Rise and Shine: Star Gazing

"Anyone can give up, it's the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that's true strength."  – unknown.

If there was ever a better quote to describe the Colts and their upcoming next few weeks, I would sure like to see it. The Colts embody this quote and the 5-2 start and first place in the AFC South are certainly a testament to such resiliency. 

The mounting injury news is just getting ridiculous. Has there ever been this many injuries to starters and significant backups on both sides of the ball?

Addai – out. Sanders – out. Hart – out. Clark – done for the year. Gonzalez – as of Saturday same fate as last year, done. Bullitt – see you next year. Session  - out. Elridge (am I really including him on the list of critical players?) Out. Tryon (Ditto). Out. Antonio Johnson - nope still not better, out. Powers… nice thought but out.

That isn't even everyone.

When Kavell ‘wield the gavel’ Connor has an injury that has been deemed critical by the media, you know things are seriously grim. 

Yet, like has been mentioned before, the Colts just go back to work. While the rest of the league performs the mandatory lip service saying ‘the next person has to step up and pick up the slack’ the Colts embody it.

This week’s edition of ‘star gazing’ recognizes the outstanding work of those role players (especially the undrafted ones) who allow the Colts to be the most consistent franchise of the past decade. Special recognition must also go out to Clint Session for his remarkably gutsy and utterly dominant performance last week. Yet while these guys are crucial in what we do, its n secret that now more than ever, The Colts must rely on their stars to rise to the occasion. Luckily for Indianapolis, several pro-bowlers (and future pro bowl players – Austin Collie) are still standing.

Indianapolis 

Offense:

Peyton Manning – Sure it’s an obvious pick, its also the safest pick in sports, but if the Colts are going to hand Andy Reid his first loss coming out of a bye-week, Peyton is going to be forced to work his magic once again. With ‘downhill’ Donald Brown still not running well and Javarris James as the only other backup to take a snap (and only 3 at that) Peyton may throw the ball 50+ times Sunday (Hell, 70 throws wouldn’t surprise me).

Receiver Corps - Cheating I know, but given their depleted backfield, the Colts receivers may all turn in big games. Reggie Wayne has been quiet recently and is long overdue for a typical dominating performance. Collie is back and Garcon is one of the few Colts whose health seems to be improving. The Eagles are stout up front having yet to give up 100 yards rushing to several of the league’s elite backs, a list that includes Chris Johnson, Michael Turner, Frank Gore and Maurice Jones-Drew.  Odds are that Brown or James (who have less than 400 yards rushing between them) won’t get it done. Peyton Manning and the Colts know the game is in the receiver’s hands. 

Sleeper

Jacques McClendon – With no career live snaps to his name, McClendon is the true definition of a sleeper pick to have a breakout performance. But, with tarantula of all injury bugs bearing down on the Colts, McClendon finds himself starting at tight end. At 6’3 324 pounds, don’t expect to see big Jacques rumbling down the field, but keeping a tight end solely to block might not be such a limiting offensive factor. In fact, it might be the ideal strategy. Eagle’s rookie defensive end Brandon Graham has already shown flashes brilliance from the left side of the line, while Trent Cole has solidified himself as one of the premier pass rushers in the league having posted 6 sacks and a forced fumble. The Colts base offense will probably consist of 3 receiver sets and don’t be surprised to see Peyton Manning call plenty of empty backfield plays in order to spread the field even more and attack the Eagles suspect secondary. If that happens, McClendon will have his hands full and be responsible for protecting his fellow – albeit slightly more recognized – Tennessee alumnus.

Defense:

Who is left? That is seems to be the biggest question. With corners Powers and possibly Lacey still out the pressure with be on Hayden and Bethea to cover the lighting fast Eagles receivers. Freeney and Mathis may be the stars of the defense, but against Michael Vick both may struggle. The Eagles will be ok with giving up a sack or two, if that causes Freeney and Mathis to continually rush up the field and break containment. When that happens, there is no one better than Vick at turning what looks like a broken play into a 30-yard sprint up field. Mathis and Freeney must concern themselves less with sacks and more with preventing the long scrambles. As good as they are, they can’t contain the Eagles alone. Here are the players who will rise to the occasion to help them.

Fili Moala – Up until now, Fili has been somewhat of a disappointment. A high draft pick two years ago, Moala has yet to live up to his billing and promise. This week all that could change. The key to slowing Vick is generating pressure up the middle. Causing the pocket to collapse and shutting down Vick’s running lanes are critical to preventing his jail-break runs and allowing Freeney and Mathis to rush Vick without being worried about containment. If anyone on the Colts is capable of generating a huge up the middle, it’s the 303 pound Fili Moala.

Antonie Bethea – The rock of a shaken and depleted secondary, Bethea will be responsible for assigning coverages and making sure to prevent any long over-the-top pass plays. Limiting opponents passing yards has always been a strength of the Cover-2 Colts. This week though will be an extra difficult challenge. Not only are Philly receivers Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin both blistering fast, the extra time that Michael Vick can buy on each play is extremely tiring for defenses as they must scramble and cover for longer periods of time. Even in the midst of a lackluster year, numbers wise, Bethea has been the key for the defense and will shine tomorrow night. Look for one or two huge plays out of the Colts heart and soul of the secondary. 

Sleeper

Philip Wheeler – With the indomitable Clint Session out of the lineup, the much-maligned Wheeler will get another crack at the starting role. Criticized for his horrible geometry skills (the bad angles he takes to the ball carrier) and inability to shed blockers, Wheeler must and will prove his worth. The Eagles are a team built around the screen pass, a special favorite of Reid’s coming out of the bye week. If the Colts are to prevail and succeed on defense, they will need Wheeler to recognize the screens and break them up or slow them down in the backfield before LeSean McCoy can rip off big gains.

Eagles

Offense:

Andy Reid – The Eagles are 11-0 under Andy Reid after bye weeks. No other coach or team can come close to matching that distinction (the Colts are second best at 8-3). For this reason Andy Reid makes the list. You just know the Eagles will be well prepared. Whether they execute will be up to the players. One tough judgment Reid will have to make is whether to blitz or not. The Eagles are a blitz happy team. Usually it produces good results as opposing QB’s have an average passer rating of around 66. Peyton’s average against the Eagles is almost 40 points higher. Andy Reid and Sean McDermott have a tough decision choice on their hands.

Jason Avant – All the buzz in Philly is centered on the return of Vick and DeSean Jackson. Rightfully so, they are certainly the team’s two best players. Still, don’t forget Jason Avant who is quietly putting together a nice season as the Eagles’ slot receiver. Expect Avant to have a big game because the Colts are simply too depleted in the secondary to cover everyone. The focus of Bethea and Francisco will be preventing Jackson and Maclin from burning them deep leaving Avant free underneath.

Sleeper

Jason Peters – Peters will be critical to protecting Mike Vick but will probably get burned at least a few times. He might even do it on purpose. As strange as that sounds, the Eagles might lure Freeney into ‘beating’ Peters a few times to set up designed Quarterback scrambles. Peters may try to show open stance and let Freeney get by allowing Mike Vick the opportunity to cut the ball back inside breaking the Colts containment. The key will be for Peters to slow Freeney just enough. If he can do that, Vick might see some big running lanes and open field.

Defense:

Nate Allen – For the Eagles to win, Nate Allen is going to have to have a big day helping 2nd corner back Dimitiri Patterson who is downright awful and will be victimized all day by the Colts receivers. Expect him to break up or at least make touchdown saving tackles on a handful of plays. Allen is in for a busy day.

Ernie Sims – Sims is a dirty player. Even after last week’s 50,000 fine for a dangerous hit, nothing is going to change. He even said it himself. While his attitude is disgusting, it also sets the tone for the defense. He is an active, quick and physical player who will be in on tackles all day. His name will be called plenty of times today, lets just hope its not because he injured a Colts player on another dirty hit.

Sleeper

Antonio Dixon – He might not accumulate any game breaking stats and is certainly not a house hold name, but his presence could be huge if he can disrupt the timing of Peyton Manning and the passing offense.

 

Prediction:

As depleted as the Colts are, their stars with shine brighter again today. The Eagles defense might play well as a unit, but looking at their numbers and their players individually, it was hard to pick even 1 player that might stand out. Maybe it is the homer inside of me, but as long as number 18 is throwing the ball, the Colts can dictate the pace and set the tone. Expect to see the Colts bring back the stampede so they can jump out early and play from ahead.

 The colts stay proud and make a loud statement: 31-14. 

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