ColtPower: Peyton Manning and Tom Moore have worked together since Manning joined the Colts, so they are very much on the same page. Moore’s responsible for the initial game plan, but Manning is such a game film junkie that he has considerable input into how each game will be approached. They trust each other to the point where during the game Moore provides what he feels are the best options, but Manning has the green light to call the play he thinks will be most successful when he approaches the line.
Manning’s play-calling during the action has become increasingly better each year. But he also relies on veteran center Jeff Saturday to call the offensive line assignments in reaction to whatever he’s doing. It’s really amazing to watch, and hopefully Seahawks fans will get to see at least a couple of series of Manning at work before he’s pulled.
.NET: Bill Polian has done a masterful job juggling the constraints of the salary cap and the need to pay your superstars. He has wrapped up most of that offense, but RB Edgerrin James is the contractual “X” Factor (as Shaun Alexander is in Seattle). What do you think the odds are that James will sign a long-term contract with the Colts, and why will this happen/not happen? And with Manning running what seems to be a more balanced offense this year, what do you think would be the traits of the ideal running back for this offense?
ColtPower: Well, I think James has the traits you’re asking about. He’s a patient runner with terrific vision who is always leaning forward. He’s the kind of runner who will absorb hits close to the line of scrimmage and then somehow end up with a 5-yard gain on what should have been 1 or 2 yards. James is having one of his best seasons as a pro, which really creates a dilemma for the Colts.
Polian would like to get Dwight Freeney signed to an extension or a new deal during this off-season, because his cap hit will be huge otherwise. He’s also committed to bringing back WR Reggie Wayne, who won’t be cheap to sign. And he wants to lock in pass rush specialist Robert Mathis, who is third in the NFL in sacks. Quite honestly, without a big cap increase, it will be difficult for the Colts to hold on to James no matter how much they would like to. He wants the kind of deal that will set him up until the day he retires. And without a big cap increase, Indy probably won’t have the money to do it.
.NET: Indy’s line, like Seattle’s, must have a great deal to do with the success of that offense. Who is the star of the O-line (when completely healthy), and where is the weakness?
ColtPower: There are really two anchors to that great offensive line. Left offensive tackle Tarik Glenn is a Pro Bowler who keeps Manning’s blind side protected very well. But I think the hero on that line is center Jeff Saturday, who just learned that he’ll be making his first Pro Bowl appearance this year. Not only is Saturday equally effective against the pass as he is in opening gaps for the Colts running backs, he brings great intelligence to the offensive line’s blocking schemes. Saturday is one of those great finds by the Colts. They picked him up as a free agent in 1999. The Ravens signed him as an undrafted free agent in 1998 following the draft but released him about 6 weeks later. So you’ve got a guy who doesn’t even make it to an NFL training camp one year, and the next year he’s on the Colts 53-man roster, and then he’s their starting center in his second-year with the team. And now, he’s a Pro Bowler.
The Colts’ biggest weakness the past few weeks has been right offensive tackle Ryan Diem. He has uncharacteristically allowed more pressure on Manning than usual. The big weakness at least for the next two weeks will likely be rookie right guard Dylan Gandy, who has some real talent, but hasn’t had the opportunity to see that many snaps with the first unit until last Sunday. He’ll hold his own out there, but on a line that is filled with strong performers he’ll likely be the weakest link that teams will attack until he gains more experience.
.NET: What is Tony Dungy’s primary responsibility? Is he primarily an overseer, or does he also have a firm hand on the defense given his background?
ColtPower: Dungy is the ultimate authority in all matters, especially key decisions during the game. But he’s definitely a head coach that believes in trusting his coaches and players to plan and execute well. Despite his reputation as a defensive-minded coach, he provides substantial input on both sides of the ball. He adds great value to Manning and the offense helping them understand what defenses are likely to do in certain offensive situations. But his defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, a great student of the Cover-2, is very capable of running the defense and does so very well.
.NET: Two weeks ago, Manning beat the Jaguars with 324 yards passing and 2 TDs, despite being sacked three times (twice by DE Reggie Hayward). Against the Chargers, Manning was sacked four times (twice by OLB Shawne Merriman), threw 2 picks, and the Colts lost. Seemingly fairly equivalent pressure, but very different results. What was the difference in those two games, and how did the pressure affect Manning differently?
ColtPower: The sacks total really doesn’t tell an accurate story of what happened over the past two weeks. The Jaguars didn’t put nearly as much pressure on Manning as the Chargers did. One of their sacks was a “gimme” as Manning tripped and fell and a Jaguars player simply came in and put his hand on him after he was down.
But the Chargers were very effective with pass pressure, harassing Manning and not giving him much time throughout the game. Merriman took advantage of Diem early, prior to the Colts offensive tackle injuring his knee and leaving the game. Diem is finished for the balance of the regular season at minimum, so you won’t see him this Saturday. The Colts then had to shift right guard Jake Scott to the tackle spot and inserted rookie Dylan Gandy. The change to the right side of the line like that on the fly created some problems. But the Chargers were also very effective with stunting their linebackers, shooting gaps between the guards and tackles. They had the speed to pull it off and the Colts offensive linemen just weren’t as sharp as usual in picking up those stunts. In many similar situations this year, Manning has picked up those blitzes and made the opponent pay. It just didn’t happen consistently last Sunday.
Ed Thompson is the Publisher of ColtPower.com.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at email@example.com.