Behind Enemy Lines With Ed Thompson, Part 1

Warpath asked Ed Thompson, publisher of ColtPower, our Colts affiliate at about a player of interest to many Redskins fans -- Colts safety Mike Doss, Peyton Manning's single best attribute, how the Colts fare against a blitzing defense like Washington's and more in the first half of this feature.

Rich Tandler: A lot of Skins fans wish that the team had drafted Mike Doss a few years ago. How has he been playing?

Ed Thompson:  Doss came out strong his rookie year, but has been inconsistent at times over the past two seasons. He was bothered by a calf injury during most of training camp and ended up watching the team's sixth-round draft pick, Antoine Bethea out of Howard University, take his job away. Bethea was paired up with Bob Sanders for the team's first two games of the season, but then Sanders needed arthroscopic knee surgery. So Bethea slid over to his spot, putting Doss back on the field for the past three games. And Doss has played some pretty darn good football himself since then, obviously inspired by the challenge. He's intercepted two passes and was credited for 5 passes defensed over the past three games as a starter. And he made 15 tackles to boot. With Sanders likely to return to the lineup on Sunday, it'll be interesting to see if the Colts put Doss back on the sidelines. 

RT:  Who is the Colts player that Redskins fans are least likely to know, but will notice on Sunday?

ET:  As long as he remains the starter, and I believe he will, it has to be Bethea. The rookie led Howard University in tackles for three seasons, and it's easy to see why. Bethea has such great instincts on the field that he's always around the ball, and as a result during the preseason he grabbed a number of turnovers. While he doesn't deliver the devastating blows that Sanders does, ball-carriers usually go down when they end up in Bethea's line of sight. Whether it's a back who makes sharp cuts or a bruising one who thinks he's going to run Bethea over, they usually end up on the ground when they get near him. If the Colts opt to put him on the sidelines this week, the other guy that will likely stand out will be tight end Ben Utecht. He's been banged up a bit this season, but with their slot receiver, Brandon Stokley, likely to miss this game, the Colts will rely more on their top two tight ends, Dallas Clark and Utecht, for some key catches. Utecht has good hands and can grab some decent yards after the catch.

RT:  What is Peyton Manning's single strongest attribute as a quarterback?

ET:  Undoubtedly his field intelligence has to be his best attribute. Watching him as he reads and interprets the defense at the line of scrimmage, then calling the offense on the fly before the snap is amazing. Sure, it takes an incredible amount of preparation through the week, but having the ability to accurately analyze your opponent the way he does in mere seconds before the snap is a real treat to watch. For as good as his skills and mechanics are as a passer, he makes his job easier by spotting the weaknesses of his opponents real-time on the field. There's no one else in the NFL now or in recent history who does that as well as he does.

RT:  Washington's defense under Gregg Williams is an aggressive, blitzing unit. How do Manning and the Indy offense generally fare against such schemes?

ET:  They've had mixed results based on the talent level of the opposing defenses. If the secondary and linebackers who drop back in coverage on the blitz do an effective job of blanketing the receivers, the Colts can struggle at times in picking up the blitz -- especially if it's coming from a variety of angles throughout the game. But Manning and his receivers will force teams to abandon the blitz pretty quickly if they can't back it up with great coverage. He'll find the open receivers quickly because he's so fast with his reads and uses his full complement of wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. The receivers do a great job of being aware of the blitz as well thanks to Manning's play-calling at the line, so you rarely see them running downfield unaware that they need to break off their route to give him a quick target. Manning talked this week about how the team is working on getting off to a faster start offensively than they have in recent weeks so that they can play with a lead earlier on rather than relying on late heroics for the win. So we'll likely see that passing game versus the blitz tested right out of the gate on Sunday.

RT:  Is there something about Tony Dungy's coaching style or philosophy that is a fatal flaw that keeps his teams from going as far as some would argue their talent should take them?

ET:  I don't think so. This team is maturing under his leadership and has shown some great poise this season under some difficult situations, as they did late in the game against the Jets when they scored two touchdowns in the closing minutes. If there is anything to question as a result of his style of leadership, it may be that the Colts approach the game in such a business-like manner these days that you wonder at times if the emotion that occasionally fuels other teams to new heights at critical moments is missing. The other side of that coin, which has been huge in some of their recent victories, is that as a result of that approach, this team does not panic. They continue to plod along, believing that they will win whether they are trailing at the half or in the closing minutes. And while their wins have been tighter than most Colts fans are used to seeing, they are still winning. Dungy has been tremendous in instilling a winning approach and attitude amongst this team that many years ago used to be someone that the rest of the NFL looked forward to kicking around on any given Sunday. With the level of competition in the league and the changes that have brought more parity to the talent level across the NFL, the key is to keep your team in contention for the playoffs so you have a chance to win it all, and then hope that you can string together the wins needed in January to earn a shot at the Lombardi Trophy. While the Colts haven't gotten to the big dance yet under Dungy, he's consistently making sure the team has the opportunity to get there come playoff time.

Check back on Friday for Part 2 of "Behind Enemy Lines With Ed Thompson" where he'll tackle questions about the Colts' defense, the rushing tandem of Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes, and much more!

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