Losing is always tough, especially when its to a division rival — although the Colts are more likely lose to a division rival than anyone else. At this point there isn’t a whole lot that can be done or said to take away the pain of losing or of being 2-2 on the season, with both losses putting the Colts into a hole in the division. The game stats are what they are, and they can be used to elevate the perception of players or to destroy them, and sadly this game allows both. While losses always hurt, there are some precious informational gems that can still be gleaned by reviewing the game tape and getting a good look at an individual player’s performance.
After looking at these stats, you may start to notice some disturbing trends with some players, and may lock onto some very promising signs from others. You’ll see how Manning rebounded from his lesser performance against Denver, along with some similarities between the Jacksonville and Houston games.
Notes on the Offense
* For Manning, the game ended up being somewhere between the Houston debacle and the success against the Giants, statistically. Manning had five overthrows, three of which were throw-aways when he was under pressure. He had more overthrows than he did against Houston, or New York, but was more accurate than he was against Denver. While it is too early to say whether this performance will be typical of Manning in 2010, if 2 touchdowns, 300+ yards, and 70%+ accuracy is merely “average” for Manning, Colts fans truly are spoiled.
* The offensive line has a severe case of Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. The two veterans on the right side of the line, guard Mike Pollak and tackle Ryan Diem were supposed to be the most dependable players alongside Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday. As of today, 2 veterans with 151 games of starting experience have been outplayed, by the combination of an undrafted rookie tackle (Jeff Linkenbach) and a guard with three games of starting experience (Jamey Richard) in one game, while getting handled by a “liability” at left tackle recovering from an injury (Charlie Johnson) and a benched former starter (Kyle DeVan) in another. Linkenbach and Johnson have the two best games at tackle this season, and DeVan and Richard have the three best games at guard.
The offensive line isn’t the biggest area of concern at the moment, because despite under-performing, Pollak and Diem have not been horrible. If Pollak and Diem do not start to improve, especially in limiting their mistakes, they could find themselves under the microscope.
* The receivers had mixed results. Reggie Wayne ran wild and was allowed to do just about anything he wanted. Everyone except for Addai had at least one drop, much the same as against Houston. A single drop by a receiver isn’t disturbing, but the fact that almost every receiver had a drop in the same game for the second time this year does raise some concern. The Colts have one of the highest drop rates in the NFL through Week 4, but the Colts also have one of the highest numbers of attempts, which mitigates the problem slightly. Still, too many passes have been dropped, many on important third downs, leading to punts when a sustained drive could have drastically altered the game. Somehow, the receivers have still caught over 70% of Manning’s passes.
Notes on the Defense
* Though neither tallied a sack, both Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis generated some pressure on the quarterback. If coverage had been a little stiffer, many of those pressures could have easily been sacks or hits. While neither Eric Foster nor Keyunta Dawson are getting tons of pressures, the Colts are starting to get some pressure up the middle from Fili Moala, Daniel Muir, and Mookie Johnson. It is rare but still an improvement over years past.
* Despite being held out for about a third of the snaps, Philip Wheeler was able to keep pace with both Clint Session and Gary Brackett. Wheeler had no missed tackles on the day. It is too early to proclaim that he is a sure-tackler, or a good linebacker, but his statistical performances suggest that he is developing. In his first game back, Session showed some rust with a pair of missed tackles, but generated a hit and pressure on the quarterback. Brackett continued to be a bulwark and again posted the most tackles by a linebacker.
* The secondary had a more conventional game, with tackling numbers more evenly and appropriately distributed. Justin Tryon came in for five snaps in place of Jerraud Powers during the first half and recorded a solo tackle. Deshea Townsend played as the dime corner, and had an assisted tackle in his five snaps. DaJuan Morgan was able to fill in for Melvin Bullitt fairly well. Morgan seemed to be near most of the action and kept pace statistically with what Bullitt did during his time on the field. Morgan’s exposure was fairly limited but he did well tackling in the open field (0 missed tackles).
* This was an uncharacteristic week statistically for the Colts defensive formations. When the Colts were in passing formations, the Jaguars had more success passing the ball. Some of that production is probably from short dump-off passes taken for long yards-after-the-catch, which suggests that the secondary was either overly aggressive and failed to honor their assignments, or they were playing too loose and let passes go undefended. This is one area that needs to improve.
Author’s Note: The loss was heartbreaking, and even though the team is 2-2, fans shouldn’t worry. The Colts had uncharacteristic breakdowns on both sides of the ball. Even with all the miscues, the fumble, the bobbled pass for an interception, the sketchy run defense, and the questionable coaching calls, the Colts have lost two rather close games. Improving one drive, such as the Wayne fumble, could have made the Jaguars game completely different on the scoreboard. The same was true in Houston. One less dropped pass on third down could have changed the game, and the Colts would be 4-0. The miscues should not be dismissed, but they are things that can get worked out at practice.
The parity in the NFL this year is palpable, which means these early season miscues are not yet disastrous. In spite of the team’s difficulties, the games have been close. The Colts may see their streak of 12-win seasons end this year, or they may simply be off to a rocky start like they were in 2008. The biggest thing to remember is that this was only Week 4, and if any team is capable of getting their butts into gear and dominating for a significant chunk of the season, it is the Colts. Indianapolis may not have the luck it did last year, but it still has the raw talent and skill that led the team to the Super Bowl last season.