Indianapolis Colts 2010 Season Preview: Only Concern is the Umpire
If you believe Peyton Manning, the only thing standing between the Indianapolis Colts and their third trip to the Super Bowl in five seasons is ...
At least that's the way it seemed during the preseason, when the Colts stumbled their way to an 0-4 record, allowing an average of 40 points a game. They never do well in pretend games anyway -- remember that they started 14-0 last season, then sat Manning after cameo appearances in the last two games and lost them both. In fact, their 31-17 loss to New Orleans for the NFL title was the only REAL defeat they suffered all season.
Back to that umpire thing.
The NFL changed the rules this season to put the umpire in the backfield instead of a few yards on the defensive side of the center. The idea was to protect him. But Manning and team president Bill Polian (a member of the competition committee that recommended the change) started squawking during the preseason that because it took the officials longer to spot the ball that way, it was slowing up their hurry-up offense.
Well, after six division titles in the last seven years, they have to squawk about something.
Offense: Despite the umpire's new placement, the Colts' offense could be even better this season. That's because of the presence of WR Anthony Gonzalez, theoretically the No. 2 receiver, who was hurt in the first game in 2009 and missed the rest of the year. No problem. Pierre Garcon developed into No. 2 behind Reggie Wayne; rookie Austin Collie caught 60 passes as No. 3 and Manning earned his third MVP award throwing to them. This year, TE Dallas Clark, who tied Wayne for the team lead with 100 catches last season, missed the preseason with a leg injury but should be back. And the Colts also hope C Jeff Saturday will return. Expect a lot of points as usual. Heat Index: 10
Defense: Another addition: safety Bob Sanders, who missed all but two games last season. Sanders hits so hard, he's hurt a lot. But when he's not -- well, in 2007, his only healthy season, he was defensive player of the year. That puts Melvin Bullitt, who replaced him brilliantly, on the bench although he'll play a lot. The rest of the defense is back, including Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson, the big run stuffers that new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer put in the middle of the line when he arrived. Heat Index: 8
Special Teams: Adam Vinatieri isn't what he was when he was in New England, but he's still the best clutch kicker in NFL history, while punter Pat McAfee had a good rookie year. The coverage is solid and the return teams stress safety first, which is all you need when Manning is your QB. Heat Index: 7
Coaching: Jim Caldwell replaced Tony Dungy last season and didn't change much, declining, as Dungy would have, to play for an unbeaten season in order to keep his team healthy for the playoffs. Coyer replaced Ron Meeks and did change the defense a bit (Muir and Johnson inside). Clyde Christensen, who replaces longtime offensive coordinator Tom Moore this season, has been coaching Manning for as long as Moore -- and Peyton runs the offense anyway. Heat Index: 8
Intangibles: As with any team, health. With Sanders back, this team may be deeper than any Indy team in recent years although the offensive line could use a few extras. Note to opponents: the umpire won't help you against Manning. Heat Index: 7
Total Heat Index: 40/50: Baltimore is a trendy pick to go to the Super Bowl and the New York Jets, who lost in the AFC title game in Indy, have been bragging about going. Still, as long as Manning is around and healthy, the Colts remain an annual favorite and there's no reason to suggest they're not again -- both in the AFC South and in the conference.