I think they've already started to display it this season. They have a confidence and a "no panic" attitude for sixty minutes. They are winning games, sometimes narrowly or through comebacks, with a poise that is reminiscent of what the Patriots did during their Super Bowl runs. I remember thinking back then that the Patriots were lucky to win many of their games. This year, some are probably thinking the same of the Colts, but it's been very good to see them seemingly finding the way to win the game as it progresses, even after some slow starts.
With the "Edge" moving elsewhere, what`s the running back condition on your team?
It's much better than most people think. The tandem approach of rookie Joseph Addai and veteran Dominic Rhodes is working well overall. Their combined efforts are moving the chains and scoring rushing touchdowns at a clip on pace with Edge's totals for last season. Rhodes is Mr. Consistency, gaining about 3.1 yards per carry in the first half and 3.4 yards per carry in the second half. The biggest problem has been he's just not breaking many runs. Addai has had some brilliant games, hitting holes quickly, spinning out of tackles and has rushed for 4.8 yards per carry in four of six games. Both backs are viable and capable options as receivers to boot, and they've each only fumbled the ball away once this season. Where they are coming up short is in the red zone. Addai's productivity drops to 2.5 yards per carry inside the twenty, while Rhodes' is just 2.1 per carry. They've combined for four rushing touchdowns while Peyton Manning has two. That should tell you something.
How much does playing outside affect Manning and his team?
It really seems to vary. As you know from their win in the snow against Denver a couple of years ago on Mike Vanderjagt's field goal, they can get it done. They've won 28 of their last 31 regular season games, so they definitely know how to get it done outdoors. But you can bank on a strong performance with much higher consistency when they are at home or in a dome.
Invesco Field is one of only two stadiums in the NFL that Peyton Manning has never thrown a touchdown pass in. In your opinion what factors may play into this?
In 2005, he left the field after three snaps since it was a fairly meaningless game for the Colts at that point in the season. I think weather has some impact as well. Beyond that, it's really a head-scratcher, especially since he's put up some phenomenal performances against the Broncos in Indy.
Does the lack of a Super Bow ring take away from any of the accomplishments of Peyton Manning?
At this point, I think he's got the aura of a Dan Marino, a guy that no one wants to have to play because they know he can light up a scoreboard and he just plays the game so darn smart. He'll go down as one of the best of all-time regardless, just like Marino, but if he wants to be remembered as one of the truly elite with guys like Joe Montana, he's going to need a ring or two. I think he's getting closer and will get it done. He says he's only about halfway done with his career if he can stay healthy.
How much respect do the Colts have for the Broncos defense this year, and what type of attack will Coach Dungy bring in to try and score?
I've talked to some of the players and they are very impressed and they're taking this game seriously. I got the feeling that this stretch -- with Denver and New England back-to-back -- really has the team's energy level up. They just came out of a stretch that wasn't very formidable on paper -- the Jets, Titans and Redskins -- so I think they are excited to be playing a team with the talent level and reputation that Denver has right now. As for Dungy's approach, he keeps saying that the Colts will take whatever the opposing defense will give them. They have the diversity in talent to use their running game or a wide variety of options in the passing game. So they've often gotten off to a slow start, checking out what the defense is doing the first few possessions, and then adjusting and taking advantage of it as the game goes on.
Coming into Denver undefeated, does it bother you that the Broncos are favored to win?
Not at all. I think Denver's defense deserves that respect as well as the edge that home field advantage provides. I truly think this game could go either way, and the odds are reflecting it. That said, I also wouldn't be surprised to see the Colts put up a big game based on their excitement level over this game.
What's new about the Colts offense / defense that we have to worry about coming into the game?
In the offense, it's a more patient and determined Peyton Manning who has thrown just two interceptions all year. Rookie running back Joseph Addai has been showing some really nifty moves as well, and a guy who will probably surprise you with a few catches is second-tight end Ben Utecht who does a nice job of running routes and has good hands. Defensively, the addition of Anthony "Booger" McFarland has been a help. He did a nice job of clogging up the middle last week against the Redskins like Corey Simon did for Indy last year. Rookie safety Antoine Bethea has been a nice new addition, showing the sure-tackling skills that helped him lead Howard University in tackles for three straight years. He made a TD-saving tackle on Clinton Portis last week that led to a missed field goal. One other difference you might notice is the Colts using the blitz on occasion, and swapping which side defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney use to attack the Jake Plummer from time to time.
The Broncos have put up a pretty solid defense so far this year, any weaknesses that Manning is likely to attack?
I honestly don't see any weaknesses in that Denver defense that you can point to going into this game. But I believe he'll use the no-huddle and will keep his eyes open for any players that appear to be breathing a bit harder as the game wears on. And he'll go after those guys. I also expect out of respect for Champ Bailey, he'll opt to see what success he can have with Reggie Wayne and with his tight ends early on.
What's your prediction for the game and how do you think it will all play out?
I really think this could go one of two ways. If the Colts come out energized in what will probably feel like a playoff atmosphere for the first time in about a month for them, they could roll -- and big. But if they get off to a slow start and decide to play it more like a chess match, they could open themselves up to trouble because that could play right into the hands of the Denver defense. In that mode, it could boil down to a key turnover at a critical point in the game. Fortunately, at least heading into this one, the Colts have only surrendered the ball four times in six games and have a healthy +6 turnover ratio.
Ed Thompson is the publisher of ColtPower.com A member of the Professional Football Writers Association, Ed's sportswrting has been published in newspapers, magazines and on the web. He also appears on sports radio talk shows in Indianapolis and on both ESPN and Fox radio affiliates as an expert on the Colts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.