Sunday, December 26, 2010

Colts run into trouble in Oakland - and like a good team they still win out

The Colts went into the house of a feisty Oakland team and came out with a win that was as close as the 31-26 final score indicates.

The star of this one was the Colts defense which stymied the Raider running game and forced the shaky Jason Campbell into lots of short passes.  The great speed that Oakland has at WR was never on display as Campbell never felt secure enough in the pocket to let something develop downfield.

The primary cause of Campbell's discomfort was Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who abused Oakland's inexperienced tackles.  Often there was pressure from the defensive tackles as well.

Oakland did not have a sustained drive all day until their final drive of the game.  Mostly they relied on the strong leg of Sebastian Janikowski, who made four field goals including one from 61 yards.

The Colts continued their recent success running the ball as both Joesph Addai and Dominic Rhodes had some nice runs.  Ever since Mike Pollock has been re-inserted at Right Guard, the Colts have shown improved ability to move people and execute more crisply in their run blocking.

The Colts had difficulty with the rough and tight Oakland bump and run coverage all day but still moved the ball in spurts.  Manning was intercepted twice on the day, both were on inaccurate throws - although one was tipped.  Reggie Wayne was unable to work free from Oakland's All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, only catching a few passes when Asomugha was covering someone else.

Manning's timing with Pierre Garcon was off most of the day as well.  Garcon seemed to have trouble getting off the bump.  The most important receiver in the first half was Jacob Tamme, who beat Oakland safeties for nice gains on several occasions, mostly on crossing routes.  He also beat a middle linebacker on a touchdown catch up the seam.

Next week they have the erratic Titans at home in Indianapolis.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Trouble ahead for Colts in Oakland

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but the Colts do not match up well with the wildly inconsistent Oakland Raiders.

The main thing that concerns me is their defense and their bump and run man to man coverage schemes.  Generally Oakland plays very simple defenses that reflect the style that Al Davis coached back in the 1960's.  The cornerbacks are up in the receiver's faces and the strong safety is up closer to the line.  The free safety is back in a single high coverage.

It is critical against this sort of defense for your wide receivers to be able to beat the bump at the snap and to get separation.  Often the timing of the pass play can be severely disrupted if the receivers cannot get free quickly.

If a good quarterback has time to let the play develop, big plays can be there.  But we have not had a single game this season where we have been able to provide Manning a clean pocket throughout the game.

Expect our offensive line to have a lot of trouble against Oakland's big and talented front four.  I don't expect us to be able to run the ball at all - despite our improvement against Jacksonville.

The critical player this week is Pierre Garcon.  He has shown in the past that he is capable of winning one on one physical match ups and he is our most explosive receiver.  Reggie Wayne will have Nnamdi Asomugha in his face all day and may be taken out of the game.  Blair White will be at a disadvantage with his relatively small frame - look for him to be roughed up a bit in the slot.

The match-up for us on defense is not much better.  The Raiders feature a power running game with a play action passing game feeding off of that.  Our front seven will be tested all game by tackle to tackle runs.

I feel that the Colts only hope in this game is getting ahead early, forcing the Raiders to pass the ball.

This could be a ugly and depressing game.

You also might want to check out:
What Peyton Manning is doing (and how to beat him)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Matt Flynn and Joe Webb - Analyzing Young Quarterbacks

One of my favorite things to do is watch young quarterbacks and try to extrapolate what I see into the future.  As a Colts fan, I don't get the chance too much.  Most times when someone other than Manning is in there - everything just turns into grab-ass.

I have seen a lot of young quarterbacks come through the league and I don't think I have missed on one yet, but then again I was not on the record either.  So here we go:

Matt Flynn is Aaron Rodger's backup in Green Bay and had his coming out party vs the Patriots this last Sunday.  I did not see anything I didn't like with Flynn and it is easy to see why he beat out Brian Brohm for the backup job.

Flynn is a big, upright passer with a strong and quick arm.  He showed good command and timing in Green Bay's west coast scheme, but he looks to me to be a guy who would play well in any offense.  He showed excellent command and composure and the offense allowed itself to be run by him.

His accuracy at every route level was excellent, his timing was right on for the most part.

For a young quarterback, he showed excellent judgement.  On multiple occasions he threw the ball out of bounds when a play was not there in order to prevent the sack and loss of yardage.  He did this a couple of times when a sack might have taken them out of field goal range.  I'd say that at least in this one game, he showed better judgement than Aaron Rodgers generally does in this part of the game.

He did very well with his feet also.  He has quick feet and has escapability; but unlike most young quarterbacks - running was not his immediate reaction to his first pass option not being there.

His pocket awareness was very good also, he was able to feel pressure and shuffle away from it whilst still keeping his attention down field.  In this he also seems to exceed Aaron Rodgers.

Now, I'm not suggesting that he should start over the excellent Rodgers, but Matt Flynn just put himself on the short list of young quarterbacks that are worth trading for and he might generate the kind of interest that Matt Schaub drew in Atlanta before going to Houston for a 2nd round pick.

I always try to figure out who a young quarterback reminds me of.  I'd say Flynn most reminds me of Aaron Rodgers.  And that is a good thing.

Joe Webb is a rookie who came in for an injured Brett Farve last night for the Vikings.  He practiced with the first team all week, but Farve got the start ahead of him.

When he did come in, I did not see anything from him that tells me that he can be a viable quarterback in the NFL.  Honestly, he looked like a big strong wide receiver playing quarterback.

He clearly has a very strong arm, and he has size.  He showed absolutely no pocket presence at all and was sacked several times when all he had to do was shuffle a little bit to the side to avoid the rush.  This is a critical problem that I see with athletic quarterbacks and I am excited when I see one who has pocket presence.  Webb does not have it.

When Webb came in the Vikings immediately scrapped anything complicated in their offense - this is not a good sign when you consider that he was practicing with the first team all week and his team was behind on the scoreboard.

It looked like he only was asked to make one read on a given play and he would just take off running if that was not there.

I feel completely confident that Joe Webb's destiny is not being a NFL quarterback.  I think you will see the Vikings draft a young QB in next year's draft.  Hopefully they have gotten over their fetish for running quarterbacks with no instincts whatsoever.

You also might want to check out:

Mike Florio and PFT: The NFL's Check and Balance

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Donald Brown to Colts Fans: How do you like me now?

Colts fans are being shown this season how much difference the offensive line makes to the running game - if they care to notice.  The Colts have rededicated themselves to running the ball, mostly to their left side using finesse runs behind Charlie Johnson and Kyle DeVan.  Donald Brown had three really nice game changing runs. Longtime fan favorite Dominic Rhodes had a couple of nice plays as well.

Austin Collie was having a great game after coming back from a concussion, but unfortunately he suffered another one and I don't expect to see him again during the regular season.  It might be in his best interest to be shut down for the year regardless.

This was an exciting game in the end, after looking like a Colts runaway early in the game.  But it always goes this way with Jacksonville.

I expect us to have a very difficult time with Oakland next week.  We do not match up with them very well and a loss would not surprise me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Notes from the Titans game, or How Pollak got his groove back

Upon further review of the Titans game, Mike Pollak looks much improved since his four game benching.  In this last game, he actually approaches average!  Of course just being close to average gives him better grades than the rest of the offensive line generally earns.  He does not seem to have gotten any stronger, but his run blocking technique is better and he actually got some movement on the guy he was blocking on several key runs Thursday night, something he rarely has accomplished before.  When protecting Manning, he was less hazardous to life and limb than Jeff Linkenbach - but that is not saying much.

Of course it would be quite unfair of me not to describe Linkenbach's good performance in the 2nd half at left tackle, replacing the injured Charlie Johnson.  Linkenbach was always intended to be a tackle for the Colts and the experiment of playing him at right guard was a miserable failure.  But at tackle he has looked good.

Daniel Muir had another good night against the run.  He has had a good year penetrating the offensive line and generally being a hard to control pest.

Pierre Garçon drew a lot of criticism for his performance earlier in the year.  It is true that he was not playing well, but being called "lazy" and "timid" was uncalled for.  When you see a player on the field not coming close to performing as well as you remember, your first thought should ALWAYS be that he is playing injured.

If he is not on the injury report and continues to play below his previous level, your second thought should ALWAYS be that he is playing injured.

Now that Garçon's secretly strained hamstrings have healed, he is looking a lot like he did in last year's breakout season.  Learning how to play through pain is a challenge for young players, and it affects some more than others.

That brings us to Donald Brown.  I think he came back still injured due to Addai and Hart being unable to play.  For several weeks he looked slow, tentative, and generally unlike the player we saw flashes from last year.  He has looked better each of the last three games and is starting to show us why the Colts spent a 1st round draft pick on him.

The Colts never intended him to be a every down move the chains type of back.  He was brought in to be a change-up to Addai's fastball.  To run draws and screen plays, to flex out to WR on occasion.  Both him and Addai have been almost continually hurt, so we have never really been able to see this dynamic.

Even though he seems to be healed up, our truly terrible offensive line is preventing him from really showing us what he can do.  But the flashes are there.  I think he will be ok.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Colts avoid killer mistakes, get by pesky Titans

This was a closer game than it should have been, as the defense was inexplicably unable to control Tennessee's passing game.  They were able to keep Chris Johnson bottled up for the most part, excepting a couple of runs where we lost outside contain.

Jeff Linkenbach stepped in at LT for an injured Charlie Johnson and did a good job, especially in blocking for the run.

Donald Brown showed that he can run the ball inside just fine when he is not getting smashed in the backfield.

The Colts actually ran the ball effectively on occasion last night.

More later in the week, great win for the Colts!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Expecting a loss does not make it any less painful

No matter how a overtime defeat goes down, it is going to be painful.  To have it happen on another Manning interception is just adding insult to injury.  Manning was peppering the left side of the field with one short pass after another to bring the Colts back to tie the game, but threw one too many over there and got the last one picked.

A fine effort by the defense in the 2nd half was wasted by the offensive miscues.  A returning Gary Brackett had a fine game at MLB and the interior defensive line played well, lead by the steadily improving Fili Moala.

The running game was merely useless this week, much improved from the futile effort against the Chargers.  Both James and Hart had a few positive runs to break the trend of short losses on running plays.

I expect things to get better next week with the return of Austin Collie from the head injury caused by the dirty hit by Patriots SS Rodney Hariweather.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Should Peyton Manning re-sign with the Colts?

It was announced last month that the contract negotiations with Peyton Manning were being pushed off until after the season was over.  Nothing surprising there for those who follow the Colts.

Everyone assumes that Manning will be a Colt until he retires and that the only question will be the money involved.  The Colts have already said that they want him here without any reservations, and Manning has said nothing to go against that.

The question that no one seems to be asking is:  Would Manning be better off somewhere else?
This would make Colts fans truly ill

With all of the success he has had in Indianapolis, it seems like a silly question.  He has a offensive system in place that he is comfortable with.  He has good relationships with the players, management, and the community - so no problem there.  No one out there is saying that the future doesn't look good for the franchise, right?

Well, almost no one.

When I look at the Colts franchise and project out where it seems to be heading, I see some real intrinsic problems on the horizon.  There are two primary things I have in mind:

  • The offensive line is really bad from a talent perspective.  I wrote earlier in the week that I don't think that any starter on the Colts offensive line could displace a starter on the Patriots, Chargers, Steelers, Ravens, or Jets.  That is kind of a big deal.  Nothing about how the Colts have been drafting offensive linemen in recent years tells me that this will change.  All of their current starters were either undrafted free-agents or second day picks.  In the past six drafts they have picked an offensive lineman four times in the 4th round or higher.  Two are on the bench and two are no longer with the team.
  • Front office transition.  Current Team President and future Hall of Famer Bill Polian will retire at some point; and I feel it will be sooner than later.  He has clearly been smoothing the way for his son, Chris Polian, to succeed him.  Now if Chris is as good as his Father there should be nothing to worry about.  But what are the chances of that?  He was promoted to Assistant General Manager in 2004, and if you look at the Colts drafts from 2005 to present - there is one player who has made a pro-bowl, Joesph Addai, and the jury is still out on him.  Of the first day picks in that time,  only two (in my opinion) are solid starters:  Kelvin Hayden / CB / 2005 / 2nd round & Jerraud Powers / CB 2009 / 3rd round.  Only two other first day picks from those drafts are even the primary starter at their position (Fili Moala & Addai).  Sometimes when a son takes over for his father - you get a chip off the ol' block - sometimes you get Mike Brown.
If these current trends continue (and I have no reason to think they will not) Manning could be trapped in a situation that will:
  • Tarnish his legacy.  No position (except maybe RB) is more dependent on the players around him to perform well.  Every time the Colts fall short the national media rushes to tell us how it is Manning's fault.  Any downtrend in his career caused by degradation of his supporting cast WILL be blamed on him.
  • Shorten his career.  Manning is getting hit more this year than any previous season.  In terms of actual sacks, everything looks fine.  But everyone knows that Manning rarely gets sacked - due to his own awareness and his willingness to throw the ball away.  Something in his body is going to break eventually.
The last few years for the Colts are eerily similar to the last five years of Dan Marino's career in Miami.  Every season the running game got worse.  Every year there was a renewed commitment to run the ball.  Each year they continued to draft offensive linemen that were pass blockers.  The problem never got solved.

As a Colts fan, the idea of Manning playing in another uniform is both nauseating and frighting.  But just like LeBron James, he might be better off somewhere else.

Imagine Manning with the NY Jets.  What could he do if he did not have to throw the ball 40 times a game because he had a dominant running game?  Would the Jets trade Sanchez and four or five first day draft picks for Manning?  If I was a Jets fan, I'd be for it.

The chances of Manning not retiring as a Colt are remote.  Even if Manning wished to leave, the Colts will probably have the ability to use something like a franchise tag to keep him around.

I'd just argue that it is not in his best interest.

Note: Brett Mock over at details some barriers to Manning ever moving on.  He makes some good points, check it out.

PFTers may also be interested in:

Mike Florio and PFT: The NFL's Check and Balance