Let's keep in mind that we have a slim shot at the playoffs...Collins is not terrible if he is utilized properly. I honestly don't think that the Colts (sans Manning) are going to beat any high-octane offenses or stellar defensive teams. In the past, we have seen Manning having to simply outscore opponents such as the Patriots and the Texans; If our defense shows up the way it has on the road over the past few years, I just can't see our team winning in a shootout. Here is a little bit of good news and the reason I think that the Colts can make the playoffs if Manning misses no more than 6 weeks -
Okay, so we see that we have 3 games on the road and 3 at home. Here is why I think we can escape 6 games with at least a 4-2 record.
I think that we end up losing this game for a few reasons - 1) I don't think our offense and Collins have had enough time or game-day experience to gel quite yet. I think that although the Texans are learning a new 3-4 system, the Texans defense will simply overwhelm our revamped offensive line...too much pressure on Collins. 2) I think that our defense will be carved up by the deep threat of Andre Johnson. Not only do I think our secondary will be punished time and time again, but the Texans star wideout will demand too much attention, and with our front office making ridiculous move like cutting Tommie H, the RBs will have a field day.
Likely outcome - We will be outscored and lose the time of possession game and Collins will be forced to throw before he is set and ready.
Best case scenario - We take a chance on defense by pressing receivers, playing 1 safety rolled over-the-top to Johnson's side and using the other safety as an extra body in the box and to protect vs. dump-off passes. High risk, high reward...but I think if we sit back and play vanilla Colts defense, we give up 7+ minute drives and get scored on anyways.
I think we end up winning this game simply because the Browns are much more 1-dimensional...stop Peyton Hillis, stop the Browns. I think the Browns defense can be underrated at times, but I think we end up winning this one in a low-scoring grind it out type game. I predict a surprise resurgence of our running-game here!
I think the Steelers defense is going to be too much to handle (especially if Polamalu is still healthy at this point). Offensively, Ben finds a way to get it done most of the time and Mendenhall is the that downhill type running back with good blocking receiver (hate to admit it, but Hines Ward)...We just don't bode well with these types of backs, and mix in a passing attack and play-action...this would be a tough one.
Best case scenario - Colts, go back to last year and watch the Pats domination of the Steelers...like the Pats, we have two stellar tight-ends in Clark and Tamme...let's use Garcon to spread the field and hit these guys using short/intermediate routes down the middle. Also, 2TE formation on offense might actually allow us to get some yards on the ground...this is also at the LUKE, so never count the 12th man out.
I think we can get this W if we are willing to mix it up on defense; this is a young team and bring some different looks to this game, we can possibly get it done by confusing the O-line and Freeman...again, we deal with a bruising type running back, and if we can force them into 3rd and long situations by limiting the ground yardage, we could be in good shape. Stop the run first. Offensively, we need to get Talib out of the frame...Garcon, Collie and our TE's should be able to handle their guys in man-to-man or find some soft spots in the zone. Wayne is probably going to be tied up with Talib.
Same thing as the Browns really; an above-average quarterback, with some decent weapons (nothing spectacular) and a great running back in Jamal Charles...stop the run, win the game. On the other side of the football, protect Collins from Hali...simply place a TE or RB in the backfield at all times..this guy is a game changer. With Eric Berry at safety, I would also suggest steering clear of throwing to his side unless appropriate. I think we can win this game with our defense....I feel this will be like the 49ers game from a few years ago where an Addai trick played got us the W, but the defense kept us in the game until that point...Punting will be okay here...our defense can hold its own against this team. I also think our RBs will do well on the ground here!
I believe that at this point, Peyton will be ready to go if need be...however, management will give him an extra week of rest for precautionary purposes; also, the Colts should be able to beat the Bengals (barring any surprises). The Bengals are starting a rookie QB who will not be ready to avoid the Mathis/Freeney tandem...press the receiver and force Dalton to hang on to the ball for just a 1/2 second longer, and turnovers will be inevitable. Benson is a good running back, but once again, we can afford to focus on him a little more so than having to worry about the passing game. I also think the loss of Joseph is going to hurt the Bengals on defense...Collins should be able to attack that LB group and utilize mismatches with our 2TEs and our great slot receivers (when healthy).
Now please note that this is all speculation (obviously); Peyton might be back week 2, or he might be shut-down for the season....I just think our first 6 games are manageable simply because only 2 of the teams we play have solid run and passing attacks (Texans & Steelers); the other 4 teams are more run first. I also think the other 4 teams do not have explosive offenses, therefore our defense should be able to keep us in games and allow us to win by putting up 17+ points. I think the Texans and Steelers will put up over 24 points, and that might be tough for an offense with a new QB to match. I am 100% sure I will be wrong about these speculations, but, I know it has been a tough few days, so I thought I would share that a 4-2 record during the first 6 weeks might be doable. I think the schedule gets tougher from there on out, and if Peyton is not back by then, the playoffs are very bleak. If heaven forbid, #18 misses the whole season, I think an 8-8 record is probable, a 9-7 is a stretch.