Monday, October 6, 2008

Holding on to Hope

So we gave the worries a rest for a few hours and celebrated one of the most impossible comebacks imaginable. Part of the reason I posted a picture of Reggie Miller yesterday is that the last time I felt that something was just so incredibly impossible was his 8 points in 18 seconds against the Knicks (yes, I know the photo I posted wasn't from that game).

I spent the last two minutes after the Wayne TD yesterday freaking out. Demond and I have a rule, if something is going on in a game, I call him. He turns games off for the safty of his family, and I call him to alert him of a miracle. The last time I called, I woke him up in time to see Robert Vaden lift IU to first round win. Yesterday, I picked up the phone and it was dead. Someone had unplugged my Vonage router, and my direct line to the States was cut off. Long story short, in my frantic efforts to plug the phone in during the timeout after the TD, I unplugged the modem for the internet, and spent the next several minutes frantically rebooting everything. Sigh, life in Argentina.

So today we are all left with our "where were we when" stories and stunned memories of one of the truly ridiculous wins any of us have ever heard of. There's just one dark cloud: it shouldn't have happened. The Tampa win 6 years made us feel like the Colts were legit because the offense rose up and took that game. Tampa had some dumb penalties, but no turnovers in the final few minutes. Yesterday, however, felt like Houston fell apart more than Indy won. Granted, the Robert Mathis strip was perhaps the single coolest defensive play I've ever heard of (it's likely to be my new desktop photo for a few months). But at the end of the day, the sick feeling we all had around 4 pm yesterday shouldn't be forgotten.

This team has serious issues, and we all need to honestly admit that it might not be a playoff caliber team. The offense may still work itself out, and getting Ugoh and Lilja back should help. But for now, the line just doesn't give Peyton enough time to hit the deep ball and makes the run game inconsistent. All season, the Colts have been throwing long, but something just seems off. Peyton's throws are a hair short or long; the WRs continue to drop passes (while alternately making insane catches). By the way, how weird is it that Peyton throws 2 TDs in the final four minutes, and he's only reason #5 or so on the list of reasons we won that game?

On defense, however, we need a 2006 like transformation. There were three pieces that saved the day in that fateful year. The first was the addition of Booger McFarland. It didn't help right away, as the Colts worst days on D happened after he joined the club. But by the time the playoffs hit, Booger was a major force, dominating the KC game. Unfortunately, there are no former pro-bowl tackles sitting out there for the Colts this time. Secondly, Gilbert Gardner was replaced by Rob Morris. This year, Clint Sessions has been a major offender on D by not maintaining his gaps. The good news is that Tyjuan Hagler is coming back as soon as he's eligible (Green Bay game). Finally, Bob Sanders got healthy. The Zombie was around for most of the first game and a half, and the run D wasn't strong, but it wasn't this shaky either.

A huge worry on D has to be the corner play. The Colts just aren't as deep at corner in 2008 as they were in 2006. In 06, they had Harper and David with MJax in the nickle and Hayden as a fourth. Now Jackson and Hayden start and Jennings comes in to give up third down conversions. Jackson had a rough day yesterday, but that's been the exception rather than the rule. It's easy to throw around meaningless sayings like: "They have to 'fly around' more" or "The coaching staff has to 'coach them up'", but in the NFL games usually come down to talent. I don't think it's a given that they the 2008 Colts have enough of it all over the field. Freeney and Mathis are clearly special players. Gary Brackett is above reproach. We haven't seen Freddy Keaiho make the leap, and there are may be too many holes to fill.

Can the Colts win this Sunday? I suppose that's always the only question that matters. Sure. They SHOULD win. There's no indication that Baltimore is any good. They've lost two tough games to good teams, so people have given them some modicum of respect, but they don't strike me as world beaters. The bottom line is that if the Colts can't beat Baltimore at home and a suddenly reeling Green Bay team on the road, they probably don't have the horses go a long way this year. This may just be an 8-8 team. They could be dramatically better in 4 weeks, but I'm no longer as sure of that as I once was.

Injuries or not, you shouldn't need miracles to beat the Texans backup QB after you go up 10-0. Something is broken, and if it could be fixed, you would have seen it yesterday. The Colts won, but I'm not sure anything was fixed.

Audibles at the Line from FO deals more with the Texans than the Colts. It's hard to argue that approach.

If you think I was exaggerating what would have happened if we lost that game, just listen to the post game quotes by the Colts. Dungy called it "a season saver". We were dead folks.

Clayton didn't have much to say about the game, but the photo is great.

Here's a great interview with #98. He carried the D for stretches last season, and won the game yesterday. He'll be a classic Colt someday for sure.

Michael Silver comments on the game

Prisco can't belive it

Demond Sanders: That was a fair assessment of what happened yesterday. I think the Colts themselves would tell you they weren't very good yesterday. I do not think that's being negative, I think that is being realistic. Eventually it comes down to players making plays. The Colts don't have the same players they have had in the past. Over the next three weeks (BALT, @GB, @TEN) we'll find out if the current lineup has what it takes to win in the NFL. But as for today, I'm just glad they aren't 1-3.


Anonymous said...

If the playoffs started today, the Colts would be tied for the last wild card spot (I have no idea how the tiebreaker would work). That information is just about as worthless as the Colts offensive and defensive fronts.

BTW, How much do we miss one druggie DT?

For much of the last few years I have maintained that the Colts have papered over a lot of weaknesses because of one thing -- the extraordinary pinpoint passing game. The Colts often moved up and down the field despite defenses putting up solid pass rushes and quality coverage. No one has ever completed so many passes to tightly covered receivers. [For comparison purposes, watch some of the NE games from last year and some of the Indy games. Compare how wide open the receivers are on each pass. The difference is mind-blowing.]

That pinpoint passing was a function of a tremendous amount of time spent working on timing. Without that practice this summer, it is obvious that 18 isn't clicking with the receivers as well as he has in the past.

Over the years, we've seen NE win easily, even when Brady was badly off. This season, we've seen the dramatic effect of Manning being just slightly off.

Given all the major problems Indy has, the most likely source of improvement that could make the most impact on Ws and Ls is having 18 and the receivers regain their extraordinary level of precison.

I'm not saying that the passing game is "at fault" for the poor start -- it has been the best performing part of the team. [Of course, given the money invested in it, it had better be.] I'm simply saying that flawless passing precison carried the team a long way in past years and a return would appear to be the most likely way for this team to put up a string of Ws this year.


Deshawn Zombie said...

That's a good analysis, Stan. The FO guys made a similar comment. IF the offense comes together AND the defense starts to get some more of the breaks on batted balls and fumbles, then hey 11-12 wins or at least 10 are possible.

If nothing changes though (and if it was likely to change a bye week would have helped), this team will continue to be up and down and need amazing plays from the superstars (like Mathis and Wayne) to pull wins out of their ass.

chipbennett said...

One major disagreement with the FO guys: I still see no objective evidence that Harrison has "lost a step".

He had the DB beaten cleanly on the long pass, and Manning didn't put it in the right spot.

And for that matter, I was getting pretty sick of hearing Dan Dierdork continually call Marvelous the "Frail Harrison" - what was up with that?

But with respect to 18 to 88, it is clear that Manning and Harrison can't seem to establish the rapport they're known for. I still suspect that a major part of that results from the problems our O Line continues to have.

I think that's why Manning appears to be so much more comfortable throwing to his Tight Ends. The more I watch the defense closely, the more I realize just how much of a liability Clint Session is.

Hagler can't get off the PUP list soon enough.

Session isn't quite the second coming of the Grape One, but he's clearly not ready to be a starter. Almost every open gap or lack of containment (cutbacks, etc.) end up happening in a spot that was supposed to be covered by #55.

We are clearly feeling the impact of losing both Pitcock and Big Ed; but that said, I think our D-Line is actually playing just fine (for the most part).

On the other side of the ball, consider that our offense put up 24 points with half of the starting O-Line not playing today.

And, had Ugoh been in there instead of Charlie Johnson, does anyone really think that Addai would have been left to pass block Mario Williams (on the one, particularly memorable Manning sack)?

(Oh, and as for pinpoint passing, one of Manning's throws to Clark over the middle was a pretty sick needle-thread.)

I'm not going to look at everything through blue-colored glasses. I know the Colts have problems. I just think that they're not major problems, and that they're correctable.

Right now, games are turning on very small things: a missed block here, a dropped pass here, a blown blocking assignment there.

I didn't focus on him specifically, but I got the impression that Pollak's presence on the interior of the line made a difference yesterday.

I also think that the return of Ugoh, Lilja, Hagler, and - most importantly - Sanders will make a *huge* difference for this team, with respect to being on the positive side of those "small" things on which the game always turns.

chipbennett said...

Uh, that was weird. Part of my previous comment got interspersed in that one...

Anyway, I forgot to ask: does anyone have an update on Freeney?

Shake'n'bake said...

"Dwight Freeney had a slight limp at the end of the game, but it looks to be a strain. "

from here

someone on Stampede Blue said cramps. It's probably not bad. We'll see if he's on the injury report Wednesday.

Deshawn Zombie said...

Tony said he didn't know how Freeney was in his press conference, but the statement was basically the same as what Shake wrote.

I basically agree that not all of Harrison's apparent limitations are on him, but that's not a fight that's all that easy to take up until they start connecting deep. Marv made four catches yesterday and I think all were pretty important. At least three were on third down. (off the top of my head)

Bob M. said...

What a great post and set of comments. Glad we're being realists--if this was one of several other teams' sites, we'd all be chanting about how great we were, how injuries robbed us, how the refs jobbed us, and how inevitable our eventual SB win was....
I sure picked a bad time to emerge from my self-imposed two weeks of media lockdown. Isn't the bye week supposed to accomplish... something? Sigh. We're alive. And the final game of the season is the Titans, no? How great if we win the AFCS in that game? How horrible if they "give one away" to rest their starters and we win because of that.
Odd thought: Peyton said he and Eli had a pact to keep the Lombardi in the family--I figured they planned on alternating years, but maybe it's suppose to follow the pattern P-E-E-P instead of P-E-P-E (yes, I have THAT little to add)

Shake'n'bake said...

Teams are still putting their top CB on Marvin. I think that's a better indication than anything of where Marvin is at.