What a difference a week makes, eh? The same Indianapolis Colts that couldn’t get out of their own way last week willingly played the part of Super Bowl contender on Sunday night. Receiving the opening kick off, the Colts marched 80 yards down the field and took a lead they would never relinquish. Here are my quick thoughts from their 38-14 victory:
Clint Session missed the game with a hamstring injury, but his replacement, Kavell Conner, stepped in wonderfully. Conner, who played well in the preseason, lacks the same explosive tackles that Session is known for, but was disciplined and in position to make plays consistently. Hopefully Session will be back to 100% soon, but it’s comforting to know that Conner can step in, when needed.
Philip Wheeler takes a lot of abuse from me. He deserves it. But tonight he played well. He was active, he tackled well, and he did not allow himself to get out of position. I do not think he’ll ever be a “stud”, but the Colts do not need a stud, they just need what he provided tonight.
Antoine Bethea is a true star. He’ll never be recognized as such by the media because he plays for Indianapolis, but he’s amazing. In the running game, he was quick to clean up plays, made sure tackles, and even provided big hits on a couple of occasions. His pass coverage was also very good, having great coverage on two deep passes, one resulting in an incompletion, and one resulting in a Jerraud Powers interception.
Kelvin Hayden had a great game until garbage time when he gave up a touchdown to Hakeem Nicks. I’ll give him a pass on that play, simply because the game had already been decided, but it was the same type of play that has burned Hayden in the past – a vertical route. Early on, however, he had tight coverage and had multiple pass breakups, including one that was incorrectly flagged for pass interference. If Hayden can play like this every week, he’ll go a long way towards quieting those that say he’s overpaid.
Jacob Lacey had a dubious return the to the line up, getting beat on fly pattern on a 3rd-and-8 play. He bit on a double move and pump fake, which is a mistake a cornerback simply cannot make in man coverage with no safety help. I believe Lacey will improve, and I’d rather he worked out the kinks when the Colts have blowout victories in hand than if the game is on the line.
The defensive linemen were the real stars of the game. Freeney and Mathis were beasts on home soil, basically neutering the Giants offense, forcing Eli Manning to get rid of the ball immediately on almost every pass play. The great news? There was a consistent push from the tackles, as Fili Moala played his best game as a pro. This is not saying much, as the second-year tackle missed most of last year as a healthy scratch, but it is an encouraging sign going forward.
The defense as a whole responded as I felt they would: with speed and decisiveness. The Blue Blurs were back, making swarming tackles, harassing the quarterback, and not giving up a lot of garbage yardage. Play fast, play instinctive, that’s this defense’s mandate, and I expect them to build on it moving forward.
The offense told a different tale, unfortunately. Peyton Manning was awful, ruining the great work the defense did on multiple occasions. Okay, just making sure you’re still reading.
Manning was great, as usual. His checks were spot on, exploiting the Giants sup-packages with 23 first-half running plays. His throws, for the most part, were crisp and accurate. His deep balls were great and he saw the entire field. He continued to have great mobility in the pocket. He played like a man suffering no ill-effects from last week’s beating. It seems like Manning, if not the team, is destined for another great season.
Donald Brown, like Philip Wheeler, takes a lot of abuse from me. And Donald Brown, like Philip Wheeler, played a good game tonight. I do not know if he’s improved on his pass blocking, as most of his work came in the running game, but Brown ran decisively and with a great burst. He hit the hole well, and did not seem to suffer from his normal crumpling on first contact. The most encouraging sign to me, however, is that multiple times I saw Donald Brown adjust the play in his mind before Peyton could tell him individually. In games past, it seemed as if Brown was struggling with the playbook, specifically the audibles, but tonight he seemed to get it. He has all the talent in the world, more efforts like this will help him showcase it.
Joseph Addai looked amazing, again. He was slippery, even when not wet. He ran as if the smallest creases were gaping holes, he punished would-be tacklers, and he cut with great agility. I love what I’m seeing from Addai this year. His pass blocking is still second-to-none, but his running has reverted back to his rookie season form. I hope this earns him another contract with the Colts, he certainly seems to be earning it.
The wide receivers played well, for the most part, recovering from their opening week nightmare, but Reggie Wayne still suffered a bit from the dropsies. His particular gaffe tonight was dropping a beautiful ball from Manning on a 3rd-and-10 play that forced the Colts to punt. It seemed, from the TV angle, that Wayne may have run a long way if he hauled in the pass. When you have a night like this, you do not focus on the negatives, but it’s something we’ll have to watch in the future.
To complete the Colts Bounce Back Tour™ we finish with the offensive line. Last week they tried to kill our man. This week, they played well, opening holes in the running game and kept Peyton clean in the passing game — for most of the first half. Manning seemed to take some hits in the 2-minute drill to end the half, and that trend continued in the second half, as the Giants ramped up the pressure. It’s going to be a process to get the line over their injuries and to gel as a unit — but performances like tonight, while not amazing, are just what the Colts need: Give Peyton time, and be able to run when the defense is daring you to.
This is the Colts team I know. This is the Colts team I love. Let’s just pretend those guys last week were an affair gone bad. The defense is back to swarming, and the offense has settled into a rhythm. Their march continues next week at Mile High Stadium.