The Indianapolis Colts' Recipe for Improvement

Kyle WinslowCorrespondent ISeptember 22, 2009

MIAMI - SEPTEMBER 21:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts points out to his wide receiver against the Miami Dolphins at Land Shark Stadium on September 21, 2009 in Miami, Florida. The Colts defeated the Dolphins 27-23.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

The Indianapolis Colts got a win Monday night against the Dolphins, but most pundits will tell you that they can't win very many games in that fashion.  The team gave up 239 yards rushing and Peyton Manning only had the ball for 14:53. 

Against all odds, Manning willed the team to victory.  Maybe they can win games that way, but they don't have to.  Here are five things they can do to put teams away the right way.

1. Run the Ball

If you read any article or see any highlight or listen to any radio show that claims the Dolphins "held" the Colts to just 61 yards, abandon that news source forever.  Statistically, the Colts were the better rushing team on Monday night; running the ball just wasn't a part of their game plan.

The Colts actually had a better average per rush than the Dolphins, gaining 5.5 yards per carry on the ground.  The difference is that the Dolphins, despite slightly less success, ran the ball 41 times and the Colts only bothered to call a run play 11 times.

And these statistics aren't skewed by one big run that boosted the Colts' rushing average.  The team's longest run was 15 yards.  If anything, they're skewed against the Colts, because that includes a three yard sack-evasion by the infinitely nimble, fleet-of-foot Peyton Manning.  The Colts' running backs averaged a stellar 5.9 yards a carry.

At that average, the Colts would never even have to convert a third down if they ran the ball every play.

2. Send Tim Jennings to the Practice Squad

The Colts' defense was on the field for an absurd 84 plays on Monday night, partly because the offense scored every 38 seconds, but mostly because they couldn't stop Miami on third down.

The Colts' defense couldn't get off the field because every 3rd-and-long Miami ran a 12-yard out-route in front of cornerback Tim Jennings, who typically gave Dolphin receivers a 45 yard cushion at the snap.  

I understand the strong desire to prevent "big-play" Chad Pennington from going deep, but when a safety arrives to make a tackle on an out-route BEFORE the cornerback in a cover-two defense (where the cornerback is responsible for the short zone), there is a significant problem.

I have never been critical of Jennings before, and in 2008 when he replaced Marlin Jackson in the starting lineup due to injury, I thought he played admirably despite many fans labeling him as a major defensive liability.  But after watching his performance against Miami, I will be ecstatic to see rookie Jerraud Powers return from injury.

Jerraud Powers played very well in his first game as a pro, and he will only improve.  If the team decides to keep Marlin Jackson in the slot, Powers is not nearly the liability on the outside that Jennings is.  His return will significantly bolster the Colts defense on third downs.

3. Run the Ball

In the Monday night matchup against the Dolphins, the Colts had one three-and-out that started with a four yard rush, and another in which the offense did not attempt a running play.  Yet they averaged nearly SIX YARDS A RUN.

Every time the Colts had a decent run on first down, they always dialed up a passing play on second down, and most of the time it was from the shotgun formation. If you've gained three or four yards on first down, why not run the ball occasionally on second down?

Or, if you're going to put the ball in the air, at least pass from a running formation to keep the opposing defense guessing.

Football is a game of bilateral strategy; defenses must choose their emphasis on every play.  If the Colts aren't going to attempt a balanced offense, teams are going to be able to predict the offense based on their tendencies.

With that sort of advantage, defenses will cause drives to stall anytime execution isn't immaculate.  Even Peyton Manning isn't perfect.

4. Call Play-Action on 2nd-and-10

Another predictable tendency of the Colts offense is to call a running play on second down nearly every time they attempt and fail to complete a pass on first down and are left with 2nd-and-10.  The only exception to this is hurry up situations.

Since it is so predictable, this inevitably leads to a minimal gain and 3rd-and-long.  But also, since this is so predictable, it is a perfect set-up for a play-action pass.  Even play action for a short or intermediate crossing route would keep the chains moving and mix up the play calling enough to keep defenses guessing.

5. Run the Ball

As I mentioned above, the Colts defense was on the field far too long against Miami.  When the opposing team possesses the ball for over 45 minutes, the defense is going to look bad no matter how good they are.  Defenses give up yards when they get exhausted.

Running the ball is the only way to control time of possession.  Obviously, the passing offense is generally very good with "laser-rocket-arm" taking the snaps, but better balance would keep opposing defenses on the field longer and allow the Colts' defense to rest.

However, I would like to point out that the Colts' most effective passing offense is when they are in hurry up situations.  The team runs the no-huddle nearly all the time, but most of the no-huddle offense involves utilizing the entire play clock on every down. 

If the team has a game plan that involves running the ball less than 15 times, however absurd that concept is, perhaps they should run the hurry-up offense more often.  The hurry-up utilizes the shotgun formation on every down, which gives Manning an advantageous extra split-second to read coverages.

if the Colts don't even want to try to control the ball, they might as well give Peyton every advantage possible.


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