What We Learned: Colts at Cardinals

Has Peyton Manning finally figured out the 3-4 defense? What does the future look like for Pierre Garcon? How about Donald Brown? And how about that defense? Brad Keller takes a look at what we learned on Sunday night.

Peyton Manning appears to have gotten the 3-4 monkey off his back: In three straight games against 3-4 defenses, Manning has been efficient and nearly flawless.  He has obviously put in some serious time in the film room with Jim Caldwell and Howard Mudd, dissecting defensive shifts and organizing protections to combat those shifts and it has shown on game day.

Manning was the one in control against the Dolphins in Week 2 and brought that control to a higher level against the Cardinals in Week 3.  He changed the snap count mid-drive, altered his cadence and timing throughout the game, and was prepared for every shift and wrinkle that Arizona could throw at him.

It will be interesting to see how he fares against more complicated 3-4 defenses that have been at it longer and have given him more trouble in the past — such the Steelers, Chargers, and Patriots — but the early results have been fantastic.

With Garcon thriving on the outside, shoujld Gonzalez come back to the slot?
Christian Peterson/Getty Images

Anthony Gonzalez had better hope his knee gets better sooner rather than later:  Pierre Garcon looked impressive and smooth against the Cardinals, building on a nice showing against Miami in Week 2.  Garcon only got five targets — converting on three of those targets for 64 yards and a touchdown — as compared to six for Austin Collie and nine apiece for Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne, but he has shown that he has all the tools to be successful in this offense.

He can catch the ball inside or outside, short or long, and runs precise routes.  On his touchdown, he was able to deftly execute the hitch-and-go that Marvin Harrison and Manning ran with such deadly efficiency for so many years.

When Gonzalez returns, Garcon has made a strong case that he should be on the perimeter and Gonzalez should be in the slot.  That would give the offense the best chance to succeed.

Are these actual blitzes?  Without Dwight Freeney, the pass rush will be severely diminished.  Also, the blitzing, attacking style of defensive coordinator Larry Coyer has yet to show itself.

Part of the reason for that could be that Indianapolis was doing just fine rushing the quarterback without much blitzing, but the fact remains that they need to get more players involved in the pass rush whether Freeney is healthy or not. Last season proved that Freeney and Robert Mathis can't do it all on their own.

The Colts need to get healthy on defense:  It's true that they held the vaunted Cardinals offense to only ten points, but they also allowed 363 yards.  Melvin Bullitt played a solid game and, along with Antoine Bethea, prevented Arizona from going deep on the few occasions when Kurt Warner had enough time to do so.

Jacob Lacey was caught out of position on a few occasions and Tim Jennings was targeted frequently.  The top three tacklers for the Colts and five of the top ten tacklers were defensive backs.  Arizona did have a four-to-one pass-to-run ratio, but that's still a sign that the secondary was allowing too many plays to be made in front of them or behind them.

Linebacker depth for Indianapolis is solid, since Freddy Keiaho, Jordan Senn, and Tyjuan Hagler have all started in this league and for this defense, but there is no match for the hustle and leadership of Gary Brackett when he is out there.

Freeney is the leader on the defensive line, Brackett for the linebackers, and Bob Sanders for the defensive backfield.  In order to succeed against a higher level of competition and make a deep playoff run — which is this team's ultimate goal — they will need to have their leaders and playmakers back on defense.

The return of Marlin Jackson has been lukewarm at best and Kelvin Hayden needs to show he's worth the contract extension he signed, so both of those guys need to do better, but this is not a defense that will allow only ten points to an elite team.

And, chances are that most other opponents will not be one-for-four in the red zone and zero-for-two in goal to go situations.

It is too early to write the obituary for Joseph Addai's season and career:  It's true that Donald Brown was in the game for most of the fourth quarter.  It's true that Brown had more carries than Addai.  It's true that Brown had an electrifying 72-yard reception.

But, it's also true that Addai started the game and was in with the first team during almost every red zone snap in the first three quarters.  And, ultimately, the 72-yard reception was as a result of a blown coverage.  Lance Ball or Chad Simpson could have gained 50 yards on that play.

Addai was in there when it counted and Brown was in there after the outcome had already been decided, which is when a team usually puts in their reserves. Also, Addai averaged 4.8 yards per carry on 13 carries, with a long run of 13.  Brown averaged 2.9 yards per attempt on 14 attempts, with a long of 23.

Take out Addai's longest run and he still has 12 carries for 50 yards (4.2 average).  Take away Brown's longest run and he has 17 yards on 13 carries (1.3 average).  Addai is more consistent and he's the guy that the Colts trust at the moment. 

This isn't to say that Brown can't continue to build on the momentum that he's established so far, it's just that it's too early to call Addai dead in the water. 

It's too early to say that the run defense is fixed:  Not that anyone was really thinking this, but in case anyone was.  The Cardinals ran the ball 12 times and didn't look good doing it, regardless of what Indianapolis did or didn't do on defense.  Arizona promptly abandoned the running game and spent the second half throwing the ball.

That's precisely what the Colts need to have happen in game situations in order to keep their numbers respectable, but that still doesn't mean the run defense is fixed.

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