It's probably not the best idea to lead off my inaugural article with a quote from a begrudged Patriot's homer, but after last week's nationally televised game against the Washington Redskins, it seems only appropriate. Bill Simmons is right when he says: You never bet against Peyton Manning at night. Since 2006 the Colts have gone 20-4 over night games averaging a ridiculous 31.2 points a game under the lights. After drubbing the Redskins (the score was not indicative of the Colt's dominance) such a performance might delude Colts fans into thinking everything is more or less normal and back on track. But if you were ever going to do it, and are particularly itching to pick against Peyton and crew, this week's upcoming game may be your best bet.
The Colts have suffered through injury news that would all but doom every other team in the league. These last seven days the Colts learned they will be without the services of Dallas Clark, the game's top tight end, for the remainder of the season. To make matters worse (although losing Dallas is close to rock bottom) the Colts also announced that Austin Collie could miss significant time with a thumb injury. That is roughly 14 catches, 140 yards and 10 points a game the Colts will have to replace. Yikes. On top of that that both Garcon and Gonzalez are still banged up or hurt, Addai can barely lift his arm above his shoulder and offensive line is more porous than the Mexican border. Add it all up and no other team in the league could overcome it. Period. End of debate. You take away Sidney Rice, a guy who has just one season of 35 or more receptions, and Minnesota fans are begging Unfaithful Favre to retire. You take away Wes Welker and the great almighty Justin Beiber wannabe looks pedestrian. You take away Reggie Bush, who some have claimed is a bust, and even Drew Brees throws 4 picks in a loss to the frieking Cleveland Browns. Those guys aren't even necessarily their respective teams top weapons! With all the Colts injuries the offense may indeed finally sputter. However, if last week's new play calling is any indication, I wouldn't be too confident about the Houston beef patties just yet. Borrowing from the University of Oregon, the Colts employed a new offense coming to be known as the blur. An offense so electric its capable of matching the Ducks bright yellow jerseys, the blur is actually incredibly simple: accelerate the pace between snaps to such a degree that you never allow the defense to set, forcing them to always react. The Sunday night Indy version of this - the Stampede, because the offense just let loose allowing the horses to run wild - both exhausted and stupefied the Redskins defense to the tune of 470 yards. Washington simply had no answer. The Stampede maybe the formula that saves the Colts season from buckling under the weight of injuries.
A full explanation to come.
The stampede (or blur) is not revolutionary. Nor is it particularly exotic. It’s just fast. The key is for the quarterback to know the next play call as soon as the previous play finishes. The team must sprint to the line fast enough to keep the defense from substituting or even having a chance to catch their breathes.
Football is a chess match. The beauty of the sport is in the strategy with games always about adjustments and readjustments. Both sides punch and counter punch and adapt throughout the game. The idea behind the stampede is to hit the defense with a flurry of punches keeping them exhausted, always on the defensive and forcing them to constantly react rather than respond. Many doubters say the blur can't work in the NFL. They concede that Oregon has used it to average 55 points a game, yet such an offense surely won't work in the NFL because well, it's the NFL - the defenses are faster and better. The real problem is that few teams in the league have good enough and particularly, smart enough, Qb's to run such an offense. Such an offense run at a breakneck and hectic pace would absolutely fail if lead by someone like an Alex Smith or whatever scrub Buffalo is starting at QB (Sorry Ryan Fitzpatrick. One good start doesn’t promote you just yet). Not every quarterback and every system can run the blur. This is because the quarterback must know the play, race to the line, analyze the defense and make any necessary audibles in a matter of 10-15 seconds for consecutive plays at a time. Even as good as Drew Brees is, he relies on the wacky play calls of Sean - I am late for golf with my college buddies - Payton. Luckily for Colts fans, number 18 may just be the best player to ever play his position and someone capable of running such a set with little to no input from the sidelines.
Already known for fast play the Colts pushed it to mach speeds with great success. Chris Collinsworth was so giddy over the new stampede that he practically declared himself the new voice of the Colts play-by-play.
Meanwhile, the Redskins tried what Greg Easterbrook over at ESPN calls the 'Time Square defense' - the whole unit standing up and shuffling around like tourists. The intention was to confuse Peyton enough to slow down the tempo. Instead, living up to their NY city tourist billing, the Redskins looked overwhelmed and confused and panicked at the first sign of trouble. Maybe the bright lights were too much because the Redskins never had a chance. By the time Peyton got to the line he knew the Redskins were fatigued and unbalanced. Usually in normal huddle football when the offense sets up, the defense can call out the matchups. Using the stampede, the Colts took away their chance to regroup forcing the Redskins to guess. Either 1 of 2 things happened.
1. The Redskins had to call out their packages and formations on the fly, in which case they were slow in reacting and were usually burned for quick strikes.
2. They had to commit before the play in which case Peyton would audible to his second option - Addai. It is no coincidence that Joe had his career day coming out of the stampede. Playing against Indianapolis, the Redskins committed to play the pass - a normally sensible option. On most of his runs, the Redskins were either still milling around (the times square special) or had already guessed pass and were back-peddling. On several occasions including his 46 yard career long burst and his 13 yard TD, Addai was already past the defenders before they could square up. With 'downhill' Donald Brown coming back, and when Addai returns, expect the Colts to continue gashing defenses with the run if they stick with 6 db's on the field. If not, defensives will have to contain Peyton Manning on the fly. Either way you look at it, advantage Colts.
Why else does this bode well for the Colts? Well, even without Clark and Collie, the Colts have enough smart receivers (including perennial pro bowler Reggie Wayne) who have worked tirelessly with Manning in the offseason to know the plays, hand signals and the silent count. More importantly, like any football fad such as the blur, it usually takes defensive coordinators a year to figure out. Last season, the wildcat was all the rage and teams like Miami ran it with great success. After an off season to prepare most defensives are well versed in stopping it and have consequently forced teams like Miami back into more traditional sets. Fortunately for the Colts, teams don't have the time, nor capable practice squads to train against; to adequately prep for an offense they will probably only face once or twice this season. Thus the element of shock and awe will remain and should allow the Colts to mask any injury deficiencies.
Lastly, another element which has so far been left out of any discussion involving the blur is the physiological effect that it has on other teams. A long drive may tire an opposing defense but it gives their offense plenty of time to relax and prepare to pick apart the other side. A quick score causes the offensive to feel rushed and under pressure. Not only does the frenetic pace subconsciously frazzle them and limit their time to dissect the defense, but they feel the extra burden of having to score when they know the other team can put the game out of reach quickly. Surely such a feeling must play into the Colts hands defensively given how everyone knows that in today's pass happy NFL the fastest way to score is through the air. The more times an opposing QB drops back, the more the stampede works on both sides of the ball as the more times Freeney and Mathis can be unleashed (even if tackles hold them on every play!). All this is great news for Colts fans, bad news for Matt Schaub and the Texans and certainly a cautionary tale for any Colts haters. Let's hope Clyde Christensen and Peyton Manning continue to unleash the stampede.