has become an institution of greatness, shattering passing records and winning a Super Bowl ring.
Manning is everything to the Colts, something you can't say about any other quarterback—even Tom Brady. When Brady tore his ACL in 2008 in the first game, the New England Patriots put Matt Cassel at the helm, and with a great defense, he guided them to an 11-5 season.
The Pats were the first 11-win team since the 1990 playoff expansion to miss the playoffs, but the Pats played extremely well that season, at least enough to not embarrass themselves.
Meanwhile, this season in Indianapolis, nearly all hope is lost.
Since the Colts' season all-but-ended because of Manning's neck surgery, Indianapolis is left reeling.
After bringing in Kerry Collins, who was promptly concussed, the Colts finally—and deservedly—decided to start Curtis Painter as their new QB. Despite a career completion percentage under 50, Painter has played well enough to earn the starting, erasing the memories of a woeful preseason.
The Colts' defense, on the other hand, has not answered the call. The happy-go-lucky days of not worrying about points allowed are over. With Manning on the sidelines, Indy's D has to step up in ways they haven't this season.
Indianapolis has yet to hold opponents to less than 23 points this season, most recently allowing Kansas City to come back from a 17-point deficit en route to a 28-24 loss in Indy.
The Colts' defense ranks 19th in passing yards allowed and next to last in rushing yards allowed. They are fourth to last in points per game allowed at 27.2, only beating Denver, St. Louis and Kansas City.
With numbers like these, especially considering the Colts have what might be the best two defensive ends in the league—Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis—the time has come for a change from an offensive-minded team to a defensive stalwart eager to impose their will on the most explosive of offenses.
Looking ahead to the 2012 NFL Draft, the Colts may finish poorly enough to earn the No. 1 pick, dubbed by the media as the "Andrew Luck Sweepstakes."
But if the Colts were serious about their team's needs, they would trade the pick, make some moves in the offseason to shore up a putrid linebacker/secondary core and improve their woeful defense.
Painter has not had enough time to become the true starter for the Colts, but if Manning's situation leads to—brace yourselves Colt Nation—his retirement, then the team should give Painter his opportunity after years of benchwarming behind the greatest QB in Colts history (yes, that includes Johnny Unitas).
Painter should be given a chance, but in the meantime, the Colts need defensive help. Even more than big players making big plays, they need a change of mindset, and it is in this respect that the Manning injury may be a blessing in disguise.
Gone are the days where commentators fawn over Manning's natural dominance—seen as more than just a player but as a coach, mentor and endless student of the game.
The Colts were the epitome of offensive explosion, and with recent changes in NFL rules regarding player safety (particularly when it comes to quarterbacks and wide receivers), Indy's offense simply needs time to gel around a new face.
In the meantime, with the Colts reeling without their savior, the defense needs to bring its game up and that requires a complete change in mentality. Unfortunately, the Colts didn't bring a defensive prowess with them when they packed their bags and split from Baltimore in the dead of night.
In the same way that fans think of the Baltimore Ravens as the epitome of defense—they allow fewer points per game this season than anyone—the Colts were known for being a team that would put up 35 points no matter the defense.
Without Manning, the Colts may appear lost this season. But if this can become a rebuilding year—not just for Painter and the offense, but with a shift in priorities—the Colts can become a team with a new identity, one that will inspire fear into any opponent daring to set foot into Lucas Oil Stadium.
Manning's injury is a tragic loss for the Colts, but the silver lining may shine brighter if Indianapolis can take their time to restructure their core.
The time of not worrying about leads is over. The Colts shouldn't be thinking about 40-point games anymore. They should have one number in mind: zero.
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