Let me get this out of the way first:
This Colts offense is not good enough to make the playoffs.
Then again, this Colts offense won't have to.
For a third consecutive game, the Colts struggled to pass the ball effectively as Manning has seen his once formidable selection of weapons whittled down to a skeleton crew. Make no mistake, on a day when the Colts' defense played at a championship level, the Indy offense was a mess. No offense featuring Bradon and Javarris James and Gijon Robinson as primary components is going to make the playoffs. The Colts aren't running or throwing the ball well right now. The offensive line has looked terrible for three games running, and Manning has struggled mightily after the bye.
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The bottom line is that Clark, Collie and Addai (not to mention White and Hart) is just too much firepower to lose all at once. There's no sugar coating the offensive debacle that was Sunday's game. On a day when the defense played well enough for the Colts to win by 30, the offense and the coaching staff simply failed to hold up their end of the bargain. The good news for the Colts is that soon, possibly this week, Indy will return Collie and Addai to the line up. While they alone won't solve everything that ails the O, they'll fix a lot of the problems.
Meanwhile, the Indianapolis defense continues to play inspired football in Lucas Oil Stadium. The real story of the day is the five turnovers forced (directly leading to 17 points without much contribution from the offense) and the countless clutch plays turned in by the Colts defense. After awhile you grow used to watching Freeney and Mathis make big plays with the game on the line, but every once in a while, Freeney does something to make you sit up and take notice anew. At the end of a long, exhausting game, Freeney was still hustling to tackle a tight end six yards downfield, and forced the fumble by Graham that all but sealed the win. This is why he's one of the great Colts ever and belongs on the Rushmore of great Indianapolis Colts.
The truth is that today was about more than just the usual suspects on defense. It was about Jerry Hughes forcing a critical sack. It was about Kavell Conner, Hagler, and Angerer making huge plays, forcing turnovers and playing sound football. It was about Muir and Foster being disruptive. It was about 19 carries for 30 yards for the Bengals.
And yes, it was about five turnovers.
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Lucas Oil Stadium has become a safe harbor for the Colts especially on defense. In Indy, the Colts have allowed just over two TDs a game (and many of those points were in garbage time). They've forced 10 turnovers in 4 games. The Colts defense has become so dominant at home, that I can't see them losing a home game. That would get the Colts to 10 wins.
Whether they can get 1 or 2 more on the road...
Well, this offense certainly can't do that.
- Jim Caldwell's failure to call timeout before the 'fake punt' was egregious. For starters, it's not a fake punt if the punter isn't in the backfield. Everyone in the stadium knew the Bengals were running the ball but Caldwell. The head coach has the power to call timeout. That play directly led to a touchdown for the Bengals. If he calls timeout, I doubt Lewis has the stones to go for it (judging by his other weenie punts). Caldwell was asleep at the switch, and there is NO defense for it. None. Awful coaching. The head coach has to step in and call timeout there.
- Caldwell compounded his mistake by failing to call timeouts on defense at the end of the half. He let :40 run off the clock for no reason. The Colts' final drive ended in a field goal in part because the Colts flat ran out of time. Caldwell showed poor advanced planning, and it might have cost his team four points.
- Pierre Garcon is KILLING the Colts offense. He was targeted 9 times. He caught 5 passes for 37 yards. He dropped two others, including a touchdown. He failed to secure the onside kick (in fairness, he probably did, but it doesn't go down that way), and capped it all off by taking off his helmet, incurring what could have been a fatal 15 yard penalty. The truth is that he is not a deep threat with a suspect line, and he doesn't make enough plays in the short passing game to be valuable. The Gonzalez injuries have been devastating. Garcon has been among the worst wideouts in football this year by nearly every measure. Unfortunately in the great Gonzo/Garcon debate, we've all been losers. Gonzo couldn't stay healthy AND Garcon has been a wreck. This was the worst possible outcome.
- Manning's game at the line last night in the final minute was reckless. I'm not sure if he screwed up by pulling out, or if Saturday just failed to snap the ball. Had the snap gotten off, it would have been a 12 men on the field penalty, and the game would have been over. Instead, the false start gave the Bengals an extra 30 seconds. The change in win probability by snapping the ball (risking a no call or offensive penalty) couldn't have been worth the risk of a miracle kick return or hail mary. 30 seconds and 80 yards with no timeouts is a tall task. It was not a smart play.
- I would dub the offense yesterday the "don't turn the ball over offense". Peyton seemed hell bent on not throwing an interception, knowing the defense could hold up as long the Colts secured the ball. He alternated between frustrated and bemused. It was a smart way to play. The Colts struggled with awful field position all game, and conservative play forced the Bengals to beat them. They couldn't.
- I have no clue why Linkenbach started over Pollack, but it looked like a bad decision to me. He played poorly. Of course, Ryan Diem played worse. But there's no point harping on that again. Indy's tackles aren't good. Manning was sacked and hurried repeatedly by a BAD defensive front. He clearly has no faith in his line or the players back to block. The Indy Colts I know don't run give up screens on 3rd and 10, but that's what they've been reduced to.
- Pat McAfee had a monster day with a couple of huge, clutch punts to keep the Bengals at bay.
- Jerry Hughes is doing a good job not biting on play action bootlegs. Once again, he ignored a fake and almost took down Palmer on a key play. Foster cleaned it up, but it was Hughes who disrupted the play.
- Don Brown's YPC the last three weeks: 1.78, 3.33, 4.17. That's trending the right way, and a sign that he's getting healthier each week. I know people want to love Javarris James (who runs like a hungry dog), but he wasn't actually very good. He had only one carry over 3 yards (a 7 yard run) and averaged just 2.6 YPC.
- I never thought I'd say this, but what will this offense do if Tamme is really hurt? Teams are overloading against Wayne, because he's the only credible target the Colts have right now.
- Last night, the Patriots played their first legitimately good game of the season. The key factor was the incredible play of the offensive line. Indy will have to find ways to get pressure next week.
- The Pat Angerer pick was inspired. Where would this team be without him?
- Lacey and Hayden missed some tackles after catches. Hayden made a couple of nice ones, too. The Bengals wideouts are very talented (head cases), so it was inevitable that they would make some plays, but in this defense, the corner simply has to make the tackle on the five yard completions.