Behind Enemy Lines: Colts @ Cardinals, Part I

The Cardinals host the Colts for the first time in nearly 20 years. The climate in the desert has certainly changed, but how are the Colts different since their Super Bowl title? Coltpower.com's Eric Hartz fields five questions about this year's team. Why did the Colts barely escape losses in the first two weeks? How will the Colts stop Arizona's high-flying attack? These answers and more inside.

Amberly Dressler: The Colts are 2-0 after facing the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Miami Dolphins, which are considered re-building teams. But Peyton Manning led his team to narrow victories. What were the biggest areas of concern in the first two weeks and how will the Colts move past any of said concerns?

Eric Hartz: Almost without question, the biggest area of concern is the run defense. Miami held the ball for more than 45 minutes of Monday night's game and generated more than 200 yards rushing. Jacksonville didn't amass those kinds of numbers, but still had success on the ground against the Colts. This is, year after year, the Achilles' heel of this team. You may recall in 2006, the Colts were last in the league against the run during the regular season, but became incredibly stingy in the playoffs en route to the Super Bowl XLI title.

The other area of concern is one that also seems to plague the Colts year after year, and that's injuries, particularly on the defense. The team emphasizes speed over size and that seems to lead to more players getting banged up than other teams. Safety Bob Sanders hasn't played yet this season, cornerback Marlin Jackson has been limited, and both cornerback Kelvin Hayden and linebacker Gary Brackett — the team's best linebacker in coverage — left Monday's game with injuries. That's not a good omen going into a game where the Colts' secondary will be tested.


Anthony Gonzalez
(Getty)

AD: What is Anthony Gonzalez's status? And how is the rest of the young receivers group stepping up in his absence?

EH: Gonzalez won't need surgery for his bizarre, no-contact knee injury suffered against Jacksonville, but he won't play against Arizona and will be out for several weeks after. The Colts like their young receivers, who have worked hard to understand the complex offense and gain Peyton Manning's trust. Second-year man Pierre Garcon has terrific speed and scored the winning touchdown Monday, which should boost his confidence. Rookie Austin Collie is one of the team's hardest working players and will see action in the slot. He converted a key third down in Monday's game, as well.

AD: How do you expect the Colts secondary to respond to the Cardinals potent wide receivers group of Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin Steve Breaston, etc.?

EH: For all their problems against the run, the Colts do have a talented secondary, and set an NFL record by allowing just six passing touchdowns last season. They are facing a tremendous challenge against the Cardinals' receivers, however. The Colts seem to struggle against bigger, more physical receivers, so they will have their hands full with Fitzgerald and Co. Hayden and rookie Jerraud Powers are the teams best cover corners, but both are battling injuries this week, so keep an eye on their status as gametime draws nearer. If they can go, they'll be able to play tight and get top over the help from the safeties and nickelback Marlin Jackson.

If they can't go, the Colts will have to respect the Cardinals' receivers more at the line of scrimmage, and Kurt Warner's quick trigger will have to take advantage to avoid sacks from Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

The Colts do a nice job of keeping everything in front of them, and rely on their pass rush to take away the deep ball as well. Warner will have to be patient and take what's given to him before he can take what he wants in this game.


Donald Brown
(Getty)

AD: Who are a few players, who we maybe don't know so well, who could make an impact in this Sunday's game?

EH: I've mentioned Powers, Collie and Garcon, who are all fine young players. First-round draft choice Donald Brown — who the Colts took instead of Chris Wells in the draft — has been running well and scored a touchdown against Miami. Second-year tight end Jacob Tamme could see some action in the passing game, and second-year guard Mike Pollak had one of the best games of his career against Miami, with the key blocks on both Brown's touchdown run and Garcon's touchdown catch.

On the latter, Peyton Manning audibled Garcon into a screen play when he saw the defenders giving space at the line, but it was a hustling Pollak who got downfield and picked off the last man to spring Garcon into the end zone.

On defense, most Colts fans know about Melvin Bullitt, Sanders' backup who plays more than he does, but he's not well-known around the league yet. Linebacker Tyjuan Hagler was released in the offseason, but re-signed with the team over the summer, had a terrific preseason and won back his starting job at strong-side linebacker. He's continued to look solid since.

AD: What or who will work in the Colts' favor this year in order to progress far in the playoffs? What or who could stand in their way?

EH: The easy answer here is Peyton Manning. Monday night against Miami, he showcased his brilliance once again, guiding his team to 27 points while having the ball for less than 15 minutes. More than anything, Monday showed that as long as No. 18 is healthy, the Colts can beat anyone, even if they get badly outplayed in other facets of the game. Certainly, the run defense and injuries could hold the team back, but the Colts have the rest of the season to shore up against the run and get healthy. If they can be merely adequate against the run, that may be enough, as many of the likely AFC contenders, with the exception of New York and Tennessee, don't have great running games themselves.


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