Q: How improved is the Colt's defense overall from last year
and how have they looked thus far?
A: I think you're going to see that the Colts are still susceptible to the power-rushing game and will periodically give up some big yards at unexpected times. Mike Anderson of the Broncos torched them for a 90+ yard touchdown run from scrimmage during the preseason, while at other times they did a pretty decent job of containing the run. The Colts' big theme when you talk to their starting defense is consistency, consistency, consistency. They were amongst the best at creating turnovers and sacks last year, and I don't expect to see that changing. But hopefully with some of their younger players having another year of experience under their belt in the scheme, plus playing alongside of many of the same players they did last year, they will be more consistent in staying on assignment and filling their gap. It's hard to give you a really good assessment about their offseason though because numerous starters missed games on the defensive line and in the secondary. The linebackers were the only unit that stayed relatively healthy and played in practically every game. But certainly the additions of rookie Marlin Jackson, who put some tremendous hits on people in the preseason, and Corey Simon will help bolster this defense.
Q: How will the Colts (specifically, with Manning's many audibles) try to counter the blitzes? Do you think they'll go with short passes, or will they try to pick up the blitzes and go deep? How much of the Colts protection scheme is based off what Manning reads at the line?
A: Great question. Manning's versatile and smart enough to do both. He knows he will be seeing pressure from various angles from the Ravens' talented defense, so don't be surprised to see him bait them a bit by going short, going short, going short....and then pump-faking the short one and letting it fly deep. If he can get the Ravens believing that he's struggling for time and can't get off the deep pass, that's when he'll go for the jugular. I'd love to see him go deep right away to throw them off balance, but I'm not sure Tony Dungy will be happy with gambling early against a team that the Colts know will be a challenge to score points against.
Q: Do you think Manning will try to guess what the defense will look like after they move, after he audibles, spy vs. spy style, or will he just call plays knowing that the defense will move again before the snap, and decide what he's doing in the context of the play after he's snapped the ball?
A: Manning isn't a "just go with it" quarterback. He'll be out there playing the mental chess match, trying to figure out where the weaknesses are. That will be tough in the early going and he may stick to the script for the first set of downs or two while he evaluates what the Ravens are doing. But as the game goes on, he'll spot some patterns and will attempt to exploit what he thinks is about to happen. I think the Ravens were one of the best at showing him a variety of looks and keeping him guessing when they matched up last year. I expect the more of the same Sunday night.
Q: Would the Colts prefer to face a Ravens D that blitzes most of the time out of the 46 or one that stays back and mixes coverages? (I'm guessing the former because of Manning's ability to audible and react.)
A: I think your guess is on the money. While the 46 is challenging because you don't know where the pressure is coming from, you at least know you are going to feel some heat and can pull the plays out of the book to combat that situation. Manning has a quick release and enough talented receivers out there that he'll find people open under those conditions. The Ravens can cause him more trouble by getting him to think he knows where the coverage will be, but then mixing it up at the last moment -- clogging passing lanes that he thought would be open.
Q: Will James get paid what he wants or is Peyton eating too much cap for any more to go around? And if that is the case, has that lead to any chemistry problems in the locker room?
A: While James has made no secret of the fact that he doesn't understand why Harrison, Manning and others got big multi-year contracts and he didn't, he has been a real professional ever since arriving at training camp. He showed up in great shape, worked hard in the preseason, and has expressed an interest to stay in Indianapolis -- providing the right deal can be struck. I think it has helped that players like Harrison and Manning have both publicly supported him and said that they also hope he will be in Indy for a long time, so all appears to be well in the locker room. I think James' fate next year hinges on whether or not the salary cap takes a big leap and whether or not the Colts restructure Peyton's contract along with a few other veterans. It's not going to help that Reggie Wayne is also in a contract year and should be able to command a sizeable deal as well.
Q: Will Corey Simon play at all in the season opener? Has he reported to the Colts yet?
A: Simon started practicing with the team this week and is expected to play at least 25-30 plays. The Colts want to use him in this game primarily on first and second down to help with the run. On third downs and obvious pass plays, expect them to go to the pass rushing quartet of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis on the ends, with Raheem Brock sliding in from left defensive end to left defensive tackle to pair up with Montae Reagor if he's healthy enough to go. Those are the four guys primarily responsible for the Colts 45 sacks last season.
Q: How do the Colts plan to play Todd Heap? Their safeties aren't very tall, do you think they will have a LB on him as well? Will they come out and still play him as if he is our only established receiver (since he technically is in this system and with Boller)?
A: Bob Sanders would definitely be at a height disadvantage at 5'8, and that would be the dream matchup for Heap, although Sanders can really lay a receiver out after the catch and I don't think the Ravens want to see that happen to Heap this early after his recovery. Normally, Mike Doss would be the other safety at 5'10, but since he's out on a suspension for an offseason conduct problem, former cornerback Joseph Jefferson converted to safety. He's actually been performing very well and Doss could have a struggle on his hands to reclaim his job. Jefferson is 6'1, so that will help by comparison. The linebackers will likely have to lend a hand though.
Q: Anyone that has followed this game for years knows that the preseason doesn't really matter unless you are playing for a roster spot. However a lot of fans seem to panic when things do not go according to plan, and want to place their respective teams into the Super Bowl when they play well. With this being said, how is the fan base of the Colts reacting after their preseason? What is the mind set of the fans and people around the Colts about this first game? Are they ready to put the preseason behind them (0-5, 72 PF-143 PA) or is there some concern about this team's chances this season. No team has ever went winless in the preseason and followed that with a Super Bowl win. Is this something that is being discussed among fans a lot?
A: The fans discussed it plenty, and as you can imagine landed on both sides of the fence. I think they took it more in stride because for most of the Colts' preseason games they had anywhere from 15 to as high as 22 players sidelined with injuries each game -- no kidding. I think they understood that they weren't seeing any semblance of continuity, which was really disruptive to both the offense and the defense. For example, center Jeff Saturday missed practically the whole preseason. That set off dominoes on the offensive line, moving guard Ryan Lilja to center and reserve tackle Makoa Freitas to backfill at guard. The secondary had a different mix starting every game, and by the time Dwight Freeney got into the preseason action, the Colts lost defensive tackle Montae Reagor, who lines up next to him, for the balance of the games. I think the fans are cautiously optimistic that the Colts will be able to flip the switch and pick up where they left off last season on offense since everyone is expected to be ready to start by Sunday. On the defensive side, I think they saw enough glimpses of individual talent -- plus the late addition of Corey Simon -- to be optimistic that the Colts will be improved there as well. I just think there are questions in their minds as to what degree of improvement that will be. But optimism soared after the signing of Simon.
Q: What is Ryan Diem's status, health-wise? A lot of fans here thought he would be a good fit for us and were sorry we didn't bring him in as a free agent acquisition. If he isn't at full strength, how will that effect Manning's pass protection?
A: Barring an unusual setback, Ryan is expected to play. And I believe that if he wasn't close to 100%, the Colts wouldn't risk putting him out there early and aggravating the injury since it's a long season. He's played very well for the Colts and is highly valued. If he can't go, his replacement -- former Brown Joaquin Gonzalez -- would be adequate, but a significant step down and is more likely to struggle with the Ravens' speed and aggressiveness off the edge.
Q: I've heard conflicting reports about Brandon Stokely all preseason, once and for all is he playing, starting or neither this upcoming Sunday?
A: Brandon's been cleared to play and is practicing. He may get spelled during the game by Troy Walters from time to time since he's not in regular season shape after a one-month layoff though.
Q: The Colts defense appears to have a pretty good pass rush this season with Freeney, Mathis and the new addition of Corey Simon, but what (if anything) have they done to shore up their run defense?
A: Simon will help against the run as the Colts are fairly undersized at the defensive tackle position. Former starting middle linebacker Rob Morris has been replaced by Gary Brackett, who is quicker and plays the position with more intelligently. He can get caught up in traffic, but is a battler. Having a healthy Bob Sanders and the addition of Joseph Jefferson at safety is going to help as well. But make no doubt about it, heading into this game, the middle is still their Achilles' heel when it comes to the run. There's also a chance that the Colts will have to start their smaller cornerbacks -- Jason David and Nick Harper -- who aren't as physical as Donald Strickland and Marlin Jackson. If that's the case, the outside run defense won't be as strong on Sunday night as it's likely to be in future weeks.
Q: While the all the news will go to the Colts offense vs. the Ravens defense, how do you think the game will play out on the other side of the ball? With the addition of Simon, the Colts are much improved, however with the additions of Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton along with a healthy Heap and Jamal, the Colts will see a fully stocked offense. Assuming the pass protection is better than last time, does the Ravens offense scare the Colts in any way? How do the Colts look to counter the Ravens power running game being as last years game wasn't the most successful of attempts?
A: I honestly don't think the passing game of the Ravens worries the Colts outside of Todd Heap. I think they believe they can stay with the receivers and pressure Boller into making some mistakes. It's the ground game that they respect, and the key to them doing better is staying in their gaps. With another year of experience in the system, they should be able to do that better, but if they don't, the results can be disastrous as there's not much redundancy built in to compensate for a blown assignment...and the runner can grab big chunks of real estate.
Q: I noticed that the Colts have a number of players that listed as questionable for the game against the Ravens. Bob Sanders, Robert Mathis, Brandon Stokley, Montae Reager, Josh Thomas, Jeff Saturday, Gerome Sapp, Donald Strickland, and Dominic Rhodes are all listed as questionable. Are they all expected to play? If so, will their performance be shortened or their effects minimized.
A: Rhodes has now been declared out, but he was primarily being used for kickoff returns and to give James a breather. Reagor is a real question mark, and that won't help the Colts' interior defensive line if he can't go. He gets a nice pass rush push from his position, which helps if teams decide to double-team Dwight Freeney. You'll definitely see Stokley, Sanders, Mathis, Saturday, Sapp, Strickland and Thomas. I think the only ones that could be impacted a bit could be Strickland, who may play nickel instead of starting corner, and Stokley as noted earlier.
Q: Do you think the Colts game will set the pace for the Ravens this season? If we lose, will we be criticized, saying our season is hopeless, or just move on? If we win, will we be declared champions, and praised for our win, or will it not matter?
A: Most people I've talked to think the Ravens are a playoff-caliber team providing Boller's development doesn't weigh the team down. If the Ravens lose, I don't think people's opinion will change that much unless Boller has a total meltdown. Since the Colts are expected to compete for a Super Bowl berth, a loss to them wouldn't be that devastating, especially if it's a competitive game. If the Ravens win, I think it will confirm their status as a contender and they will get the praise they deserve. The Colts lost their opener last year to the Patriots and went on to a 12-4 season, so while it's great to get that first win under your belt, it's just a blip on the sixteen game schedule as long as the team doesn't let it hurt their confidence.
Colts-Ravens Q&A: Part 2
Q: How improved is the Colt's defense overall from last year
and how have they looked thus far?