The good news for the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday was that it was the first game in a while where there was a sense that the team had a chance to gain their elusive first win. The bad news is that the team lost in the same way it has done in close games all season long.
The Colts running game averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 23 carries, for a total of 105 rushing yards. Former bust prospect Donald Brown? He ran for 80 of those 105 yards on 14 carries, a fantastic 5.7 yards per carry average. Guess what folks? The Indianapolis Colts have a legit running game — and they have for much of the year.
There is a theme the team has followed in the face of this development though. When the game was on the line. When a key drive was needed. When a comeback was within reach. The game was placed not in the hands of running backs that were the most consistent offensive component in the game, but on the arm of a struggling quarterback with a penchant to throw games away — pun intended.
In many ways, this recurring theme is like a satirical comedy. Curtis Painter has the impossible job of replacing a living legend. He is asked to carry a team whose injury curse is alive and well. He has regularly buckled under pressure — a characteristic he brought with him from his senior season at Purdue. Yet, the coaches put it on him to win games.
On the other side of the ball? The defense struggled in the same way it has for years. It is vulnerable to runs off of tackle because the defensive ends spend their time trying to get up field. Jerry Hughes in particular struggles against the run when he fills in for Dwight Freeney, but it is impossible to ignore the similarity from past seasons — lanes exist in the space left by rushing defensive ends.
One player who deserves continual praise until he gets appropriate recognition for his 2011 efforts is Pat Angerer. His impact on the defense cannot be overstated. He will continue to hold the lead as the league’s leading tackler after his seven tackle performance. He also picked up a sack and two quarterback hits.
Whatever the Colts need Angerer to do, he is capable of doing. He is hands down the best Colts linebacker at this point in his career since David Thornton or Marcus Washington. His success makes a return for Gary Brackett unlikely — unless the team cuts his salary and moves him outside or uses him in a Ernie Sims pass formation role.
Other defensive players who are pulling their weight? Defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis each looked rested, fresh, and fast. They picked up a sack apiece. Cornerback Jerraud Powers continued his return to 2010 form, providing excellent coverage on his side of the field.
The top defensive free agent pick up this season has undeniably been defensive end Jamaal Anderson. His ability to get pressure up the field and stop the run has been a very welcome addition to the rotation. There is no doubt that working with Freeney and Mathis has done him some good. He had a solid game, including a blocked field goal that kept Indianapolis in the game late.
On the offensive side of the ball, Reggie Wayne got back into the game plan. His five receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown are his highest totals since Week 13 of 2010. It is only his second touchdown and second 100-yard game of 2011. Imagine how frustrating it must be for Wayne that he is in a contract year and will likely fail to reach 1,000 yards receiving for the first time since 2003.
Frustrated or not, he is still doing his part to give the Colts a chance to win.
Pierre Garcon looks more dominant on the field now than he ever has. It looks like his problem dropping the football has improved significantly, and his speed, strength, and athleticism make him a huge threat any time he carries the football. Unfortunately, his chances are limited due to overthrows, underthrows, or bad decisions by his quarterback.
Note that Football Outsiders indicates his catch percent is worse than it was in 2010. I don’t buy that his catching woes are worse at all.
One player that should get more looks in the offense, and was highly effective in 2010, is tight end Jacob Tamme. He did an excellent job filling in for an injured Dallas Clark in 2010 and is absolutely in the prime years of his playing career. He is young, fast, and still hard for defensive coordinators to game plan against.
Unfortunately, quarterback Curtis Painter has a propensity to stare down in primary targets and Tamme will rarely be that. His best use is as the third/fourth option in the middle of the field when defenses rotate their coverage over to hassle Wayne, Garcon, or Collie in the slot.
The most important part of the Sunday’s game again the Panthers is that the Colts were clearly in it to win from start to finish. There was no lack of effort, no quit, and no sign of throwing anything.
Was the coaching suspect? Yes.
Is there still a glaring special teams concern when Pat McAfee has to make tackles on punts? Yes.
But this team is playing with heart. And despite all of the doomsayers and naysayers out there who have used the team’s failures in 2011 to suggest that the team is devoid of talent — in that even with a Manning return in 2012 (if that happens) it won’t be enough to make the Colts competitive — there is a lot of talent still in the fold and no doubt that the team would be significantly better if their offensive production would return.
It hurts for a fan base to see their team fail so completely after a record-setting string of success. Then again, this will be the first time in a long time that the off-season will have a significant impact on the team’s future. At least fans in Indianapolis can look forward to that.