Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Colts make Titanic blunder

They had this one. I'm convinced of that. After watching the first half in which the defense dominated and the offense did just enough, I thought the Colts had shown up to play this time.

When they took a 14-6 lead to start the second half, I was confident they'd pull it out.

Even when Tennessee tied it up with a two-point conversion, I thought the Colts would march right down the field and retake the lead.

It didn't happen.

Suddenly, all the things that have bit this Colts team in the posterior reared their ugly head. Penalties, ineffective offense, ineffective defense, turnovers, and the like.

I saw a couple of different turning points. Two of them happened on the Titans' game-tying drive. Both were defensive penalties. One against Marlin Jackson killed them. The officials called him for illegal contact. I never saw a replay on that one, so I don't know the extent of it. Instead of ending a Tennessee drive, the Titans were able to sustain it. Same drive, different player, same type of penalty...Melvin Bullitt was whistled for pass interference. He was in perfect position...but he never looked for the ball and basically ran into the receiver. Again, that helped the Titans continue their drive.

Then came a very frustrating call at midfield. I understand the reluctance to punt the ball; the Titans definitely had the momentum. But this isn't the same Colts offensive juggernaut that we're used to seeing. This Indianapolis team cannot score at will; this year's Peyton Manning can't will his team to victory. This season's Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark can't come up with the big plays when the team needs them the most. This is a painful reality. So the Colts go for it near midfield on fourth and one. The result: Dominic Rhodes gets hammered for a loss. After that, the game was effectively over.

I don't really understand the logic in this call. Although the Colts were running the ball fairly well this game (yes, the running game made some strides this week), the defense was actually playing pretty well. All game, the Colts had won the field position battle. But instead of pulling back the reins a little and throttling down, Indy went for it. This was the wrong call.

Trust me...I like it when the team is aggressive. I like it when the Colts feel like no one can stop them. But this isn't that team right now. This team needs to play it more conservatively until the offense regains its former luster. The Colts should've punted the ball and handed the Titans a long field. Instead, they blundered and went with a running play that everyone in the stadium knew was coming. They really never had a chance on that one.

The Colts faced another key fourth down later in the game. This was one they had to go for. But I'm a little alarmed at how they went about trying to convert this first down. On third and three, Peyton tried to throw it to a well-covered Reggie Wayne. It wasn't exactly a "down the field" type of throw, but it wasn't a safe one either. On fourth down, he tried to hit a well-covered Marvin Harrison on the sideline. That one was nearly picked off. Wasn't there a safe throw to make...like something to Anthony Gonzalez over the middle (hint, hint)? Of course, considering Gonzo cut his route short on a third and three earlier in the game, maybe I shouldn't complain.

Everything was so frustrating. The Colts did a great job against the Titans' running game. They neutralized it for most of the game. What killed them was pass coverage. It's been a killer problem all year...when the defense is faced with stopping a team on third and eight or third and forever, they give up just enough yards to let the other team gain the first down. Seriously, Kerry Collins threw maybe one or two long passes...the rest were short, intermediate completions. And they were completely effective. I've never been so sick of the eight yard curl/hook in my life. The Colts will give it to you every time. And how they gave up a 15-yard pass on third and eight is incomprehensible.

Okay, despite the depression that accompanies a terrible loss like this, there were a few good things. For a half, the defense was dominant and the Colts dictated the field position. That was positive. Secondly, I liked the play of this offensive line unit. With only one rookie in there (Mike Pollak), the line played well. Manning didn't get sacked and had plenty of time to throw. They even opened up some holes against the stout Tennessee defensive line. If the Colts can get line play like that for the rest of the season, then things have to improve for this team.

Ultimately, though, the bad outweighs the good. Poor decision-making, inopportune penalties, turnovers, and generally bad play at critical moments doomed this team. I don't know if they can turn this thing around and compete for a Wild Card or not. We'll see next week...when the Patriots come to town.

Oh, one more thing...I thought the Monday Night Football crew was pretty good last night. But a couple of things bothered me. First of all, whenever Peyton Manning stepped onto the field, Jaws, Tirico, and Kornheiser went bananas, saying things like, "And if there's anybody you want on the field right now, it's Peyton Manning. You can't make those kind of mistakes when Peyton Manning's under center. Peyton Manning is the savior of the world and if you make a mistake, he'll use his divine powers to destroy you." Usually, those things are true. But the announcers are kidding themselves if they think that's a reality this season. The Colts are "off," and they still aren't clicking. When you've got a ten-point lead in the fourth quarter, it's pretty safe. These Colts lack the explosiveness to pull it off, Houston game aside.

They also made a big deal out of how the Titans "slayed the dragon" by beating Indy. This is true, but a little overdramatic. Take a look at this year's Colts team and its record. The Colts were 3-3 coming into this game; the Titans 6-0. This wasn't a case in which Indianapolis fell off its throne with the loss. Indy fell off that throne earlier this season...the Titans just got their chance to curbstomp the king. On the other hand, the Colts couldn't solve the Titans for a few seasons before they were able to beat them consistently. So maybe I should cut them some slack.

As a matter of fact, I can't really write more about this game. Though he's a little sketchy on some of the specifics, I think Jim Mora probably does the best job of summing up the Colts' performance...

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