In less that 12 hours, REAL FOOTBALL gets played! The 2006 regular season officially starts. Kickoff Weekend begins! I'm a big fan of the NFL's decision a few years ago to start the season on Thursday night. It really starts things off well, and usually the games are pretty good. Two years ago, the Colts visited the Patriots, and the game came down to a last second FG (which, of course, was missed by Mike Vanderjagt).
With the regular season beginning tonight, it's time to give a final assessment of the pre-season. I'd have done this earlier, but my vacation to Canada postponed it.
Just like Christmas (and any other holiday that involves getting presents), did the pre-season give me what I wanted? Did I see what I wanted to see? Any surprises? Disappointments? Reasons for concern? Are the Colts better than last years team, despite the loss of Edgerrin James? Here are the answers:
- Despite what some gloom-and-doomer folks are saying, I am very happy with the running game. Joseph Addai showed me flashes of ability running behind back-up offensive linemen that eventually didn't make the team. Dom Rhodes showed me he's ready to step into the forefront as the starting back, but we Colts fans can expect a healthy mix of both Addai and Rhodes during the season. You can't look at the raw stats in the pre-season to tell the story. St. Louis, New Orleans, and Seattle all blitzed against the first unit Colts offense, and each time the first unit drove the length of the field for a TD. On those drives, blitz pick-up by both Addai and Rhodes was excellent. On screen passes, draws, and slants they showed speed, aggressiveness, and toughness.
The Colts will struggle the first few games to run the ball as teams will blitz Indy, hoping to mimic Pittsburgh's success. As teams blitz, Manning will mow them down through the air. As they back off the blitz in order to protect their beleaguered secondary, the running game will open up.
- I got part of what I wanted from the o-line. Ryan Lilja has lost his job to Dylan Gandy. Though Jake Scott is still starting, Gandy should provide a better option at OG than Lilja.
- I'm concerned about kick coverages. Dexter Reid is gone, and he was a very good special teamer. The Colts made moves to sign guys like Dan Klecko, hoping some solid veterans can provide depth and good ST play.
- If you want to know the weakness of the Colts, it's the goal line and short yardage offense. The Colts has always been BAD at getting short yardage in part because their offense has no fullback. The Colts have changed this of late, using DT Darrell Reid as a FB on short yardage. The results in pre-season were mixed, but it seemed an improvement over last season.
- Marlin Jackson is now a starting corner, which was why he was drafted in the first place. All this talk in the off-season of moving him to safety was stupid. He was not drafted to play safety. He was drafted to play corner. Another starter in the secondary could be Antoine Bethea, who SHOULD take Mike Doss's job. A starting Colts secondary with Jackson, Bethea, Nick Harper, and Bob Sanders might just be the best secondary this team has had since Ray Buchanon and Ashley Ambrose led the Colts defense into the AFC Championship game in 1996.
- Adam Vinatieri is a difference maker, and his ability to kick the ball deep will allow the Colts defense to dictate tempo. Field position is everything in football. Vinatieri is also very good at converting onside kicks, which is a weapon the Colts will use if teams try and play keep away.
- Colts defense is fast, fast, FAST! The absence of Corey Simon will hurt the defense overall early, but if he is healthy in a few weeks, this defense will dominate. Freeney, Mathis, Brock, Reid, Brackett, June, and Gardner all looked excellent in pre-season. Despite what idiots like Jeremy Green think, they will not miss David Thornton or Larry Tripplett at all. This defense looks better than last year. They need to snag more interceptions and control the line of scrimmage better.
So, did I get what I wanted? Yes. I do not make this next statement lightly, despite my status as SB Nation's resident Colts homer: This Colts team looks better than last years.
Will they win 13 in a row, or flirt with an undefeated season again? No, I doubt it. Last season was special. However, this team looks faster, tougher, and more interchangeable than last year. Guys who started last year (Lilja, Doss, Jason David, Bryan Fletcher) are now solid back-ups. They were beaten out by players better than them. The one question mark for the pundit media is the running game. By week four, you won't hear that question anymore. Rhodes and Addai will perform well, and the Colts will rush for the same number of yards as they did last season.
Colts fans should feel very, very good about this team, and about our chances this year. Everyone is dismissing the Colts. No one cares about us. No one will waste their time discussing or debating the Colts until the are IN the Super Bowl. I, personally, am a-okay with this. Let them pick New England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Miami, or Cincy. Top to bottom, the Colts are BETTER than those teams, and they should be there in the post-season to prove it.
But let's not get ahead. One game at a time. The Giants are first, and they are a great team to start with.
Here's to football: America's true past-time. Go Colts!