Rich Tandler: Has the two-headed RB monster of Rhodes and Addai adequately replaced Edgerrin James?
Ed Thompson: That's certainly debatable, but I think "adequately" is a good term for it if you compare James' output last year to the combined output of Addai and Rhodes so far this year. James averaged 4.2 yards per carry last season while the tandem this year is averaging 3.9 -- with the rookie actually posting a higher average than James did with 4.6 per carry. The Colts on average threw to James just 3 times per game last year with an average of 7.7 yards gained each time. The tandem is catching 4.6 balls per game and is averaging about 6.5 per catch. They're on pace to contribute 16 TDs versus 14 by James last year, and they're matching his first-down production per game. Probably the only real losses so far is consistency and the benefit that extra reps can sometimes provide to a player that needs more than 12 – 16 per game to get in rhythm and show his full potential, and big runs of 20+ yards; but James only had five of those last year so it's not a major factor.
RT: Just looking at the stats, it looked like the Giants and Jags slowed Peyton Manning down at least somewhat. What is the "easier said than done" key to doing this?
ET: In those two games, pressure from their defensive line was a big factor even though they didn't register a bunch of sacks. Actually, I think the Titans did the most effective job, holding Manning and the offense to just 14 points last week by keeping everything in front of them for most of the game, forcing the Colts to run often and sustain drives if they wanted to score. The Colts stubbed their toe a few times along the way, which kept the score close and gave Tennessee a real shot at the upset.
RT: Dwight Freeney's stat line is shocking--5 games, 5 tackles, no sacks. Is it health or are other teams taking extraordinary measures to contain him?
ET: Mainly the latter. With Raheem Brock lining up to Freeney's left at defensive tackle for the first-time, teams are able to devote more attention to the Colts' Pro Bowl defensive end. Brock played left defensive end on rushing downs and left defensive tackle on passing downs last year, so this is his first experience playing full-time at DT and from the right side. With the Colts' addition of Anthony "Booger" McFarland this week through a trade with Tampa Bay, it'll be interesting to see where they slot him in. If they put him in paired up with Montae Reagor instead of Brock, teams may not be able to focus so much on Freeney without paying a price inside. Freeney did also have a buttocks muscle strain a few weeks back that stayed with him for a couple of weeks, and while he didn't let it stop him from playing, it certainly could have slowed him a bit.
RT: The Colts defense gets much less attention than their teammates on the other side of the ball. Tell us about their style of play, what they do particularly well and what are their weak spots?
ET: The Colts' defense is predicated on speed, so you'll find they have a bunch of players on the defensive line and at linebacker that many teams would consider to be undersized. They play Dungy's Tampa 2 (Cover 2) scheme that the players will tell you point blank is very simple. They each have a gap or coverage assignment and if they stay on task and wrap up with their tackling, it can be very effective. But if someone misses a tackle or blows their assignment by going with instinct versus their assigned spot, it can lead to big gains. Dungy's version of the Cover 2 basically splits the field into halves for the safeties and counts on the middle linebacker – defensive captain Gary Brackett -- to drop back to cover the middle zone. What this team does very well is defend against the pass and harass quarterbacks. They are excellent at getting pressure without having to use many blitz packages, so they don't have to rob from pass coverage often to get sacks. And you'll notice that when they get close to the quarterback, they just don't go for the sack; they are masterful at stripping the ball or hitting the quarterback's arm. The pressure also helps force bad throws and interceptions. But they aren't really built to stop the run. So against running teams, they count on forcing them to sustain drives hoping they will get an ill-timed penalty, a poor throw, dropped pass, or something that will kill the drive. This is a defense that is very talented, but is built to be most successful against a team that is playing catch-up and has to throw often.
RT: Nationally, there seems to be little buzz about the Colts' 5-0 record. It almost seems like everyone is waiting for January for this team to prove itself. Is that the general feeling around town and among Colts fans?
ET: You know, I just saw a stat the other day that showed that the Colts have won 27 of their last 30 regular season games. And one of those losses was near the end of the season last year when the Colts rested their starters, so you could say their first-string has won 27 of their last 29. Everyone, including the media, has become so accustomed to this team winning in the regular season that it's not really news any more when they win; it's practically expected. While the team is accomplishing that through taking care of business with the opponent at hand, I think you would find that most fans believe that the acid test that will differentiate this team from previous seasons is what can they do in the postseason.
Behind Enemy Lines With Ed Thompson, Part 2
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