Friday, September 23, 2011

Why the Colts DNA Changes When Peyton Manning is Out of the Lineup

Peyton Manning takes another hit during one of the greatest games in Steeler history

The Colt offense can be described as a simple song with a madman as its composer.  It’s not as if you don’t know the lyrics or the melody.  In fact, this is a song that you have heard thousands of times before, yet it holds your fascination and wonder just like it did the first time you heard it.  For those of us who are true football fans, watching Peyton Manning conduct the Colt orchestra is a thing of beauty.

It seems odd to say this but Manning isn't really a great athlete.  He's not going to beat you by running like Cam Newton, he doesn't have a rocket arm like Michael Vick and he doesn't even scramble as well as Ben Roethlisberger.  What Peyton Manning does is outwit, outquick and outplay you.  Even though they use the no-huddle offense, the Colts typically run the play clock down to zero or almost zero.  As the teams line up at the line of scrimmage, Manning calls out the signals.  Now if you have ever heard him, you know that he uses crazy words to confuse the defense.  A sequence might go something like this "Brooklyn, Brooklyn!  No! No!  Chocolate souffle!  Chocolate Souffle!"  When the ball is snapped, Manning has usually made up his mind where he is going with the ball.  So in 30 seconds, he has hurried the defense into position, made them stay in their stance for an extended period of time (which is VERY uncomfortable) confused them with real and fake signals and thrown the ball 3 seconds after the snap,  before you can sack him.  You can't just plug someone in to take over.
On Sunday, Peyton Manning will not even be in the building.  Kerry Collins will be the conductor and, so far, he has been tone deaf.  The most glaring statistic for the Colts this year?  Time of possession.  In their two games this year, the Texans held the ball for almost 37 minutes and the Browns had it for over 34 minutes.  John Elway once said that as a QB, it was his job to convert 3rd downs.  If you don't convert those 3rd down opportunities, then you lose possession of the ball.  It is not completely Collins' fault.  You could easily blame the Colts 0-2 start on fate or luck.  Since Manning became the Colts starting QB, the team has recorded only two losing records in 14 years and has appeared in 2 Super Bowls, winning one.  The Colts are not bereft of talent.  They have big names at key positions: Reggie Wayne; Dallas Clark; Jeff Saturday; Ryan Diem; Robert Mathis; Gary Brackett (who I think is the most underrated LB in the league); Dwight Freeney; and Adam Vinatieri.  They also have some strong, young, talented players such as Anthony Castonzo; Pat Angerer; and Drake Nevis.  What this team lacks is direction and leadership.  Manning is such an overwhelming presence, replacing him becomes an impossible task (the Dolphins are still trying to replace Dan Marino). 
I’m not saying that the Colts coaching staff is garbage, far from it.  Jim Caldwell is a winner.  He was Manning’s QB coach before becoming the head coach.  Clyde Christensen (offensive coordinator) has been with the team for 10 years.  Larry Coyer (defensive coordinator) has been a coach for 47 years.  These guys are true professionals.  But in the last two years, the Colts have lost Tom Moore (former offensive coordinator), Howard Mudd (former offensive line coach) and now Manning.  They provided the backbone for how the team was built.  Here’s why:

Bill Polian may go down in history as one of the greatest general managers in the history of pro sports (not just football).  He built the Buffalo Bills teams of the late 80’s-early 90’s, the Carolina Panthers from 1994-1996 (that franchise went from expansion to the NFC Championship game in two years) and the Colts from 1997—present.  There is no question that Polian knows his football.  He uses the draft to fill a roster rather than signing a bevy of free agents to plug holes (are you listening Redskins?). 

The way in which Polian built the Colts was unique.  He selected smaller, faster defensive linemen and linebackers who were more adept at rushing the passer rather than stopping the run.  The theory was, by having Peyton Manning get the team to an early lead (which he often did), the opposing offense would have to throw the ball in order to come back and the Colts would have the ultimate machine to pressure the QB.  But that strategy also comes with risks.  If the opposing team had a lead and they wanted to kill the clock, the Colts would have a harder time stopping the run due to their lack of size with their front seven.  Right now, teams don’t fear the Colts because the maestro is on leave and Polian can’t change the roster fast enough to deal with a Peyton-less offense.  The Colts could suffer their worst season since 1998, when Peyton Manning was a rookie.  But don’t sleep on the Colts. 

Here are a few reasons why they could beat the Steelers on Sunday night:

1)    Kerry Collins can get hot.  Kerry Collins has a 3-1 record in four career starts versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has completed 87 of 138 passes for 958 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Collins has completed 63 percent of his career passes and has a 92.6 passer rating against the Steelers.  (From

2)    The Colts are desperate for a win.  This is a proud and talent-filled organization.

3)    They know how to win.  The Colts have had only 1 losing season since Manning’s rookie year.

4)    Home crowd, Sunday night, national TV.  You know the Colts fans will show up screaming as loud as they can (what else is there to do in Indy?).  And Indy has been accused of amplifying the noise in the dome to make it more difficult for the visiting team.  This could affect the Steeler offensive line.  I expect that Mike Tomlin had Ben and the boys working on that silent snap count this week.

What the Steelers need to do to win:

1)    Score first and build a lead

2)    Put pressure on the QB

3)    Protect the ball

4)    Not allow easy chances (special teams gaffes)

5)    Run the ball to eat up the clock

Do I think the Steelers win?  Yes.  Do I think this is a trap game?  Yes.  For those of you who are not familiar with the term, a “trap game” is one in which you are strongly favored to win and your overconfidence and lack of detail work against you and you lose.  I am not confident that Kerry Collins can take the Colts down the field with 1:32 left and no timeouts to win the game.  Whereas when Peyton is in the game, Colts fans figure they might get two possessions with 1:32 left and no timeouts.  The maestro has left the building.  Let’s hope our Steelers leave Lucas Oil Stadium with a win on Sunday night. 

Photo courtesy of

1 comment:

  1. I usually take any NFL team getting double digits. For once, I laid 14 last week against the Seahawks and easily won that. Now it's the home team getting +10.5 at home on a national televised night game. I'd have to take the pts and see the Steelers win by 3.