Thompson: Inconsistency in all three aspects of the game. They've given up a big return or two in practically every game on special teams. Both the defense and offense have taken turns in games with costly penalties, which is very uncharacteristic for a Tony Dungy club. In the rare games where the defense has performed well, the offense has been out of sync, dropping passes and turning over the ball. More often, the Colts defense just couldn't stop the opponent's rushing attack. The loss of both of last year's starting defensive tackles (Montae Reagor and Corey Simon) and both of last year's starting safeties (Bob Sanders and Mike Doss), in addition to the free agency loss of strongside linebacker David Thornton, has had a substantial impact. Sixth-round draft pick Antoine Bethea actually earned the starter's role that Mike Doss had last year and has done a nice job, but it's a new mix of players out there this year and they haven't developed the chemistry needed to be successful.
Q: Peyton Manning took a not-so-subtle shot at his defense after the loss to Houston Sunday; any chance that could have a bad ripple effect on the Colts?
Thompson: I don't think so. His quote was taken out of context to some degree and I'm sure the team is well aware of it. Some media sources shortened his full quote and reported it like this: "It is what it is, we are what we are. It is not like basketball where guys can play both sides of the ball. You can only control when you are out there." That certainly sounds like he was taking a jab at the defense. But what they didn't report was the rest of his quote, which was, "When you are out there, your job is to score points. We needed to score more points today." So he actually stood up and took some of the hit for the defense, stating it was the offense's job to score more points. But cutting the quote short made for a better media frenzy.
Q: Is Manning blameless in the slump?
Thompson: No. Although he's the only quarterback in the NFL with a QB rating of over 100 points (100.9), he's had a couple of less-than-stellar games during the past six weeks. Against Dallas and Jacksonville, two of the team's losses, he only completed about 50 percent of his passes versus a season average of 65 percent. His yards per completion were low those weeks as well. He clearly struggled to find a way to crack the code of their defenses to keep the offense moving. That said, he's been terrific overall and I wouldn't want anyone else taking the snaps for Indy. But totally blameless? I can't go that far.
Thompson: It's been a pretty transparent change when you combine the stats of those two backs working as a tandem versus what James contributed. Unfortunately, they've also replaced his spotty performance in short yardage as well. The Colts are still struggling to run the ball on third-and-short and inside the opponent's 5-yard line. Addai has the ability to break runs for nice gains better than James was doing these last couple of seasons. And Rhodes is a nice change of pace as he's more of a north-south runner. Both catch the ball well out of the backfield like James could. Addai has also proven himself to be a solid blocking back, which was probably the biggest concern about losing James to the Cardinals via free agency earlier this year.
Q: Manning has some really bad numbers throughout his career against the Dolphins; why do you think that is?
Thompson: That's a great question that I'll bet Manning wishes he knew the answer to as well. I think three factors jump out at me when I think about the Dolphins defense over the years against Manning. First, they usually field a pretty big, physical group of defenders who are usually able to get some pressure on the quarterback and harass him, even if they don't get the sack. Second, they've got some smart players in that unit like Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor who really understand the game. Part of Manning's success comes from his cerebral approach to the game in real time with his audibles. I think with leaders like Thomas and Taylor out there, the Dolphins are able to disguise and adjust during the game to keep him off balance a bit. In the past, the Dolphins have also had a good, solid secondary with some veteran leadership as well. I'm not sure that will be as big of a factor in this game, though, with the injury problems Miami is having with that area of their defense.