What We Learned: Colts at Raiders

Greg Talmage shares what we learned from watching the Indianapolis Colts escape with a 21-14 win over the Oakland Raiders Sunday.

1. The Colts won't play a meaningful game again until the second weekend of January:

With Sunday's win and Pittsburgh's loss at home against Jacksonville, Indianapolis has locked up the AFC's No. 2 seed. So now, all eyes are on coach Tony Dungy. Will he play his starters next week or not?

A full month off is likely not a good idea. It just seems to be too much time to develop rust. So expect Dungy to treat the last two games like the third and fourth preseason games. The starters will likely play about a half next week and then maybe a series or two in the final week. Anyone who has been nursing an injury will be unlikely to see time in the final two games.

2. Freddy Keiaho and Kelvin Hayden can hit:

Anyone who has watched Indianapolis this season already knows this, but their play Sunday reinforced it. Keiaho was flying around all afternoon and did an excellent job of peeling off blocks, finding the ball and laying the hit. He ended the day with 10 tackles and four assists. No other Colt had more than five tackles.

Hayden also had a very solid game. He had a monster hit on a scrambling Josh McCown and got good licks all afternoon on Raider receivers. On top of that, and most importantly, Hayden was very solid in coverage.

3. This Colts team is better prepared for a game in the elements than previous Colts teams — if they can rediscover the running game:

The talking heads say that this 2007 version of the Indianapolis Colts is better prepared to play a game in the elements than the Colts of 2003 or 2004. That might be true on the defensive side of the ball.

But I'm not sure about the offense and this week did nothing to change my mind. For some reason, this current Colts team has been very quick to abandon the running game in recent weeks. In the cold and snow, teams better be able to run the ball.

It's not clear why Indianapolis has stopped running the ball of late, but it could have to do with the fact that RB Joseph Addai is dealing with some nagging shoulder and rib injuries. Plus, it's been a revolving door of offensive linemen in front of him.

Last year the Colts won the Super Bowl thanks in large part to the run-blocking skills of their offensive line. If they return to that form again this postseason, it's going to be a fun month of January.

Tony Ugoh and Marvin Harrison
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

4. Pass protection, especially at the tackle position, is struggling:

The Colts have had their fair share of pass blocking problems this season and it continued Sunday. Manning was sacked three times and his one interception was caused when the left end got a hand on Manning after blowing past RT Charlie Johnson.

Besides Johnson, Tony Ugoh also had some problems today, especially when trying to block his man without help. The Colts now have some time to work on this and need to get it fixed. The young tackles are having some trouble recognizing linebacker blitzes or overloads. A lot of help will come if the Colts can get OT Ryan Diem back from injury.

Now it's time to get healthy: It was pointed out several times on Sunday's television coverage that the Colts defense was playing with only two starters (Brackett and Sanders) from the Super Bowl defense. Not counting those on IR, the Colts were without the following starters: Robert Mathis, Marvin Harrison, Antoine Bethea, Ryan Diem and Raheem Brock.

The Colts now have close to a month to get these above-listed players back healthy. The danger, though, is these players getting out of game condition over this period. So you'll likely read about some of them hitting the practice field over the next three weeks, but you're unlikely to see any of them in a game until the divisional round of the playoffs.

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