Trends Looking More Familiar

Todd Taylor shares some important trends he's noted about the Colts as they gear up for their run for the playoffs.

Any remaining concern about the Indianapolis Colts' offense was officially put to rest Sunday afternoon following their 45-point explosion. Unfortunately, the concern now shifts back to the defensive unit after being scorched for almost 500 yards by the Cincinnati Bengals. Some things in Indy never change.

Indeed, Sunday's shootout against the Bengals was eerily reminiscent of the barnburners the Colts participated in against the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs during the 2004 season. In these contests it seemed the team who got the ball last would prevail. In fact, the refs could have saved some time and effort by letting each team start at the 50-yard line, while punters Hunter Smith and Kyle Larson could have gotten together for a friendly game of cards between their three combined punts.

Now ranked second in the NFL, the Colts' offense is once again among the league's elite statistically, right where it belongs. And after a slow start, in comparison with his record setting season, Manning is back to his old tricks with 983 yards and 9 touchdowns over the Colts' last three games.

The reemergence of tight end production has been a welcome sight for the Colts. Through the first six games, Colts' tight ends combined for only 18 receptions and one touchdown. Over the last four games they have grabbed 16 receptions for four touchdowns, making the Colts' offense all the more versatile.

It seems Dallas Clark has finally cleared out all the cobwebs and is ready to be a consistent contributor. And although Bryan Fletcher still looks funny wearing Marcus Pollard's old number 81, he has become a viable option over the last few weeks.

For a while it appeared backup running back Dominic Rhodes was never going to stay healthy this season, but he has come back and become the productive relief man for Edgerrin James he has been in the past. In fact, over the last six contests since returning from injury, Rhodes has 107 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns on 25 carries averaging over 4 yards a rush.

On the flip side, the Colts' defense looked porous on Sunday, exposed by the Bengals giving up almost 500 yards of total offense and nearly 8 yards per play. The secondary looked consistently lost for the first time this season as Carson Palmer lit them up for 335 yards through the air.

Indeed, the Colts' defense hasn't kept up their torrid pace from the beginning of the season, but they've faced three of the top ten offenses in the NFL over their last five contests.

Despite their poor performance against the Bengals and giving up a ton of points over their last five games, the Colts' defense has remained quite stable in yards allowed and turnovers forced. They have seen a slight dropoff in sacks.

Points PG Yards PG Turnovers PG Sacks PG
Games 1-5  5.8 291.4 2.0 4.0
Games 5-10  23.2* 294.8 1.8 2.4

*Seven points scored against the Colts in the last five games were not included in this average since they were scored against the special teams kickoff unit.

Also back to normal is Colts' kicker Mike Vanderjagt, voicing his opinions -- but what else is he to do? Without his kickoff duties and averaging just 1.2 field goal attempts per game…Vandy is quite bored.

In reference to kickoff specialist David Rayner's struggles with his kicks, Vanderjagt told the Indianapolis Star last week, "All I'll say is if it were me kicking that way, I'd be ripped up one side and down the other."

As hard as it is to admit, Vanderjagt has a point. Rayner has averaged 62.2 yards a kick, with opponents averaging 22.4 yards on returns. That equates to opponents starting at their 30-yard line on average.

Vanderjagt's career kickoff average is 60.3 yards, with opponents averaging 22.3 yards per return, resulting in opponents starting at their 32-yard line. In other words, Rayner's kickoffs have resulted in an improvement of two yards of field position from Vanderjagt's career average. Does that make Rayner worth a roster spot that could be used for a backup offensive lineman or linebacker -- two of the Colts thin spots? We know Vanderjagt's opinion…as always.

What isn't returning to normal, thankfully for the Colts, is their stronghold on the AFC playoff picture. The Colts will be rooting for the Dallas Cowboys when they host the 8-2 Denver Broncos on Thanksgiving Day as a Cowboy victory will result in a 3-game lead for the Colts over the rest of the AFC -- a rare cushion for a team only 10 games into the season.

Over the next few weeks the Colts will continue their march towards perfection with a Monday Night showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers and a trip to Jacksonville, which could result in the Colts locking up their third straight AFC South Championship.

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