Three weeks into the season, the Colts defense has shown it is for real, yielding just sixteen points over twelve quarters of play -- the best start in franchise history by a defense. And seven of those points, the only touchdown of the year so far, was in garbage time with only seconds left in the opener against Baltimore. The team's previous best was in 1971 when they allowed 17 points during their first three games. That Colts team followed up that performance with a shutout in week four.
They added four more sacks today to drive their season total to thirteen, three by defensive end Dwight Freeney and one by Robert Mathis.
And oh my, the hitting was ferocious. The Browns may want to do a quick inventory to make sure their offensive players have all their teeth before leaving Indianapolis.
"They're making you throw the ball in front of them and using their speed to make the plays," Browns head coach Romeo Crennel said. "They're fast."
Both safeties, Bob Sanders (6 tackles) and Mike Doss (3 tackles, 2 assists), punished the Browns runners and receivers. The defensive line and linebackers swarmed to the ball carriers. And Freeney delivered a tremendous blindside hit on Browns quarterback Trent Dilfer that forced a fumble before halftime.
Dilfer was efficient, completing 22 of 29 attempts, but only managed 208 yards passing and no touchdowns. Running back Reuben Droughns carried the ball 22 times for 76 yards for a 3.5 yards per carry average. But 40 of those yards came on three carries. On his 19 other attempts he gained just 36 yards, an average of just 1.9 yards on 86 percent of his carries. And despite not turning the ball over once to kill any of their own drives, the Browns only managed to put two field goals on the scoreboard.
Man, this Colts defense is truly awesome to watch.
So, as Russell Crowe bellowed in the movie Gladiator, "Are you not entertained?"
When the Colts defense is out on the field, you know that a big sack, a big hit, or an exciting play could happen at any moment. It's similar to the way people felt the last few seasons right before each snap of the ball to Peyton Manning -- a sense of anticipation that something big was about to happen. But it's no longer there when the offense is on the field.
Perhaps the Colts are caught in some bizarre time warp where the 1999 Tampa Bay team has suited up in blue and white. That defense allowed just 19 offensive touchdowns in a sixteen game season. And guess what, they didn't even fare as well in the first three games as the Colts. The 1999 Bucs allowed their opponents to score 32 points in the first three games -- double the amount the Colts have allowed so far.
But unfortunately, the Colts offense seems to be taking on a similar look to the conservative, boring, grind-it-out style of the the 1999 Bucs. The frustrating part is that Tampa Bay did it due to lack of talent. The Colts offense appears to be stuck there by becoming tediously methodical, attempting to put together long drives based on a series of short yardage plays.
There's only one huge problem with that. It's difficult to sustain long drives and allows your opponent to stay close enough to beat you if you do make a mistake during sixty minutes of football. In fact, if you ask the Colts defense what they like to do to their opponents (aside from knocking them into another zip code), they'll tell you they want to force them to take as many plays as possible to move the ball -- because it's difficult not to have a penalty, a dropped ball, or some other event stall your offensive effort and put you into a punting situation.
And with the Colts seemingly abandoning, or perhaps incapable of being a big-play, go-for-the-jugular type of offense so far this season, they've put themselves into that trap -- where a penalty, a dropped pass, or other miscue forces Hunter Smith to make yet another appearance to kick the ball away.
"Our offense just is not quite on all cylinders. What our offense is doing is making clutch drives," head coach Dungy said. "We are doing a lot of things we need to. I think we're going to be fine."
Peyton Manning hadn't gone two consecutive games without a touchdown pass since 1999 -- until today. He wasn't sacked once and really didn't get that much pressure from Cleveland as they usually kept at least 6-7 players back to clog up his passing lanes. It wasn't unusual to see double-coverage on more than one receiver.
Despite that, Manning was very efficient, completing 19 of 23 attempts (82.6%) for 228 yards and one interception. But just like Dilfer, he's seeing that being efficient doesn't always translate into points. It took the Colts a combined 22 plays to set up two field goal attempts when they came up short on third-down plays.
Manning's now played three games and has two touchdown passes and two interceptions. At his current pace, he'll finish the regular season with about 11 touchdown passes. Fantasy football owners who have him on their teams might be looking for the nearest cliff to jump from when they do that math later this week.
But hey, Manning and the Colts are 3-0 on the season.
Edgerrin James keeps doing his job, slicing through opponents and chalking up gains of 5 yards here, 7 yards there, until he gets worn out and takes himself out for a few plays. Today he ran for 108 yards on 27 carries (4.0 average) and scored the only touchdown of the day. He also caught two passes for 29 yards. Wide receivers Reggie Wayne (97 yards) and Marvin Harrison (53 yards) each had six catches.
The Colts offensive line continues to be solid, opening nice holes for James who has two consecutive 100-plus yard games and 88 in the other one. And they haven't allowed Peyton Manning to be sacked.
And hey, they're 3-0...so what's not to like?
Not a thing as long as the defense keeps holding teams to five points per game. Just pass the vanilla ice cream and sit back and enjoy the wins.
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