— For the Colts, stopping the run never has been about their middle linebacker, their defensive tackles or their safeties.
It’s been about their quarterback.
Peyton Manning has been Indy’s best weapon against the run.
Now, nobody expects him to hammer Shonn Greene in the hole on fourth and 1 in the AFC Championship game Sunday. But the Colts coaches hope Manning will pass for multiple touchdowns, putting the Jets in such a hole that they can’t run the ball.
And that’s how Manning defends the run.
If it comes down to the Colts defenders banging helmets with the Jets blockers and trying to tackle Greene and Thomas Jones, the edge might go to the New Yorkers.
In the regular season, the Colts gave up 124.5 rushing yards per game, 24th in the league. That’s a lot of rushing yards considering the Colts often had big leads and other teams were forced to pass. But their average per rush allowed of 4.3 yards was closer to average than awful.
The Colts' defense isn’t built to stonewall a physical run team. It’s built to outrun offenses, disrupt plays and come up with takeaways. “They’re different from every other defense we play,” Ravens running back Ray Rice said before he ran 13 times for 67 yards in the divisional playoff game against the Colts. “These guys are fast. They really move.”
With Antonio Johnson and Daniel Muir at defensive tackle, the Colts defense is bigger and more physical than it used to be.
“Like a lot of defenses if they are on the field for a long time and somebody is allowed to run the ball 35, 40, 45 times, you can certainly crease them,” NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said. “There are yards to be made. It’s not like they are immovable objects. That’s not their game at all. It’s all speed.”
The Colts' run defense might not intimidate opponents, but it can be effective. Despite its low ranking, it’s arguably better than the run defense that won a Super Bowl for Indy at the conclusion of the 2006 season.
It could have been even better with Bob Sanders, the 2007 defensive player of the year. Sanders played in only two games and made three tackles for this team before going on injured reserve.
This defense can’t really miss Sanders because it never really had him. And both safeties have played well in his absence. Antoine Bethea and Melvin Bullitt have become strong, solid tacklers.
But the keys to the Colts’ run defense are linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Sessions. Neither can reach the dinnerware on the high shelf of the cabinet, but both of them can make tackles all over the field. Brackett is generously listed at 5-foot-11; Sessions at 6-0.
For them to be effective, however, they need to be unblocked. That means the Colts' pass rushers have to shoot the gaps and prevent blockers from getting to Sessions and Brackett.
Baldinger thought Bracket had a Pro Bowl-worthy season even though he did not get an invitation. “He’s a very, very good player. He’s a very good tackler. Sessions too. They know how to stay free, not get caught up in the wash. They are very good lateral players, and unselfish players.”
To stop Greene and Jones, however, the Colts probably are going to need a little help from the guy who wears No. 18.
A: It would be wrong to blame Turner for three missed field goals, and Chargers management has chosen not to. Turner will be back next season. Chargers general manager A.J. Smith tells me he looks at the big picture with Turner and likes what he sees. A head coach is responsible for a lot more than game management. Isn’t it a tough league when we are demanding that coaches be fired after 13-3 seasons?
A: It’s hard to say at this point because many teams will re-sign their players with expiring contracts before the start of free agency, and others will use tags on players who could have been free agents. There may not be an Albert Haynesworth type free agent who sets the bar with an eye-popping contract. Most of the best players who would have been unrestricted free agents now probably will be restricted free agents because of the failure to extend the collective bargaining agreement. But I’ll give you a name for the heck of it: Richard Seymour. And I never will be surprised if the Redskins outspend every other team.
A: I would think Chan Gailey would look to start over on offense with younger players. Given Owens’ so-so production the last couple of seasons, he might not be worth bringing back. If the Bills knew he would be the player who dominated at the peak of his career, they would almost have to bring him back. But that isn’t the case.
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