2004 Indianapolis Colts Season Preview

<b>Head Coach: </b> Tony Dungy (76-52 career; 22-10 with the Colts) <br><br> <b> Last Season's Record: </b> 12-4, AFC South Champions

09/09/04 @New England
09/19/04 @Tennessee
09/26/04 Green Bay
10/03/04 @Jacksonville
10/10/04 Oakland
10/24/04 Jacksonville
10/31/04 @Kansas City
11/08/04 Minnesota
11/14/04 Houston
11/21/04 @Chicago
11/25/04 @Detroit
12/05/04 Tennessee
12/12/04 @Houston
12/19/04 Baltimore
12/26/04 San Diego
01/02/05 @Denver
Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts is one of the best QB's in the league, but the Colts have had little success building the team around the star QB. Peyton will look to carry the load and try to put the Colts in position to make the playoffs.
Getty ImagesAndy Lions

Last Play Off Appearance: 2003 AFC Conference Championship. Lost 24-14 to the New England Patriots

Key matchup(s): September 9, at New England (ABC), September 19, at Tennessee (CBS), October 31 at Kansas City (CBS), December 5, versus Tennessee (CBS).

Star Power: Dwight Freeney, DE, 6-1 268, 3rd season, Marvin Harrison, WR, 6-0 175, 9th season, Edgerrin James, RB, 6-0 214, 6th season, Peyton Manning, QB 6-5 230, 7th season.

Notable Additions: n/a

Notable Subtractions: Chad Bratzke DE 6-5 270(released), Marcus Washington SLB 6-3 247 (signed with Washington), Walt Harris CB 5-11 192 (signed with Washington), David Macklin CB 5-9 195 (signed with Arizona), Adam Meadows 6-5 290 (signed with Carolina, then retired)

Notable Returnees: Peyton Manning

Offensive Overview: This year could prove to be the biggest year for the Colts offense since Manning joined the team. Though "The Big Three" will continue to dominate the opportunities, Tom Moore will also make use of Dallas Clark, Marcus Pollard, and Brandon Stokley more often this season. With talented players like Troy Walters and Brad Pyatt also on the roster look for the Colts to use many different sets in the passing game to keep opposing defenses on their toes. Reggie Wayne has shown signs of growth during the preseason and could be ready to explode onto the scene. By adding extra receivers to the playing field Moore is likely to use Wayne as a primary target in single coverage more often, something that he will see more often than his counterpart, Marvin Harrison. The leagues new emphasis on the illegal contact rule also stands to benefit the Colts. With aggressive cornerbacks being neutralized by the amount of contact they can make excellent route runners like Harrison and Wayne become even more dangerous as weapons. With Edgerrin James heading into a contract year, and also potentially his last year as a Colt, look for both the player and the team to benefit. The Colts will need to run the ball effectively to keep their inexperienced secondary and undersized defensive line fresh and off the field. Despite massive turnover during the off season Indianapolis only lost a single significant offensive lineman in Adam Meadows. Look for the team to utilize two tight end sets as well as the spread formation to give James opportunities to get across the line of scrimmage untouched, where he can do serious damage.

Defensive Overview: The team hopes that the best defense truly is a good offense. While the team spent big money to resign Manning it's defensive talent was eroded during the off season. With inexperienced starters at both cornerback spots and new starters at six defensive positions the Colts are also hoping that the teams defensive scheme will be more familiar to the players in their third year with the system. Historically Tony Dungy's defenses have had great players at safety, Joey Browner and John Lynch come to mind. The Colts hope that tradition continues with Mike Doss, last years second round pick, starting at strong safety. Doss must have a breakout year covering both the run and the pass, especially with the Bob Sanders holdout likely to keep Idrees Bashir in the starting lineup for the first half of the season. Nick Harper played well at cornerback last year and both Donald Strickland and Joseph Jefferson have some upside potential. Likely though the cornerbacks have looked good because Dungy minimizes their responsibilities in his cover two defense. Dwight Freeney will always be able to rush the passer but his run defense is a liability that must be compensated for. The defensive front seven has appeared to be problematic for the Colts this preseason. The team is small along the defensive line, which is trendy at the moment in the league, but they hope athleticism will overcome their size limitations. John Thornton, the teams best linebacker, must adjust to playing on the strong side where he is less likely to get to the ball carrier uninhibited. Cato June, a converted safety, brings solid pass defense and speed to the weak side linebacker position. Rob Morris must become the force in the middle the team expected him to be when they drafted him after finally showing signs last season.

Special Teams Overview: Mike Vanderjagt continues to be one of the best kickers in the league. The Colts drafted a kicker in April to give Vanderjagt some competition but he held onto the job with ease. Hunter Smith has struggled at times during the preseason but is still a reliable punter. Where the Colts should excel is in the return and coverage game. Jason David, Bob Sanders, and Gilbert Gardner add youth and talent to the Colts coverage units while Brad Pyatt and Troy Walters give the team a tandem of explosive return men.

Prediction: The Colts will make it to the Superbowl if their defense overcomes it's inexperience and the offense can figure out how to best the Patriots. The key to helping the Colts defense exceed expectations is going to be their running game. Should Edgerrin James run effectively behind a line that should be cohesive the Colts will be able to control the clock and put up great numbers offensively. Changes in the interpretation of pass interference and illegal contact are certain to benefit teams like the Colts that already have superior offensive talent.

TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview

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