At 6-0 the Colts stand atop the NFL. A great defense and a revived offense indicate this is no fluke. But with success comes skepticism, and as well as the Colts have played, there are questions about what lies ahead of them.
As Gary Brackett lay in the middle of the field grimacing—seemingly injured more seriously than he was, the Colts depth on this blossoming defense came to mind. Without a doubt they have one of the deepest and most talented defensive lines in the NFL. Players coming off the bench like Robert Mathis and Larry Tripplett would surely be starters on a large number of NFL teams.
The concern of depth lies in the linebacking core and secondary. Had Brackett's injury been serious and Rob Morris was forced to step in his place, Gilbert Gardner would have become the team's only backup linebacker for Monday Night's game. Aside from Morris and Gardner, newcomer Keith O'Neil is the only other backup linebacker on the 53-man roster and is currently battling a shoulder injury.
In the secondary, not one of the healthy backups has more than two years of NFL experience coming into the season. Talented backup safeties Gerome Sapp and Dexter Reid have excelled on special teams units in the NFL, but haven't been given the opportunity to gain much game experience in the secondary. The Colts two backup corners Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden show great potential and physicality, but they are rookies—and could be a concern if forced to start against the likes of a David Givens or T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
A key to the depth of this secondary could be the recovery of Joseph Jefferson who displayed his potential on opening night. Health issues, however, have plagued his career and his recent battles with a nagging turf toe injury make his likelihood of long-term contribution questionable.
A Back-loaded Schedule
Of the Colts first six opponents, only one ranked among the top 18 offenses in the NFL as the records stand now. That team, of course, was the Rams, who did not exactly set the world on fire, but did move the ball at will and score 17 points before losing starting quarterback Mark Bulger, who ranks second in the NFL in passing yards.
Excluding division opponents, the Colts other six remaining games will match them against some of the best offenses in the NFL. In fact, the caliber of these offenses is staggering. Seattle, Cincinnati, Arizona and San Diego all have top ten offenses—1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 10th respectively—and Pittsburgh will likely have a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward and Duce Staley for their Monday Night showdown with the Colts.
The other out of division opponent, of course, is the New England Patriots. Sure, some are counting them out due to their slow start, but many also counted them out when Drew Bledsoe went down in the second game of the 2001 season. However, the 0-2 Patriots shocked the emerging Colts in week 3 of that season behind some no name, backup in college, 6th round draft pick named after a popular 1970's sitcom that still pesters the Colts to this day.
The Colts opponents thus far have a collective 13-20 record and combined for one playoff appearance last season.
The Colts remaining opponents (excluding the Texans, since they may forfeit the Colts match-ups in respect for David Carr's safety) boast a 25-21 record and combined for four playoff appearances and one Lombardi trophy last season.
The bottom line is the Colts are 6-0, have taken care of business and risen to every challenge they have faced. The Browns game and the near defensive breakdown in the closing minutes of the Jaguars contest weren't pretty--but a win is a win right?
The good news is the offense has finally come out of its shell, putting up an average of 34.6 points over their last three games. And despite a rocky start against the Rams and an injured opposing quarterback, the Colts did prove that they could slow one of the best offenses in the NFL.
After a friendly scrimmage with the Texans and a bye week, the Colts will have numerous chances to show once and for all that they are for real, that they do have a defense and that there isn't anything wrong with their offense. Barring injury or a total defensive meltdown, I, for one, believe they will prove all of the above.
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