Anthony Holds. 21st November, 2008 - 11:34 pm
I thought this week, with the holidays creeping up and the Colts heading into yet another key conference contest with a chance to drive a stake through the heart of the Chargers, I would deal in some positive-minded hypothetical situations that will appeal to fans everywhere.
The best way to start off is to say that, after eleven weeks, after a couple of surgeries on Peyton's knee, after a horrible debut in Lucas Oil Stadium and then another loss to follow it up, after two pulled-from-you-know-where victories on the road in which the Colts looked unhealthy and flummoxed, after two more demoralizing, penalty-filled losses to Green Bay and Tennessee, and after looking totally helpless against the run over the first four games of the season I can still type, with a straight face, as a title to this column: Why not the Colts?
And now I'll repeat it: Why not the Colts?
This can, of course, be logically rebutted, but here's what I'd say to three of the most logical arguments against a magical finish for Indy.
Argument #1: Peyton Manning is having an off year.
Oh contraire. He just might be having an MVP year. If you offer this first argument, you clearly have not watched the last three games of the season, in which Manning has been the top-ranked quarterback in the NFL (at 104 and change) and thrown for 7 touchdowns and no interceptions.
His velocity and accuracy are picking up every game, his mobility has improved, and most of all, he suddenly seems to be having fun.
This is not a positive development for the rest of the league. In fact, the case can now be made that, if the Colts make the playoffs, Peyton deserves MVP consideration above anyone (at the very least anyone not named Kurt Warner). Playing hurt and keeping your team in it before closing the deal has precedent for fetching MVP votes.
Remember Steve McNair?
Argument #2: The defense is not good enough.
This is, of course, difficult to factually dispute. The defense is ranked 17th in the NFL -- 25th against the run ? and often has trouble getting off the field on third down.
But I will cling to the fact that this defense is (when it is near full strength) uncannily good at making the plays it needs to, negating the effectiveness of opposing running games, getting key sacks, and forcing turnovers.
Exhibit A here, of course, is the 2006 playoff run, in which the Colts repeatedly shut down opposing runners who were supposed to embarrass them and forced key turnovers in each game on their way to the championship.
We have seen this phenomenon start to come into play over the last month of this season, as well, against Baltimore, Tennessee, and Pittsburgh, teams that were supposed to run all over the Colts. It just didn't happen. The formula seems to be that if everyone expects them to get run over, they'll come up big.
Just look at last week, when many expected the Colts' defense to continue its solid play against the run, and they gave up over 150 to Steve Slaton. So I'm not saying the defense is great. And I'm not saying the Colts always stop the run. But if you say they can't -- which would be the case in pretty much any playoff matchup Indy would face -- they have a weird knack for proving you wrong.
Argument #3: The Colts have no running game this year.
Clearly, as the Colts are ranked dead last in the league on the ground, this is a work in progress. But there are three reasons to believe that by playoff time the ground game will not be a weak spot for the Colts.
First, Joseph Addai is finally looking healthy. He seems to have his full burst at this point.
Secondly, Dominic Rhodes has gotten enough reps that he seems happy and in full swing, as well. With these two guys in rhythm and well rested, there's no reason they can't start giving teams headaches on a weekly basis.
Third, the offensive line has now been intact with the same five starters for five straight weeks. This manifested itself first in better protection for Manning, but last week it showed in improved run blocking, as well. There's no reason to expect this trend not to continue.
The other part of the better protection up front is that, in giving Manning the time to connect with his receivers, the line is forcing defenses to drop off and respect the Colts' receiving threats in a way they were not doing earlier in the year. All of this equates to good prospects for a continued return to a decent run game that provides all-important balance on offense.
There are a million subplots that could be made to these arguments against the Colts' chances.
One could argue at length whether or not Marvin Harrison is returning to form. One could argue whether Bob Sanders will be able to stay healthy enough to contribute down the stretch. But the bottom line is that, given the team's pedigree, history, and the current circumstances, no one can convincingly say that the Colts can't keep going on to bigger and better things this year.
Who is definitely better than them?
In the AFC, you can only really make a case for Tennessee. The Colts have beaten Pittsburgh, New England, and Baltimore, and it's a little early to make cases for Miami and the Jets or anyone else in the conference.
Tennessee used a strong surge at home to take the Colts down four weeks ago, but the game was very close until late.
Who's to say what would happencome playoff time, particularly if the Colts come in with some momentum and Tennessee bogs down during the bye? All Colts fans know that a dominant regular season team (like, for example, the 13-0 Colts' team in '05) is completely capable of getting off-rhythm late and laying an egg in the playoffs.
In the NFC, a good case could be made for the Giants. They play good defense, get after the passer, run the ball exceptionally well, and they have a savvy young quarterback named Manning who is a winner.
But there's that wacky Colt big-game, run-stopping penchant to think about again. Eli's thrown a few picks before, and a clicking Colts' offense under Eli's big bro is hard for any defense to stop.
So that case is hardly a lock, either.
The questions will remain, but with a win this week in balmy San Diego, the Colts can continue a march that seemed highly improbable four weeks ago.
Want to count them out? I wouldn't.
I'll say it once more. Why not the Colts?