1. The Colts need to get healthy
Would whoever is holding the voodoo dolls of various Colt players please drop
the needles? It’s not funny anymore and never was.
I apologize for them embarrassing the Saints on national TV in Week 1. But
come on, now. No more New Orleans' black magic.
The Colts went into this game with four offensive starters -- Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark, Tony Ugoh, Anthony Gonzalez -- and three defensive
starters -- Freddy Keiaho, Tyjuan Hagler, Raheem Brock -- inactive due to
injuries. During the game, both starting offensive tackles -- Charlie Johnson
and Ryan Diem -- were knocked out of the game . Defensive end Dwight Freeney and
defensive tackle Keyunta Dawson -- in his first NFL start, subbing for Raheem
Brock -- left the field during the second half and headed to the locker room
That’s a serious bite of the injury bug. It was so bad that if another
offensive lineman would have went down in the second half, the Colts wouldn’t
have had anyone to replace him and would have been forced to do something crazy
like play a defensive lineman on the offensive line.
Who seems to be affected the most by the injuries? Well, it’s definitely
not the defense, or at least it wasn’t Sunday night. Backup linebacker Clint Session made two interceptions and the unit as a whole basically held the
Chargers' top skill players -- LaDainian Tomlinson, Chris Chambers and Antonio Gates -- in check.
But quarterback Peyton Manning was definitely missing wide receiver Marvin
Harrison and tight end Dallas Clark. He seemed to be forcing some throws and
wasn't on the same page as backups Aaron Moorehead, Bryan Fletcher, and
Craphonso Thorpe at times.
The injuries to the offensive line are the most worrisome, though. The Colts
cannot afford for the top three offensive tackles to be out for an extended
period of time. While Toudouze filled in admirably and Jake Scott held his own
moving from right guard to right tackle, those two will become the focus of
defensive schemes and blitz packages as opponents start to look for potential
matchups to exploit.
Seeing Dwight Freeney heading to the locker room on a cart was another very
worrisome sight. Like Harrison, Freeney’s presence on the field does so much
for his teammates. The speedy defensive end requires constant double-teams,
which opens up one-on-one blocking situations for other linemen to exploit, just
like the double-teams and bracket coverage on Harrison opens opportunities for
2. The Colts coverage units are a huge detriment and weakness
Last week, when informed that the Colts punt coverage unit ranked dead last in
the NFL, cornerback Tim Jennings responded by saying, “It’s shocking that we’re
32nd in the league. I didn’t think we were that awful. I knew last game was
bad, but .... we’ve got to get better and not let that stuff happen.”
The unit has not played much better at any point this season and compared to
the rest of the league the unit definitely qualifies in the “awful” realm.
Sunday evening Chargers return-man Darren Sproles became the first player since
Dante Hall in 2001 to return both a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown. Sproles
took the opening kickoff and ran 89 yards for a touchdown -- the Chargers first
since 2001 -- and returned a punt 45 yards for a touchdown later in the first
The coverage units seemed to be out of position and players are constantly
over-pursuing the ball. Sound discipline is definitely missing. So are the Colts
going to have to use drastic measures like playing starters such as Bob Sanders,
Marlin Jackson, Antoine Bethea and Gary Brackett on coverage units?
That would definitely be drastic. But sometimes drastic situations call for
Based on postgame comments, you can tell that head coach Tony Dungy and club
president Bill Polian are extremely unhappy -- and rightfully so -- about the
play of the Colts special teams.
We’ll have to wait to see what they have in store for improving the units.
Antonio Cromartie makes one of his three interceptions on the night at the expense of Peyton Manning.
AP Photo/Chris Park
3. Something is wrong with Adam Vinatieri
Mr. Money Clutch has become Mr. Lame Shank. I really have no explanation for
what we witnessed last night, especially missing that 29-yard kick at the end of
the game. Through nine games, Vinatieri has only been asked to attempt
field goals longer than 40 yards twice -- last week against New England and on
Sunday night against the Chargers -- and he missed both of them.
Although he's still made 80 percent of his field goals this season, my guess
is that Adam is in the midst of a little slump that has now gotten into his head
a bit. I know that’s crazy to say considering this is a guy who’s made
several kicks to win Super Bowls, playoff games in blizzards and at hostile road
Like a good hitter in baseball will hit himself out of a slump, the same is
true for a good kicker in football.
4. The Colts, for the first time in the Dungy era, have a defense good
enough to keep them in games even if the offense struggles
Prior to the desperation throw at the end of the game that resulted in his
career-worst sixth interception of the night, Peyton Manning handed the ball
over to the San Diego defense five times, abruptly forcing his defensive
teammates back onto the field. Even without the punt and kickoff returns for
touchdowns, this should have resulted in a lopsided San Diego win.
The defense contained arguably the league's best running back, LaDainian
Tomlinson, shut out the San Diego offense in the second half to give the offense
a chance to climb back into the game, and even contributed a touchdown on a
fumble recovery that put the Colts within two points of a tie.
While the defense looked strong during the team's playoff run through the
Super Bowl last year, this is the first time in the Dungy era that they've
consistently stepped up their play during the regular season. And it's
especially impressive when you consider the fact that both defensive tackle
Anthony McFarland was lost for the season due to an injury during training camp,
strongside starting linebacker Rob Morris was lost earlier this season due to an
injury, Pro Bowl linebacker Cato June departed through free agency, and the team
has had intermittent injury problems at both the strongside and weakside
linebacker spots to deal with since Week 2 of the season.
5. Third- and fourth-string fill-ins like Clint Session, Craphonso
Thorpe and Michael Toudouze can play
If before the game I had said to you that a fourth-string left tackle would be
matched up against Chargers outside linebacker Shawne "Lights Out"
Merriman, I’m thinking many of you wouldn't have liked the Colts chances.
Michael Toudouze has had an interesting season. After initially making the
final cuts for the team's active roster, the Colts released him on September 27.
He landed on the practice squad two days later. But with injuries to starter
Tony Ugoh and third-string left tackle Dan Federkeil, the Colts needed depth at
the position and re-signed Toudouze to the active roster on November 10.
An injury to backup Charlie Johnson in the second quarter forced a guy who
was technically the fourth-string left tackle into action. After a shaky first
couple of snaps, Toudouze settled in very nicely. He did a very nice job,
getting excellent hand placement on Merriman, engulfing and lifting the quick
outside linebacker, thereby negating Merriman’s speed and ability to drive his
legs in the bull-rush.
So hats off to Howard Mudd, the best offensive line coach in the NFL for once
again having all his linemen prepared.
Coming out of college, the word was that Clint Session was undersized, but
excelled in coverage. That also seems to be true in the NFL. He had two
interceptions in his first official professional start at weakside linebacker, both of
which were very athletic and alert plays. Session was the primary weakside linebacker last week against the Patriots, but the Colts opened the game in a nickel defense, so he didn't officially get credit for a start. The kid seems to have a knack for
making plays and a nose for the ball. That’s something that will endear you to
Coach Dungy. On Sunday night, Session was not really tested much against the
run. If he can show that he can hold his own in that department, the future
looks very bright for this rookie out of Pittsburgh.
Craphonso Thorpe has been cut by three NFL teams since being drafted in the
fourth round in 2005 by the Chiefs. Thorpe had some decent returns and actually
looked fairly comfortable on the outside as a receiver, catching five out of
nine balls thrown to his area for 41 yards.
With that said, he did make a few mistakes. He let a punt go that rolled to
the 1-yard line after waving for a fair catch and showed a tendency to do more
East-West running than North-South. With the release of T.J. Rushing late last
week, the return game is apparently now Craphonso’s show. If he can prove
himself, he’s got a chance to be an important factor on one of the league’s