What We Learned: Colts at Ravens

It wasn't pretty, but the Colts remain undefeated. Brad Keller takes a look at What We Learned in Week 11.

The margin for error may be larger than expected: Facing a desperate team on the road, the Colts turned the ball over three times, including what could have been a catastrophic red zone fumble by Tom Santi.  Manning was not always his precise, sharp self, throwing two interceptions.  The defense looked flat at times, were surprisingly loose in coverage for much of the game, and didn't get to Joe Flacco all game, registering zero sacks and zero quarterback hits.

They made it count in the red zone, though, and lucked out when Billy Cundiff missed a field goal late in the third quarter.  Overall, it was a resilient effort in a hostile environment and the playmakers for Indianapolis came through when they needed to.  The Colts escaped this game with a victory and, ultimately, that's all that matters.

But with the postseason looming, they cannot afford to come out this flat again, especially in January.  The margin for error is only going to get slimmer as the season wears on, so Indianapolis needs to play better if they expect to keep winning.

Jerraud Powers will not be picked on in the future: As long as offenses are able to pick on Jacob Lacey and Tim Jennings, they won't need to test Powers, who has proven himself to be a very effective cover corner and capable run defender.  Lacey's performance was atrocious, as he was caught out position several times, abused by Derrick Mason, and notably absent for long stretches in the second half, as he was replaced by Jennings.

The bad news is that Jennings didn't fare much better, which means Indianapolis has a serious hole in their defense until Kelvin Hayden is able to return.

The Week 10 debacle seemed to be excusable because Lacey was matched up against Randy Moss, but he seems to be regressing as the season progresses.  Although the play would've eventually been called back, he could have cost the Colts a key turnover by failing to fall on a Willis McGahee fumble in the first quarter.  He bobbled and kicked the ball for about 15 yards before eventually knocking it out of bounds.

Again, the play was challenged and the ruling on the field was overturned anyway, but that could have been a very costly mistake.  In coverage, Mason faked him out of his shoes on numerous occasions and he was often caught out of position.

This is why Larry Coyer was brought on board: The Colts defense is now attacking the line of scrimmage in the running game and their aggressiveness is paying huge dividends.  It obviously paid off on the goal line stand in the fourth quarter, but it also showed up on third and one in the third quarter, when Le'Ron McClain was dropped for a two yard loss, leading to the aforementioned missed field goal by Cundiff.

It also showed up on second-and-five on Baltimore's final drive.  Operating out of the shotgun, Ray Rice was dropped for a two yard loss.  If he had gained a few yards or rushed for the first down, the complexion of the game would have changed.  Instead, Gary Brackett intercepted Flacco on third down and the game was effectively over.

Indianapolis had a similar goal line stand against the Steelers in 2008, but hidden plays like the ones mentioned above are plays that would have gone the other way last season and in previous seasons.  There has been a huge shift in attitude and technique on defense and that shift can be directly attributed to Coyer.

Gary Brackett showed why he is the captain of this defense: This was just a fantastic effort by Brackett.  He was all over the field, both against the run and the pass.  He was involved in both the second- and third-down stops on the goal-line stand.  He topped off a dominant nine tackle performance by perfectly executing a bait-and-switch on Flacco, engaging the guard as if coming on the blitz, then backpeddaling into coverage and snaring Flacco's third down pass to ice the game.

Without Bob Sanders, Marlin Jackson, and Tyjuan Hagler for the remainder of the season, this defense needs all the veteran leadership it can muster and Brackett displayed exactly that on Sunday.

Peyton Manning and Pierre Garcon will always have Sluggo: One of the signature plays of the Manning-to-Harrison era was the slant-and-go.  Manning and Harrison seemed to be able to execute the play flawlessly at will and Garcon and Manning seemed to have worked out the kinks on their version of the sluggo.

By running it twice early on — with one of the plays going for 66-yard completion that set up the opening touchdown — and that opened things up for Garcon and Manning to work underneath.  They were successful on a couple of quick screens and slants and Garcon finished with six catches and 108 yards on eight targets, which was critical to the effectiveness of the passing game on a day when Reggie Wayne "struggled" with only 89 yards and Dallas Clark was neutralized. 

Speaking of Clark, he'll be back: The Ravens were able to take Clark away by committing their very talented linebackers to him and giving the linebackers safety help over the top.  They bracketed Clark and were able to hold him to one reception for three yards.

No matter how pretty that one catch was, that's still a disappointing outing for the talented tight end.  Next week, the Colts play the Texans, whom Clark victimized for 119 yards on 14 receptions in Week 9.


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