Colts v. Redskins, and Things of that Nature (Week 6 Preview)

Peyton Manning IS the Reaper! (Darron Cummings | AP Photo)

Through four games, Peyton Manning was off to one of the best statistical starts of his career, and despite a shaky fifth game, he remained near the top of most statistical rankings.  Despite Manning’s early-season success, on Friday, ESPN Analyst Ron Jaworski said on ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the Morning, “maybe Father Time might be catching up with Peyton Manning a little bit.”  Jon Gruden, Jaworski’s broadcast partner on Monday Night Football, declined comment but was observed shooting finger pistols into the air, screaming, “No one shot the Sheriff.”

Although there has been a recent influx of advanced stats and measurements in the football world, statisticians have yet to come up with a metric to calculate the effects of “Father Time.”  Instead, we are forced to judge players, and specifically quarterbacks, with more pedestrian stats: completion percentage, adjusted net yards per passing attempt (ANY/A), touchdowns, interceptions, and the like.

So how does Peyton Manning measure up? Through five games, Manning is no worse than sixth in any of those categories, and is tied for first in the league with 11 touchdown passes.   To make his numbers even more impressive, consider this: the Colts wide receivers and tight ends lead the league in dropped passes with 15.

When you account for those drops, Manning’s already-impressive completion rate of 67.6 percent skyrockets to an eye-popping 74.5 percent.  He leads the league in pass attempts with 216, more than 43 attempts per game.  Perhaps Jaworski meant that Manning’s six-lap lead on “Father Time” had shrunk to five-and-a-half.

The problem facing “Father Time” is a tough one.   Peyton Manning will never be confused for Brett Favre when it comes to arm strength.   He will never be mistaken as a Michael Vick-type scrambler.   Instead Manning is the NFL’s version of Greg Maddux: he will not overpower you, he will outsmart you.  Manning beats you with his mind, the placement of his throws, and his audibles.

When Manning throws a ball, it will never knock down a brick wall, but it will be thrown in a spot where only his receiver can catch it.  If the defense wants to play deep zone, he will run.   If it wants to blitz, he will throw.  He sees what his opponent wants to do, and he stays one step ahead of it.  He has already seen “Father Time’s” plan of attack, and he has audibled into immortality.   A tough fate for the personification of old age.

On Sunday night, Manning will take a brief respite from his duel with the Grim Reaper to battle a more mundane foe: the Washington Redskins.

Unfortunately for the Redskins, they will not be able to attack Manning with arthritis, male pattern baldness, or an enlarged prostate.  They will be forced to use a defense that ranks 32nd in the NFL in conventional stats and 23rd by advanced measures.  More troubling for the Redskins is that their biggest weakness on defense – their passing defense – is where Manning feasts.

Based on Friday’s injury report, Manning should have most of his weapons at his disposal, with only Donald Brown and Anthony Gonzalez likely to sit.  This will allow the Colts to spread the field using their wide receiver personnel grouping and attack a pass defense that gives up 298 passing yards a game – 30th in the league.  The Redskins will pay extra attention to Manning’s top targets, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, which should not only open up Austin Collie underneath, but should afford the Colts some running lanes, as well.

The Colts’ running game has been effective in four of their five games this season, and should continue to be effective on Sunday night.  Once Joe Addai and Mike Hart establish themselves, Manning will be able to utilize the play-action passing game.  While the play-action was somewhat ineffective against the Chiefs, the Redskins lack the secondary skill and discipline of the Chiefs, and will give up multiple big plays because of it.

On offense, the Redskins will be led by their 12th different starting quarterback since 1998 — when Peyton Manning entered the NFL — Donovan McNabb.   McNabb, who was acquired in the off-season from division rival Philadelphia, has brought credibility to the Redskins’ passing offense, helping it rank seventh in conventional stats and ninth in advanced stats.   Their running game, which will be without injured starter Clinton Portis, is a work in progress, ranked in the lower half of the league in both conventional and advanced stats.

McNabb will receive a small break, however, as it seems the Colts will be without their defensive captain, linebacker Gary Brackett.  The Redskins feature a pair of good pass-catching tight ends, Chris Cooley and Fred Davis, making Brackett’s absence especially tough for the Colts.

Starting in Brackett’s place will be rookie linebacker Pat Angerer.  Angerer, a second-round pick out of Iowa, showed a lot of promise in the preseason, and was above average in coverage in college.  Still, his presence in the middle will make it easier for McNabb and the Redskins’ offense to move the ball.

Outside of his tight ends, McNabb’s favorite target is wide receiver Santana Moss.  Moss is a small, shifty receiver that excels at taking short passes and turning them into big gains.  If he can make the first tackler miss, he has the speed and agility to outrun the defense.

Given the type of play-makers the Redskins feature on offense, expect the Colts to play a lot of zone coverages.  They will want to keep the plays in front of them and not allow Moss or Washington’s tight ends to get free in open space.  Relying heavily on zone coverages will also reduce the stress on Pat Angerer, and will allow him to play fast and smart, instead of forcing him to think about blitz and man-coverage responsibilities.

The Colts’ ability to win this game comfortably will come down to their red zone efficiency.   Last week, they moved the ball at will but settled for field goals instead of touchdowns, which allowed the Chiefs to keep the score close.  Look for the Colts to correct those mistakes in primetime on Sunday, and score early and often.

Once the Colts’ offense provides the lead, look for twisters-in-a-can, Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney to tee off on a Redskins’ offensive line that has allowed 11 sacks this season.  While McNabb will be able to move the ball, he will also make his fair share of mistakes, contributing at least one turnover to the Colts’ cause.

Despite the best efforts of “Father Time” and the Redskins’ defense, the Colts will win, and win with relative ease.  In making his controversial statement, Ron Jaworski forgot the most important thing: Peyton Manning does not fear the Reaper.   Peyton Manning IS the Reaper.

Colts 35, Redskins 17

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