A Quick Look at Week 4: Indianapolis Colts
There are many reasons for the two-game winning streak that has the Colts in first place in the AFC South after a season-opening loss to the Houston Texans. However, the biggest reason for their success is the play of quarterback Peyton Manning.
Manning, a four-time Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player now in his 13th season, has passed for nine touchdowns with no interceptions, throwing three touchdowns in each of his first three games and possibly playing as well as he ever has in a 10-time Pro Bowl career.
He has done so despite a starting offensive line that didn't play together at all in the preseason, and playing without starting left tackle Charlie Johnson this past week. The Colts were also short-handed this week at wide receiver against the Denver Broncos without wideouts Anthony Gonzalez, and starter Pierre Garcon. Instead, Manning worked against a defense designed to shut down four-time Pro Bowl selection Reggie Wayne and Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark, and threw two touchdown passes to Austin Collie and one to free-agent rookie wide receiver Blair White.
There are other reasons the Colts are contending again, of course. The defense played well in the red-zone last week against Denver, and the team as a whole played well in a 38-14 victory over the New York Giants in Week 2. But so far this season, Manning is playing as well as he ever has in 13 seasons, and considering the level he previously has reached, it's not surprising the Colts have moved back into first place after a brief absence.
The opponent: at Jacksonville (1-2).
The trend: The Colts, after a difficult division loss to the Houston Texans in Week 1, have begun the steps toward looking like a Super Bowl contender the last two weeks. They dominated a 38-14 victory over the New York Giants in Week 2, then despite allowing nearly 500 yards passing to Broncos' quarterback Kyle Orton they pulled away for a 27-13 victory in Denver this past Sunday.
Recent history: The Jaguars beat the Colts in Week 3 of 2008, and while they usually play Indianapolis tough, they have lost three consecutive games to Indianapolis. The Jaguars' 44-17 victory in 2006 in which they rushed for 375 yards often is cited as an example of how Jacksonville plays the Colts tough, but that game took place nearly four years ago. Since then, the Colts have won five of six, with Jacksonville's lone victory coming when Manning was recovering from off-season knee surgery in early 2008.
Key question: Can the Colts stop the pass? This is a new question this week, and to be fair to the Colts, the 476 yards they allowed Orton this past week resulted in just 13 points. The Colts registered just one sack on Orton which was a four-yarder by Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Mathis and Denver was effective against the Colts double-teaming and chipping Mathis and five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney. Colts' head coach Jim Caldwell said the biggest issue against the Broncos was tackling in the secondary. As Caldwell sees it, quarterbacks and receivers are going to complete passes, but the Colts missed too many tackles and therefore allowed far too many yards after receptions.
Pressing issue: Can the Colts get healthy? Indianapolis is one of the NFL's best teams at playing through injuries and having success with backups, something the Colts did again this past week by beating Denver without wide receivers Gonzalez and Garcon, left tackle Johnson and linebacker Clint Session out with injuries. Free-agent rookie Jeff Linkenbach started for Johnson, and free-agent rookie Blair White caught a key touchdown playing for Garcon, but the Colts need to get healthier, and could particularly use Johnson back to start getting continuity and consistency on the offensive line.