The Indianapolis Colts managed to defeat the Washington Redskins on the road 27-24 in a contest that really should not have been as close as the final score. Four fumbles in the game, including three lost, gave Washington opportunities that would have otherwise reduced their likelihood to put points on the board and would have given an Indianapolis offense that was having its way with a Redskins defense more opportunities to score.
The Colts defense had two glaring difficulties – tackling and a soft middle zone – but also showed signs of dominating the game in other ways. Which leads the Colts to head home once again looking to find consistency, their true identity, and to figure out how they will play the rest of the season to end up back in the playoffs.
A positive sign for the Colts passing game comes in two different packages. First, throughout much of the game the offensive line gave Manning a secure pocket to throw from, and only rarely allowed a great deal of pressure to force rushed throws. Second, the Colts receivers were much more consistent catching the ball, with wide receiver Pierre Garçon dropping an easy pass on the right side-line, Garçon not being prepared to make a catch out of his break and subsequently suffering an injury to his fingers, and arguably a pass to Dallas Clark on the second to last drive with LaRon Landry in coverage when the ball hit him in the chest.
A discouraging sign is that Peyton Manning continued to make uncharacteristically bad throws on a number of occasions. Over half of the bad throws were forced to his receivers, while the others were off of the mark, short or long. On only one occasion was it clear that the errant throw was due primarily to either a lack of time in the pocket or pressure that caused Manning to get the ball away.
The two clear pressures in the game include Ryan Diem failing to secure the pocket, resulting in a strip-sack of Manning and a turnover that led to a Redskins score. The other pressure came when Kyle DeVan failed to hold his block and allowed a Redskins defender to come free in Manning’s face, which resulted in a short throw to Pierre Garçon.
The Colts running game was outstanding. Running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart combined for 171 rushing yards. Addai managed 128 yards on 17 carries, including a career-long 46-yard run, for an average of 7.5 yards per carry – he added a rushing touchdown. Hart managed 43 yards on 11 carries for a 3.9 yards per carry clip.
Unfortunately, as has been common for the Colts this year, Addai exited his second game in a row prematurely after taking a hard hit to his head. Early indications suggest that the injury could be serious enough to cause Addai to miss significant time, if not the remainder of the season. These are speculations only, and Coltzilla will update fans as soon as something concrete is reported.
Much of the success on the ground was due to vastly improved run blocking by the offensive line. Unlike in previous contests, when Addai and other Colts rushers were hit almost immediately after taking each hand-off, against the Redskins there were clear running lanes, blocking down field, and a chance for ball carriers to gain extra yards. The run blocking has progressively improved since the Denver game in Week 3.
On the defensive side of the ball, the defensive line dominated the Washington offensive line during much of the contest. This helped the defense generate three sacks, seven quarterback hits, and two deflected passes. These statistics do not include the number of times Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb was forced to scramble and narrowly escaped oncoming pressure.
The linebackers struggled again to remain disciplined in their gaps. Washington’s Ryan Torain had a field day running around the ends of the Colts defensive line, to the outside, where the Colts defense should excel in disrupting runs. The linebackers were too often unable to get off of blocks, overran the play, took bad angles, or failed to make tackles. Once again, Clint Session was the biggest culprit in allowing the Redskins to run wild.
The defensive MVP for the game has to be second-year cornerback Jerraud Powers. Powers totaled an impressive 11 tackles, including 8 solos, 2 tackles for a loss, 2 passes defended, and an interception. While almost every other defensive player seemed to have their entire bodies coated in Crisco, Power was a sure-tackler, was disciplined in his responsibilities, and all but shut down the Redskins best receiver Santana Moss when he was lined up across him. To this point in the season, Powers has to be in consideration for a Pro Bowl selection.
Rookie Pat Angerer was a little inconsistent in his first NFL start. He did manage to get his first sack, knocked down a pass to help end a late Redskins possession with only a three point lead, and finished the day with 11 tackles, 2 passes defended, a sack, a tackle for a loss, and a quarterback hurry. Still, Angerer did manage to get stuck on blocks and play too soft in the Colts zone on occasion, which helped the Redskins offense keep the ball moving. For a rookie who was forced to start only six weeks into the season, the game has to be considered a success.
The Colts special teams was extremely disappointing. After shutting down a dangerous Kansas City return game, the coverage was inconsistent and too often allowed the Redskins to have good field position. The return game, due in large part to the incredibly disappointing play of Kenny Moore, nearly cost the Colts the game. Moore fumbled twice, losing one possession, and only had one encouraging return. More often than not he took devastating hits, was hesitant to make decisions, and failed to create a real threat. Backup cornerback Justin Tryon and starting cornerback Powers were both more impressive in their return opportunities.
Cornerback Kelvin Hayden continues to play inconsistent football. On the Redskins first scoring drive, running back Ryan Torain ran around the right end for an easy score. The problem is, Hayden was looking right at the play in front of him as it developed and failed react, did not come up to make a stop, sat and waited for Torain to come to him, and subsequently failed to tackle him as he strolled into the end zone. This lack of effort is contagious and needs to get out of Hayden’s system if he hopes to keep his role with the Colts.
Most of Moss’s success, and much of the Redskins passing production that did not go to soft middle zones were all targeted directly to receivers playing in front of Hayden. He often played with five to six yard cushions, failed to read and react or close gaps quick enough to make any play on the ball or break up passes, and allowed two Redskins scoring drives to march down the field in front of him.
Speaking of the soft middle zone, the Colts were gashed down the middle of the field, between 8 and 15 yards down the field. McNabb threw between Session and Angerer, in front of Francisco, Powers, and Hayden for much of the game. Whatever design flaw there is in the Colts defense that is allowing those easy completions must be rectified or better teams will push the Colts defense down the field all game long. These shorts middle routes are quick enough to neutralize the impressive pressure the defensive line generated much of the game, so something must be done.
One player who was uncharacteristically quiet throughout the game was safety Antoine Bethea. With the Colts down Brackett and Sanders, it would seem like Bethea would become a huge standout on defense. He did manage seven tackles, but really had little impact throughout much of the contest. Hopefully this is a sign that the Redskins were choosing to stay away from him most of the game, trying to exploit Session, Angerer, and Francisco instead, and not that he simply had a bad game.
At the end of the day, the Colts move to 4-2 and have some good things to take from the game and some bad. The ground game had its best performance since 2007, but Joseph Addai is injured and may miss significant time. The passing game looked sharper in many respects than it has at other times during the year, but Manning is still forcing some throws or missing his mark more often than usual. Indianapolis picked up another road win and now enters a bye week to get healthy and rested. There was even some news that Bob Sanders is expected to potentially return after Thankskgiving.
Still, the Colts are searching for consistency and trying to focus in on their identity. Hopefully with some rest and some time to get their heads together over the next two weeks they will be ready to come out at home against the Houston Texans, get a win, and put themselves back in solid contention for another AFC South Division Title.