Anatomy of a Nail Biter

I’ve had a lot of emotions today: nervous, confident, angry, irate, relieved, resigned, elated.  By now my bipolar afternoon has settled down into one dominant reaction:  satisfaction.  This game was a huge win for the Colts.  It takes all the pressure off of next week’s game with the Pats.  That tilt will have all its own drama, I’m sure, but it’s nice not to feel like the fate of the free world is riding on it.  More on that to come. For now, we should all take a deep breath, and just enjoy being 8-0 for a few more hours.

Reasons to Smile:

  • Joseph Addai’s TD run.  Actually, his whole game.  I know we’ve been branded as “Addai apologists”, but anyone who still doubts him doesn’t understand football.  This guy does everything that’s asked of him every week.  I know his rushing numbers have been lackluster, but the problem is clearly the offensive line who can’t seem to keep people out of the backfield.  Addai’s TD run could have been a three yard loss easily, but Addai shook free of the tackler and gave the Colts the lead.  There are problems with the run game, no question.  Addai is part of the solution, however.
  • Jerraud Powers.  I realize that he didn’t actually get the second foot down that would have made for a recovery, and instead touched the ball on the goal line while technically still out of bounds.  The result is the same.  He’s playing a great corner right now and is making heady plays.  We’ll miss MJax, but much less so because Powers has the look of a star.
  • The defense in general.  Tremendous game.  I’ve been harping on it all year, but this unit is the better of the two, or at least the more complete.  They forced two picks in the passing game and held the Texans backs to 22 caries for 45 yards and a fumble.  This Texans team can really fling the ball, so 17 points allowed is a great effort.
  • Dallas Clark.  He’ll be starting in the Pro Bowl.
  • Freeney.  Not just for the sacks, but for the nice plays against the run.  He’s doing it all right now.
  • Great 5 man rush with Brackett blitzing.
  • Frenchy gettng a PI on the Wayne pick.  Didn’t help, but shows he tried.  OPI on a pick is one of the few ‘acceptable’ penalties.  As was Saturday’s hold after the Texans jumped offside and threatened to swallow Manning whole.  That play was a bad break.

Reasons to Frown:

  • The coaching.  Hang on, I’ll get to it.  There were at least 5 awful, indefensible decisions in this game.  I’ve praised Caldwell a lot.  He caught my wrath all afternoon in this one.
  • The offensive line.  Mario Williams beat CJ for a sack.  The running game was non-existent early as Addai was getting killed in the backfield (which is almost always the fault of the line, people). 
  • No deep passing game again.  I don’t think Manning had even one 20 yard pass today (other than the one to Collie that was called back).  It’s getting to be an issue.  The offense is taking on a serious 2008 look in the last two games.  Teams are getting more pressure on Manning (2 more sacks-that’s 5 in two games after 2 in six games), and not respecting the run at all with the safeties. 
  • No run game again.  I know, Addai broke free in the fourth quarter to make the YPC respectable, but there was nothing there for most of the game.  It’s killing us in the red zone.
  • As a result, there were 40 first half passes. Not good
  • Manning’s pick.  Awful.   He never saw the linebacker sliding over.  He used to throw that pick all the time back in the day, but now you never see it.  It almost cost the Colts the game. 
  • Wayne’s throw.  Good lord.  Like the call, hate the call, whatever.  The WR has to know he should only throw the ball if the dude is wide open in the endzone.  Simply inexcusable.
  • We don’t have a kicker who can make a 48 yard kick.  I liked going for it in the first quarter with fourth and 1 (I wanted it on fourth and 6, too), but really, from that distance you should have a kicker who can be trusted to hit a 48-50 yarder.  We don’t. It’ll get us before it’s all said and done.
  • It seemed like the Texans picked on Lacey.  I’ll have to watch the tape to confirm.  It would have been nice if Jennings had pulled in that pick.
  • Awful ‘Big Blitz’ (at first glance they came with at least 6).  It lead to a huge play and eventually a TD for the Texans.  I don’t like blitzes, but I really hate big blitzes that don’t come close to landing.

Best Call:

  • It’s a tie:  the challenge of the fumble and going for it on fourth and 1 early.  One worked, the other didn’t.  Both were the right call.

Worst Call:

(Pardon me while I crack my neck in preparation)  It’s a five way tie!  In chronological order:

  • Opting to take the ball when they won the toss with the roof open.  Seriously?  Is this rocket science?  There is a MASSIVE GLARE in your endzone that only lasts for a quarter.  Defer to the second half.  It cost them on the first drive as the WRs were looking back into the sun (especially Wayne) on the fourth down play.  We have a retractable roof.  Fine.  Don’t screw yourself with it, though.  Stupid, stupid decision.  Make the Texans drive into the sun endzone.  By the second quarter it’s no longer an issue.
  • Punting on fourth and 3 from the 39.  Yes, yes.  I know Addai just lost two yards thanks to a major fail by the offensive line. Still, no team in football would punt to the Colts in that situation.  Houston is not Saint Louis.  They have a good offense.  You can’t just assume your D will go the whole game without ever allowing a first down.  The stats on this are overwhelming…GO FOR IT!  It took Houston just four plays to pass that spot on the field.  Awful call.
  • “Icing the kicker” at the end of the first half.  Dungy had a brilliant philosophy on this:  never give a kicker a practice kick.  If you are going to ice, you do it early.  Letting him get a free try to work out the kinks is moronic.  Now, it’s possible the kick attempt was only blocked because of the timeout, but there’s just no reason to do it.  I’m proud of Caldwell for figuring that one out at the end of the game.  If Brown had been given another chance, I would have started to break things.  Hopefully, he learned his lesson on this one.  UPDATE:  Word on the street is that Caldwell was not trying to ice the kicker, just trying to put a return man on the field.  That’s better logic at least.  Bad execution is one thing, bad logic is another.  All is forgiven.
  • Punting on fourth and 1 from the 45.  Again, same logic.  It took the Texans three plays to get to that spot on the field.  Punting on anything shorter than fourth and 4 or 5 on the other team’s side of the field just doesn’t pay off most of the time.  Especially against a good offense.  The three and out allowed Houston to dominate the entire third quarter and almost cost the Colts the game.  This crap won’t fly against New England, Jim.  You have to be aggressive.  No one would do you the favor of punting in the same position.  Stop helping the other team out. 
  • The Wayne pass.  I was tempted to let this go, because I loved the call last week, and I want to be fair.  Then a reader pointed out that having Wayne throw the ball takes Wayne out of the pattern.  It was also fresh on the D’s mind because you just tried it last week.  Granted, the execution by Wayne was WORSE than the call, but still.  Terrible job.

Jim Caldwell has been brilliant all year.  He nearly cost his team the game today, however.  This was not a good day for him, at all.  Still, he’s 8-0, so that helps make him bullet proof.  He’s still got a lot of rope with me, but the punting on fourth and short has to stop.  It will crush our season if it doesn’t.

Reasons I’m Flyin':

  • This was a serious ‘big boy’ win over a playoff caliber team.  The Texans are going to win a lot of games this year, and I love the way the Colts gutted it out.  Wins don’t come much sweeter than this, so don’t worry about it…celebrate it.  I’m genuinely thrilled they won today.  That’s a fun feeling.
  • The defense is championship caliber right now.  It’s the Colts best unit. 
  • The AFC South is all but clinched.  The Colts have some cushion to work with.  I don’t think that New England and Baltimore are all that good (I know Baltimore isn’t), but it’s nice to know that a split of the next two games won’t kill us.  We’ve had the game at Houston down as a loss for some time, which is why winning today was so critical.

Reasons I’m Dyin’:

  • They should have opened a 20 point lead on this team.  They let them hang around and could’ve lost easily.
  • Gonzo and Hayden are still out.  We’ll need them both before all is said and done.
  • I hate Pats week.  I hate the Pats.  I hate thinking about them.  The only thing I like about them is watching them lose.

The Bottom Line:

Eight games.  Eight wins.  A four game lead in the division (yeah, yeah 3 1/2, whatever).  At least a one game lead (hopefully two after tomorrow night) over the rest of the AFC.  The Colts’ schedule hasn’t been as bad as people think (not that SOS matters at all in the NFL).  Two winning teams, a .500 team, and the Dolphins in Miami (which is not an easy game).  This team has a great D, a great QB, some great pass catchers.  That’s the formula the Steelers rode to the title last year.  There’s no reason to think Indy won’t do the same this year.  Today, the Colts were clearly superior to a good Texans team, but made too many stupid mistakes to blow them out.  On a day they didn’t play their best, they still won against a team who desperately needed to beat them.

Smile.  This was a very good day.

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