What We Learned: Jets at Colts

What did we learn from the tough postseason loss to the Jets? Brad Keller takes a look.

This was a game like any other: All season long, the elephant in the room was that the Colts had too many injuries and too many marginal players being asked to do too much.  This is a good team with a great quarterback.  That was enough to get them to ten wins and a division title, but it wasn't enough to get them past the level of talent and intensity in the playoffs. 

The issues of the 2010 regular season weren't going to go away just because the postseason started, but everyone just assumed that No. 18 had some more aces up his sleeves.  The good news is that they gave it their best and almost pulled it off.  The bad news is that getting everyone healthy and back in 2011 won't necessarily fix everything.

Can't pin this on the defense: They forced the game's only turnover, kept LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene from busting any game-breaking plays, and kept the ball in front of them in the passing game.  They only sacked Mark Sanchez once, but they kept the pressure on all game and forced a number of bad throws.

They did fold in the last 53 seconds, but they were also starting out with their backs against the wall given that Antonio Cromartie was permitted to return the ball to the 46.  They kept New York off the scoreboard in the first half and got several key stops along the way.  Ordinarily, if the defense holds an opponent to 17 points, the Colts win.  The Indianapolis defense put in a solid effort.  They just happened to be the second-best defense on the field on Saturday night.

Third and one: Indianapolis was 0-for-4 on third and one, passing the ball twice and running the ball twice.  Bill Polian called out the offensive line after the Super Bowl last season and needs to call himself out after this season.  Releasing Ryan Lilja — who played very well for Kansas City this season — without a backup plan was a bad call.  Then the revolving door at left guard happened this season and it was re-enforced that Mike Pollak is not the answer at right guard.

The talent he needs to re-build this offensive line is not on the roster and there won't be a lot out there in the offseason.  They need a long-term answer at left tackle, where they still haven't found a suitable replacement for Tarik Glenn.  Age and injury are catching up with Jeff Saturday and there's no one waiting in the wings.

A potent offense like this one should be able to gain one yard whenever they need one yard.  Issues with the offensive line have been building since "third and two" and they haven't gotten any better with time.

Building on that, Joseph Addai needs a complement: The Colts actually had balance on offense — 27 passes, 27 rushes — but the running game was imbalanced because Dominic Rhodes forgot to go to the "fountain of under-30" this week and showed his age.  He looked slow to the hole, hesitant, and didn't make many yards after contact.  He looked like an older version of Donald Brown, which is not a good sign for the future.

The fact that Rhodes was struggling, but Brown didn't see the field even though he was activated for the game and was not injured, is a very bad sign for him.  It could be that some combination of Addai, Mike Hart, and Javarris James is the answer, but that triumvirate would probably prove to be insufficient.  Rhodes will not be back, Brown may not be back — and may not do much with the opportunity if Indianapolis gives him another shot — so it will also be important for the Colts to look for someone to give Addai a breather and step in for him if/when he gets hurt in the future.

Tell Chicken Little to back off, though:  The Colts are a team that needs to get younger and better at a number of positions, but they also just need to get healthier.  Dallas Clark and Austin Collie are going to come back strong again next year.  Bob Sanders will hopefully play more than two quarters in 2011.

The secondary, in general, will improve when they get healthier over the next several months.  The defensive line has two Pro Bowl players and some fine supporting players, led by the ever-improving Eric Foster.  The linebackers are young, fast, talented, and aggressive and they have the experience of captain Gary Brackett to lean on.

And, of course, they have Peyton Manning.  If the 2010 season proved nothing else, it's that 18 will put it all on the line and do whatever it takes to get this team at least ten wins.  There are a number of teams in the league — and three of them are in the AFC South — that can't make that claim.  The road ahead is not paved with gold, but at least there aren't too many potholes.

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