The Colts put together their most impressive effort of the season Sunday night. The defense consistently put pressure on Warner, penetrated to hit ball carriers in the backfield, displayed discipline deep that led to two interceptions, and allowed only one passing touchdown to one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
The offense dominated the Cardinals defense in all phases of the game, generating 126 yards on the ground (4.2 yard avg.) and 379 yards passing, including touchdowns to four players, for a total of 505 offensive yards.
This win was the culmination of an astounding team effort, with the vast majority of players contributing.
Who Looked Good On Offense?
Peyton Manning completed 24-of-35 passes (68.6 percent) for 379 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception, for a passer rating of 130.5. He was able to exploit the Cardinals defense deep, connecting with Pierre Garcon for a 53-yard touchdown, and found holes short, including a 72-yard connection to rookie running back Donald Brown.
Garcon found the end zone for the second-straight game
Christian Peterson/Getty Images
Even Manning's interception came only when the Cardinals generated pressure up the middle, getting a hand on his arm as it moved forward to release the ball.
Two outstanding performances in a row make it clear that Manning is at the top of his game, will keep the Colts in any contest, and may push for his fourth MVP in 2009.
Both Joseph Addai and Donald Brown were effective carrying the ball, with Addai rushing for 63 yards on 13 runs (4.8 avg.) and Brown adding 40 yards on 14 carries (2.9 avg.). Brown's numbers are a bit misleading, as he took the ball late in the game with the Cardinals selling out to keep the Colts from running the clock.
Including Brown's 72 yard reception and 21 yard kickoff return, he finished the game with 133 all-purpose-yards, his highest production on the year.
Reggie Wayne topped 100 yards receiving (126) making some impressive plays along the way, including a one-handed touchdown grab at the goal line in the second quarter. Dallas Clark picked up another touchdown, hauling in seven passes for 62 yards.
Rookie Austin Collie added three catches for 47 yards, his biggest offensive impact this season. Second-year player Pierre Garcon looked even more impressive, making three receptions for 64 yards, including his second long touchdown reception in two weeks, scoring on a 53 yard grab, also in the second quarter.
None of this would have been possible without exceptional blocking from the offensive line, shutting out a Cardinals defense that led the league with eight sacks coming into the game.
It takes the most critical eye to find an offensive goat in the game. That said, right guard Mike Pollak was the biggest weakness on the offensive line, allowing pressure up the middle, resulting in the Manning interception.
Howard Mudd must agree that Pollak plays hot and cold, as teammate Kyle DeVan split time with him at the position.
Who Looked Good On Defense?
The highlight of the game defensively has to be the pressure generated by the front four. Dwight Freeney recorded two sacks, hurried Warner four times, made a tackle for a four-yard loss, forced a fumble, and drew two holding penalties. He left the game in the fourth quarter with an undisclosed leg injury but walked off on his own and did not seem to be in pain.
The defensive front harassed Warner all night
AP Photo/Matt York
Raheem Brock continued his solid play by chipping in a sack, two tackles for a loss, and a quarterback hurry. Robert Mathis also recorded a sack, two hurries, and a tackle for a loss. Even Eric Foster and Daniel Muir got in on the fun, with Foster hurrying Warner twice, Muir once.
The second most impressive game defensively was played by Antoine Bethea, who made eight total tackles, including six solos, an interception,a pass defensed, a tackle for a loss, and a fumble recovery. He tackled soundly throughout the entire game and looked very alert both in run support and the passing lanes.
Bethea was not alone, as much of the Colts secondary stood out in the game. Melvin Bullitt made four tackles, two solos, one of them stopping a Steve Breaston touchdown, and forced a fumble. Jacob Lacey spent a considerable amount of time on the field, drawing Larry Fitzgerald primarily, and looked very good in close coverage. Lacey recorded three solo tackles on defense, a pass defensed, and added two special teams tackles.
Even rookie cornerback Jerraud Powers finished the game with seven solo tackles and played solid in coverage for much of the game. Marlin Jackson added two tackles, one solo, a quarterback hurry, an interception, and a pass defensed. Much maligned Tim Jennings made seven tackles, six solos, and knocked down three passes.
The biggest surprise of the game has to be the solid play of backup linebacker Freddy Keiaho, who filled in admirably for a missing Gary Brackett. Although he was called for a passing interference penalty that allowed the Cardinals to get a new set of downs on third-and-long, he looked good on a blitz in the fourth quarter, hurrying Warner, and recorded four tackles (three solo).
Despite Jennings' impressive stats for the game, he still was targeted a lot on third down, allowing conversions that kept the Cardinals offense on the field. Cornerback Jerraud Powers also blew his coverage on Fitzgerald on one play; Fitzgerald was fortunately unable to make a play on the ball.
Who Looked Good On Special Teams:
It should be noted that the Colts coverage units played well, limiting the Cardinals kick returns to a 19.5 yard average, including two touchbacks for Pat McAfee. They also limited the ever-dangerous Steve Breaston to a 4.3 yard average on three punts. The team did commit two penalties for 18 yards on returns, however, which needs to be corrected.
Overall, the Colts played well on both sides of the ball and dominated the defending NFC champions on the road, on a short week, with a defense that spent more than three quarters of the previous game on the field.
While the players deserve a great deal of credit for an outstanding effort, the coaching staff has to be recognized for having the team rested and ready under unfavorable circumstances.
Defensive Coordinator Larry Coyer deserves credit in particular, as his defense was without starters Kelvin Hayden, Gary Brackett, and Bob Sanders and was still able to hold a powerful offense to only 10 points.
With the win, the Colts move to 3-0, have a two-game lead in the AFC South, and look forward to facing the Seattle Seahawks at home next Sunday; who may still be without starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
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