Anthony Holds. 14th November, 2008 - 12:17 pm
This past Sunday afternoon, the Indianapolis Colts did something they hadn't done in 40 years ? win in Pittsburgh.
Their hard-fought 24-20 victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field also gave a huge shot in the arm to a season that had looked pretty bleak two weeks ago. With a win in Lucas Oil Stadium this Sunday against the Houston Texans, the team's resurgence can hit full swing.
Amazingly, considering the roller coaster they've been on, the Colts are suddenly in decent position that can be significantly strengthened with a home win this week. That would take their record to 6-4 heading into the following week's road matchup against wounded San Diego.
If they can win both those games and go to 7-4 heading
into matchups against Cleveland, Detroit, and Cincinnati, you'd have to like the team's chances of securing a playoff spot.
To the relief of Colts' fans everywhere, many of the more vexing problems that have plagued the team in 2008 have seemingly begun to turn around. Peyton Manning has looked pretty much like the Peyton we're used to, throwing for five touchdowns with no interceptions in the last two games.
Reggie Wayne had a huge game on Sunday against
Pittsburgh, and Anthony Gonzalez scored two touchdowns in an outstanding performance against the Pats at home the previous week.
The offensive line is giving Manning time in the pocket. The team continues to perform well in the red zone, where they lead the league this season, having scored 19 touchdowns in 25 trips into the red zone (76%).
The running game remains dormant, but the Colts
have played a string of very good run defenses, and the hope is that with a softer schedule at hand, Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes will finally be able to find a rhythm that will ignite the play-action passing game and present at least a credible ground threat by the time January rolls around.
On the other side of the ball, the defense is still struggling to get off the field on third down, but their improvement over the last few games is undeniable.
The much maligned run defense that was giving up 188.5 yards rushing over the first four games of the season has
given up a very commendable 90.8 yards per game over the last five and has almost completely stonewalled several very good running teams (Tennessee, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh).
Against the pass, results have been mixed. The better play against the run has forced teams to attack the Colts more through the air, and while Indy's secondary has not allowed the home run ball -- a hallmark of any decent Dungy-run unit -- and has been much more opportunistic of late (they victimized Roethlisberger for three picks last Sunday), progress still needs to be made in stopping costly completions on third-and-longs that keep opposing drives alive.
Nonetheless, the improvement of the now 15th-ranked defense has been significant and annual adversity-inspired questions about the scheme and the lack of bulk amongst the team's linemen have quieted for now.
Perhaps the most encouraging factor for Colts'fans is the manner in which the Colts have begun to turn things around in the two significant wins over the Patriots and Steelers.
They've done so with a poised, methodical approach on both sides of the ball and with great contributions from a number of unsung players. Cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, who was watching the NFL from his couch in Cincinnati two weeks ago, made his second-consecutive solid start in place of injured Marlin Jackson on Sunday and came away with a key interception.
Cornerback Tim Jennings, starting on the other side
for injured starter Kelvin Hayden, has recovered from an embarrassing rash of penalties against Green Bay four weeks ago to be a consistently solid contributor on defense in recent weeks. He too had a game-changing interception late in the game against Pittsburgh.
Antonio Johnson, a defensive tackle acquired from
Tennessee's practice squad the week before last, was credited by the Colts organization with eight tackles against Pittsburgh (the league credits him with none ... not sure how that works, but the point is that
These sorts of unexpected contributions, combined with the sort of poised, never-say-die consistency we're starting to see from some of the usual suspects, make a strong statement about the character of a team whose dedication was being questioned after a mistake-ridden October debacle in Green Bay and a second half collapse in Tennessee the following week.
It's probably safe to say at this point that Tony Dungy has not lost this team.
Dungy and many of the Colts'players keep talking about the importance of getting on a streak. They're now finally in a position to build one and to put some of the memories of this season's struggles behind them.
The way is clear and suddenly looks manageable. It's up to them to take advantage. If they're able to do so, the Colts could not only make the playoffs, but enter them with some momentum.
And as we see every year in the NFL, there's much to be said for getting hot at the right time.