WPI 1. How is Peyton Manning dealing with the failures of the defense? He was upset after last year's postseason loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. How will he handle things on Saturday if the Chiefs keep his offense off the field for extended periods of time?
CP: Publicly, he's very much maintaining the politically correct team stance. But it's also obvious that he realizes there is more pressure on the offense to be more efficient. Last year, the Colts were making enough stops that he had confidence he could avoid forcing plays and would get the ball back with only an average amount of risk that the opponent would score. That's not the case this year. The Colts offense is really trying to find the balance between putting enough pressure on themselves to really focus and perform well on every possession, without becoming too tight because of that pressure, making mental errors. They went through a string of games where they were dropping passes and making other silly mistakes that you didn't see earlier in the season, but last week against Miami they looked sharp again.
One thing that has crept back that wasn't apparent much last year or in the early part of the season this year is Manning's expressions of disappointment and occasional looks of frustration on the sidelines. That's probably the most telling sign of how he's dealing with the situation as this season has progressed.
WPI 2. The Chiefs have been solid against the run for most of the season. Can the duo of Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai keep the Chiefs defense honest? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
CP: There's some speculation in Indy that the Colts will rely more heavily on rookie Joseph Addai now that the playoffs are here. They were splitting time between the two backs pretty equally for most of the year, partially to ease Addai into the offense and partially to keep him fresh so he didn't hit the rookie wall late in the season. Head coach Tony Dungy alluded to that recently, saying that Addai seemed to be dealing with the length of the season very well physically because of how the Colts used him this year, so if he was hitting a wall at all it was probably more on the mental side. That certainly shouldn't be a factor now as he's sure to be excited about playing in his first NFL playoff game.
Addai has carried the lion's share of the workload the past two weeks, with 36 carries compared to just 11 for Rhodes, so it appears they were getting him ready to be the primary back in the playoffs. Addai is a shifty, explosive back whose strength is in his vision and ability to burst through holes virtually untouched. He's averaging 4.8 yards per carry and averaged better than five yards per carry in seven games this year. He's also a very good receiver, with 40 catches this year in split-time duty with Rhodes.
Rhodes isn't quite as explosive, but he's a quick, tough running back. He's more often going to go to where the play is designed and hope the hole is there. You'll see him chew up some nice yardage when it's there, but you'll also see him get stopped for minimal gains or even losses when it's not. Rhodes is also a good threat as a receiver out of the backfield with 36 catches this season.
The one area that neither of these backs have excelled in is short yardage. Last week the Colts used former Patriots defensive tackle Dan Klecko as a fullback, something he did sporadically in New England. Paired up with Addai, that duo got some good results in short yardage for the Colts. Manning even tossed a touchdown pass to Klecko in a goal-to-go situation. Dungy has said that they'll continue to use Klecko as a blocking fullback as Addai seems to really benefit from having that lead blocker out there in short-yardage scenarios.
WPI 3. How frustrating has it been for head coach Tony Dungy to watch this defense struggle all season long? Why are the Colts so bad at stopping the run?
CP: He's repeatedly expressed his disappointment in the defense's performance this year. He says the current personnel are capable of getting the job done, but they aren't consistently executing in hitting their gap assignments or wrapping up the running back when he gets past the defensive line.
Two major factors have hurt the Colts' run defense. The first is injuries. They've lost both of their starting defensive tackles from last year - Montae Reagor due to a car accident in which he suffered head and facial lacerations and Corey Simon due to an undisclosed illness. Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders had knee surgery earlier this year and only played in four games. Former starter Mike Doss filled in for a while, but was then lost for the year due to a torn ACL. The Colts also lost one of their leaders on defense and top tacklers, strongside linebacker David Thornton, to free agency. That's five of their 11 starters from last year, so it's taken a toll.
The other factor they've struggled with is they are so light on the defensive line, teams rarely need to double-team anyone, leaving an offensive lineman free to go after a linebacker. You have a tight end blocking one linebacker and an offensive lineman taking on another on practically every running play, so only one is left to make the stop along with a safety if he's moving up in the box on an obvious running play. The Colts get badly beaten on draws and delays as well because their defensive ends aggressively come in to try to make a sack while the middle linebacker drops back to defend the deep zone in Dungy's Tampa Two defense. All the offensive line has to do is keep the defensive ends wide and get a good outward push on the defensive tackles and there's a huge opening up the middle until the middle linebacker or safeties recognize the run.
WPI: 4. What makes the wide receiver duo of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne so special? Are they best wide receiver tandem in NFL history?
CP: I think you could certainly make that case. They are truly special and compliment each other well. Harrison is the disciplined, slick route runner who is still lightning quick at age 34. You won't see him make many yards after the catch if he's corralled as he's just not physically built to bruise his way through defenders. Wayne has the bigger frame and is the more physical of the two receivers. He also has excellent hands and is the guy who will get you yards after the catch even if he slants across the middle into traffic.
WPI 5. Who is the one player on the Colts that could wind up being the unsung hero on Saturday?
CP: It's sort of an odd choice since he's well known, but I'd have to say Bob Sanders has that chance. The Colts have terribly missed his physical presence against the run, and he could provide some much-needed inspiration out there for this defense if he makes a few big plays early in the game - especially against Larry Johnson - that gives the defense more confidence. Another guy who probably won't be noticed as much but could play a major role is strongside linebacker Rob Morris, who lost his job to Gary Brackett last year.
Morris was moved to strongside a couple of weeks ago after Gilbert Gardner struggled a bit. In the Colts' scheme, that linebacker's job is to hold containment and funnel the running back to the middle where they have more tacklers. If Morris can do that effectively, he could have a big impact on this game even if he doesn't personally make a bunch of tackles himself.
Inside the Huddle: Indianapolis Colts
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