Peyton Manning needed the defense to bail him and the offense out... for a change
Photo: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images
18 to 88 says something that I've heard mumbled for the last few weeks by many in the media:
Ultimately, the Colts are still and average team on the field that has some kind of special 'it quality'.
I've been pretty clear that I disagree with this assessment. "Average" teams do not walk into Pittsburgh, Minnesota, or San Deigo and beat those clubs. "Average" teams play hot and cold, losing to teams they shouldn't and beating teams they shouldn't due to fluke plays, bad officiating, or just dumb luck. Not to bash them or anything (because they have done some good things this year), but right now the Bears are a pretty "average" team. They are 6-6, having just lost to the Vikings in Minnesota. Again, with a skeleton crew of a team and a one-legged Peyton Manning, the Colts went into the Vikings fjord and came away with a win.
"Average" teams don't do that.
This is a very good football team that is starting to play as they should. Right now, this team is one of the best in football. Don't agree? Fine. Show me another team this year that has won five games in a row. The Giants and Titans come to mind. Last I checked, those were really good teams. Not "average" ones.
Against the Browns Sunday, the Colts offense slipped and slogged their way through a mistake-riddled game. From the first play (a Joseph Addai fumble), you knew this game was going to be a slog fest. Not a slug fest. Slog fest. Tack on a couple of Peyton Manning INTs, a dropped pass in the endzone by Reggie Wayne, and some awful short yardage blocking, and a game the Colts should have dominated turns into a boring, early-afternoon snore.
Then, the Colts defense showed up.
Despite three turnovers by the Colts offense in the first half, the Browns had only 6 points. Jamal Lewis and the Browns running game was held in check, and the Colts pass rush had Romeo Crennel coaching the game scared. But in the fourth quarter, when the Colts needed either their special teams or their defense to bail out the offense, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis came to the rescue. If one of these guys does not make the Pro Bowl, and some Roy Williams-like schmuck does, I might take hostages.
At about the 10 minute mark in the 4th quarter, Derek Anderson dropped back to complete a 3rd and long. Dwight Freeney bull rushed arguably the best LT in football (Joe Thomas) and stripped the ball from Anderson. Robert Mathis found the fumble, scooped it up, and ran 37 yards for a TD. After the extra point: Colts 10-Browns 6.
Game. Set. Match.
All game, the Browns played keep away. Their defense was a soft, Cover-2 shell that gave up everything underneath and allowed nothing deep. They generated zero pass rush and were not entirely stellar stopping the run (though, in the end the numbers looked good). On offense, it was run, run, pass. Nothing fancy. Nothing that took more than 3 steps to execute. It was the type of game plan that if they gave up the lead, especially a TD, they were done. When Mathis waltzed into the endzone, it seems Romeo Crennel took a walrus-sized dumb in his extra large sweat pants.
With the Colts special teams coverage units containing Josh Cribbs, Crennel knew he had to let Anderson throw the ball. The results were not good. With less than a minute to go on 2nd down, Anderson was sacked by Robert Mathis, who copied Freeney by bull rushing the RT this time. He knocked the tackle into Anderson, which resulted in a sack. Anderson injured his MCL on the play, and sadly his season is over. Back-up Ken Dorsey came in and promptly threw a pick to Antoine Bethea (keeping with the Melvin Bullitt and Bob Sanders tradition of safeties coming up with big INTs to win games this year).
Make no mistake, this was the kind of game I wanted to see from this defense. Despite injuries to Gary Brackett, Freddie Keiaho, Tyjuan Hagler, and playing yet another game without Bob Sanders, the Colts held Cleveland to zero TDs, an average gain of 3 yards per offensive play, 3.2 yards per rush, 64 net yards passing, and generated two HUGE turnovers. Some unsung heroes also emerged, such as DT Antonio Johnson (6 tackles) and DE Josh Thomas (several tough tackles on rushing downs). Announcer Randy Cross said it best: The Colts are the best tackling team in football, and they get after the ball carrier. For all the grief this defense has endured from us fans, the fact of the matter is they have allowed only 4 passing TDs all season thus far.
1, 2, 3, 4.
That is un-freakin-believably-good.
The modern NFL is a passing league, folks. If you can't throw, you suck and will lose a lot of games. If you can't stop the throw by pressuring the QB, you suck and will lose a lot of games. No need to look at Football Outsiders stats to know that. And despite continuing injuries, Ed Johnson smoking his blunts, Quinn Pitcock quitting, and the John McCargo fiasco, this team has managed to play dominate football.
"Average" teams do not allow only 4 passing TDs through 12 weeks.
We don't know what this season will bring. We don't know how the AFC playoff picture will shake out, or even if the Colts will make the playoffs. Yes, they are in the driver's seat and should make them, but take nothing for granted here, people. This team is accomplishing very special things this year. They are tough as nails and do not quit, and they can beat anyone, anywhere, in a variety of ways. This was a tough win against a team that has played our Colts tough historically. Hopefully, now some Cleveland Browns fans can now let go of the silly anger they have for Tony Dungy. The Browns have had some tough breaks this year, but they have good, young players to build themselves around (Thomas, Quinn, Cribbs, etc.).For more on the Browns, please check out Chris and the dogs at Dawgs By Nature.
With this win, the Colts have guaranteed their seventh consecutive non-losing season. As Jim Mora (the last coach to coach these Colts to a losing season) says, Never take winning for granted. This Colts team is starting to find themselves, and we should start noticing that they are far, far better than "average."