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NFL Analysis: Colts Play Better, Show Improvement vs. Titans

I suppose the easiest way to sum up last night's win would be to say: 

Winning is better than losing.

Last night, Peyton Manning was vintage, Reggie Wayne beat all the coverage, and Pierre Garcon played savage.  What should have been a heartening win wound up hanging on the foot of Adam Vinateri, but he reminded us once again how much it helps to have a kicker with titanium balls.

The Colts didn't solve all their problems last night, but they did solve the only question that ever matters at the end of the week:  how do we win a game?

It's been three frustrating weeks in a row, so today I'm going to focus on the positive.  I plan on writing more about Manning's night (and season) later today, so I'll be brief.  He carried the team last night.  Maybe quarterbacks get too much credit and blame, but Manning deserved the blame he took for the last two losses, and he deserves the adulation for last night's win.  He essentially played perfect football.  Watching him repeatedly hook up with Reggie Wayne for long gains was heartening.  Wayne and Manning have had similar seasons.  Statistically, they are having monster years, but we've all seen a few plays here and there that have cost the team.  Still, there's been no quit in either of them.  There's no resting on their laurels.  They go out every week and keep gunning.  With stars like that, it's little wonder this team has made the playoffs every year for nearly a decade.

The man who really deserves attention is Pierre Garcon.  Just a few weeks ago, Garcon was having possibly the worst season of any Colt wideout since 1999.  Since then, he's caught virtually everything thrown at him.  His catch rate is now well up over 50%.  He's been playing hard every week.  Last night, his catch and run of 43 yards was probably the biggest play of the night.  With the Colts clinging to a 6 point lead with just over three minutes to play, Garcon took a short little flip from Manning and slugged his way through the Titans defense, refusing to go down.  It was a microcosm of the kinds of plays Garcon has been making in recent weeks.  It's almost as if the Colts have decided to change how he's used.  We are seeing fewer of the straight 'go routes' and more of the over the middle kinds of plays from Garcon.  The result is that Garcon is using his size and strength to gain extra yards through the heart of the defense.  It's been a rough go this season, but Garcon has elite skills.  Watching him put them to good use is a joy.

Garcon is no longer having the worst season of the last 10 years.  I'll update that article next week, but he's played outstanding recently.  Simply put, the Colts don't win last night's game without him. 

Maybe that's the story here.  Maybe that's what the 2010 Colts are all about: responding to criticism, refusing to quit, rising to the occasion.  

What will become of this team?  How will they do in the playoffs?

We'll find out next week.

The playoffs start early this year.


  • Enough praise, it's time to complain.  I have no idea what Jim Caldwell was doing at the end of the first half. First, he declined to use a timeout once the Titans got to first and goal at the five.  Then he called for run play.  Then he elected a 10 second run off instead of burning a timeout.  The result was a wasted drive that allowed the Titans back in the game.  I'm not sure what would possess him to think that a 14 point lead was safe, but it almost cost his team dearly.  Caldwell has been very aggressive at the end of halves and games this year, so this isn't a recurring problem.  That's what made it all the more inexcusable and baffling.
  • Justin Tryon continues to step in and make outstanding plays.  Whatever deserved criticism Polian takes for his gamble on Sanders' roster spot and the state of the line, his trade for Tryon has saved this season.  This team would be in even bigger trouble without him.
  • Aaron Francisco and Jacob Lacey continue to struggle in run support.  The drop off from Powers to Lacey just in terms of tackling is appalling.
  • The Colts got away with some handsy play in the secondary.  That was not a well officiated game last night.
  • Some of the Titans' offense last night was just incredible individual play from Chris Johnson.  That is no excuse, however.  Giving up 4 touchdowns to a team that hadn't scored one in a month is unacceptable. I realize that the D is banged up, but that second half performance was inexcusable.  If there is any single factor that screams that this team can't run the table it's the questionable performance of the defense.  Apart from Dwight Freeney, too many players just become invisible for too long of stretches.  The linebacking situation is a mess. The secondary is a skeleton crew.  I'm hoping the extra rest before the Jags game makes the difference.
  • It's amazing how much better the Colts seemed to run the ball after Charlie Johnson went out.  He's a nightmare at tackle.  Honestly, I'm no less comfortable with Linkenbach than I am with CJ. Having said that, I feel like the pass protection is better now that Pollak is back at guard.  Frankly, the Colts should consider moving CJ to left guard and Likenbach to tackle.  I don't want to enter another season with Charlie Johnson at left tackle.  That just has to end.
  • I'm not so much a Don Brown defender as I am a "this line is too bad to get a feel for any running back" defender.  Still, Brown has to pick up that first down on third and one.  That's a one on one situation against a defensive back.  Brown has to go over him, through him, by him, whatever.  James wasn't any better, but what does that say when Brown looks the same running the ball as an undrafted rookie.  I don't feel that Tony Ugoh was a bust. I definitely don't use that word for Gonzo.  Brown however...he's running out of time.  Polian should have found a way to turn that pick into Michael Oeher.  It would have been doable.
  • Jeff Fisher coached one of the worst games I've ever seen.  He kicked deep when he should have onsided (after the Mookie Johnson penalty).  He didn't take the field goal with time remaining and set up an onside kick.  But the decision to punt on fourth and 1 was completely insane.  He deserved to lose that game if only for that decision.


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