Charlie Bernstein: The Colts normally fly out of the gate and don't lose their first game until late October. Through two weeks they look very beatable. What gives?
Eric Hartz: I think a lot of it goes back to the fact that, despite an extended preseason, the Colts' first-team offensive and defensive units haven't gotten a whole lot of reps together to this point. Peyton Manning missed all of training camp recovering from knee surgery, and the offensive line has been in a constant state of flux, with Ryan Lilja, Jeff Saturday and Mike Pollak all missing significant time. Charlie Johnson, for example, has played every position on the line except center, and Steve Justice and Daniel Federkeil have been shifted around a bit too.
On defense, too, there have been lots of different combinations playing together, especially at linebacker and on the defensive line. It takes time to make those adjustments, but with the roster seemingly settled, what's left is to get players healthy. The good news is that there's plenty of room for improvement in virtually every area of the game.
EH: It sounds like Sanders is going to miss some significant amount of time with the ankle injury he suffered. With Ugoh, Saturday and Clark, we'll know more as the week goes on, obviously, but Saturday is probably the most likely to play this week. He practiced the entire week before the Vikings game and was a pre-game decision. His return should provide a big boost to the offense.
Obviously, the loss of Sanders will hurt the defense tremendously, but Melvin Bullitt filled in well in the second half of the Minnesota game. Likewise, Clark being out robs Manning of one of his favorite targets, but Anthony Gonzalez showed he is capable of picking up the slack there. That leaves Ugoh, which is a concern because the Colts don't really have another proven left tackle. Charlie Johnson played there against Minnesota, but he seems better-suited at right tackle or guard.
CB: It appears as if teams, at least this season, are stacking up the box to stop Joseph Addai and forcing Peyton Manning and the passing game to beat them. That used to be a recipe for immediate disaster, why have Chicago and Minnesota found success with that game plan?
EH: When the running game is virtually non-existent, as it has been the last two weeks, that takes away one of Manning's best weapons — the play-action pass. It used to be that the Colts would run enough to set this play up, and Manning carries out his fakes well enough to get several big plays out of it each game. But with no reason to respect the run, and with Manning's mobility still a bit of a concern, play-action isn't a good option for the Colts right now.
I think as the season goes on, this offense will get a better idea of what it does well and begin to take advantage more. Getting healthy along the offensive line will help, too.
CB: What matchup can Jacksonville's nearly non-existent offense take advantage of?
EH:Jacksonville has had great success running the ball against the Colts, and I think that's still their best plan of action — a steady diet of Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor to wear the Colts down, and David Gerrard taking advantage with a well-timed play-action pass. Unfortunately for the Jaguars, like the Colts, the injuries along the offensive line have made this a lot easier in theory than in execution. But the Jaguars' offensive strength is in the running game, which is also the Colts' defensive weakness.
With one of the smallest defensive lines in the game, and Bob Sanders possibly out or not at 100 percent, how will the Colts plan to stop the run?
It really comes down to speed, which is what the Colts' defense is built for. They will have to use their speed to get to the ballcarrier early, and get their hands on him and slow him down. Then, the rest of the defense has to swarm to the ball and gang tackle. Much of this burden will fall on the linebackers, especially with Sanders sidelined. Freddy Keiaho, Gary Brackett and Clint Session all had a big second half against Minnesota, and hopefully the confidence they gained in that strong performance carries over this week.
CB: I remember the Indianapolis special teams coverage units being somewhat of a liability. How have they looked so far this year?
EH: Better. The average kickoff return against them is over three yards better so far, and no one has broken a really long kick return against them yet — this is especially impressive considering they faced Devin Hester in Week One. Adam Vinatieri has managed one touchback after only two all of last season, and through two games, they've downed five punts inside the 20. Last season, they only managed that 24 times, and the previous three seasons were even worse, only doing that 17, 17, and 16 times.
More importantly, they've made some big plays. When Hester tried to lull the Colts to sleep before running one out of the end zone, Bullitt sliced in and brought him down at the three-yard line. Last week, Tim Jennings' downing of a punt at the two-yard-line ended up being one of the game's biggest plays. In the past, kick coverage was consistently a negative, both in terms of field position and momentum. No doubt this was a point of emphasis for the Colts' coaching staff in the offseason, but so far, it looks like they have made significant improvement.