What We Learned: 49ers at Colts

Since we already knew that an ugly win still counts as a win, what else did we learn against the 49ers? Brad Keller takes a look.

This is a much more effective offense when it is balanced: Without Anthony Gonzalez, without Donald Brown, and with a hobbled Reggie Wayne, this was a very different offense in Week 8 than we've seen so far this season.

Wayne did have 12 catches for 147 yards and the game-winning touchdown, but he needed 20 targets to get there and was definitely a half-step slow throughout the game, especially when Peyton Manning targeted him deep.  Between Wayne's 20 targets and the ten that Dallas Clark had — and he was much more efficient than Wayne's 60 percent conversion rate, with eight catches for 99 yards — that means 30 of Manning's 48 attempts were directed at either Clark or Wayne, which is 62.5 percent of his total attempts.

Without diversity in the running game and the passing game, the Colts were 0-for-4 in the red zone on Sunday and needed to settle for four Matt Stover field goals instead of cashing in for touchdowns.  One of the keys to the offense's success this season has been that everyone has gotten involved in the passing game, especially in the red zone.

San Francisco's corners — Shawntae Spencer in particular — gave Wayne a 15-yard cushion and he took full advantage of it.  But, when Indianapolis got inside the 20 in Week 8, the 49ers knew to stay close to the line, take away Clark and Wayne, and like their odds.  That's exactly what they did and the odds turned out in their favor.

Brown is more sorely missed than Gonzalez: Pierre Garcon has fallen off quite a bit since he seemed to be connecting with Manning and improving his game by leaps and bounds in Weeks 2-5.  He has had lapses in concentration since the bye week, struggling on deep passes, getting flagging for a couple of holding penalties, and fumbling once, though he didn't lose it.

It's not time to give up on Garcon just yet, but it may be time to think about the fact that Joseph Addai's production declines precipitously once he tallies more than 15 carries in a game.  Brown is not only a good change-of-pace back, he also allows Addai to take a breather from time to time in order to keep him fresh.

It's possible that the Colts didn't probe the edges of the formation in the running game because Addai was gassed and couldn't get to the corner.  They therefore focused up the middle, where they weren't nearly as effective, particularly because of the stellar play of Aubrayo Franklin and the fact that . . .

. . . Mike Pollak has regressed since his rookie season:Pollak was consistently blown off the ball by Franklin and was responsible for a giving up the third sack of Manning towards the end of the first half.  Pollak's regression is part of the reason that the Colts have not been effective running the ball thus far in 2009.

In 2008, they finished 31st in the league in average rushing yards per game and didn't have the confidence to run the ball on third and two.  On Sunday, they were 30th in rushing yards per game and weren't able to gain two yards on third and two on two occasions, though they did convert on fourth and inches to close out the game.

Tackling is a concern: Against Tennessee and St. Louis, the Indianapolis defenders were able to put their opponents down with their shoulders and elbows and were able to use their explosive speed to get to the ball carrier and make him pay.

Against Frank Gore and the 49ers, leading with their shoulders and elbows led to a 64-yard touchdown run by Gore.  Granted, that was an isolated incident, but yards after contact and missed tackles were rampant on Sunday.

Still, the run defense looked strong: That sounds like a strange statement considering that Gore averaged seven yards per carry on 13 attempts, but, take away the aforementioned 64-yard touchdown and Gore had only 12 carries for 27 yards, which is not an impressive average at all.

For a defense that gave up seven points before it had a chance to catch its breath, giving up only 14 points for the game is a tremendous effort for an oft-maligned and overlooked unit.

Speaking of defense, Jerraud Powers, Jacob Lacey, and Melvin Bullitt don't get the headlines, but they're still making a big contribution: Bob Sanders had the big interception, but Bullitt was still solid, although the "snap count" that Sanders is currently on seems to be ratcheting up.  He'll probably play the entire game against the Texans and most definitely against the Patriots and Ravens.

Powers and Lacey have filled in more than admirably in the absence of Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson, with Jackson being the most notably absent member of the secondary thus far this season now that Sanders has returned. When Jackson does come back at 100 percent, the Colts will once again have one of the deepest secondaries in the NFL.

Matt Stover was 4-for-4, but Colts fans should want Adam Vinatieri back as soon as possible: Stover made four fairly short field goals by a total of six yards from left-to-right.  He lacks the automatic, split the uprights ability of Vinatieri. But they all went in, which is better than the alternative.


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