10 QUESTIONS: Colts vs Patriots Championship Playoffs - Part 1
Todd Taylor is an insider for Coltpower.com the Colts site on the Scout Network.
Q) The Colts' defense has been much maligned leading into the playoffs. What changed when the Colts made it to the playoffs?
Todd Taylor: It has been well documented that the return of Bob Sanders has made a big difference for the Colts' defense in the playoffs, but one of the biggest changes is that the defense as a whole is finally healthy, particularly in the secondary.
Two players that stepped into new roles during the course of the season -- Rob Morris, who assumed SLB duties late in the season and Anthony "Booger" McFarland who stepped in at DT -- are really coming into their own, proving to be effective run stoppers. The two have combined for 17 tackles in the playoffs.
Also, the defense is getting off the field, something very important for an undersized unit such as the Colts. Opponents' time of possession in the regular season was 30:28 and it is only 24:37 thus far in the postseason.
Q) How have injuries impacted the makeup of the Colts roster on offense and defense? Obviously the return of Bob Sanders was one issue, were there others?
TT: One key injury for the Colts that is seldom referenced by the media is the loss of DT Montae Reagor, who was involved in a serious car accident that required facial surgery early in the season. Reagor, who had 77 tackles and 10.5 sacks from 2004-05, has been out since week six.
Losing Reagor for the season, coupled with the preseason loss of DT Corey Simon, erased the team's two starting defensive tackles from the 2005-06 season. The Colts were forced to move Raheem Brock to DT to begin the season and to trade a high draft pick for DT McFarland following Reagor's injury to compensate for the losses.
Offensively, the Colts have remained fairly healthy. The biggest concern had been the loss of WR Brandon Stokley, but TE Dallas Clark has essentially become the slot receiver (11 catches for 144 yards in the postseason) and Ben Utecht has stepped up as a second option at TE, finishing the regular season with 37 catches.
Q) Rookie Joseph Addai had a strong regular season. How has he fared in the postseason?
TT: I think Joesph Addai had a better regular season than anyone could have anticipated, leading all rookies in rushing yards, 1,081, and averaging 4.8 yards per carry while splitting time with veteran Dominic Rhodes.
While his yards per rush are down through two playoff games, 3.7 ypc, he is averaging 80.5 rushing yards per game and has 10 catches for 48 yards. Perhaps more importantly, he has been solid in pass protection and doesn't turn the ball over very often - he lost only two fumbles on the season.
Addai is battling a shoulder injury that limited his playing time in the second half of the Ravens game, but should be good to go against the Patriots on Sunday. Overall, Addai has again exceeded expectations in the playoffs.
Q: Peyton Manning has one touchdown and five interceptions in the playoffs. What is it causing Manning to turn the ball over?
TT: As Patriots fans well know, Kansas City's Ty Law is one major reason for Manning's struggles and Baltimore's Ed Reed is another. With the Ravens, incredible personnel and arguably the best defense in the NFL were obvious factors.
But something has to be said about playoff jitters for Manning, who can't escape the "never won the big one" tag and appears to be forcing some throws that are uncharacteristic - throws that were few and far between in the regular season.
In Manning's defense, aside from a handful of bad throws, he has done a good job of taking what the defenses have given him in the playoffs and is helping the offense sustain drives with the short passing game. He is completing 66 percent of his passes for 219 yards per game in the postseason and I would expect nothing less than a positive touchdown to interception ratio from him on Sunday.
Q) Is this a better Indy team than the one that made it to last year's playoffs? What are the main differences between the rosters?
TT: That's a tough question. On paper, I would have to say no, this team isn't better. At this point in the season David Thornton, Larry Tripplett, Mike Doss, Simon, Reagor, Stokley and Edgerrin James are all missing from last season's playoff roster. When you look through those names you see a lot of veteran leadership.
The only key additions for the Colts, aside from rookies, were McFarland and Adam Vinatieri, who has been worth every penny, scoring 24 of the team's 38 points in the playoffs.
While the Colts have plugged many of the other holes left from the above list, from strictly a roster standpoint, I would have to say last year's team was better -- as evident in their regular season domination. Last year, the Colts won by an average of 15.4 points in their regular season games, while this year they only won by an average of 8.9 points.
That being said, this Colts' team comes into the AFC Championship with more momentum than any previous Colts' team has generated in the playoffs since the 1995-96 squad. And as we all know, momentum is everything come playoff time.
Look for Part 2 where Todd offers more answers to your questions about the Colts