It’s not a secret around Indy that Bob Sanders is the leader of the Colts’ defense.
But does he deserve that title?
Since entering the league in 2004, Sanders has played in 45 games while starting 43 of those games. That’s 45 games played out of a possible 96.
What does this mean?
Well, it means that since entering the league, Sanders has played in less than 50 percent of the games that he should have been playing in. That’s right, less than 50 percent (47%).
Even if we throw out his rookie season in 2004, Sanders has only then played in 39 out of 80 possible games. Even still, it’s less than 50 percent (49%).
So the obvious question becomes, how can a player who can’t stay on the field half the time (literally) become the leader of this defense?
Well, the answer is a very sad one for the Colts’ defense.
They apparently have no leader.
Their supposed leader has never played more than 15 games in a season (six in 2004, 14 in 2005, four in 2006, 15 in 2007, and six again in 2008), has never had more than two interceptions in a season and has 3.5 sacks for his entire career, all of which came in the 2007 season.
This does not sound like a leader to me.
There is no denying that the defense plays better when Sanders is in the game. That was shown when he came back for the 2006 playoff run, which eventually turned into a Super Bowl championship. But even with that, why did it take until Sanders returned for that defense to do anything well?
The defense is certainly not short on talent. Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Raheem Brock, Antoine Bethea, Gary Brackett, and Marlin Jackson amongst others are all players who should be able to provide some sort of leadership role in Sanders’ frequent absences.
Unfortunately for the Colts, they simply don’t provide any sort of real leadership.
This really is the root of the problem for the Colts defensively. The only man on that side of the ball who can lead that defense at all is always hurt and rarely available to them. So when he’s on the sideline, the guys play as individuals rather than a team, which leads to some of the worst defensive showings that the NFL has seen in recent years.
And what happens when the defense can’t get the job done? More pressure is put on Peyton Manning. Peyton (unlike Sanders) has been able to stay healthy, and in fact has not missed a game—ever. However, this will not last forever.
Eventually, that defense will break down to the point that not even Manning can compensate for its shortcomings.
Something must be done if the Colts ever want to get back to the Super Bowl, let alone win another one.
Your defensive leader cannot be the man in street clothes cheering from the sideline. He must be on the field at all times in order to rally those troops and keep them playing at their best.
Unless someone else steps up, or Sanders finally finds a way to stay healthy, this defense and this team are in real trouble.
Bob Cunningham is the Colts writer for NFLtouchdown.com.