While the Indianapolis Colts defense turned in yet another strong performance during the team's Thanksgiving night contest in Atlanta, it was the Colts' passing attack that was most noteworthy, as it appeared to awaken from a midseason hibernation at the expense of the Falcons' secondary.
Despite a slow start that put
them into a 10-0 hole early, the Colts rallied and dominated the rest of the
way, rolling to a 31-13 victory in Atlanta
The Colts' passing attack got back on track in Week 12 once offensive line coach
Howard Mudd got his offensive line adjusted to give Peyton Manning a bit more
time and confidence in the pocket. Although wide receiver Marvin Harrison missed his sixth
game of the season, the Colts got a much-needed lift with the return of top draft
pick Anthony Gonzalez out of Ohio State.
Gonzalez was the player of the game, the man who had the biggest impact on
the contest when you look at what he accomplished and what his
presence on the field did for Indianapolis. He provided Peyton Manning with a more viable option at wide receiver
in Harrison's spot than
Aaron Moorehead did over the past few games. With Gonzalez, Reggie Wayne and
Dallas Clark running routes, Manning was clearly back on the same page with his
receivers. Gone were the misfires where Manning would throw the ball to a spot
while his receiver was breaking the route in another direction.
Also huge for the Colts was the fact that the Falcons learned quickly that Gonzalez was a threat to have a big
game, so they couldn't double-up consistently on Wayne to minimize his impact.
Gonzalez finished the night with six catches for a career-high 105 yards,
pulling in all but one pass targeted in his direction, including a pair of
passes for 25-plus yards.
The former Ohio State receiver's results were even more impressive when you consider that he wasn't
the top-targeted receiver on the night, and that he was able to catch all but one
pass thrown in his direction. Meanwhile, Reggie Wayne was able to pull in less
than half of the passes Manning threw to his area, but it's worth noting that
all five of his catches moved the chains for the Colts. Manning's
distribution of passes during the game looked like this:
Wayne: 12 targets, 5 catches, 66 yards, 1 TD
Gonzalez: 7 targets, 6 catches, 105 yards
Clark: 6 targets, 5 catches, 49 yards, 1 TD
Utecht: 4 targets, 4 catches, 38 yards, 1 TD
Addai: 2 targets, 2 catches, 14 yards
Fletcher: 1 target, 0 catches
How about tight end Ben Utecht's performance Thursday night? He not only got
a first-down for Indy on three of his catches, he also made a terrific catch for
a touchdown, stretching out and making a pure hands catch, holding onto it
despite a rough landing. While Utecht took some jabs earlier this year for
fumbling twice this season, it's worth noting that he's only fumbled three times
during his career. And he's one of the Colts' most sure-handed receivers when
Manning throws the ball his way this year. So far in 2007, he's caught 21 of 24 balls
thrown to him — 87.5 percent — versus a career average of 68.5
percent. Add in what he brings to the run-blocking game and you've got to
believe the Colts are going to have a tough decision to make when he becomes an
unrestricted free agent this year.
Peyton Manning in the pocket Thursday night
AP Photo/John Bazemore
Peyton Manning's 68.8 percent completion rate (22 out of 32) was his top
performance in that category since the Tampa Bay game when he completed a
season-high 78.4 percent of his passes. His three touchdown passes pushed his
total to 19 on the season and matched his season-high that he also accomplished
against the Saints in the opener and against the Broncos in Week 4. And his
113.0 quarterback rating was his third-best of the season and was more than
double his ratings in the past two games against the Chiefs and the Chargers.
But there were some downsides to what was otherwise a very strong performance
for the Colts quarterback. His offensive line allowed him to be sacked four
times on the night, topping the season-high three sacks they had given up a few
weeks ago to the Patriots. That puts his sacked total at 16 after nine games,
putting him on pace for the most times sacked since the 2002 season. But he's
been working behind an offensive line that has been shuffled constantly
throughout the season due to injuries primarily at the tackle
Mannings's one interception on the night extends his string of games with an
interception to four, including at least one interception in six of his last
seven games. By contrast, Manning threw just one interception in his first four
games. Not surprisingly, the last time he had a four-game interception streak
was last season when the Colts started a 1-3 slump with a loss in Dallas that
ran through a December loss to the Jaguars. His longest consecutive-game streak
during his career is six games, which he's done three times — twice during
his rookie year in 1998 and once in 2001.
The Colts finished the night with a fairly average 247 net passing yards. But
they made those yards count by making 18 of their 26 first downs on pass plays
and by scoring three of their four touchdowns through the air.
The 9-2 Colts host the Jaguars on December 2, while the 3-8 Falcons head to St. Louis to play the Rams.
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