AFC South Preview: Indianapolis Colts
By Jon Small
Posted September 5th, 2006

Another year, another division title for the Colts. Indianapolis has now won 3 straight in the AFC South. They finished with a 14-2 record in 2005 featuring a less potent (but still elite) offense and a much more stable defense. Mainly they reined in the offense a bit to control the clock more and keep the defense fresh. The Colts defense still lived off of sacks and turnovers, as before, but they had more success than in previous years. But, when all was said and done, they choked like they always do in the playoffs.

Most of Indyís deadly passing offense returns intact this year. QB Peyton Manning as well as WRs Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Brandon Stokley all will don the horseshoe. The offensive line is also the same as last yearís version (for better or for worse), and Peyton will continue trying to be a good teammate. But there is one major change in store for the Coltsí offense this year: the loss of star RB Edgerrin James to Arizona in free agency. James was not only the leagueís 5th leading rusher, but also extremely valuable as both a receiver and blocker. Manning has only been really successful when Edge has been there to keep defenses from focusing on the passing game. When Edge was out or still recovering from a torn ACL, the Colts werenít contenders and Manning struggled with turnovers as teams didnít fear the running game. Indy drafted Joseph Addai out of LSU late in the 1st round of the draft to help replace Edge (along with veteran backup Dominic Rhodes), but clearly there will be a drop-off from what they had before. Thereís no doubt that defenses will focus on stopping the passing game until Addai and/or Rhodes can prove to be enough of a threat. And perhaps Addai can be an excellent back, even as a rookie, but itís a very tall order for him to match or even approach Edgeís contributions.

Indyís defense is still strong when they are protecting a big lead, which has been most of the last 2 years. In those cases, DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are able to rush the QB without much fear of an opposing running game. Thatís how they managed to combine for 22.5 sacks, and how the team had 46 total sacks. It also was a big factor in their +11 giveaway/takeaway ratio, between forcing opposing quarterbacks to fumble and hurry their passes. The defense as a whole, however, is average at best. Saftey Bob Sanders is excellent, both against the run and the pass. OLB Cato June had a fine season as well with 102 tackles and 5 INTs. DT Montae Reagor is a good penetrator, and with Freeney and Mathis on the field he canít really be doubleteamed. Corey Simon is their best runstopper inside, and is the only defensive lineman even close to 300 pounds. Raheem Brock has been moved inside as a full-time DT, where he will be quick but undersized. SS Mike Doss is a good run stopper, but he just isnít very good in pass defense. The cornerbacks in Indy are nothing special, either, but they are protected by the pass rush up front. Nick Harper is solid on one side, but there is a jumble with the rest. The other spot will go to either Marlin Jackson, last yearís 1st round pick, 3rd year man Jason David, 2nd year corner Kelvin Hayden, or rookie Tim Jennings. The Colts lost DT Larry Tripplett to the Bills and their best linebacker, David Thornton, to the Titans in free agency, but made no veteran additions. Overall, not much has changed positively for the Coltsí D, which isnít a good thing in this case. They are even more undersized up front and without a proven running back on offense they could get worn out easily if the offense canít either build a big lead or sustain long drives. If the game is close, they canít be counted on.

The special teams should be somewhat better than last year. The only significant difference is that longtime kicker Mike Vanderjagt is gone, but replaced by Adam Vinatieri, arguably the leagueís best. Vanderjagt was excellent on extra points field goals (except for his last), but he was always weak on kickoffs. Vinatieri is an improvement on kickoffs and is considered the NFLís most clutch kicker. Hunter Smith is a good returning punter.

SKís Prediction: 11-5 record

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