Colts at Buccaneers, Pregame Pancakes: Week 4

The Indianapolis Colts (0-3) travel to Florida to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) on Monday Night football on the heels of a heartbreaking 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3. On that night, the Colts defense, offensive line, and running backs showed how good they could be as they took the fight to the heavily-favored Steelers. In the end, though, it was the lack of consistent play from the most important position in football – the quarterback – that prevented them from pulling out that victory. Now they will be led by a new quarterback, Curtis Painter, as they try to get their first win of the season.

The Buccaneers are coming off of a 16-13 win against NFC South rivals, the Atlanta Falcons. The Bucs, led by QB Josh Freeman, are a young team coming off a surprising 10-win 2010 campaign. Eager to prove that they are one of the better teams in the NFL, let alone the NFC, the Bucs will be looking for a convincing win against a Colts team most consider to be undermanned. Underestimating them and a pass-rushing duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, however, would be ill-advised.

The last time these two teams met in Tampa Bay the game was also on a Monday night. On that night, Manning and the Colts would make the greatest regular season comeback in NFL history, scoring 28 points in the 4th quarter, including 21 points in the final 4 minutes) to send the game to overtime, and [kicker’s name redacted] would kick a field goal in overtime to give the Colts the improbable 38-35 victory. Though a shootout is unlikely this time around, there should be plenty of drama (and sack-fumbles) to please everyone.

When the Colts have the ball


Indianapolis Colts Offense Tampa Bay Defense
87 WR R. Wayne 71 DE M. Bennett
44 TE D. Clark 93 DT G. McCoy
74 LT A. Castanzo 92 DT B. Price
76 LG J. Reitz 94 DE A. Clayborn
63 C J. Saturday 58 SLB Q. Black
71 RG R. Diem 59 MLB M. Foster
72 RT J. Linkenbach 54 WLB G. Hayes
17 WR A. Collie 25  CB A. Talib
85 WR P. Garcon 26  SS S. Jones
7 QB C. Painter 41  FS C. Lynch
29 RB J. Addai 20  CB R. Barber

The key to the Colts’ success this week will be the same as the previous three weeks: protecting the ball. Quarterbacks Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter have a combined 1 INT, 4 fumbles, and 6 sacks through the first three weeks of the season. While some of the onus is on the offensive line to provide better protection, the bulk of the responsibility must lie with the quarterbacks, who, if successful at nothing else this season, have raised our appreciation for Peyton Manning’s uncanny ability to feel and avoid pressure to new heights. When he does hold on to the ball, Painter has shown a level of comfort in the offense that, through three games, Collins has not been able to. During his successful drive against the Steelers on Sunday, Painter displayed an ability to identify coverage, make proper reads, and, in most cases, deliver a catchable ball to his receivers. He has a big enough arm to find WRs Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon down field for big plays, but his practice time as a backup may have led him to develop better timing and chemistry with WRs Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez, the latter of which finally saw offensive snaps Sunday. Whomever he throws to, Painter should be able to find success against a Tampa Bay defense which ranks 24th in the league in passing yards per game and 31st in the league in pass defense by DVOA (footballoutsiders/advanced stats). The Bucs main issue appears to be their inability to rush the passer, having notched only 6 sacks (20th in the league) through three games. Opposing quarterbacks have a 90.8 quarterback rating (13th worst) against Tampa this year, with 7.8 yards-per-attempt (10th worst). The Colts best chance to allow Painter to have success throwing the ball, however, will be to stick with a ground game that, while successful against the Steelers, went largely unnoticed for long stretches of the game. Despite being tied or leading for a majority of the game, the Colts, with RB Joseph Addai gaining over 5ypc, ran the ball only 21 times while attempting 40 passes. The Colts have found themselves in close, winnable games the past two weeks. Both games turned on turnovers by their offense that immediately led to points for the opposition. Their best hope of getting a win this week will be to patiently use Addai and RB Delone Carter to continue drives and gain a rhythm, while only having Painter throw in the most optimal situations. If they continue to rely on their quarterbacks to throw 30+ times, they will likely find themselves staring at an 0-4 record.

When the Buccaneers have the ball


Indianapolis Colts Defense Tampa Bay Offense
93 DE D. Freeney 19 WR M. Williams
99 DT A. Johnson 82 TE  K. Winslow
95 DT F. Moala 70 LT  D. Penn
98 DE R. Mathis 76 LG  J. Zuttah
53 WLB K. Conner 52  C  J.  Faine
51 MLB P. Angerer 75 RG D. Joseph
50 SLB P. Wheeler 65  RT J. Trueblood
25 CB J. Powers 17  WR A. Benn
33 SS M. Bullitt 5 QB J. Freeman
41 FS A. Bethea 34 FB E. Graham
27 CB J. Lacey 27 RB L. Blount

The Colts’ defense may find some success against a Tampa offense that has, to this point, been defined by inconsistency in 2011. A large part of that inconsistency can be traced to an offense line that has struggled in both pass and run blocking, especially in the first half of games. The Colts, led by their quick, penetrating defensive line, will look to attack the Buccaneers in much the same way they attacked the Steelers – a relentless pass rush that was able to swarm opposing running backs on the way to the quarterback. Like Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger, 3rd-year starter QB Josh Freeman can be forced into mistakes, having 28 interceptions, 19 fumbles, and 52 sacks in 29 career games. In the passing game, QB Freeman lacks the depth of receiving options that many teams have, with WR Mike Williams and TE Kellen Winslow proving to be his most reliable targets. The Colts’ defense, led by CB Jerraud Powers, MLB Pat Angerer, and S Antoine Bethea are good enough to hold both players in check, forcing Freeman to progress deep through his reads while giving the Colts pass rush a chance to land. The Colts must be aware of Freeman’s mobility, however, as he will look to make big plays while outside the pocket, much like Browns QB Colt McCoy was able to do to the Colts in Week 2. The Buccaneers’ rushing attack is led by 2nd-year undrafted free agent running back LeGarrette Blount. The former Oregon Duck, who  caught on with the Bucs after being released by the Tennessee Titans in the 2010 preseason, went on to be one of the surprise players of the year as he rushed for over 1000 yards and 6 TDs with only 7 starts (13 total games played). Blount has struggled this year, especially in the first half of games, where he has rushed 18 times for only 40 yards (2.2ypc). He has been better in the second half, however, rushing 24 times for 127 yards (5.3ypc, H/T Bucs Nation), and the Colts will need to be as relentless against Blount as they were against both RBs Rashard Mendenhall (PIT) and Peyton Hillis (CLE). A lack of big play targets on the Bucs team should allow the Colts to bring a safety into the box without too much fear of being exposed to a deep pass. The Colts biggest obstacle on defense will be dealing with depth. With S Melvin Bullitt and LB Gary Brackett placed on season-ending injured-reserve, along with the releasing of CB Justin Tryon, the Colts already thin depth will be stretched to the limits. Rookie safeties Joe Lefeged and David Caldwell both performed well on Sunday night, but consistency will be the name of the game for the young duo. While CBs Jacob Lacey and Terrence Johnson will be the primary replacements for Tryon.

Five Key Match-Ups

1. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis vs. Tampa Bay offensive line – In three short weeks the Colts have gone from a high-flying act lead by the best quarterback in football, to a tough, physical defense that will attack your quarterback and punish your running backs (wide receivers catching the ball on 3rd-and-18 seem to be immune to physical pain). A defense that was content to bend-but-don’t-break with their high flying offense has been more stout the past 3 weeks. Their points-per-game totals continue to be inflated due to miscues from their offense, but it is clear to all team observers that the defense is playing at an elevated level. That trend will have to continue on Monday night if the Colts hope to succeed, and it will start up front with quarterback terrorizers, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. When the pass rushing duo is playing their best, opposing offenses find it hard to move the ball under any circumstances. On Sunday, they harassed QB Ben Roethlisberger and his offensive line to the point of visible concern. They must do the same again on Monday. Bucs QB Josh Freeman is prone to making mistakes, and Freeney and Mathis are just the men to coax a mistake or two out of him. When they play great, it helps the rest of the defense play great behind them. 2.  Curtis Painter vs. His desire to take sack-fumbles – Curtis Painter showed the ability to move the ball Sunday night. He also showed the ability to do what he’s always done – take sacks and fumble the ball. Painters upside lies in his comfort with the offense. His downside lies in the fact that he’s a horrible quarterback. Teams have won with horrible quarterbacks before, however, and the key will be to limit turnovers. As we said about Collins – sacks will happen. Sacks, in-and-of themselves are bad enough, do not compound the problem by giving the ball away. Holding on to the ball will go a long way to helping the Colts get their first win of the season. 3.  The Colts’ special teams vs.  The Buccaneers special teams – The Colts, as they are accustomed to, have one of the worst special teams units in the NFL. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have the 2nd best special teams in the NFL according to FootballOutsiders’ advanced stats (DVOA). If the Colts are able to play the kind of game they want – a close, low-scoring affair – the game could turn on one big play in special teams. The big play could come in the form of a big return or a boneheaded decision to return a kick 9-yards deep in the end zone that results in poor field position. Regardless of the type of play, history and stats would suggest that the outcome of the play will benefit Tampa Bay. 4.  The Officials vs. The Rulebook – No one likes a whiner. That’s true. Except mommy, she likes me. That said, I’m going to whine. Two weeks in a row. Two home games in a row. Two games the Colts should have won, and questionable (or downright POOR) officiating decisions affected the outcome of the game. Against the Browns it was non-calls on Browns defensive backs as they practiced their kung fu fighting on Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne. Against the Steelers it was a questionable holding call AGAINST the Colts (IRONY BUS, coming through), a slew of holding non-calls against the Steelers, and the bizarre case of the Steelers offensive line false starting on approximately 400 consecutive plays without a call. Look, I understand, it’s hard to get every call right, but the Colts are operating by the thinnest of margins. Any slight call, bounce of the ball, etc… can sway the outcome of a game when your quarterback is… whoever they are trotting out this week. One could make a sound, reasonable argument that, if the Colts got the proper calls, they could be 2-1 and hope would be springing eternal. Instead, they are 0-3 and you have to wonder if the “season will end” in their minds soon. 5.  Jon Gruden vs. “The Sheriff” –  Jon Gruden loves to call QB Peyton Manning “The Sheriff.” He loves calling him “The Sheriff” so much that the last time “The Sheriff” was on ESPN, Jon Gruden said “The Sheriff” 3,978 times. Sources close to me tell me that there’s very little chance Peyton Manning plays in this game, which begs the question: which nickname will Jon Gruden ride into the ground this week? Vegas opened the odds with “The Sheriff” at even money, banking on a long-standing tradition of ESPN not paying attention to what’s actually happening on the field. The dark horse in this race? 10-1 on “That Guy” – a name that Gruden will use for EVERY OTHER PLAYER ON THE FIELD.

The injury reports


Indianapolis Colts


Player Name Injury (STATUS)
Peyton Manning NECK (OUT)
Ernie Sims  KNEE (OUT)
Antoine Bethea HEEL (PROBABLE)
Brody Eldridge KNEE (PROBABLE)

  Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Player Name Injury (STATUS)
Kellen Winslow REST (PROBABLE)
Sammie Stroughter FOOT (DOUBTFUL)

Identifying the coverage

Where(Visually):  ESPN, ESPN3, ESPN the Audio Book Who(Visually):   Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, and Jon Gruden, along with a cast of thousands. Where(Audio):1070 AM The Fan WFNI and  97.1 HANK FM Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Will Wolford When(Will a National Audience see these Colts play again?): Thanks for asking! These “pesky” “plucky” “just won’t die” Colts are going to be a thorn in NBC’s side yet again! The Colts will be on NBC’s Football Night in New England on Sunday, Oct. 23. Unfortunately for NBC, the NFL ‘Flex Scheduling’ won’t be in effect by then, so they’ll have to come up with some more gritty adjectives. I’m sure Websters is working round the clock. After the 23rd, the next time you’ll see the Colts on a national broadcast will be Thursday, Sept 13th, 2012, when they open up against the World Champion NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS at Dah Razah. And yes, we know, the Colts have a Thursday night game this year, why ruin the joke?

Series notes

  • The Colts and Buccaneers have met 11 times (all regular season) in NFL history. The Colts lead the series 7-4. The Colts are 3-2 in Tampa, scoring 21.2 ppg and giving up 22.6 ppg.
  • Neither of the starting QBs, Curtis Painter or Josh Freeman, have faced the opposing team before.
  • In two games against the Bucs, Reggie Wayne has caught 11 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown.
  • Dallas Clark has also faced the Bucs twice and has 12 catches for 72 yards and a score.
  • Joseph Addai has never faced the Buccaneers. Addai was hurt the week prior to facing the Buccaneers in 2007. He was hurt on a running play in which he ran into Marvin Harrison from behind. That play would effectively lead to the end of Harrison’s career. Just thought you needed a pick-me-up this week.
  • Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have faced the Buccaneers one time, in 2007. The have combined for 1/2 sack.

Songs of the week


Inside some building on W 56th St. A stoic man, wearing a Colts’ ball cap and polo shirt, is sitting at a desk, he is approached by a young man wearing what appears to be a jersey bearing the number 20. “Justin”:  Hey, coach, I’d like to talk to you about my play time… “Coach”:  Sure, “Justin”, what’s bothering you? “Justin”:  Well, coach, I’m a pretty good player, and, well, I’d like to know why I’m not starting? “Coach”:  Well, “Justin”, we like you, you’re a good player, probably a starter, but, really, you don’t seem to be willing to play within the system. “Justin”:  What do you mean, coach? “Coach”:   Well, son, around here, we play with a cushion.  Look at “Lacey” out there.  (“Coach” points yonder) (“Justin”, squinting):  I, uh, I don’t see “Lacey”, sir. “Coach”:  Exactly my point.  Now, are you going to play within the system, or not? “Justin”:  Well, coach, I feel like I could better serve you by playing a more aggressive style of corner back. “JIMBO”:  Well it cuts like a knife!  Na, na, nanana, na na, NA NA.   The rain n Spain falls mainly on d plain. End Scene Prediction Tampa Bay – 20, Colts – 13