NFL Week 3 AFC East: Sobering Lessons

Welcome to Inside Our NFL’s Monday after a Sunday full of NFL football that was chock full of surprises. In the AFC East we learned this entire division is going to be good, but what about Miami?? The Dolphins traveled to Cleveland in search of their first win and played the Browns to a standstill and had a 16-10 lead late in the 4th quarter. Chad Henne had his best game of the young season. In the first half alone he completed 15 of 19 passes for over 190 yards, yet only completed 4 passes in the second half and finished with 255 yards. Colt McCoy drove the Browns to a late score with a touchdown pass to Mohamad Massaquoi with :43 in the game. The Browns moved to 2-1 while the Dolphins are scratching their heads after a numbing loss, dropping to 0-3.

This Reggie Bush fumble turned the tide.

Their missing a belief in themselves and should have finished off a Browns team without Peyton Hillis. First off where is Brandon Marshall?? Second Reggie Bush is a space player, he can’t run between the tackles. He didn’t at USC and he didn’t in New Orleans. It was this fumble when the Dolphins had Bush running out of the I formation, that turned the game around when the Dolphins had a 7-0 lead and had momentum. Get Brandon Marshall the ball 15 times a game and you’ll start winning. He had 4 catches for 43 yards?? Nowhere near enough. Denver used to get him the football 100 times a season so what gives??  Their position in the standings…lets take a look

AFC EAST W L T PCT HOME ROAD DIV CONF PF PA DIFF STRK
Buffalo 3 0 0 1.000 2-0-0 1-0-0 1-0-0 3-0-0 113 73 +40 Won 3
New England 2 1 0 .667 1-0-0 1-1-0 1-1-0 2-1-0 104 79 +25 Lost 1
NY Jets 2 1 0 .667 2-0-0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1-1-0 83 61 +22 Lost 1
Miami 0 3 0 .000 0-2-0 0-1-0 0-1-0 0-3-0 53 78 -25 Lost 3

Elsewhere in the division the New York Jets traveled to play the Oakland Raiders and the second leading rusher in the NFL in Darren McFadden. The gameplan was to stop McFadden with their NFL’s 8th best defense coming into this matchup. Each game Rex Ryan’s boys start slow offensively and rely on the defense to keep control of the game. Well it’s a good thing they didn’t in this one. After the Jets moved to a 17-7 lead, the Raiders didn’t abandon the running game and were rewarded. In a surprising show of force, the Raiders ran the football down the Jets throats as McFadden exploded for 171 yards and 2TDs. McFadden ended the game as the NFL’s leading rusher. The Raiders made the Jets look slow as they showcased speed on reverses, special team plays, chasing down Tomlinson from behind after a 71 yard gain. Rex Ryan’s boys will be fine as long as they play a slow plodding game. Yet other teams are showing that they do have some speed within the division.

Where you may ask? Try Buffalo where the NFL and the New England Patriots were introduced to a team that is playing without fear. They lined up against their longtime division nemesis and promptly fell behind 21-0. This is where a team that doesn’t have a team wide belief in themselves comes apart and gets routed. Ryan Fitzpatrick calmly led the Bills back into the football game and by halftime had the score reduced to 21-17.

Tom Brady set the NFL record for most passing yards over a 3 game period as expected with 1,258. However the Bills defense picked him off 4 times yesterday, equal to his interception total for all of 2010. One of those interceptions brought the Bills all the way back to take a 31-24 lead early in the 4th quarter. What did the Bills learn about themselves?? They proved they can beat anybody playing their game.

After allowing a Tom Brady 4th down pass to tie the game at 31. Fitzpatrick on the first play hits a 5 step hitch and throw for 40 yards up the sideline over a back pedalling CB Devin McCourty. A screen pass to Jackson netted another fifteen. Then splitting into a 5 receiver look, the Bills ran Jackson on a crossing route and Fitzpatrick hit him in stride taking it more than 30 yards down to the one.  You read that right, with just over 3:00 to go instead of conservative passes this team was throwing with gusto starting with a bomb. Three plays they were down to the 1 yard line after gaining 80 yards. They are 3-0 after downing the ball and kicking the winning field goal, 34-31 and the entire NFL took notice. This team is fast and it’s fearless. They don’t know how good they can be and after breaking a 15 game losing streak to a long time nemesis, the sky is the limit. For if most pundits have the Patriots picked to make it to Super Bowl XLVI, what does that say about how good this Bills team can be now that the Patriots have been vanquished?? We will all be watching these interesting developments.

NFL Week 2 AFC East: In the Land of the Giants

The New England Patriots and the New York Jets are the NFL’s version of the Hatfield and the McCoys. Last year they had the best race of any two teams in football. The 45-3 Monday Night massacre gave the Patriots the division, yet the Jets came back a month later to knock them off of their perch in the playoffs. Even here at the Taylor Blitz Times, we have these two picked to face off in the AFC Championship Game in the new Meadowlands. True to form they have come out of the blocks strong with twin 2-0 records and each have looked as advertised.

However no one figured that Buffalo’s land of misfit toys would come together with an esprit du corps that has them believing they are worthy of primetime status with their 2-0 record. Misfit toys?? Yes! Who wanted Shawne Merriman after his steroid suspension and subsequent knee injury?? How about Fred Jackson who leads the NFL in rushing after two weeks with 229 yards?? Buffalo draftedRB CJ Spiller to be the breakaway runner the team has lacked since Thurman Thomas just last year to replace Jackson. Who was going to catch passes now that Lee Evans is gone?? Stevie Johnson has more than taken over for Evans, he’s outperforming what was projected of Evans had he stayed. Then you have quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Ivy League guy. He doesn’t pass the eyeball test for an NFL quarterback when you look at his stature, and with that name you’d associate that with your local accountant. You know he doesn’t have a quarterback name like Luckman, Unitas, Aikman, Staubach, or a Tarkenton. Fitzpatrick?? Yes Fitzpatrick. The ultimate “misfit toy” has thrown for 472 yards, 7 touchdowns with only 1 interception. Better get used to the name…we have but first lets look at the standings

AFC EAST W L T PCT HOME ROAD DIV CONF PF PA DIFF STRK
New England 2 0 0 1.000 1-0-0 1-0-0 1-0-0 2-0-0 73 45 +28 Won 2
NY Jets 2 0 0 1.000 2-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 1-0-0 59 27 +32 Won 2
Buffalo 2 0 0 1.000 1-0-0 1-0-0 0-0-0 2-0-0 79 42 +37 Won 2
Miami 0 2 0 .000 0-2-0 0-0-0 0-1-0 0-2-0 37 61 -24 Lost 2

The Buffalo Bills are averaging 39.5 points per game, which is higher than the 2007 New England team that scored 589 points for the all time record with 36.8 point average. Ironically Tom Brady and the Patriots are averaging 36.5 points per game themselves as they work Ochocinco into the mix. Do you realize that Brady has thrown for 940 yards 7 TDs and only 1 interception?? He’s on pace to throw for 7,520 yards and 56 TDs. Of course we jest but these numbers don’t make you scoff because he owns the record with 50 TDs in a season. Yet had we said that for Fitzpatrick, who has equaled him in touchdowns to this point, the notion would be received differently. Right now the Patriots have shuttled in Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead for a combined 185 yards rushing to keep defenses honest. Wes Welker (15 rec. 241 yds) and Deion Branch (15 rec. 222yds) are on torrid paces along with their championship caliber quarterback. Each would finish with 1,700 yard seasons which has never been done before by teammates. So Buffalo and New England are #1 and #2 in scoring so far this season.

Yet with all that scoring must come a foil. The New York Jets are the team that is playing the tortoise to New England and Buffalo’s hare and come in having given up the second fewest points in the NFL yielding just 27. They come in with the league’s #8 defense after two weeks and are a slow methodical team. http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?tabSeq=2&defensiveStatisticCategory=GAME_STATS&conference=ALL&role=OPP&season=2011&seasonType=REG&d-447263-s=TOTAL_YARDS_GAME_AVG&d-447263-o=1&d-447263-n=1 Mark Sanchez’s statistics aren’t up with his division rivals with 4TDs and 3 interceptions but two of those came in a meaningless 32-3 win over Jacksonville. However this team has to stop relying on the defense to hold everyone down until the offense can find a way into the game. Surprisingly Shonn Greene has only 71 yards rushing so far. However this is their recipe for winning. Its the 11 tackles by Bart Scott, 9 by David “Hitman” Harris, and 9 by S Eric Smith that is forcing punts. Once opponents pass into the secondary Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie  are waiting where they have 1 and 2 interceptions respectively. So yes they too are 2-0.

The first thing that jumps out at us about the Miami Dolphins is the top 3 tacklers from this team are all in the secondary. They have to run the football better and keep teams off the field. Everyone is dissecting that 517 yard performance that Brady put on them in week 1. Its a good thing that we are in the digital age or that film would definitely snap from overuse. Although this team’s stats were distorted by the Patriot game. They held a potent Houston team to just 23 points in their second loss of the season. They need a strong running presence, Henne can’t do it on his arm yet. The Dolphins will win some games this year they just ran into two strong teams in the first few weeks. However they need to work on being dead last in defense. Go to the running game.

Well one of these 2-0 teams has to lose when the Patriots travel to Orchard Park this Sunday. Its at this point our CEO (Buffalo fan) comes in the room and plays a disc of Dick Vermeil describing his ’99 Rams. “When you get a group of talented athletes without a distorted ego and they really start believing. You have something special.” To us, it did resonate and made us think long and hard about this Buffalo team. They are literally coming from out of nowhere and much like that ’99 Ram team had to learn how to win on the fly. Their most important game?? When they were 3-0, they had to take on the San Francisco 49ers who were the dominant team in the division, and had beaten them 17 straight times.  Once they won there the sky was the limit. Buffalo has lost 15 straight to New England. Its going to be loud in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Don’t forget the Patriots did give up 24 points to the Dolphins on their last road trip and do not miss this fact: The Patriots are ranked 31st in defense and the Bills are coming into this game with the NFL’s #1 rushing attack with 189 yards per game. Food for thought.

Thanks for reading and share the article.

Super Bowl XVLI Prediction

Vince Lombardi Trophy

Well you have heard our selections for both conference champions of the NFL. The New York Jets representing the AFC v the defending champion Green Bay Packers to represent the NFC. Each will descend on Indianapolis with a fervor. The all time winningest team in NFL history in terms of championships at 13 would be looking for their 14th.  Most Packer fans bristle when they hear about Sixburgh or Dallas and San Francisco boasting of 5 Super Bowl championships when in reality they only have a third of Green Bay’s titles. A modern dynasty would cement that notion among modern day fans, and rightfully put the Packers at the fore when championship teams are discussed.

However standing across from them at that coin toss would be a franchise that hadn’t played for it all in 42 years in the New York Jets. There in Indianapolis, the Jets want to liberate themselves from the cloud that seemed to descend upon this franchise since that famous Super Bowl III upset of the Baltimore Colts. Ironically, they would look to win their second Super Bowl in the Colt’s regular season home. Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and the will win the AFC’s 10th Super Bowl in 15 years.

The main reason the Jets would win a Super Bowl XLVI matchup with Green Bay is the fact that they have excellent corners. Darelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie would be able to shut down either Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson.  They have a third corner in Kyle Wilson (from Boise St) that gives them as formidable a threesome at cornerback than any team in the league. Lets face facts, the Packers are a passing team and this stellar coverage would allow Ryan to find a few ways to get to Aaron Rodgers. What was the Achille’s Heal of the Steeler defense in Super Bowl XLV, is the strength of the Jets defense in Super Bowl XVLI. Now Ryan can juggle his other eight defenders with exotic blitzes and combo coverages.

As for the ground game, each team could run the ball yet the Jets would be committed to it more. LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene would run the ball 30 times where Packers Coach Mike McCarthy has a penchant for putting it all in Rodgers hands. Mark Sanchez has grown as a quarterback yet Rex wouldn’t put too much pressure on him. They would be fairly conservative and playing keep away to keep their defense rested. One weapon that would be in the Jets favor is the moxie and motivation of Plaxico Burress, who would duplicate Ray Lewis’ situation going from incarceration to Super Bowl champ the following season. Matter of fact the last time the Packer defense saw Burress, he lit up CB Al Harris for 11 rec. 154 yards in the 2007 NFC Championship Game in Green Bay. Pretty sure he’d be okay on a neutral field. He did catch the winning touchdown in the upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, so he wouldn’t shrink at the magnitude of the event. We know Al Harris is gone but Plaxico is still 6’5 to Sam Shields and Tramon Williams, who each stand 5’11. Across from this is WR Santonio Holmes, Super Bowl XLIII’s Most Valuable Player, so you can see how the Packers might have to juggle Charles Woodson, Shields, and Williams.

As quarterbacks go, Mark Sanchez doesn’t have to outplay Aaron Rodgers, he just needs to be proficient. Rely on his running game and take calculated risks when the time is right. He does have the most road playoff wins in history at 4, so he should be at home in these trappings. Rodgers is the leader of the new quartrbacks that will dominate the NFL for the next 10 years. Aaron means everything to the Packers yet their offensive line has a penchant for his getting hit and sacked. Last year in the Super Bowl they dominated the Steelers pass rush with the quick rhythm passing game that Rodgers is the best at. The Packers would counter with waggles, and half rollouts in a way to keep the Jets defense off balance and blitzing to a static passing spot on the Lucas Oil turf.

Mark Sanchez' Joe Namath pose

To repeat as champion, Clay Matthews, BJ Raji, and Eric Walden have to collapse Sanchez’ pass pocket.  They should be able to do this to keep the game close. Green Bay can stop the run and rush the passer with the best teams in football. The Jets would try to keep them to a short field with their possessions and try to force turnovers which Aaron Rodgers doesn’t do. This would be a struggle that would come down to the wire. The Jets would play the tortoise to Green Bay’s hare and win a close tough game…24-16. At long last the New York Jets would be liberated from the ghost of Joe Namath and hoist their second Super Bowl trophy. Mark Sanchez would then get his due as a Super Bowl winning quarterback. Green Bay would have to wait until the following year to see if they can establish a dynasty.

New York Jets celebration

So there you have it…predictions for every NFL team. Their records, division placement, playoff participation, and now conference and Super Bowl champions. It’s all on record and we’ll see how right we are. See you in 6 months.

2011 Predictions Continued …and the winner of the AFC is…??

On the heels of a great Packers win over New Orleans 42-34, we are about to talk about the other conference?? Yes we are!! We did the NFC side of the ledger already and it’s time to pack what we’ve studied and written about throughout this tense summer. Last year, our crystal ball was a bit hazy but we became undone by a couple of upsets. We had the Baltimore Ravens facing the New England Patriots last summer but they each were knocked off in the divisional round before the championship game. Alright…we have some new D Cell batteries (do they still make those?) for my crystal ball and we’re going in. Who will win the prestigious Lamar S Hunt trophy and represent the AFC in Super Bowl XVLI??

Our choices to make the AFC Championship race are as follows:

1. New York – AFC East Champs w/ homefield advantage throughout playoffs.

2. Kansas City Chiefs – AFC West Champs w/second seed in the playoffs. If the Jets stumble in the divisional round, Chiefs would host the AFC Championship Game.

3. Baltimore Ravens – AFC North Champs. Will participate in the wildcard round and can only host the AFC Championship if #3 seed and lower meet. Will host the 6th seed wildcard weekend.

4. Houston Texans – AFC South Champs. Will participate in the wildcard round and can only host the AFC Championship if # 4 seed and lower meet. Will host the 5th seed wildcard weekend.

5. New England Patriots – The top record of  non divisional winners and will face the 4th seeded team on the road during Wildcard weekend. Could only host the AFC Championship if #5 and #6 teams were to meet. (Has never happened)

6. San Diego Chargers – The second best record of non divisional winners and will face the #3 seeded team on the road during Wildcard weekend. Cannot host playoff game no matter what.

The regular season is over and the vanquished turn their attention toward the draft and other improvement methods, the big boys of the conference decide it’s championship. Wildcard weekend would have the brakes halt the Charger season in Baltimore. The Ravens battle hardened group would stifle Phillip Rivers and Ryan Matthews in the cold of the Northeast. This would bring about the end of the Chargers season and quite possible the tenure of San Diego coach Norv Turner. The Patriots would be down in Houston to take on the upstart Texans.  Tom Brady would be too much for the young Texans and would win a shootout. It would be the second time Brady had it out in that stadium having won Super Bowl XXXVIII over Carolina there.

Having gone the wildcard route two times before, they proved themselves formidable by making the AFC Championship twice. For the first time ever the Jets would be enjoying home field advantage. With two weeks off before the divisional tilt, the team would finally come into the playoffs healthy. A raucous Meadowlands crowd and a fierce defense greet Tom Brady and the Patriots offense and dominate from the start. In a game that would mimic their 2010 playoff outing, stellar play by the Jets corners on the slow Patriot receivers. That crowd and that defense at home would be enough to slow Brady down, however Mark Sanchez would have his best playoff  game to date and the Jets pull away in a strong win 30-17.  Plaxico Burress would be the receiver the Patriots would have a hard time stopping.

In the other divisional round the Chiefs would host the Baltimore Ravens for the second straight year. With four former head coaches amongst their staff, Kansas City would be well schooled with what to do.   This time the Chiefs come into the game with Jonathon Baldwin and Steve Breaston to go with Dewayne Bowe to give KC three big receivers. This game would be hard hitting like the 2010 playoff game but the Chiefs were taught by these same Ravens, the difference between regular season and playoff intensity. So they would pay them back in kind, hit for hit. The running attack of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones would be solid enough. The Ravens secondary would not holdup as Matt Cassel would pass the Chiefs to a solid win 31-14 win. The underrated Chiefs defense would get to Joe Flacco with Tamba Hali and pass rush specialist Allen Bailey, the physical specimen drafted out of Miami.

The race for the Lamar S Hunt trophy, emblematic of achievment in the American Football Conference, would come down to these two old AFL antagonists.  The New York Jets would represent the AFC in Super Bowl XVLI after a 24-14 win in the chilly confines of the Meadowlands which would send them off in a ticker tape style similar to when the Giants beat the Redskins in 1986. Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez come through.

 

 

 

 

 

2011 AFC East Preview & Predictions

Fiery leader Bart Scott

The AFC East had been the sole province of the New England Patriots and Bill Belechick. They were 14-2 last year and Tom Brady had the best statistical season of his Hall of Fame career. They had pummeled the Jets 45-3 when the two battled for first place late in the year. Then a strange thing happened, the Jets grew up. The team who’s coach had brazenly scoffed “I wasn’t brought in to kiss Belichick’s rings” had returned to Foxboro and beat the Patriots in the playoffs. In doing so, not only had they stopped what many thought to be another Super Bowl run for the Patriots, they may have knocked the AFC East off it’s axis. After two seasons of being the little dog nipping at the heels of other AFC heavyweights, they have now become the big dog.

The New England Patriots have countered by taking some significant roster risks in signing WR Chad Ochocinco, DT Albert Haynesworth, and elevated S Patrick Chung to starter and releasing S Brandon Merriweather. They return Tom Brady who threw for 36 TDs and only 4 interceptions and one of the best offensive lines in all of pro football.  Also returning is All Pro linebacker Jerrod Mayo who led the league with 175 tackles and improving LB Brandon Spikes. He did sign former Jet DE Shaun Ellis to provide depth for his defensive line. Can their young defensive secondary grow up fast enough for King Belichick to stave off the barbarian Jets at the AFC East gates??

Meadowlands Chant: J-E-T-S JETS!!! JETS!!! JETS!!!

2011 AFC EAST PREDICTIONS

New York Jets 13-3 *

New England Patriots 12-4#

Miami Dolphins 7-9

Buffalo Bills 6-10

Not this time. Belichick had so many draft picks it was frightening, yet came away with a moderate draft at best. He likes his players but can Ben Jarvus Green Ellis and Danny Woodhead at running back make a Super Bowl run?? With Wes Welker and Deion Branch as the starters at WR over Ochocinco they won’t get open against Jet corners just like last year’s playoff game.

Resurrected Shawne Merriman looks to wreak havoc in 2011.

The Buffalo Bills have made some defensive improvements with 1st round draft pick Marcel Darreus and the resurrection of former Charger Shawne Merriman. The 3-4 provided a 9 sack performance in the third pre-season game against Chicago Bears and bodes well for the new season. Although the team lost LB Paul Pusloszny to Jacksonville through free agency. WR Stevie Johnson has to improve and make fans forget about the departed Lee Evans. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a solid quarterback yet doesn’t seem like there is more upside to him. He’s serviceable at best and the team needs to find a way to get C.J. Spiller to mimick his explosive collegiate play in Buffalo. They still need an everydown back and again Fred Jackson is serviceable without much more upside. The Bills will be in more games yet don’t have the playmakers to win the majority of them.

The Dolphins are going to try and ride the playmaking ability of Reggie Bush to produce bigger plays on 3rd down. So far so good in the preseason. With Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess alongside, they have playmakers and need Chad Henne to grow into his position as the starter. He should be motivated with the flubbing of the Kyle Orton trade and knows this is his last chance. Where the Dolphins sneak in several wins is with an opportunistic defense. OLB Cameron Wake is a stud who had 14 sacks last year and along with ILB Karlos Dansby, CB Vontae Davis, and Yeremiah Bell are playmakers on defense and will win a few more of the tight games that Buffalo would lose. They are not yet ready to take on the Patriots or the Jets for division supremacy, yet could make some strides this year.

As we stated to you in February: I can’t say it enough but Mark Sanchez is on the cusp of super stardom.  He’s young, mobile and grew a thick skin during the ’10 playoff run. This is the only quarterback in the NFL to defeat both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in a single season playoff run.  Understand what you are seeing here and yes the Jets are a run first / pass second team.  Its a more traditional take on how to run offense yet no other quarterback in history was asked to defeat 3 consecutive Super Bowl winning quarterbacks in one post season run.  Yet he didn’t crack under the pressure and proved to be a leader on the rise until the bitter end.  After throwing for 5 TDs and only 1 interception in last year’s playoffs, Sanchez was seen rallying the troops on the sideline (most notably) with Jerricho Crotchery that the cameras picked up in the waning moments of the AFC Championship.

Mark Sanchez has been excellent in the preseason, he’s been ready from day one of camp. Another look and you see that Plaxico Burress is playing with a chip on his shoulder in place of departed Braylon Edwards. That additional veteran spark and moxie should bode well for an emotional, motivated team. What awaits this team is a chance to play with homefield advantage and have the road to the Super Bowl go through the Meadowlands.

Thanks for reading…and please share the article

NEXT UP: Who will win the AFC and Super Bowl XLVI

2011 Indianapolis Colts Preview

Even though it doesn’t feel like it, the Colts had a successful season.  After coming up short in Super Bowl XLIV, they did come back and win the AFC South and battled until the bitter end:  a wild card loss to the New York Jets.  Peyton Manning masked so many deficiencies that the Colts were convinced they were formidable, yet a closer look reveals a pro football team that needs to be rebuilt.  The Colts won 115 games in the decade of the 2000s and the constant low picks have loaded the roster with decent talent, not top shelf talent.  Once injuries hit this group, a legitimate chance at returning to the Super Bowl was reduced to that of a puncher’s chance.  The Colts held off the rest of the AFC South last year but lets face it the entire division regressed or imploded.  Can they stave off the Houston Texans who seem to be the heir apparent in becoming the division’s most dominant team??

Qarterback: The Colts trigger -man going into his 15th season is one of the league’s elder statesmen in Peyton Manning.  We forget to think of him in terms of tenure until you realize that in Manning’s rookie season he was handing the ball off to Marshall Faulk before being traded and the Greatest Show on Turf was even in existence.  Yet here we are with Faulk retired and elected to the Hall of Fame and Manning is still throwing bombs in Indianapolis.  Last year Manning had to institute a short passing game to offset the Colts inability to run consistently and had a good year.  Throwing for 450 completions on 679 attempts for 4,700 yards, 33TDs and 17 interceptions was good enough for 10th with a 91.9 rating.  His ability to audible and read what a defenses true intentions were have aided the offensive line and he was only sacked 16 times.  He led the league in completions and attempts while ranking second behind Drew Brees in completion percentage with 66.3%.   All things must come to an end and how long can Manning continue to play at such a high level?

So what is the book on defending Peyton Manning? Many teams have tried and had success in disguising their intentions until under 10 seconds left in the play clock and then sending exotic blitzes at him.  Thus robbing the QB of adequate time to audible.  Defenders are jumping on the short routes without any Colts burners to throw the ball deep to.  The Ravens and Jets have carried on this approach against Manning after the Patriots used it for much of the decade of the 2000s to deny him Super Bowl trips.  If you can get some hits on Manning early, he will get happy feet and uncharacteristically will force a throw.  He relies on the receivers having the same sight adjustments and occasionally has to take the gamble that his receiver will get there.  See the Tracy Porter interception that sealed the Colts fate in Super Bowl XLIV against the Saints as evidence of this.

That withstanding,  he is a future Hall of Famer and has a couple years left in his prime before he sees his skills diminish any.  Right now he is the only serious weapon in the Colts arsenal.  Can he play well enough that he can continue to mask the team’s other deficiencies?  The window may have closed on that….Still Super Bowl quality at quarterback in Indy.

Offensive Backfield: Remember the perennial 1,000 yard seasons from Edgerrin James (The U) that gave the Colts a formidable rushing attack?? Seems like a distant memory now that for the last several seasons its been a committee carrying the load in Joseph Addai, Dominic Rhodes, Mike Hart, and Donald Brown out of UConn.  This group underperformed in 2010 and thrust the pressure onto the passing game.  Colts backs rushed for a total of 1,440 yards on 383 carries for an average of 3.7 yards where league average is 4.0.  Not good enough.

This group couldn’t stay on the field and were bitten by the injury bug repeatedly during the season.  Starter Joseph Addai may be better served as a change of pace running back.  He doesn’t seem to have the heft to take the pounding of an every down back and has missed games during the last few seasons.  However he averaged 4.3 yds on his carries gaining 495 yards during the 2010 campaign.  If he were spelling another back these would be satisfactory numbers.  As a lead back this isn’t enough seeing that others had to carry the load on the other 267 Colt rushing attempts.  Going into his 6th season he looks like injuries are slowing him some and this team needs a Grade A running back to do the heavy lifting.

Donald Brown filled in admirably and ran for 471 yards yet ran in a more mechanical fashion.  He didn’t run as instinctual as he had back at Connecticut and ran up the backs of his blockers, or arrived too early to where the hole was going to be.  He only averaged 3.7 yards on his 126 carries once Addai went down.  He seemed to turn a corner late in the season against Jacksonville when he rushed for a season high 129 yards on 14 carries.  Javarris James, Edgerrin’s nephew, played well as a 3rd down back and rushed for 6 of the Colts 13 rushing touchdowns usually out of passing formations.

We should see the Colts go for their first marquee running back in this months draft since picking Faulk and James two decades ago. This team needs a true every down back that Addai can compliment, who can run with power between the tackles, pick up the blitz, and catch passes out of the backfield.  Everyone has their eyes on Mark Ingram of Alabama but he may not be around in the latter part of the 1st round.  However there are several backs in this year’s draft that should do the trick.  After all he wouldn’t be keyed on with #18 standing next to him to run play action passes anyway. The very success of the Colts 2011 season will wrest on the move they make here.  Need a marquee runner….running back is very below average.

Receiver: On the opposite end of all those throws were Manning’s receivers Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez, and TEs Dallas Clark, and Jacob Tamme.  Again injuries were the story at this position also that had Tamme see significent time replacing Clark.  Blair White and Austin Collie emerged with the loss of Anthony Gonzalez and came through with respectable seasons.  White emerged as an up and coming intermediate receiver with 36 catches for 355 yards and 5 touchdowns.  He was a first down maker that Manning threw open on many a third down.  Austin Collie had 58 receptions for 649 yards and came through with 8 touchdowns.  Collie has a tremendous upside and can stretch the middle of the field better than White can.  Each are smaller receivers, better suited to the slot where a bigger corner isn’t able to manhandle them and throw off their routes.  Collie can get deep but can’t quite stretch the field like Anthony Gonzalez could yet injuries robbed him of the 2010 season.

Pierre Garcon had a solid season in 2010 yet will forever be linked to his dropped slant in Super Bowl XLIV that would have sent him off to the races and broken a 17-17 4th quarter deadlock…yet I digress.  He pulled in 67 passes to tie for second on the team with Jacob Tamme and to only outgain the unheralded tight end in yards (784 to 631) and touchdowns (6 to 4) illustrates another receiver who can’t get deep.  Manning is passing into a phone booth and its surprising he didn’t throw for more than 20 interceptions. Garcon is a young version of Wayne in the fact that he is a solid receiver with size and decent speed.

However there is Reggie Wayne, the veteran receiver from Miami who’s numbers are starting to reach those of a player who could receive  Hall of Fame consideration with a few more productive seasons.  The 2010 season wasn’t his most spectacular yet his production was tremendous.  With 111 receptions, 1,355 yards and 6 touchdowns, the successor to Marvin Harrison was the portrait of consistency.  Entering his 11th season, Wayne isn’t a threat to stretch the field beyond 40 yards yet has the moves to get open on most intermediate routes.  Never having blazing speed to begin with he can be caught by younger cornerbacks while the ball is in the air on fly patterns.  He needs to really set up a corner with a jab step to get deep on most corners.  For his career Wayne has gobbled 787 catches for 10,747 yards and 69 touchdowns.  If he duplicates his 2010 season he’ll have 900 catches, 12,000 yards, and will be right on the threshold of joining the likes of Jerry Rice, OSU’s Cris Carter,  and Notre Dame’s Tim Brown with over 1000 catches in their careers. A savvy veteran with another 3 prime years left.

Receiver is average in Indy yet they need a speed receiver to make them good again.  We don’t know how Anthony Gonzalez is going to recover and if any of his speed will be diminished upon his return.   Robert Irsay and the boys may want to think of a bigger receiver with speed also.  Too many smallish receivers that can be thrown around as we saw in last year’s playoff loss to New York.  Teams like the Jets with athletic, physical corners can take away Manning’s outside threats and allow the safety to help in the running game or squeeze off routes less than 25 yards downfield.  They need speed to scare free safeties deep.  A Julio Jones of Alabama could do the trick with their second round pick.

Offensive Line: Its amazing how a playoff loss in microcosm showcases a team’s deficiency that has plagued them all year.  You’ve read the aforementioned facts that this team allowed just 16 sacks for the season while only averaging 3.7 yards per carry rushing the ball.  In that 17-16 loss to the Jets, this line couldn’t sustain the running game for anytime during the game.  On 27 carries the Colts gained just 93 yards for an average of 3.4 yards per carry while being thrown for a loss on 4 of them.  They only allowed 1 sack in the game yet Manning threw the ball away numerous times before the pressure got to him.  Where are we going with this?

Jeff Saturday is an undersized center who made the Pro Bowl and along with fellow lineman LG John Detwiler, LT Charlie Johnson, RG Mike Pollack, and RT Ryan Diem are solid pass blockers who influence block too high to get movement on opposing defenses.  Since they are always in a passing stance this team can’t really get down and make a hole when it needs to.   This team tied for 16th with only 13 rushing touchdowns while only rushing for 28 1st downs all year.  The good new is with a synergy type existence between quarterback and center, the play audibles and blocking audibles have meshed to have Manning sacked the fewest times with 16 and 2nd with being hit with 47.

This line plays too high and depends on influence blocking too much.  Its great to have a Hall of Fame passer but get on the 7 man sled and let this team toughen up by coming off the ball.  We still don’t know if they were adequate in replacing Tarik Glenn at left tackle from a few years back.  His replacement, 5th year pro, Charlie Johnson seems to be holding up.  Yet could you imagine where this line would be without Manning’s alert audibles and checks??  Its still a smallish line that could use some size and draft picks right here.  Offensive Line is average…

Defensive Line: This unit begins with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis as the bookend pass rushers who accounted for 20.5 of the team’s 28 sacks.  These two on turf are lethal and are really the singular reason this team was able to run the “Tampa 2” for so many years.  The pass rush generated by these two allowed the Colts to drop 7 on a majority of the pass plays where they didn’t have to blitz to apply pressure.  Last year we saw Mathis outplay Freeney and finish with 10.5 sacks (team lead) and 59 total tackles which was good enough for 4th.  Are injuries starting to slow down the former All Pro End from Syracuse? He played through some nicks and bruises and had 10 sacks but his meager 23 tackles weren’t enough.  Yet both DEs landed in the Pro Bowl. The Colts may want to put a draft pick here to allow for a situational platoon deployment of Freeney who is undersized anyway.

The DTs Fili Moala and Daniel Muir are going into their 2nd and 4th seasons respectively and need to improve at the point of attack and not allow linemen to get on the smallish Gary Brakckett at MLB.  This is the anchor to the defense and yet without a real strong showing here helped the Colts to an overall ranking of 20th and 21st in 1st downs given up per game with 19.6.  This has to be attributed to a defensive line that needs a bigger anchor in the middle.  Teams have been rushing the football on the Colts for sometime.  A couple defensive picks could be used here to bolster the defensive tackle spots or one to spell Freeney and / or Mathis.  Defensive Line is average at best.

Linebackers: Colt linebackers could use a few more instinctive players and it starts with MLB Gary Brackett, who missed several games last year, yet finished second on the team with 73 tackles.  Rookie Pat Angerer played fairly well and had a tag team rookie partner Kavell Conner manned the other linebacker spot.  They were out of position several times yet finished with 72 and47 tackles respectively.  These players are young and developing where there is room for improvement, don’t draft here. Yet improvement is necessary here.  Linebackers are little below average, right now not very instinctive and this year they’ll see what they have.  In reserve is Clint Session and Terrence Hagler, hard hitting special teamers that lead the Colts special teams downfield.

Secondary: Hard to give a grade to a unit when the best member was on the field for only a few games. Former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders, who was finally let go, was the fire starter to this defense. Yet we have to cover the players that remain: First there is cornerback Kelvin Hayden who played solidly with 58 tackles and only 2 interceptions.  Just two? This is the ball hawk who replaced Nick Harper in Super Bowl XLI and ran an intercpetion for the game clinching touchdown against Chicago and he only had two interceptions?  Not enough…although he defensed 8 passes.  Justin Tryon and Jacob Lacey only recorded 1 interception between the two of them at the other cornerback spot.  Once you put in Antoine Bethea’s one interception, you realize that 8 interceptions overall on a defense is pathetic.  They have been rushing the passer well enough for an alert secondary to intercept a few more passes than that.

This is where they miss a Sanders who would play the game at 100% full speed and instinctual at supporting the run and adept enough to knock down plays 25 yards downfield.  Antoine Bethea did finish with the team lead in tackles with 105.  Too many plays are getting beyond Colt linebackers also. This team has been pushed around on defense since that 2005 season.  Without the enforcer in Bob Sanders forcing turnovers where do they go from here? Secondary is poor and needs an overhaul now….

Overall: In all seriousness this team should have been overtaken by one of the up and coming teams in the AFC South yet they weren’t.  They went as far as they could with a roster that equaled Super Bowl Champion Green Bay with 16 on the Injured Reserve.  The Colts needed to be healthy to compete in the playoffs and very few teams are healthy at that time of the year.  Yet we’re supposed to be talking of 2011…. Its imperative that they use 2 of their first 3 picks on a speed receiver and an every down back. With Manning there to keep defensive pressure off of a resurgent running game this team could get out to twelve wins again.  They cannot throw the football 679 times again in the upcoming season, eventually he will be hit and in his mid 30s can be hurt.

Manning’s situation in 2011 reminds us of San Francisco’s Steve Young’s in 1999.  The team had deteriorated through age around him yet as he mastered the craft of quarterbacking, the team won (3-1) and everything seemed fine until a late reaction to an Aneas Williams blitz and …………  We hope that doesn’t happen obviously yet one can only go to the well so many times.  A good running back and receiver and this team is 12-4 with a solid performance.  If Manning were to get injured this team wouldn’t go 4-12, he’s that valuable to this team.  If they stand pat this team should miss the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2001 and their Super Bowl window with Manning will close.