10 QUESTIONS - Patriots vs Colts Part 1
ColtPower.com Publisher Ed Thompson is this week's guest on 10 questions.
Jon Scott: Is the Patriots game viewed as more of a grudge match or are fans confident the Colts can win in Foxboro?
Ed Thompson: I believe Colts fans still have enough respect for what the Patriots have accomplished over the years and their winning consistency that they aren't taking this game for granted by any means. Just like last week's game against Denver, they know it's going to take another top effort and great execution for the Colts to come out with a win as the visiting team for the second week in a row. It's become a great rivalry, which is really interesting when you stop to think that those high-pitched emotional matchups are more often with the teams in your own division. While the Colts and the Jaguars matchup has become a good one, I don't think there is any other team in the NFL that draws the ire of Colts fans on many fronts like New England. So it's definitely a grudge match.
JS: The Colts are undefeated (7-0) as they head to Foxboro to take on the 6-1 Patriots. What has been the biggest challenge for Indianapolis this season, and are they lucky to be undefeated at this point?
ET: Ironically, the biggest challenge has been stopping the opponent's backup running backs. The Colts have prepared for the starting running back and the blocking schemes used to provide him with his best opportunities for big gains. Where they've gotten badly gashed over the past month or so is by the backs who usually only see spot duty. Last week they held Denver starter Tatum Bell to 2.7 yards per carry in the first half. But then the Broncos inserted rookie Mike Bell who is more of a north-south style of runner and switched up their blocking schemes accordingly. He ripped the Colts for 135 yards on just 14 carries (9.6 per carry) while fullback Cecil Sapp got two rare carries and rolled for 38 yards. Afterwards Tony Dungy admitted the Colts were too slow to make the necessary adjustments on defense that contributed to players being in the wrong gap. Go back a week and you'll see the Colts held Redskins starter Clinton Portis to 43 yards and a 3.6-yard average. But when the Redskins inserted Ladell Betts periodically, he averaged 5.2 per carry. The Colts even did a nice job against Jacksonville's Fred Taylor, but got killed by rookie Maurice Jones-Drew who came into that game with just 2 or 3 carries for the season.
Are they lucky to be undefeated this season? I don't think so. Just as the Patriots did during their Super Bowl seasons, the Colts this year are simply finding the way to win each game; not just in their preparation but in their real-time adjustments and a more mature focus. They've won 29 of their last 32 regular season games, so they have the confidence that they can win any game. I don't think they've had a single game yet where they had to rely on a tipped pass interception or some fluke to win. They've been behind and needed a final drive to win the game in quite a few of them. But they've gone out there calmly under those situations and executed methodically in those pressure situations to score the points needed to win the game. So I wouldn't say they've been lucky as of yet.
JS: How have injuries affected the Colts so far this season? Have the replacements done well as they filled in, I'm thinking about Mike Doss for an example.
|Indianapolis Colts defensive back Bob Sanders (21) runs with the ball after Tennessee Titans wide receiver Drew Bennett, left, lost control of it in the second quarter on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2005, in Nashville, Tenn. Behind Sanders is Colts linebacker Gary Brackett (58). (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)|
ET: It's truly amazing that this team is undefeated when you look at their injury situation. Fortunately, the replacements overall have performed pretty well. They've played most of the season without their slot receiver, Brandon Stokley, who missed the beginning of the season with a high-ankle sprain, and then in his first game back he sprained his knee and has been out since. Tight end Dallas Clark has done a great job of working both at his natural position and sliding out to the slot to fill that void.
On defense is where the Colts have been hit the hardest. They lost their top run-stuffer, Corey Simon, during training camp. On the same Sunday that former Buc Anthony McFarland was being added to the lineup at DT for the first time to help fill that void, the team lost Montae Reagor through an automobile accident that left him hospitalized for a week and out for at least six more weeks. And defensive end Dwight Freeney has had some minor nagging injuries.
But the secondary has had it the worst. Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders had arthroscopic knee surgery following Week 2 and is hopeful, but not certain, to return this Sunday. Then the Colts lost safety Mike Doss for the season with a torn ACL. Backup safety Matt Giordano was injured last week and isn't likely to play Sunday night. Starting left cornerback Nick Harper has missed some action as well with a variety of injuries. Nickel back Marlin Jackson played safety along with rookie starter Antoine Bethea last week after just two practices. A former cornerback with safety experience out of Michigan, Jackson has been working at safety this week and should be ready to fill in for Sanders if he can't go. But heading into the weekend, unless they make a roster move, the Colts only have former Patriot Dexter Reid for depth at safety if Giordano and Sanders can't play.
JS: The Colts have the worst run defense in the NFL (32nd), and are ranked 20th overall. They made a trade for Anthony "Booger" McFarland, but what else are they doing to shore up the defense?
ET: This defense has been really challenged by the lack of consistency caused by some players working at new positions on the line or playing full-time at their positions for the first time. And then you throw in the chaos caused by all the injuries mentioned above and you can better understand why they're struggling. It's hard to develop chemistry and timing when you have different guys lining up next to you, behind you, or in front of you, especially if you're one of the guys learning a new position. DT Raheem Brock and DE Robert Mathis are playing full-time at their positions for the first time, and Brock's sporadic experience at DT last year was on the left side rather than the right side. McFarland is now a new player to get used to between the two of those guys. Gilbert Gardner is the starter at strongside after spending two years as a reserve weakside backer behind Cato June. And sixth-round draft pick Antoine Bethea has been paired up with three different partners at safety over the first seven games of the season - Sanders, Doss and Jackson.
To improve, they have to improve their consistency in covering their gap assignments and then making the tackle by using their speed to attack. Last week they had too many guys reacting and trying to pull the ball carrier down. They've had their best success when they use their speed to fly to the ball and throw themselves at the runner or simply swarm to him, putting the runner on the defensive. And if they can be better prepare for the running backs below the starter on the depth chart, or more quickly adjust to changes in blocking schemes, that would be huge.
JS: I noticed while thumbing through the Colts media guide that Peyton Manning has 37 career 300-yard passing games in his career, 10 more than the great Johnny Unitas. Although Manning has nearly 6,000 fewer passing yards in his career, it's assumed he will break most if not all of Unitas records before he's finished. What do Colts fans think of the comparisons to Unitas and what Peyton has done?
ET: For fans who watched Unitas play and continued to follow the team, Manning revives so many great memories of Unitas with his intelligence and his field presence that it's a real joy to watch him succeed, even if he is breaking so many of Unitas' records. For those who primarily have followed the Colts since they moved to Indy, Manning is the first truly dominating quarterback they've had the pleasure to watch, so it's a really a special time for them as well. I think both groups would like to see him break as many records as possible as he deserves to be side-by-side with Unitas in Colts history. There's probably going to be at least one record that Unitas will hold onto as it's just an incredible feat. He threw at least one TD pass in 47 consecutive games.
Look for part 2 where Ed addresses the the Brady Manning debate, the Injury report variations and gives his prediction for the game.