Monday, July 23, 2007

Up To Speed- Indianapolis Colts

Watching the Colts in the final 2 months of the 06 season, you never would have guessed that they would break thru and win their long-awaited Super Bowl title.

Before catching fire in the postseason, the Colts lost 4 out of their final 7 regular season games. This uninspiring stretch saw them:

- Lose all 4 of their final road games.

- Lose to each of their division rivals.

- Surrender 305 rushing yards in a merciless 44-17 ass kicking at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

- Finish the season ranked dead last in the league in rushing defense, surrendering 173 yards per game on the ground. The 31st ranked team gave up 145.4.

Then, inexplicably, this defense, which had been bad on a historical level during the regular season, carried the Colts to victory in a pair of playoff wins over KC and Baltimore in which Peyton Manning threw one TD against 5 interceptions.

The offense found its bearings after this, came back from a 21-3 deficit to win the AFC Championship against New England. Then in the Super Bowl, the Colts beat a Bears team that wasn't in its class.

So when the dust had settled, the Colts, this team that had the worst run defense in the league, that heads into this season on a losing streak against every single team in its own division, were the most unlikely Super Bowl champs we've seen this decade.

We've already established that the defense was, to put it generously, shaky last year. Now consider that they've lost their leading tackler, linebacker Cato June, who bolted to Tampa as a free agent, and that the Colts plan on replacing him with a second year player, Freddy Keiaho, who had 120 fewer tackles than June last year. I have no Super Bowl rings on my fingers, but in my idiotic opinion, that could be a problem.

The Colts also are replacing both of their starting corners from last year, swapping out Nick Harper and Jason David for younger models Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden. On paper, it looks like there should not be much of a dropoff there, but until we see these two as starters over a full season we can't say for sure.

Those are all concerns, but they may be complete non-issues if safety Bob Sanders stays healthy for the entire season. Sanders played only 4 regular season games in 06, but he was there for the playoffs, and he may be the reason why the Colts defense improved soooo much in the postseason. Any defense with him on it for 16 games will not rank 32nd in the league against the run, this much I know for sure.

The defense isn't the only part of the team that's in flux. This week the Colts were hit with a bombshell when left tackle Tarik Glenn, one of the best O-linemen in the league, announced he was taking his ball and going home due to his untenable contract situation. This is not something the team was prepared for, and they'll scramble to fill his shoes assuming he stays retired, or at least not in a Colts uniform.

In addition to this, the Colts will be leaning on Joseph Addai, who had a stellar rookie year, to go from being a 200 carry back to a 300 carry back, because Dominic Rhodes opted to commit career hari kiri and sign with the Raiders. That's a concern, but the passing game should be slightly improved with first round pick Anthony Gonzalez filling the #3 receiver role that Brandon Stokely, Aaron Moorehead, and Ricky Proehl failed to fill last year.

The Colts were the second team in as many years to defy expectations, get hot at the right time, and win 4 postseason games to become World Champs. The Steelers, of course, were the other team, and their post-Super Bowl year wasn't very kind to them. There are a lot of red flags to suggest the Colts could have similar problems in 2007, but the fact that there isn't a team in their division ready to knock them off their perch means they'll be back in the postseason this year. Now you're up to speed on the Colts.

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