Jerry Langton's "Observations"
...He understands the game like a coach and dissects every play like it was a treasure map. On Saturday, he watched the Seahawks and Colts play. And when he saw Shaun Alexander cut through the middle of the Indy defense like a chainsaw through styrofoam, he asked me: "Who are those guys wearing the Colts' uniforms?"
A joke perhaps, but he had a point. Many of the guys who played in Seattle were Colts, but they weren't THE Colts. Indianapolis didn't win 13 games in a row with Josh Williams anchoring the line of scrimmage or Jake Scott out on the right flank making quick decisions about Peyton Manning's future. While the popular media may concentrate solely on Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James (and may give a condescending nod to Tarik Glenn or Reggie Wayne when they're feeling generous), real Colts fans know that what makes the team a serious Super Bowl threat is people like Dwight Freeney, Corey Simon, Cato June, Robert Mathis and Ryan Diem, all of who played sparingly, if at all on Saturday.
• Seeing Manning sit for Jim Sorgi reminded me of last year's regular-season game against Denver. Realizing that the Colts would probably see the Broncos in the playoffs, the coaches didn't want them to get a look at what the first-team offense looked like. Fair enough, there's a pretty good chance the Colts could see the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, so it was probably best not to get them too used to the primary performers or their plans. Sorgi played very much like he always does — accurate when he throws, but holding on to the ball too long and locking onto his favorite guy. He'll improve with reps, but how many is he ever going to get? Far more interesting was watching Manning call plays from the sideline. With his football brain and dedication, it's been obvious that he's had coaching on his mind for a long time. He seems to me like a Hollywood leading man who, when asked what it's like to be a huge star, says: "what I'd really like to do is direct." Hey, it worked for Clint Eastwood.
• James played tough, but had little running room behind his makeshift line and with the Seahawks daring Sorgi to throw. I'm actually surprised he got any yards at all. Still, at least he found the line of scrimmage once in a while. His backups, the comedy team of Dominic Rhodes and James Mungro, rushed seven times for minus-five yards. Rhodes had the longest run, at one yard, and added six catches for 27 yards. If you include the two incomplete passes thrown their way, their 15 opportunities netted 22 yards or about four feet, five inches (about two inches less than Damian's height) per play. I don't know how many people out there still think Rhodes could take over for James, but I'm sure they don't voice their opinion as loudly as they did in the offseason.
• Brandon Stokely is a consummate professional and showed that he can succeed (five catches for 122 yards) with anybody at QB. I love to watch him play. His injury near the end of the game is somewhat troubling, but didn't look all that serious to me. If he is out, it's not that bad, as Troy Walters showed (eight catches 91 yards and a score as well as his accomplishments from previous seasons) that he could fill in at slot if necessary without a huge dropoff. The Colts rarely go with four wides — and when they do they are just as likely to use a Bryan Fletcher, Dallas Clark or James as the extra one — but could be concerned if Aaron Moorehead is pressed into action. I've seen him do a few good things in the past, although mostly against third-stringers in the preseason, but he looked overmatched and out of sorts against the Seahawks. His pass-interference penalty was flagrant and looked like he just wasn't thinking. As is becoming habitual, none of the tight ends impressed me. Clark has speed and hands but disappears for long, long stretches and Fletcher runs around a lot to little effect. Ben Utecht got his first real playing time in a while and look rusty and stiff. Ben Hartsock might as well ask his agent to start showing his college tapes to other teams.
• The offensive line play wasn't the horror movie I thought it would be. Although lots of people make a big deal about Jeff Saturday's stewardship of the group, it seems more to me that Glenn's quiet leadership is more valuable. Right guard Dylan Gandy looked much more grown up against Seattle than he did in the San Diego game and could be the keeper the coaches told us he'd be. He certainly outplayed left guard Ryan Lilja, the man he put on the bench in preseason. I like Lilja, but he just doesn't appear strong enough at this level. I've watched that pair (and guard-turned tackle Jake Scott) closely all year, and if I were sitting in Bill Polian's chair, I'd draft a guard or two on Day 1 this spring.
• While the offensive line was all the way up to mediocre, the defensive line was an atrocity. I was never one of those Colts fans who hated and criticized Josh Williams, but I may have become one this weekend. The difference between Simon in the middle and Williams is like NFL and JV. Against Seattle, who I admit has an outstanding interior line, the Colts were swept away like so much torn-up wrapping paper. I didn't see that happen when Simon was in there and I have witnessed it each and every time he wasn't. Coincidence? I think not. Almost as unsettling was the lack of pressure on the opposing quarterback. Josh Thomas and Raheem Brock are strong, smart, hardworking players who can mount a considerable pass rush when there's a Pro Bowler (or potential Hall of Famer) on the other side of the line. But when they look across the line and see each other on the other side, their usefulness fades. Freeney did play a few snaps, but was not very overly effective. Expect to see him return to normal when the games are of a win-or-go-home nature.
• I know everyone is going to talk about Gilbert Gardner's sack, and it was something I didn't expect and thoroughly enjoyed, but he was totally outplayed by far less heralded Keith O'Neil. Other than the sack, Gardner was normally chasing from behind, while O'Neil was plugging holes, shooting gaps and crashing into people's faces. And he looked smoother in coverage. If there were two seconds left in the Super Bowl, I was protecting a four-point lead and the bad guys were on my one, I'd call No. 53, long before 51. You know who else played some inspired ball? No. 94. Like it or not, he was solid in the middle. Rob Morris has been an exemplary performer on specials all year and has played some decent linebacker when called upon. He deserves another year.
• Nick Harper, who I have maligned as a lightweight his entire career (including the CFL), made the hit of the year when he turned Mack Strong, a man 63 pounds heavier than he is, inside-out. I still have some problems with his overall game, but I have to admit that, on that one play, he made me get out of my seat with nothing more than guts and strength. The rest of the cornerback story is less impressive. Jason David, who normally plays with precision, seems to have lost a lot of confidence and has gotten sloppy in coverage and tackling, That's not something someone his size can afford. While it may be tempting to lobby for his benching, the No. 3 and 4 corners both played clumsily against Seattle, with Marlin Jackson's penalty on a 3rd-and-4 incompletion being particularly flagrant. Both he and Kelvin Hayden have bright futures, but if the only film you watched was Saturday's game, you'd think they were undrafted rookies. Jackson's unnecessary penalty on a 3rd-and-4 incompletion looked particularly bone-headed. I'd stick with David and hope he rebounds. The safeties were rarely challenged and neither Gerome Sapp nor Mike Doss did anything to distinguish themselves.
• The big story on special teams was Jose Cortez's kickoffs. To me, they looked just like David Rayner's and were returned with just as much impunity. It looks very much like they fired the wrong guy. Walters, for the first time I've seen with him as a Colt, looked energized as a return man and fought very hard on both the punts he fielded. He put in an effort that I sincerely think has been lacking for most of this season.
Draft watch: I know the Colts are stocked with talented young corners — 2005's first and second choices and 2004's fourth and sixth — but they could make room for a guy like Southern Mississippi's John Eubanks. While his play at corner has been promising but inconsistent, he's one of the most natural runners I've seen in years — I'd go as far as to compare him with Deltha O'Neal when he was at Cal. Eubanks also has sure hands and is a steadfast special-teams tackler. In four years as a Golden Eagle, he's brought back 86 kicks for 2321 yards (a 26.99 average) and two scores. But his stats don't do him justice, he's just one of those few, rare players with the electric feet who can make a real difference. As a corner, he's skinny and plays that way, although he has a great deal of courage and can make big plays when called upon (four picks, three sacks, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble as a senior). While he may never be a starting defensive back and could even end up as a wide receiver in the pros, Eubanks has game-breaking return abilities and a game-saving special teams mentality. Although he was suspended for one game this year, he seems like solid young man.
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