Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Not Dead Yet: Indianapolis Colts Season Preview

2008 Record: 12-4

With Peyton Manning entering his 12th year in the league, you have to wonder if the window is starting to close, just a little, on the Colts successful run. The Colts did not re-sign Marvin Harrison this off-season, which moves Anthony Gonzalez into the starting role at #2 wide receiver. The #3 receiver spot is up for grabs between Pierre Garcon, Roy Hall, and rookie Austin Collie. If you recall from our draft previews, we were very high on Collie, particularly his pass-catching abilities. He may be the next Brandon Stokley in this offense. For now, it looks to be between Hall and Garcon while Collie learns the offense.

Reggie Wayne is one of the top 5 receivers in the league, and his 1145-yard season last year proved that. Harrison started 15 games last season, and his 60 catches will need to be distributed somewhere. Just how important is a 3rd receiver to the Colts offense? Anthony Gonzalez put up almost identical numbers to Harrison (the #2 receiver) last year. With two guys competing for the position who have 5 catches for 32 yards between them in their NFL careers, the Colts passing game may struggle. Dallas Clark is still a weapon at tight end, finishing second on the team in all major receiving categories last season.

The Colts spent their first round draft pick on RB Donald Brown from UConn, a sign that they are not happy with what Joseph Addai has been producing lately (namely, a lack of short-yardage conversions). Brown is a big, bruising back, but it remains to be seen if he has the ability to be a factor in the Colts passing game like Dominic Rhodes was. Brown should provide a good compliment in running style to Addai this season.

On the whole, the Colts offense looks like a team that's nearing the end of it's window. They have some great players in Manning, Wayne, Jeff Saturday, and others. However, they don't have a lot in terms of capable backups should any of those players go down to injury. That being said, we're not betting against this team to end their run of 7 consecutive playoff appearances. But they are far from the team that won the Super Bowl three years ago.

On the other side of the ball, the Colts defense is still made up of speedy, but under-sized players. In an attempt to improve their 24th-ranked run defense, the Colts drafted DTs Fili Moala (USC) and Terrence Taylor (Michigan). The Colts interior D-line has been weak for years, and is constantly exposed against run-heavy teams like Jacksonville, who put up 341 in two games against Indy last year. The Colts boast a scary set of defensive ends in Dwight "spin-move" Freeney and Robert Mathis. Leading tackler Freddie Keiaho returns to a linebacking unit that also features Clint Session and Gary Brackett. All 3 linebackers are, like the rest of the defense, undersized and fast. They run quick to the ball and gang-tackle well, but can also get dominated by physical backs.

The Colts were 6th in the league in pass defense, and gave up the fewest passing touchdowns in the league last season (6). The Colts return all 4 starters from last season, with one of the best safety pairs in the league in Antoine Bethea and Bob Sanders. However, in his 5 years in the league, Bob Sanders has never played a full 16-game season. Bethea was 2nd on the team in tackles last season and flies all over the field. Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden are capable corners, and the Colts should have a good pass defense again this season.

Ian's Prediction: 12-4

The window is starting to close on the Colts, but it would be stupid to bet against them. Manning rarely gets sacked, so the probability of him getting injured is relatively low. Once they get their 3rd WR situation figured out, their offense will start clicking again. Personally, I love Austin Collie's potential, and I think he'll be a great fit in this offense if he can pick it up quickly. The Colts have a pretty easy schedule this year, and they get New England at home, so they won't have to deal with Manning's worst enemy: snow. The only game they're likely to see the fluffy white stuff is in Buffalo in Week 17, but the Colts will probably have a playoff spot wrapped up by then and the game shouldn't matter. The Colts will challenge Tennessee again for the division crown, and their December 6th matchup in Indy might be the deciding game (though Indy does have to go to Jackonville two weeks later, and we've documented their struggles against the Jags). All in all, the Colts are aging, but they're not done yet.

John's Prediction:

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