Thompson: The only hope is if they can get themselves in position early, like they did with Cincinnati, where they force the opponent to play catch-up and make them more one-dimensional in the second half. When the Colts know you have to throw, you're in a dangerous position because their defensive ends, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, can really create problems. But for that to happen, the offense has to get off to faster starts and the defense just needs to come up with a couple of early stops by forcing a turnover or making a big play on third down. If they don't create a decent gap by halftime or at worst by the midpoint of the third quarter, it becomes harder for them to succeed.
Q: Why is it that Tony Dungy, who has a defensive background, hasn't been able to fix the Colts defense since taking over as head coach in 2002?
Thompson: Many of us have wondered the same thing. He was successful with this scheme for years, so you have to look at whether or not it's the personnel or the defensive coordinator, Ron Meeks, that is the main problem. It's probably fair to say it's a mixture of both. The Bears use a similar scheme and are successful. But they use an approach where they put more bulk in the middle -- which the Colts had with Corey Simon and Montae Reagor last year -- and bigger linebackers. You look at Brian Urlacher for the Bears in the middle and he's about 20 pounds heavier than Indy's middle linebacker, Gary Brackett, and about 30 pounds heavier than their weakside linebacker, Cato June. That's not an indictment of either of those guys because they are talented players, but when you have an offensive lineman coming off the line unblocked on most plays -- because the other four are capable of handling the smaller, lighter defensive linemen one-on-one -- and that lineman throws his big body in front of one of those fast, but lightweight linebackers, they are losing many of those battles if they can't slip by. That said, there have also been times that it was apparent that the talent out there wasn't set up properly to defend plays, and as a defensive coordinator, if the personnel provided to you is small and fast, you have to figure out a way to use it to your advantage.
Q: Dwight Freeney abused the Dolphins in the teams' last meeting with three sacks, including one that caused a game-clinching fumble. What kind of season is he having?
Thompson: Freeney is still as talented as ever, as evidenced by his three-sack, three-forced fumbles performance against the Bengals. But he has missed having Montae Reagor to his left at defensive tackle. Reagor was a disruptive force inside who challenged teams to pay attention to him or he'd get the sack instead. Raheem Brock, who used to play defensive end at the opposite end and would move inside next to Reagor as the LDT on passing downs, just hasn't been able to command the same respect playing full time at right defensive tackle. As a result, Freeney is seeing more double teams and tight end chipping than before. Freeney's only gotten 4.5 sacks, with three coming recently in that Cincinnati game. He's usually had a couple of multiple-sack games each year to boost his numbers. Last year he had five of his 11 in two games. The year before that, he got 12 of his 16 in just five games. This year, outside of the Bengals game, he's just been drawing too much attention and teams are running more, lowering his opportunities for sacks.
Q: Do you think the Colts have a chance in the playoffs or will the defensive shortcomings be too much to overcome?
Thompson: It's going to be an uphill battle for sure. Their best chance is for Peyton Manning to catch fire and for the offense to be as aggressive as it was back when he threw 49 touchdown passes. They need to light up the scoreboard and allow the defense to do what it does best -- protect a lead.
Q: How badly do the Colts need a victory in this game?
Thompson: Well, if you look at the fact that they've lost their last four road games, I'd say pretty darn bad. Even more important than the confidence factor heading into the playoffs, they know that with a win and a Ravens loss to the Bills on Sunday, they can regain the No. 2 seed and be assured of a bye and then a home game at minimum. And if San Diego stumbles in their first playoff game, the Colts would be in position to stay home for the AFC Championship if they get that far. If that's not enough incentive for them to play some lights-out football against Miami this weekend, I'm not sure what will do it for them.