With four loses, the Colts have very little room for error if they hope to achieve a first round bye in the playoffs. Every game from here on is critical, and it starts this week with the visiting Chargers.
1.) I think that if the Colts see the Patriots in the playoffs again this year, they beat them. Last Sunday, the Colts came within an ill-advised throw (physically not mentally since it looked under-thrown) from victory in Foxborough. This was without Austin Collie, Joseph Addai, Mike Hart, Gary Brackett, Clint Session, and Bob Sanders. With these players back and the further development and integration of Blair White into the offense, the slow starts we have been witnessing should be less of an issue. People right now are getting riled up over Manning’s sub-par performance against the Patriots, but it shouldn’t be that much of a concern. Right now, the rhythm and timing are off with the injuries and integration of new players and in Sunday’s match against the Patriots. Manning rushed a lot of throws due to a lack of protection. However, the injury situation is slowly starting to look better and it’s very rare that you fool Manning twice with disguised coverages.
2.) I think that Colts defensive coordinator Larry Coyer needs to deviate from his original game plans more quickly. Throughout this season, whenever Coyer’s play calling isn’t working, he seems to stick with it until the second half. It’s the reason why the Colts start off most games trying to dig themselves out of a hole. Many Colts fans dislike it when Coyer decides to blitz, but there are times when you simply have to. Last Sunday’s game was a great example. Throughout the entire game, the Patriots were throwing quick, short passes to neutralize the pass rush. Instead of playing tight, bump-and-run, man coverage with the blitz to apply pressure, Coyer ran a series of loose Cover 2, Cover 3, and Quarters Coverage packages. This played right into the hands of the Patriots strength which allowed them plenty of room to operate underneath. These adjustments work against the blitz as well. In games where Coyer opens aggressively blitzing, like the Eagles game, the blitz opened huge lanes in the first half for Michael Vick to run through and throw deep. When the Colts switched to a four man rush in the second half, Vick’s effectiveness suffered considerably. Essentially, there is a time and place to rush four and to blitz, Coyer just needs to figure out which one is effective, and do it sooner.
3.) I think starting Jeff Linkenbach over Mike Pollak is hurting the offensive line. Since Linkenbach was inserted into the lineup, the offensive line’s play has severely declined. Whenever the Colts run a screen or a running play to the right side, it normally ends up with no yards or loses yards. On one of the first screen passes in the Bengals game two weeks ago, Linkenbach whiffed on a key block that would have sprung Pierre Garcon free. On running plays, you don’t see him get enough push and he is too often beaten or driven back into the running back. Not all of the blame should be heaped upon Linkenbach. Ryan Diem has been equally or more atrocious lately, with many fans calling for his head. Either way, the performance of the offensive line with Pollak was far better than it has been with Linkenbach as the starter.
4.) I think Donald Brown will be a major contributor going forward. Each week his numbers keep improving and he is coming up with bigger plays. Fans like to say that Brown doesn’t fit the system and needs exceedingly large holes to make something happen. That is not the case. As mentioned previously, the line has not done its job. There is little or no room for Brown and the other backs to run through on most runs, especially on the right side. When he has room, Brown normally rushes for at least four yards and has had a few explosive runs. His contributions in the passing game have been huge in critical moments, and although he still needs to work on his pass protection, I have not heard a peep out of fans and critics about him blowing blocking assignments.
5.) I think the AFC South is there for the taking. Right now it seems the Colts divisional counterparts are in shambles. Tennessee is going through quarterback turmoil with injuries to Vince Young and Kerry Collins along with the ongoing dispute between Jeff Fisher and Young. The Texans are finding new ways to replicate the 2008 meltdown they had with the Colts week after week, and the Jaguars are living off of miracles which are bound to run out. Despite the injuries and inconsistency, it’s clear the Colts are the best team in the division and are slowly but surely beginning to get healthy. The division is there for the Colts taking. It’s up to them to seize the opportunity.