Don't miss Part 1
1) Why have the Colts stumbled to a 3-4 record this season when they seem to have all the talent they've had in the past?
Eric Hartz: There are a multitude of reasons, starting with injuries. The offensive line has been a mess, with starting left guard Ryan Lilja missing the entire season to this point, Jeff Saturday missing two games, Tony Ugoh missing time with a groin injury and two rookies, Jamey Richard and Mike Pollak, starting at times. Pollak was on the inside track for a starting job anyway, however.
The injuries up front have led to problems running the ball, and Peyton Manning hasn't been as sharp as he normally is after missing the preseason with a knee injury. Dallas Clark and the other tight ends have also missed time with injuries.
Defensively, the Colts also lost a pair of players that figured to be a big part of the front line when Quinn Pitcock decided not to show up to camp and Ed Johnson was kicked off the team. In the secondary, Bob Sanders, Kelvin Hayden and now Marlin Jackson have been on the injury list.
The other reason is that the Colts just haven't been consistent. They were dominated by both Green Bay and Chicago, and played well but couldn't finish the job against Jacksonville and Tennessee. In the Colts three wins, they've really only put together a complete performance once a 31-3 win over Baltimore.
2) What does the loss of Marlin Jackson mean to the Colts? What will they do to address the loss?
|DB Marlin Jackson gone for the year with a knee injury (Getty)|
EH: It's a big one. Outside of Sanders, Jackson is the best tackler in the secondary and usually draws the opposing teams most physical receiver. He's also a part of a defensive wrinkle that Patriots fans will remember from when he made the game-clinching interception in the 2006 AFC Championship. On that play, and often in the Colts' nickel package, Jackson slides inside to the nickelback and Tim Jennings plays corner. This usually gets Jackson in the middle of the field where he's better able to help with tackling support. This strategy has backfired, too, like in last year's regular-season meeting with the Patriots, when Randy Moss was able to take advantage of the smaller Jennings for a couple of big catches. Another big receiver, Jacksonville's Matt Jones, also was able to take advantage of this matchup, and it's been a subject for debate around ColtPower about how sound the strategy is.
With Jackson out and Kelvin Hayden's status uncertain, it's a sure bet that Jennings will play one of the corner positions. If Hayden is unable to go, you'll likely see Dante Hughes at the other corner. I wouldn't be surprised to see some wrinkles out of the secondary this week, with Bob Sanders expected to return, but be limited. With his replacement, Melvin Bullitt, playing well, the Colts will look to get Bullitt on the field quite a bit. Definitely a unit worth watching on Sunday.
3) Rumor is that there's something up with Peyton, whether it's the leg, shoulder or even his hand. What is the real story, and why isn't he playing like the Peyton of old?
EH: He was asked if he was still injured this week and his answer was "No, that's not the case. Although if it was, I probably wouldn't tell you." I've heard the hand rumors. They have been roundly denied by the Colts, which doesn't necessarily mean they're not true, but I think the most likely explanation is a combination of rust and a possible loss of either arm or leg strength. Clearly, his knee injury affected his play at the beginning of the season, but his knee doesn't seem to be bothering him now. He visibly lost some weight during his recovery from surgery and this could be affecting either the zip he's putting on the ball or his leg drive, leading to underthrown passes. It's a mystery, for sure, and (despite what many opposing fans often seem to think) Peyton doesn't like to make excuses, so we may never know if he's simply in a slump of if there's an injury he's still compensating for.
4) What is the biggest weakness of the Colts and how have teams exploited it?
EH: The easy answer is the run defense, which has ranged from mediocre to flat-out awful. I think that was the biggest attribute in the losses to the Bears and the Jaguars. The other problem is the defense's inability to get off the field on third down, whether it's by giving up short-to-intermediate passes or committing costly penalties. This was true in the Green Bay, Tennessee and Jacksonville games.
The offense has also been inconsistent, particularly by the Colts' standards, and there have been coaching errors as well. I don't know if there's just one big weakness that you can point to, other than the fact that the team just hasn't been consistent as a whole.
5) What has worked well for Indianapolis in their three wins, and do you think they can exploit that against the Patriots?
|DL Mathis (98) and Freeney (93) should gat back on track against New England (Andy Lyons/Getty)|
EH: When they can get the defense flying around, getting stops, and giving Manning time to work, the Colts have been very good. When the defense has struggled, that has put a burden on the offense, especially Manning, to try to force things that aren't always there. Getting pressure on the quarterback and forcing turnovers is also something that's been very important to the Colts in their three wins. This has traditionally been an Indianapolis strength, but it's been hit-or-miss this year.
Matt Cassel has been sacked a lot, and like a lot of inexperienced quarterbacks, has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long. Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Raheem Brock will need to get some cracks at him if the Colts want to win.
6) The Patriots have had to deal with injuries in the past, including the AFCC the year the Colts won the Super Bowl. How have the colts dealt with injury, and who is going to be impacted by that in this game (i.e. who might be limited by injury)?
EH: I would say the Colts' record indicates they haven't dealt all that well with injuries. There are still major concerns on both sides of the ball. On offense, Lilja hasn't practiced and it's questionable if he plays at all this season. Joseph Addai is expected to play, but his explosiveness could be limited by his hamstring injury. Dominic Rhodes also has a sore ankle, and a big concern is Reggie Wayne's knee injury, which he suffered in the Tennessee game. It kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday. If he can't go, it's a major blow to the Colts, as Wayne has been the team's best offensive player.
On defense, the Colts will have to adjust without Jackson, but injuries in the secondary are nothing new and the DBs are used to shuffling around. Sanders will bear watching after a knee surgery last month. He's such a game-changer because he plays with such intensity. If his body isn't willing, he may not be as explosive.
Don't miss Part 1
Jon Scott covers the New England Patriots for Patriots Insider, a division of Scout.com
Eric Hartz covers the Colts for ColtPower.com, a division of Scout.com